Craig Linville, vice president in the appraisal department at Bank of North Carolina in High Point, found out the hard way that sometimes a bank can grow too quickly for its own good.

The $2.5 billion-asset bank doubled in size last year by purchasing two banks with assistance from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

"That put a burden on a lot of us in the back room," Linville says.

He was reviewing about 170 appraisals a month on an Excel spreadsheet he had created.

"It reached a volume that wasn't working," he recalls. "I was working until 2:00 a.m. every morning trying to stay ahead of the game, and I get up at 5:00 a.m. to feed our horses, so I was getting three hours of sleep a night. I had a heart attack from the stress."

Linville researched appraisal review programs and selected software from ValuTrac that could automate commercial and residential real estate evaluations.

"That saved my life," he says.

The software enables several types of time savings. Loan officers who request an appraisal enter the information into the program.

Previously Linville had to look up appraisers' geographic regions of coverage. Now he receives notice of the order and clicks on an appraiser on the bank's approved list within the right ZIP code or county. The appraiser accepts the order with a click, saving Linville a phone call to the appraiser to see if he's willing to accept the order. The appraiser's license and errors and omissions insurance information is automatically updated by the appraiser, removing one more worry for Linville.

"It works so well that at our last audit, the auditors had zero questions, and that's kind of unheard of in our industry," Linville says.

The software takes care of a compliance issue. Dodd-Frank rules dictate that loan officers can have no part of an appraisal order and may not know which appraiser is involved. The software ensures that loan officers cannot see the appraiser's name in the application, yet it lets them track the status of the appraisal and give the customer an accurate ETA.

There's also a benefit in having all the files automatically stored digitally. "I would spend hours saving files, having to go back and search for them later," Linville says. "Sometimes the loan officer I was sending a report to deleted or lost the file. Now the files are out there for anyone to see at any given time. That's freed up a lot of time for me."

The borrower can get the appraisal by email rather than hard copy, if he prefers. The faster appraisal process and the ability to give a firm date for the appraisal is a sales point for loan officers.

It took about a week to get the bank's 200 users up and running on the software.

"The appraisers have found this really easy to use, too," Linville says. "We rarely get a question from appraisers that are signing on with us. It's user friendly for an old guy like me." Little training was needed for the new system. "We offered an employee training webinar, but most of the officers hung up after two minutes; it's so simple they didn't want to sit through it," Linville says.

Linville says the return on investment, at least from his perspective, is "My life back. Now I leave at 5:00 p.m. most days."

The software usage fee is passed on to borrowers, so there is no cost to the bank.

The software can be integrated with the bank's accounting software for invoicing and payment of appraisals, but the bank has not yet implemented this, as the accounting department has swamped with merger work. But Linville says he expects to use the accounting component in the future.