An a la mode customer since 1993, Mary Kirby has watched the appraisal industry evolve over the past two decades. We discovered that Mary’s tireless work ethic and reliance on new technology have been the driving forces behind her love for the business.

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Were you with another vendor before us?

Mary: No, I was with Carmen (my mentor), and she used a la mode.

And what made you get into appraising?

I went into construction science at OU. And then I was an estimator in Oklahoma City. But in 1989, I married a farmer and we moved out to the country and I needed something to do out in the middle of nowhere. I looked for someone to train me and no one would train me, so I found Carmen. At that time, she was the president of the IFA. And she said "Yeah I'll train ya!"

I found that you can wear a Subaru out, and I did that working with her! I drove around all over the state with Carmen doing jobs for 6 years with no pay.

And then they changed all the rules, and I was fighting all this legislation, but she was helping write it. She was really involved with all of that. And so anyway, it's just been a long road.

How did working with Carmen affect your view on all the legislation?

Mary: They needed it back then. I think it made for a softer landing. I'm glad they instigated it.

I find that the banks are the ones I want to work for. They're the rule-followers, they follow the rules and I don't have to worry about the indiscretions that have taken place in other cities. So, I work for good people and that's really what the bottom line is - where your integrity is.

You worked for six years without pay - why didn’t you go out on your own sooner?

Mary: It took that long driving to Oklahoma City and all over the state working with Carmen to build up the hours to get my license. Also, I had a surgery the second year, and had my kids over the next four years. That slowed my progress down. I use to live in a county where it was a two-hour drive one way, many times with children in tow. My Mom and Dad would help babysit.

Where do you get your business from?

Mary: When I started out, I went to the local bank, and they gave me a couple jobs. And working with Carmen, I'd done all of this work to get certified so I went to the banks in different towns and introduced myself and there was a need there, so they just put me to work. So, I learned from there, and I kept getting faster and faster. And you get better at it the more experience you get. But I will tell you that the technology helped because when I started we had the tractor feed stuff. And oh the computers! When I started estimating in the high-rise buildings, we got our first estimates on the Apple computer - the desktop Apple, the first PCs, and we were doing estimates on it. They were really archaic from what they do now, but after that, it was the development of the cameras, the digital cameras. I feel like a dinosaur.

Do you have a favorite product or a certain feature that you feel saves you the most time?

Mary: I'm just really looking forward to Titan Analytics. I've agreed to make it one of my new favorites!

I just like the program TOTAL itself. I've always used it and I like it. There are some nights or weekends when it's 1 a.m. or 10 p.m. and I can't figure out what to do, and tech support has called and they've helped me. It's like the midnight savior. Captain Midnight rolls in and saves me. There have only been a couple of times that I was desperate, but they rescued me, and I appreciate that beyond measure.

Another thing I'd say is the E&O checker so you can go back and check to see that it's all in line. I love that, it's a saving grace for me. I’m a one-person shop, and there have been times when I've looked at something for two days, and I've looked at it so many times, sometimes I just go over [mistakes]. But the E&O check catches a lot of stuff. That is a wonderful thing.

What’s typically your process for learning a new TOTAL feature, or a la mode product?

Mary: Trial and error, and then looking for the tutorials. I also like the quick emails that give us pointers. As Will Rogers says, “There are three kinds of people. The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation, and the rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.”

“The innovations as they've come along have always gotten bigger and better.”

Do you have a favorite memory since coming to a la mode?

Mary: I think moving to TOTAL (from Aurora). The innovations as they've come along have always gotten bigger and better. And the techs, I have to say in my experience have been really good. They've just handled me when I've been tired and late with my job. They've been so patient with me and I appreciate that and them all so much. Yes, they are very patient with us, because this is not a fun thing to have to do all the time. But I love what I do and have a great life now because of my appraisal business.

What's your advice to other appraisers?

Mary: Be extremely attentive to accuracy and detail. Try to be painstakingly thorough, but don’t over-extend yourself.

Our 24/7 tech support helped save Mary during some desperate hours. You might find yourself in the same shoes sometime soon.

Click here to upgrade to Elite and extend your support hours (and get many other Elite perks like Titan Analytics, and free one-on-one training). Hint: with Elite, you'll also get bumped to the front of the queue - your call will be answered before everyone else, including the Platinum line.