In 2013, I left the Ventura County Assessor's Office for a position as an analyst at Integra Realty Resources in Los Angeles, and the transition to the private business world was ideal for many reasons --especially for access to modern technology. No longer was I using the county's 10-year-old Microsoft XP operating system. No longer was I typing codes into the mainframe database with its black screen and blinking white cursor daring me to hit the wrong key.
After a few months in my new position, I was walking through the office when I noticed a senior appraiser typing away in unfamiliar software. His screen looked similar to Microsoft Word but had tabs along the top and obviously was not Word. I stopped to chat and was surprised to learn he was using OneNote, a note-taking software created by Microsoft (compatible with PCs and Macs, as well as Windows, iOS and Android mobile devices). I had never heard of it before, but his enthusiasm for the program made me want to give it a try. OneNote originally was released in 2003 so it isn't new, but it's gaining in popularity in recent years, especially since it was made available for free. In fact, Microsoft reports OneNote doubled its monthly active users last year.
At the time, that one appraiser was the only person in our office using OneNote. A year later, the tribe of users has grown to four--myself included. There are just over 10 appraisers in our Los Angeles office, so it's no majority, but the four of us using OneNote are big fans; I'm probably the biggest.
Every Trick in the Book
I have used another note taking software, Evernote, for personal use, but I didn't feel comfortable utilizing it for work. I wanted something with a longer track record, something I could use to save my files on our office server and something that would complement our established office policies and procedures for maintaining work files, which include the creation of a three-ring binder to organize our research and maintain a high-quality work file for each new appraisal assignment.
OneNote's organizational setup is very similar. For each new appraisal assignment, I open a new "Notebook," which is a digital spiral notebook or a digital three-ring binder. This notebook is where I keep relevant items, organized in "Sections" (like binder tabs) and "Pages" (just pages). I create one section for comparable data, one for the subject property and then open up additional sections as needed. My pages are separated into research on zoning, confirmation phone calls to brokers and Internet research. lean print what I need and save everything else on the office server. OneNote is fluid and can be adjusted and reorganized on the fly; when you get comfortable with it, organizational options seem endless.
OneNote has the familiar navigation bar also used in Excel and Word, which shortens the learning curve. However, the first thing I noticed is that one very familiar button is missing from the toolbar: the "save" button. OneNote does not require users to save their files because they automatically save as they're typed, which makes it easy to get in and out of the software without losing any data.
Strike the Right Note
I've used OneNote for a little over a year now, and in that short time I've really gotten to appreciate its flexibility and importance in the appraisal process--and I've only begun to crack the surface of features and options.
I'm especially pumped about three ways OneNote helps me stay organized:
* Search. Anything and everything I type into OneNote is searchable. Cool, yes, but not totally unusual. What's special is that any PDF or image embedded into my notes is fully searchable. I use OneNote to take notes when confirming comparable sales, and it's helpful to see my previous conversations with particular brokers by searching for names within all my notebooks. Try doing that without OneNote.
* Tags. I'm a list guy, and I have to write down what I want to keep track of and the things I need to do. OneNote's tags makes this easy for me, specifically the "to-do" tag. I add this tag to everything I need to remember and then check off the items before submitting my report. I've even created my own custom tag called "email broker" so I know which brokers I need to send a thank-you dataset when I've completed my appraisal.
* Screen Clipping. OneNote lets me take a screen shot (also called screen clip) of anything on my computer screen. I previously used SnagIt for this task, but
OneNote has the same capabilities.
There are some more advanced OneNote features that I'm slowly beginning to explore, such as audio recording and hand-drawn notes, and I'm trying it out on my iPhone for in-field inspections.
The software and basic information and training is available online at www.onenote.com or through one of the app stores. If your office utilizes Microsoft Office products, OneNote may already be on your computer. If you want to better utilize OneNote, there are a few training books available; I've read and recommend "Microsoft OneNote 2013 Plain & Simple" by Peter Weverka, and there are videos on YouTube offering user tips, it
Jared DeCamp, Practicing Affiliate, is an analyst at Integra Realty Resources in Los Angeles where he focuses on appraisals for right of way, eminent domain and litigation. He previously was an appraiser for Ventura County, California. Those interested in OneNote can contact DeCamp at firstname.lastname@example.org.