How I Work: Dustin Harris, the Appraiser Coach

Written by on September 10, 2015

This is a guest post from Dustin Harris, The Appraiser Coach as part of our ongoing "How I Work" series of articles. You can find The Appraiser Coach All-Star Team in the TOTAL Store here.

I am not your typical, residential appraiser. I was "that guy" for far too many years before I found a better way. Over time, I developed the “Three-Legged Stool” approach to running my business. Each leg is essential to the overall stability of a successful appraisal business.

Imagine that the seat of a three-legged stool is your appraisal business. It represents the firm foundation of your success. All aspects of your specific business needs are built on that steady seat. Underneath are the three legs which hold it all up. Each of the legs has a purpose and each one works in conjunction with the others. The three pillars of success that make me different than most of my peers are:

  1. Human Resources
  2. Technology
  3. Procedures

If any of those legs were to be pulled out or become weak, the entire business could come crashing down. Utilizing these three centers of focus, here is how I work.

Human Resources

I am convinced that no successful business person can do it on their own. We must surround ourselves with other capable people who share in our vision and are willing and able to assist. Every appraiser must decide for themselves what is necessary for them to do and what can (or should) be completed by others. In my business, the less I have to micromanage, the better.

In the morning, I typically check my Google Calendar about 10 minutes before I head out the door. Up to this point, I have had very little (if any) to do with the assignments for that day; they were all accepted, logged, researched, set up, and built by my awesome staff. I am too busy being the appraiser and the CEO of my business to worry about things that can be delegated to others.

Getting the right team put together, training them, and managing them well is an essential part of how I work. I do 98% of all appraisal inspections (the other 2% are done by others, as allowed by clients), so I spend a good part of every day driving to and inspecting properties. But, when I’m finished with an inspection, my team is standing by at the office ready to "catch the ball" on the other side so that work on an assignment can continue even when I am still in the field. This system allows me to take most Fridays and weekends off while my great employees are there, managing the office.


For me, technology and gadgets are not costs, but investments. Tools help me get more done both faster and with higher quality. Therefore, the money I put into purchasing them is often recaptured (and then some) in a very short period of time.

My tech-center begins with a custom-built server which runs Windows Server 2012 and a la mode’s TOTAL software. All of my employees have their own access and can log in while either physically at the office or from any PC at home or on the road.

  • Personally, I carry a Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro Ultrabook. It’s lightweight and powerful so I can also get on the server anywhere I have Internet access. (The current version of this laptop is the Yoga 3 Pro Ultrabook)
  • I use a Toshiba Dynadock at the office which allows me to plug one USB cord in and instantly have two additional monitors, a separate mouse and keyboard as well as my speakers and high-speed Internet access in seconds.
  • Our phone systems are VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol), through Vonage, so we have a professional "face" of the company, yet have the luxury of answering (or not answering as the case may be) wherever we physically are at the moment a call comes in.
  • All of my workstations are set up with dual-monitors.
  • Our workfiles and other important documentation are stored on Google Drive and backed up to both Carbonite and physical hard drives on a regular basis. We are nearly completely paperless which allows for less clutter, the saving of money, and easy retrieval of anything we might need down the road.
  • The office is set up with both a video and audio feed (via a Tenvis JPT3815W-HD Wireless IP camera) so I can see and hear what is going on no matter where I am. Each computer is also running employee monitoring software so I can manage things while the "cat is away" as they say.

In the field, I use an iPhone for communications and other important apps. We use Voxer (it’s like a walkie-talkie for your smartphone) for short audio messages to and from the office. Lately, I have also been using that same phone with TOTAL for Mobile to gather data, sketch, and take photos at my appraisal inspections. I am able to instantly download and upload reports using cellular Internet technology (even in rural Idaho). I have been using a DISTO for over 15 years to laser my measurements and am currently on the D810 model which allows me to shoot most houses in less than 10 minutes!


But no matter how good your personnel or your technology is, it is all worthless if they are not properly trained or properly utilized. Though we are constantly updating and revising, we are proud of the well-oiled machine we call our appraisal office. One of the secrets to our success has been the utilization of procedures. We create, record, and use procedures for everything from how to pull comparable sales to the proper way to clean the office bathroom. These written processes allow us to find the most efficient way to do any one, repeatable task and do it the same way every time.

Overall, procedures are what makes the other two legs (human resources and technology) work so well. Though every appraisal assignment is unique, an assembly line of sorts is utilized which allows us to work quickly, without cutting the quality of our work in the process.


I admit it, I am a bit of a stickler for the small things. Those who work with me probably think I am a bit over the top in my adherence to doing things perfectly. Yet I find that it is in the small things that greatness happens.

Business development is never done. We are constantly reevaluating what we are doing, what works, what doesn’t, and making incremental changes to improve for the future. A proper balance of good help, the latest in technology, and the systems or procedures to make it all work in conjunction with one another is essential to a successful and professional appraisal office.

If you've got a software, tool, or solution that works for you, or if you're interested in contributing a "How I Work" article, we want to know! E-mail Paul at