Tell me about your Harris Property Advisors.
We started in April of 2017. I think Valcre was recommended to me by Chris Ponsar (Ponsar Valuation) out of Hawaii. We met through the LDAC, which is an Appraisal Institute function. He had started his company about a month or two before I did. He called me and told me that I had to use Valcre and that Lucas Rotter was a friend of his and so on. So we signed up from the start,
It was just me out of my bedroom working until January 2018. That’s when we added an administrative person. Shortly after that, maybe six months or so, we added another appraiser trainee, who is now licensed. At the end of 2019 we added another appraiser trainee and that’s where we’re at now. We have one licensed appraiser, one trainee and one administrative person along with myself.
We do commercial work. No residential at all. Just strictly commercial work. We cover Virginia, North Carolina and D.C.
Sounds like you’ve managed to grow your team pretty quickly in the last three years. Are you still working out of your bedroom?
We started renting an office in January 2018. In June or July of this year, we bought an office condominium that we work out of. For the majority of the time, we’ve been working in an office.
Tell me a little bit about your career leading up to 2017 when you started your company.
When I was in undergrad, I majored in finance with a concentration in real estate. I took a lot of real estate courses. Before I graduated, I reached out to the professors to let them know I was interested in real estate and wanted to get a job in real estate. One of my instructors, who was actually an appraiser, sent it out to appraisers in the area.
When they did, I got a call from Larry Colorito who works for Valbridge Property Advisors. This was way before Valbridge was started. He called me and let me know they were looking to hire someone and asked if I would be interested. I still had a few months left of college,
I started in July of 2003 at first on a part time basis. Within six months to a year, I had graduated college and was working on a full time basis. I was 22 or 23. I was there up until I started my own company in 2017.
Along the way, I got licensed in 2006, got the MAI designation in 2014. I’m always looking for something else to do, so once I got my MAI designation I decided to go back and get my masters. I was accepted into Georgetown’s first online real estate master program. That took two years and coincided with when I started my own company.
I pretty much finished my masters as I was starting my own company. I thought my wife was going to kill me! We had five year old twins at the time. I didn’t get any sleep!
What was it that motivated you to start your own company?
I was pretty established and comfortable, but it was something I had always wanted to do. I wanted to be the person who makes the decisions and does the types of properties I want to.
Theoretically, I was thinking it would give me more time to spend with the family. And at times it does, but it obviously is also time consuming and stressful and all that.
After Chris Ponsar floated the idea to you about Valcre, what happened?
When I started my company I was searching for a software to use. I had used a couple other programs in the past being at the firm I was with and I was looking around to see what I wanted to use. Ponsar called me up one day and told me Valcre was the best thing ever and that I needed to do a demo with Lucas.
The number one reason why I wanted to use Valcre from the start was because I felt like it would be a seamless transition. It seemed like I could be up and running with Valcre in a short amount of time. Some of the other ones I would have had to create my own template and tweak it more than I would have liked. I liked the software that Valcre had, but the most important thing was that I could be up and running as soon as I started using the program.
I didn’t want to take three weeks to create my own template, which is what I was thinking it would have taken me.. Lucas set up the program and the branding that we wanted to use and it was just a really seamless transition.
How has Valcre supported you as a manager on your team?
One of the features that I like the best is Valcre’s dashboard. I can quickly see when our jobs are due and their status. From my perspective that helps me when I’m bidding on properties to see what’s coming up. It makes it easier to keep track of things and who’s doing what and what properties. Really just the calendar and being able to see what we have coming up from a management perspective is the most helpful.
The database works great, but strictly from a management perspective the dashboard is pretty cool to have.
Tell me more about the database and how it affects your team’s workflow.
It speeds things up. We’re able to put in the information we know about a property that all of us can have the same access to. It’s pretty detailed so we have access to the information we need.
Have you or any of your staff checked out Valcre’s new mobile app?
Yeah, I have and I think one of our licensed appraisers has looked at it. For the record, I told Lucas during the demo that I wish Valcre had a mobile app! That was three years ago now.
But yes, I do use it and I like it. I don’t always have access to a computer when I might be bidding on jobs or talking about jobs or even thinking about jobs for that matter. I do like that I can quickly pull it up and see what we have in the pipeline. I can see where we are. I like that I can insert photos from the mobile app while I’m at the site. I do like that we can look at contacts from the app so if I need to email or call someone I don’t have to be around my computer to have access to that information.
When you reflect back on your time working at the firm with what is now Valbridge and your company now, what are some of the biggest differences?
As a comparison, one of the things I like about Valcre is how easy it is to use. It’s self-explanatory. I don’t have to spend a significant amount of time training new people on how to use the database. The system is self-explanatory and easy to use.
What was your personal onboarding process like? Did you feel like you ran into any roadblocks as you were learning to use it?
No, that was one of the things I liked about it. Essentially when Lucas did the demo and I decided that I wanted to use the software, that afternoon I was already using the software. That was one of the major selling points for me.
In general what has your user experience been like with Valcre? Easy-to-use? Does what it says it will do? Technical support?
They’re very responsive. I email Lucas and he either touches base with who he needs to touch base with or he’ll tell me himself what I need to do. The technical support has been outstanding and very quick. Any issues that I’ve run into have been fixed in a short amount of time. Not that there have been many issues, but any time I’ve needed their help, there’s been a quick turnaround.
How has Valcre created a competitive edge for you and your team?
The efficiency of our process is a lot better than people who may not have a database at all or who may not have one that is as powerful as what we have with Valcre.
Our entire process is sped up. Everything is easy to use and easy to access and Valcre helps us cut down the amount of time it takes administratively to finish a report, but also writing the report. After we’ve done the Excel portion, a large majority of the report is already done once we merge it into Word.
Would you recommend Valcre to other appraisers? Why or why not?
Yes. and I have recommended it to many peers both in person and online. The one thing that people don’t like is how expensive it is.
Would you say Valcre is worth the cost for you?
The cost is worth it to me because I still have it. So yes, to me it is, but not everyone has the same viewpoint on databases and the benefits of databases as I have.
My viewpoint is that I want to cut out the time that it takes to do stuff that’s not appraisal or analysis related. I believe the time we spend on those tasks needs to be as minimal as possible. I want my team to maximize their time by spending the majority of our time analyzing the property, looking at sales, looking up expenses, etc. The least amount of time that we can spend doing administrative stuff, setting up jobs, tracking jobs, that’s not a productive way to spend our time.
For me, I’m willing to spend some money to cut down on that because I think it’s beneficial. If it can help me do one more job a month, it pays for itself.
Without Valcre, how would your monthly volume change?
It would be hard for me to tell, but my guess without doing an analysis on it would be that I think we are at least 25% more productive with Valcre. But that’s without doing some in-depth research.
On a scale of 1 to 10, where would you rate Valcre and your experience.
I’ll say a 10. I would like it a lot more if it was cheaper! I’m not complaining though.
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Jeffrey S. Harris, MAI has over 16 years of experience in the real estate valuation industry, earning the prestigious MAI designation through the Appraisal Institute. Jeffrey is a state certified general appraiser in Virginia, District of Columbia, and North Carolina. He has experience assisting clients in a wide variety of property types.
Jeffrey obtained his Bachelor of Science in Finance with a concentration in Real Estate in 2004. He obtained a Master of Professional Studies in Real Estate degree from Georgetown University in May, 2017. During his studies at Georgetown, he was named a Hoya Professional 30 in 2016.