Editor’s Note: Our recently published blog post, Hiring a Remote or Virtual Assistant: Can It Really Increase Your Earnings?, received several comments and questions about hiring a virtual assistant for your appraisal business. This article is a follow-up to that post to show how two appraisers found success with their virtual assistant.
Appraisers can save themselves astonishing amounts of time and money by hiring a virtual assistant, that is, an assistant who works from a remote location, with little or no face-to-face interaction with the employer. Intelligent, hard-working, English-speaking personnel can be found all over the world through online sources. By taking the least-profitable work off your shoulders, they’ll allow you more time for the tasks that only you can do or like best to do. And because wages are considerably lower in countries with large talent pools—such as the Philippines—hiring an overseas virtual assistant will make it easier to add professional-level employees closer to home.
Where to find virtual assistants for appraisers
According to Gary Kristensen, an appraiser who operates in the Portland, Oregon, area, the best source of virtual assistants is the Philippines, which has an educated population that’s generally fluent in English, and wages that are a fraction of what an American would demand. He recommends OnlineJobs.ph as a good place to start your search, although there are plenty of other similarly reliable websites.
“You pay a monthly fee to use a site like this,” he explains. “You can find applicants in other countries too, including India, Bangladesh, and China. I went with the Philippines because they have an American-influenced culture. It’s easy to connect with someone there, as opposed to other countries that might not have as favorable a view of the U.S. The Philippines also has a culture of honesty and integrity. You can easily build trust.
“You can teach an assistant, but one thing you can’t teach is good English, which is a must. My virtual assistant has only a slight accent; you can understand her perfectly.”
Communicating with a virtual assistant
Kristensen says he communicates with his virtual assistant mostly via Skype and uses Dropbox to share files. His virtual assistant also has a subscription to his MLS and appraisal software. He advises having a plan for how you’ll use your virtual assistant, before seeking applicants. As you build a relationship, you can gradually delegate more work.
“Don’t give your virtual assistant the most important tasks to start with,” he warns. “But having worked with her for three years, I trust my virtual assistant as much as any domestic employee.
“If I need to pay my virtual assistant for two hours to save me one hour, that’s money well spent because my time is much more valuable. You should pay your virtual assistant what she’s worth and make sure that her pay is competitive for the location. Also be sure to pay for customary days off or bonuses based on the location. In the Philippines, good virtual assistants can be found for around $3 per hour plus bonuses. That’s a pretty good income: My virtual assistant lives in a middle-class home with an extended family.”
Training a virtual assistant
The most common mistake appraisers make in working with a virtual assistant is not providing enough training, Kristensen says. Your virtual assistant is only as good as the training that you provide. Before he hired, he made instructional videos for every task he planned to delegate.
“My virtual assistant handles data entry, accounting, invoices, and marketing; she distributes my blog posts and makes marketing videos. She helps me with volunteer work. You might become frustrated with the time it takes to train a virtual assistant, but you have to keep your eyes on the prize and remember that the time you spend training is time you won’t spend on that task.
“Follow what they’re doing and track how much time they spend on a task. The last thing you want is not to have enough for them to do. Then they’ll go looking for another job.”
Foreign versus domestic virtual assistants
Kristensen concludes that some appraisers might be criticized for using an overseas virtual assistant instead of hiring locally, but he points out that his virtual assistant has helped him to grow his business to the point where he can make domestic hires.
He gives considerable credit to a friend and colleague, real estate consultant Roy Meyer, author of The Outsourcing Guide for Appraisers. Meyer advises appraisers to understand the difference between a virtual assistant and a virtual contractor, and the differences in sourcing them.
“A virtual contractor is someone you’ll hire for a one-off task, like a website or a video, or to pull a list,” Meyer explains. “You’ll find plenty of sites where you can do that, such as Upwork.com, Freelancer.com, Guru.com, and others. If you need a virtual assistant, look at Craigslist.ph. There, your best places to search will be cities like Manila, Iloilo, Cebu City, and Davao City, all in the Philippines. You can post a job opening or search applicants. Also, look at JobStreet.com, BestJobs.ph, and various Facebook groups.”
Delegating to your virtual assistant
Meyer warns appraisers not to expect too much of a virtual assistant. He advises delegating anything that you can outsource for less than the value of your own time—but don’t expect your virtual assistant to operate at the CEO or COO level.
“Don’t delegate any analysis or anything that would violate USPAP,” he cautions. “Otherwise, you can delegate countless activities. Do you know what your time is worth on an hourly basis? Are you spending your time on minimum-wage activities? Know how you’re spending your time, so you know what you can or should outsource. Ask yourself, ‘How can I use virtual assistants to grow my business?’”
Skype is the critical communication medium, Meyer agrees, and you’ll need screen share software for training. He recommends maintaining a minimum of three ways to communicate, in case one of them goes down.
Meyer also believe that you can probably find a good virtual assistant for $3 per hour, although an SEO expert or a marketing specialist will cost more. Good English is critical, he reiterates.
“I’ll pay an extra 25 cents an hour for someone who can type 80 words per minute,” he adds. “If your virtual assistant is saving you 10 hours a week, and your time is $50 an hour, you’re saving $2,000 a month. And if the time you’ve saved enables you to land a new client, well, what’s the lifetime value of that new client?”
“Screen your virtual assistant properly, check references, dedicate plenty of time to up-front training, and make sure your assistant has current software,” he concludes. “Above all, don’t hire before you’re ready.”
Have you hired a virtual appraisal assistant? What other tips and insights can you share with our appraisal community? Post them in the comments below.
Article by Joseph Dobrian. Joseph Dobrian has been writing about commercial and residential real estate, and real estate-related finance, for more than 30 years. His by-line has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The New Yorker, Real Estate Forum, Journal of Property Management, and many other publications. He is also a noted novelist, essayist, and translator. His website is www.josephdobrian.com, and he can be contacted at [email protected]