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Valuation’s scalability and adaptability help an independent appraiser handle jobs for a wide range of clients: a customer success story

March 18, 2024 5 mins

LightBox recently caught up with Zach Smith, MAI, an independent appraiser who appraises a wide variety of property types, including office, retail, industrial, multifamily, agricultural, and special purpose properties. He explained why Valuation is a key part of his workflow and how its flexibility and power make it an indispensable, one-of-a-kind solution.

Tell us about yourself and your background.

I’m an independent appraiser. Before going solo, I worked at CBRE for a number of years, and before that, at a small firm. Even for a small firm, we had descent technology, despite our limited resources, as a colleague had built out an SQL database, putting us ahead of our competitors. The technology at CBRE however, was a huge leap forward from the small firm. And having worked at the world’s largest commercial real estate services and investment firm, I came to really appreciate what technology can do for the appraiser.

How has Valuation changed the way you write appraisals?

When I first started writing reports, I used Excel and Word. If I developed an exhibit in Excel, I had to copy and paste it into Word. Any changes to that one exhibit might require me to modify seven or eight references to it within Word. Use of hyperlinking in Word was not widely used, as it was clumsy, and didn’t have integration with our database. Because of financial resources, CBRE had its own valuation platform (which saw different iterations throughout the years), but even then, I experienced limitations as to what the platform could do.

The common refrain of the appraisal profession is, “do more, quicker”. And the critical components of that, are, partly time and experience, but technology as well. With technology, you’re able to harness efficiencies that enable you really to “do more, quicker”. Otherwise, your output is simply a function of time, and there’s only so many hours in the day. So, you may be “doing more” in a relative sense, if you want to commit an inordinate amount of time to the process, but you’re not doing it quicker. The technology piece gives you some of that time back, so you can either take on more work, or, have a work schedule that looks like a normal human being.

Having been in the appraisal profession for 17-years, I’ve now built appraisal formats around five technological solutions. Prior to my experience with LightBox, there came a point with each of the other solutions where you sort of bump up against the limitations of the platform. Then you’re trying to create solutions that may bridge the gap between where the limitations of the platform are and where you ultimately want to be with the appraisal. In my experience with LightBox, I have pushed the platform and formatting further than any of the other solutions—as I really took my onboarding time with LightBox, as a time to implement all of the things I’d been saying for years that I wanted to do. During the onboarding time, the LightBox team showed me how to take advantage of Valuation’s adaptability, which ultimately provides for scalability as demand for appraisal services increases. I have been overwhelmingly pleased with LightBox and have yet to experience a limitation to the platform. There is nothing in my day-to-day workflow where I find myself saying, “I wish the platform did this…or I wish this was different”. I’m more impressed than I could have even imagined with LightBox—and I’ve taken several competitive products for test drives.

Did it increase the number of assignments you can manage?

Yes, and that’s because of its adaptability. I can’t drive home that point enough—it’s what sets LightBox apart. Because my market area is shallow, I have to be a generalist, as opposed to a specialist, and so I take on a very wide variety of appraisal assignments. LightBox’s “off the shelf solution” is great, but within the LightBox ecosystem, I’ve spent hundreds of hours creating customized pages in the database and really fine-tuning my formats, encouraging linkages, so that when I put something in the database, that’s the only time I have to touch that information. With efficiencies I’d interjected into the report writing process throughout the years, and because of my experience, I had what was already a relatively quick turnaround time for writing most appraisal reports. But because of LightBox’s adaptability and scalability, I’ve realized an additional 10 to 15 percent in efficiency. Simply put, Valuation is better than anything I’ve used before, and I can handle more work because of it.

What was onboarding like?

Amazing. I wouldn’t have asked the team to do anything differently. It can be appraising a $1 million or $100 million property, but for anyone who has felt the pressure of working on an appraisal assignment, you know, nobody wants to be waiting around on the appraiser. When even waiting for hours could seem critical, if I had to contact support because of an issue and it took days to get back to me, that would be a tremendous problem—one that I’ve never experienced with LightBox. LightBox has an extensive Knowledge Center, but beyond the Knowledge Center, tech support has been amazing; as they have always provided timely responses, which are personalized to the particular issue I was facing. LightBox Valuation is light years ahead of its rivals. Everybody with whom I’ve interacted has been responsive, and they convey a genuine sincerity of wanting to see appraisers succeed. They’ve got the people and the processes. I couldn’t ask for more.

How long did it take you to feel comfortable?

During the first month, I was able to get reports out the door, but I spent about two and a half months last year really dialing into the process. Even if they are implementing a variety of customizations – which the platform will allow for – I’d guess most users can probably hit their stride in a month or two, regardless of their backgrounds.

Anything else you’d like to share?

I can’t praise the technology and the people enough, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised about how powerful LightBox’s Valuation tool is. My expectations have been exceeded. I’m grateful for all the time and energy LightBox has put into Valuation, which I’m certain will only continue to improve.

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