If you haven’t figured it out yet, organization (i.e. – one’s ability to keep things in order) is an extremely important aspect of any real estate business.

It doesn’t matter if you’re an investor, agent, broker, property manager, or speculator – your ability to:

  • Maintain control of your data
  • Keep your information in one place (without mixing everything up)
  • Employ a logical flow of information
  • Find what you’re looking for in seamless fashion

will have a massive impact on your level of effectiveness in this business.

This isn’t something that comes naturally to all of us. It took me about a year of fumbling around with different organization methods before I finally landed on the basic setup that I use today.

A Brief Overview Of My System

Dropbox logoAs the video above explains, I use a free Dropbox account that is synced between a few different computers that I use on a regular basis (one of which is my iPhone).

Dropbox is an amazing tool for a lot of reasons, and it’s not the only option out there(Google Drive is another popular and free option that a lot of people love). The point is to use something that allows you to store files for free, sync folders and files between multiple computers and devices, and easily share documents as needed.

Without this free resource at my disposal, a lot of things would be harder, and I would probably have piles of paper stacked up all over my house.

The ability to retrieve information on your iPhone or Droid at the drop of a hat (and all for FREE, I might add) is a HUGE convenience that you ought to be taking advantage of.

How I Organize My Files With Dropbox

When I open up my dropbox account, these are the six big folders I see. Each of these folders contains a massive amount of data that constitute my entire life.

File organization 1

Within the folder entitled Land, is the bulk of my real estate business (that is – all of the ongoing buying and selling activity for my land investing business). The folders inside my primary real estate business look like this:

Folder Organization 2

There are obviously a lot of different ways that you can keep your real estate business in order (depending on what exactly you do), but when I was getting started in my business – my biggest problem was getting overwhelmed with the volume of offers I was sending out.

I created a folder called Purchasing Activity to keep track of all the offers I had sent out, regardless of whether I actually got the deal. I decided to set it up like this:

Purchasing Activity > State > County > Seller Name > Documentation

And here’s a better visual representation of how it looks

Purchasing Activity Folder Organization

Similarly, on the selling end, once a property is sold and I have to keep track of all my listings, pictures, contracts, deeds, title work, and more, I organize my files like this:

Selling Activity > State > County > Buyer Name > Documentation

And here’s a visual representation of how this part looks

Selling Activity Folder Organization

As you can see, it’s not rocket science, but it did (surprisingly) take a lot of mental energy to nail down an organizational system that would be consistent, logical, and easy for me to follow. I could have tried organizing my properties by parcel number, address, or some other bizarre method, but these other ways just didn’t seem to click in my brain, which is why I landed on the structure shown above.

What This System Doesn’t Do

The primary goal behind this kind of organizational structure is really to just keep me from going insane, with papers and files flying all over the place and no sensible way to find the things I need.

This isn’t intended to automate anything or allow you to run your whole business remotely with one-click (there are plenty of other expensive and complicated software tools out there that can help you achieve that).

All I’m trying to show you here is the way I’ve been able to put things in their proper place, so I’m never wondering where I put things or why things are missing. When I’m following this format, everything just makes sense.

How To Go Paperless

As you’ve probably guessed, the idea of being paperless is a pretty important component of my filing system.

When I first started thinking about how to do this, it seemed like this would be a MAJOR pain to implement. After giving it a shot, I was surprised to find that it took about the same amount of time (or less) as my old paper system.

All I had to do was run the hard documents through a scanner and drop them into the appropriate folders and over time, it actually turned out to be a MUCH easier way to keep things in order. Probably the biggest plus was that it gave me instant access to pretty much anything I could think of, no matter where I was in the world (being and to pulling things up on your phone is a huge convenience)!

dropbox phone

And really…when you know your goal is to go paperless from the start, there are a LOT of instances where you can eliminate the use of hard copies altogether. These days, you can sign almost everything digitally with tools like DocuSign and save documents directly from the internet as pdf files (rather than printing them off).

If you’re finding yourself buried under a mountain of paper files (or if you can’t stop other people from their reliance on hard copies), there are a couple of reasonable investments I would recommend to make this process significantly easier over the long haul.

1. All-In-One Scanner/Printer/Copier/Fax Machine

This was huge for me. I’ll admit, I deliberated for quite a while over whether or not to spend $600+ on a machine that would (in theory) solve all of my problems in one shot – but after biting the bullet, I was VERY glad I did.

I bought the Brother MFC-8890DW. It’s actually a pretty old machine nowadays and there are newer, cheaper options that probably do just as good of a job… but this one has worked like a champ and does everything I need it to do.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of name brand printers out there that are total garbage. If you’re not sure what kind of unit to get, I can vouch for this one.

2. A Large Monitor OR Two Side-By-Side Monitors

You can certainly survive with most run-of-the-mill computer monitors, but without a larger surface area (one that allows you to pull up multiple documents on one screen or two screens), a paperless system will be a lot more cumbersome than it needs to be.

dual monitors

To be honest, it’s not even a bad idea to get two or even three monitors if you can swing it (especially if documentation is a major part of your business) but I’d say at the very least, you should have at least one 24 inch monitor on hand (this is what I have, and it suits me just fine).

3.PDF Editing Software

This is more of a luxury item, but if you’re serious about going paperless – it is very helpful to have some software that will allow you to edit pdf documents without having to print them off and re-scan them.

If you’re using a Mac, the native software will allow you to do most of the basic edits you’ll need to do, with the flexibility to edit, delete, add, insert, rotate, highlight, and recognize text (among many other things) on the pages you scan into your system.

If you’re using Windows, get yourself a copy of Adobe and pay for the basic functionality you need.

The bottom line is – if you find yourself needing to alter a pdf in a way you can’t do directly on your computer, find whatever software you need to make it happen and buy it. It’ll be worth the investment long-term.

Figure Out What Works For You

Like I said before, there is no definitive right or wrong way to do this. This is just my way of keeping my business documentation in order. This is the system that made sense to me and has worked quite well for the past decade.

As you’re thinking this through, feel free to apply any of these ideas to your system – and if you think you’ve got a better way of organizing your files, let me know! I’m always curious to hear about new ways of improving my system as well.

About the author

Seth Williams is the Founder of REtipster.com - an online community that offers real-world guidance for real estate investors.

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