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10 Steps to a Paperless Office

If you’ve talked to appraisers who have gone digital, you know they love not having boxes of old reports and workfiles cluttering their offices, homes, and garages and not spending money on paper, toner, and other equipment. Even better, appraisers who run a paperless office often enjoy increased productivity and efficiency.

If you’re ready to enjoy the benefits of getting rid of paper, I’m sharing 10 steps to switch to a completely paperless office. While you may need to tailor this blueprint to your preferred methods and workflows, this will help you get started.


Switching to digital files and a paperless office saves you time and offers better protection for your files. Making the shift to get rid of printed documents and handwritten notes isn’t easy at first, but by going one step at a time and relying on your appraisal software’s tools, you’ll be paperless in no time.

1. Why do you want a paperless office?

Before we answer how to go paperless, you need to ask yourself how it will benefit you.

Because the process has more to do with behavior modification than a simple change to your appraisal process and workflow. You can read all the testimonials and hear all the success stories from other people, but if you don’t understand how it will benefit you in your office, you won’t be successful.

Consider these benefits:

  • You’ll spend less money on office supplies, including printer paper, toner, manilla folders, paper clips, and staples.
  • You won’t have to leave your desk to retrieve or find a past file.
  • You can securely and quickly dispose of files after the time period elapses.
  • You will save space by not having to store physical workfiles for up to seven years.

Best of all, you have peace of mind knowing that even if there’s a natural disaster, you’ll be compliant with record-keeping laws.

You’ll also need to not only understand the benefits of a paperless office but you’ll need to define and understand what will help you in your own unique office workflow.

2. Commit to change – Be aware of wanting to stay in the familiar

While you’re switching to a paperless office, you may need to remind yourself of the benefits outlined above because making the change is hard. You’ll be outside of your comfort zone and things will be less efficient at first. That’s all part of a change.

Staying in the routine that’s worked for you is easy and safe. It’s familiar. You trust it.

But if you can keep your “eye on the prize” so to speak, you’ll be able to better adapt to this change and make it happen sooner rather than later.

3. Identify your paper and how to go paperless

Once you’ve committed to making the change, you’ll need to identify where you’re using paper today. Do you print out public records information? MLS sheets? Plat/Flood Maps? Floorplans? Actual blueprints? A list of upgrades provided to you by the agent/homeowner? Do you use a clipboard and paper pad for your field notes? All of the above and more?

All of these things can be digitized! No matter what you have in your paper workfiles today, all of it can saved in digital format.

4. Obtain needed equipment for your paperless office

To save all your paper from a workfile in digital format, you might need to invest in some additional equipment. Don’t worry, once you go completely paperless, you’ll save a lot more than the amount you spent.

For example, if you use a notepad and clipboard to write your field notes and want to save them in digital format, you’ll need a scanner to digitally scan in your paper field notes. This serves two purposes as it will also allow you to scan in documents you obtain during an assignment (borrower/agent supplied list of upgrades, builder’s brochure/floor plan, etc.).  There are many types of affordable scanners on the market today that are perfect for this job.

Other things you might need for your paperless office, you probably already have, such as a tablet, like an iPad or Galaxy Tab, smartphone, and digital storage space.

5. Determine your storage needs in a paperless office

One of the most important things to consider when going paperless is how you will back up your files, both on your computer and offsite. Backing them up on your computer is important, but a cloud-based platform protects you from losing your files in the event of a hardware failure or natural disaster and will also have strong security features to protect your data.

Once you go to a paperless office and save everything digitally, the amount of computer storage space you’ll need increases considerably. Fortunately, computer storage space is relatively inexpensive, and you can usually add space simply by purchasing an external hard drive and plugging it into your computer.

Your appraisal software provider most likely has a solution for you to back up your files on their servers, but you can also upload your files to Dropbox, iDrive, CrashPlan, or another platform. Most of these services will store your files securely for a small monthly or annual fee. If you do use a separate cloud storage service, you’ll want to create a daily or weekly routine for backing up your files.

6. Establish a new workflow in your paperless office

As you work through how to go paperless, you’ll have to modify your current workflow to get used to not having that piece of paper with you. For example, if you write your field notes, once you scan them and save them to your digital workfile, you can dispose of the paper notes. You can always print out a copy in the future if you ever need to recreate them in hardcopy form.

Just remember to back up your files on a regular basis if you aren’t using an automated backup system through your appraisal software provider or via the cloud storage provider discussed in the previous step.

Going paperless is more about behavior modification than learning how to digitize all of your paper. Starting small and changing your routine one paper document at a time will help you establish new workflow routines that will increase your chance of success. At first, going paperless will be less efficient and will take more time than your current routine as you get used to doing things a different way. But that loss of efficiency will be short lived.

7. Going paperless starts small

I’ve found that the most successful way to completely switch to a paperless office is to start small.

Decide to change one thing at a time. While you’re making the change, continue to do things like you always have. For example, if you’ve decided to start your paperless journey by digitizing your field notes (assuming you still use a paper pad and clipboard). Continue keeping your field notes in your manilla folder when you’re done with an assignment, but now also scan and save your field notes and save it to your digital workfile when you’re done.

Your digital workfile can be an organized folder system on your PC or Mac. It could be in the digital workfile within your appraisal software. You’ll need to figure out what makes the most sense for you in your situation. For this example, commit to saving your field notes in the digital workfile along with your typical workfile. It won’t be long before you’ll be in the habit of keeping your field notes in digital format.

8. Add another paperless item

Once you’re comfortable and have established a new routine, pick another piece of paper you print out and follow the same steps outlined above. Repeat this process with everything you print out until you’re completely paperless.

9. Get trained

During the process of going paperless, you may want to consider seeking training. Most of the appraisal software providers have training videos and documents to show you how to go paperless, so their videos and documents can be a great help if you don’t know where to start.

10.   Seek out your peers

Rest assured you’re not the only one considering going paperless. Many appraisers have already taken these steps and want to help others as they explore how to go paperless in their practice. There are many appraiser groups on Facebook, Reddit, and other spaces online. You’ll be pleasantly surprised how easy it is to get your questions answered and how much support you’ll get in your journey.

It won’t be long before you’ll be the one providing guidance and your personal journey experience with someone else trying to go paperless.

Remember-going paperless isn’t just about saving trees, it’s about streamlining operations, reducing clutter, and enhancing collaboration.

About the Author: Mike Fletcher

Mike Fletcher is a veteran residential appraiser and self-proclaimed “Data Nerd”  residing in Redlands, California.  He is currently a Senior Data Steward at Corelogic.  If you want to hear more from Mike, tune in to the “Beyond the Numbers with McKissock Appraisal” with Mike Fletcher on our episode entitled “Can You Go Paperless?’