It’s becoming better, but anyone who has dealt with property knows that there can be a ton of paper involved. Going paperless in real estate involves two broad issues: the paper coming in and then what you do with the paper once you have it.
An awesome DocumentSnap reader, who chooses to remain anonymous, agreed to share how they are tackling this paperless real estate challenge. Take it away, anonymous!
We’re a family owned and operated real estate management firm
Although many people may assume that real estate management is mostly field work e.g. Repairs, maintenance etc., there is in fact an enormous amount of paperwork that needs to be processed ranging from invoices and lease renewals to government mandated forms and permits that must be submitted, as well as a lot of legal documents that must get processed.
There were many reasons why we decided to go paperless.
First off was the convenience. It was a big hassle that every time I needed a document to email or just to review quickly I had to get up and start looking for it.
There were also instances where I had to get documents that were archived going back 15 or 20 years!
The other reason was that many documents were getting lost or misfiled.
So we decided to go paperless
I had 6 or 7 companies show me demos of their paperless software and we decided to go with a company called Square 9 SmartSearch which best suited our needs.
The most important aspect in setting up a paperless process is ensuring that the scanning and indexing process is as simple and intuitive as possible. Because if the process is too complicated than people start cutting corners; they don’t scan in to the correct folders, don’t index the metadata correctly etc.
So, the way that SmartSearch in particular is set up is that there are what’s called “Inboxes”. This is what I like to call the “Processing Center”
I have one inbox called “Invoices” another one called “Leases” and so on.
From these inboxes the next step is to index and store the documents in what’s called “Archives”
Now, since for the most part our employees all process the same type of documents (e.g. invoices and leases, etc.) I make everyone scan in the document that they processed as opposed to designating a particular employee to do the actual scanning. Once it’s scanned in they stamp the document with a stamp that says “SCANNED”.
The next thing I implemented is that each employee is responsible to index a particular set of inboxes. For example, one employee is responsible to index invoices and violations another employee is responsible to index leases and legal documents and so on.
This ensures that the inboxes don’t get piled up with documents, and if they do I can go to the employee that is responsible for that particular inbox and make sure the documents get processed.
Dealing With Archives
With regards to the archives, and this is true regardless of whichever program your using, there are two things that must be well planned beforehand.
There is the setup of the different archives and then there is the metadata or tags that get applied to the actual document.
The objective should be to minimize the amount of archives or folders you create.
For example, in our office, instead of creating separate folders for each property to store leases, I created one folder called “Leases” and each document gets tagged with the address of that property.
And the reason for this is twofold.
From an administrative perspective the more folders there are, the harder it becomes to maintain them. Because if you want to change a security setting for a particular user you would have to change it by each folder. Or if you get an additional property you would have to add another folder with all the settings and security features for each group of users. This is basically what anyone who is currently using the Windows Explorer folder tree setup can attest to.
So the more folders you have the more changes you have to make. This is one of the many reasons to try and limit the amount of folders you create.
From a user perspective if you’re trying to search for a document, then the more folders you have to drill in to get to a folder to do a search the longer it takes and hence less efficient.
Again this is one of the many reasons to limit the amount archives and instead rely on the metadata to be able to retrieve a document using a simple search.
Organization – Don’t Have A Single Point Of Failure
With regards to setting up the actual fields to enter the metadata. There are two important factors to keep in mind.
First, people will make mistakes and especially as time goes on and the more paperless you become the more mistakes people will make. It’s inevitable.
Therefore it is very important to have at least two key pieces of information to associate with a document.
For example, say I’m scanning in a property tax bill. And instead of typing in Property A as the metadata I type in Property B.
If I later do a search for that document I will almost never find it because I’m doing a search with the wrong metadata.
Therefore, I have a field to enter the block and lot. So even if I enter the wrong property address I can still do a search by the block and lot.
The same would be true with tax returns for example. There should be a field for the entity name as well as a field for the EIN or SS#, thereby, ensuring that a document is always searchable even if one of the pieces of metadata is incorrect.
Set Yourself Up For Success – What Will You Want To Search For Later?
The second thing to think about when setting up the fields or labels is to understand what exactly you want to be able to search for.
I’ll give you an example.
When it came to invoices there were a few things that were important to us aside from being able to search by vendor or property address. We also wanted to be able to search by work type so we can compare proposals from vendors with similar jobs that were done in the past.
I can pull up painting bills or plumbing bills across all properties or from specific properties. The searches are as dynamic as you set them up to be.
Another thing, most programs allow you to set the fields as either dropdowns or as textboxes. Try to use dropdowns as much as possible. It will make it much easier to do searches when you can select from a dropdown as opposed to a text box where the user may not have spelled that particular data correctly when indexing the document. So if your searching for a vendor and the user that indexed it mispelled the name, then a search would never return that document
Going Paperless In Real Estate Is Like Any Other Process – Take It One Step At A Time
In conclusion, going paperless can seem daunting at first, but the best way to go about it is taking one document type at a time, creating an archive for it, and perfecting it until it meets your needs
Then move on to the next document type.
Thanks so much! Such a great point about always having multiple ways of finding a document so if that one gets messed up (as it inevitably will), you have a second plan of attack.
If you have questions for our anonymous paperless real estate friend, leave a comment and I’ll get them answered.