From carrying boxes of paper back and forth between her office and home during the pandemic (and even through snowstorms), to the transition to a cloud-based system where applications can be processed automatically overnight, Christine McEntire reflects on what the move to Thentia has meant for her agency.
Can you tell me a bit about your agency?
The Real Estate Appraiser Board is unique as a state agency. It is in place solely to enforce federal criteria. There are rules and regulations at a state level, but they mirror what happens on a national level. The board has a licensing program and an enforcement program and it’s just what it sounds like: the licensing program is in place to ensure Oklahomans meet the criteria set by the Appraiser Qualifications Board, the national entity that sets the foundation for what experience and qualifications a person needs to have in order to become an appraiser. We’re in place to make sure that happens.
I think we have approximately 900 domestic real estate appraisers in Oklahoma and we have about 350 or 400 out of state which hold reciprocal licenses in Oklahoma. In addition to working with appraisers, we have 114 appraisal management companies.
How is your agency staffed?
We’re a small agency. We have three staff members: myself and two other people handling everything that needs to get done. There is a legal secretary who is in place to help me with the enforcement side of our program. The enforcement program investigates and resolves complaints made by consumers, lenders, homeowners, other appraisers and realtors about appraisals or violations made during completion of appraisals. We investigate those complaints, manage the legal files and we have disciplinary hearings. Our legal secretary serves as the court clerk during those hearings; she swears witnesses in and manages the exhibits that are entered into the record. She is also the liaison between the hearing panel members who serve as the jury.
Our licensing person handles all the licensing issues that that come in such as applications for upgrade, new applications, permits, new licensees, annual fees statements, renewals and appraisers from out of state who want to receive a temporary practice permit in Oklahoma. She also handles everything related to continuing education including approval of continuing education courses and approval of course providers that may apply to provide instruction to appraisers.
In addition to our core staff, we have an eight-member board, and the members are appointed by our governor. The chairperson is the Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner, he serves in an ex officio capacity, only voting in case of a tie.
What are your unique challenges?
I think we’re a unique agency in that we’re solely in place to enforce federal criteria. We are subject to audits every two years for compliance with their requirements. As a small agency we are also challenged to keep up with our work with minimal staff and a minimal budget.
Prior to moving to an online system, we would experience paper intensive end of month renewals. There wasn’t enough time in the day to get everyone processed. When appraisers submit their application at the last minute, we really struggled to get everyone taken care of in a timely manner. Of course, that would generate phone calls to find out the status of their license, but we couldn’t process the paper because we were busy taking phone calls about processing the paper. If the last day of the month was a Friday or a holiday weekend, and the appraiser dropped it off the day before, they likely would be inactive for a period of time until we were able to return to the office and process that renewal application. With approximately 1300 appraisers and 1 licensing person, it’s a quite a burden on the person primarily responsible for processing those renewal applications.
To be able to move to an electronic process has saved us quite a bit of money, but more importantly, it’s saved us our mental health.
What was the turning point in deciding to move to Thentia?
About eight years ago, our prior Governor issued an executive order requiring that all state agencies provide online licensing. For a long time, I knew that there was a better way, but our system was still operational, so we continued on. I spent years trying to find the right software fit for us, listening to demonstrations by other software providers, but after looking at the costs, we simply couldn’t do it. Some platforms were in the area of $700,000 – that’s more than our annual budget.
Coincidentally, I was in contact with a friend who used to be an appraiser regulator in the state of Idaho and had moved to Thentia. She offered me a demonstration and we honestly loved it. It was amazing. Not only was the platform user friendly, the price was within our budget and that’s really what drove it. I had a fire lit under me to get it done.
Did COVID put additional pressure on you?
COVID did add a unique component to the transition as we were required to train on the new system remotely, while working from home. We ended up going live in December of 2020 while all of our staff was working remotely. It was one of the most frightening things I had ever done.
While under stay-at-home orders in the early period of COVID, staff had to come in once a week to box up all the paper we needed for the week. After collecting a box, I would go home, and I worked out of that box of paper. Then the next day or two, a different staff person would go in and process their paper and then I would come back in and so we were shuffling back and forth with boxes of paper. It was a burden. COVID opened everybody’s eyes about the need to move to something more functional.
Tell me about the cost savings you’ve experienced with Thentia
Our printing and mailing costs were exorbitant for us as a small agency. Since implementing Thentia’s system, we’ve seen an 80% reduction in postage overall. From a licensing standpoint, we’ve seen nearly a 100% reduction in postage.
As for paper costs, if we’re talking about licensing, we’ve seen almost a 100% reduction in printing. Now when applications come in, we just quickly save it as a PDF.
When we compare our software licensing costs compared to what we used to spend on postage and printing costs, we’re coming out ahead. We used to spend $10,000 on paper and postage in a year. Now, for a $3,000 annual expense, we have a net gain of $7,000. For our agency, we’ve come out ahead by moving to Thentia.
What has the impact been on time spent responding to calls?
We definitely spend less time now on phone calls. We rarely receive the telephone calls asking, “where’s my license?” or “how many hours of continuing education do I have?” or “when are you going to process my application?” I would say licensing phone calls have easily gone down by 75%.
Tell me what the licensing application process was like before, compared to now?
If a paper application came in, we would have to verify their CE (Continuing Education), make sure the application was correct, date stamp it, allocate the funds, issue the new license, copy, scan, put it in the mail – that type of thing. Now if our renewal application comes in and there are no flags attached to it, we don’t have to do anything.
We occasionally go through and audit the data just to make sure that it’s accurate and there aren’t problems even though it says it’s approved, but generally we don’t have to be involved. I open up the system in the morning and it might show me that 10 people paid their annual fees and were approved. What would have been 20 minutes of time for a single application, happened instantly.
For upgrade applications it’s a little bit more time consuming, because we verify their experience hours and education. However, I think that we are still definitely saving time because the information is already in the system.
Have you had feedback from your licensees?
I received two emails from appraisers in Texas, saying that our licensing process for temporary applications was the best system that that they had ever seen – and they’ve been through licensing in every state. I think it’s true. On the temporary practice permit applications, they fill out the online application and pay. For us, all the information we need is together so all we do is hit approve and then the system generates the permit and that person from out of state receives notice immediately if they’re in the system. This may be one of the best parts of our system.
How has the speed increased in processing applications?
We have requirements as a state agency to be effective and be timely. The federal requirements are that we process applications within 5 business days. With the exception of end-of-year applications, we previously had had a two or three-day turnaround, but being online has even made it faster. Now, some permits are issued within 5 minutes.
Is there anything else you would like to add about Thentia?
Thentia is incredible. I honestly feel like it is our 4th employee. It’s that employee who is working at night and on the weekends and on holidays. If we had a snowstorm tomorrow and we were at home, I could come back on Monday and 40 licenses could have been issued without us having to do anything. It benefits licensees, too, because they’re not bound to staff being in the office. They can get their license issued at midnight. It is a failsafe for us in a lot of ways because it’s doing a lot of the work for us.
Read our full case study to learn more about the Oklahoma Real Estate Appraisers Board and the massive transformation its staff has experienced since switching to Thentia Cloud.