Choice Valuation, PLLC

Your choice for residential appraisals and appraiser products

Performing single- and multi-family residential appraisals and creating simple, useful software for appraisers.

Spark: Frequently Asked Questions

If the following information doesn't help, feel free to contact us here or check out our YouTube videos here.

1) How do I create the MLS export file to use with Spark? I keep getting an error message when I try to upload my file?

Many MLS systems require a one-time file setup process. When you are in Spark at the point where you upload your file click the green "Need help with file setup?" box. This will take you to the instructions page for that particular MLS. You only have to do this once.

NOTE: You can also click here to go to our coverage page and select your MLS to get the setup instructions.

2) How do I add more comps to a report that already has comps in it?

If you already have comps in your report but you want to add more the process is fairly simple in Spark. When you click the 'Export' button there is an option for what position to start your comps at. If you have four comps in your report and you want to add more then you would tell Spark to start Comps at position 5.

3) Why aren't all the comps going into my report and why am I getting red bars around the fields?

Spark will automatically populate not only your comps but also the relevant photo pages as well. We have had some users tell us that if they import into their report while they were already in the Side-by-side view they have problems with not all comps populating or SmartAdjust features not working so make sure that you are NOT in the side-by-side view when importing data into your report. a la mode has informed us that if you do import while in Side-by-Side, if you simply click back to the regular view (click 'Forms') then go back to 'Side-by-Side' everything will be correct.

4) [For those of you that also use TrendSheet] - TrendSheet is overwriting all of my Spark data! How can I turn off the links in TrendSheet that are overwriting the Spark information?

You have two options. First, you can simply contact me  (click 'Contact Us' in the main menu above) with some proof of your purchase and I'll send you a new copy of TrendSheet with all of those links removed.

Second, if you have customized TrendSheet for your own purposes and don't want to have to redo all of that customization, simply watch the video below where I walk through the process step-by-step so you can unlink your own customized TrendSheet.

5) How do I make my competing file and is that the information that's used to complete my 1004MC? PS - What's a Neighborhood and/or Alternative file?

When you click the 1004MC button for the first time in Spark you'll be prompted to load a few different files. They will be Competing, Neighborhood, and Alternative (and Condo Project if you're doing a condo). The only one of these that's required is the Competing file. 

Below is an explanation of the different file types, what they're used for, and how to get the best data possible. You can also watch this video where I walk you through the whole process (in my MLS) and explain the different file types.

The competing file is the one that's used to fill out your 1004MC and the numbers at the top of Page 2 (or Page 3 if you're doing a condo). To this end, you want to go into your MLS and perform a search for all properties you deem to be competing with your subject. When you do the search, you'll get the most accurate results if you choose all status types (e.g. active, contingent, pending, closed, expired, withdrawn, etc) excluding Rental or Leased, of course. The search must go back a minimum of one year but Spark will analyze up to 10 years worth of data so go back further than one year if you want. By default Spark is setup with 1 and 2 year analyses in the charts but you can easily modify them to suit your preferences. When completing the 1004MC numbers it will only use the past year of data but the extra data going further back is for your own analysis purposes.

The neighborhood file is the file that has all SFR properties (or all condos if your doing a condo) in your entire neighborhood (as you define it on Page 1 of your report). These are not just competing properties but all SFR (or condo) properties. This is what Spark uses to fill out your low/high/predominant numbers on Page 1 of your report and it provides another method for analysis of data which can be helpful especially when your competing properties are too few to really know what the trend is.

The alternative file is a file you can load in that is meant to allow you to compare one market against another. Say for example, that you want to see the price differences between all properties on one side of the highway versus those on the other side, you would use the alternative file for this and then in your charts create an analysis based on the alternative file.

The condo project file is the data used to fill out the condo project section of the 1004MC this should be a minimum of one year's worth of listings from just the subject's project.

6) How is the 1004MC and trend information calculated?

Within Spark, when you're looking at the 1004MC you can click on the 'Gear' icon in the upper right corner then click on Calculations to get a page showing how all the calculations are made and citing sources for our methods.

In addition, when you're looking at the 1004MC in Spark you can click on any number to see the data that "makes up" that number so if you want to verify the Median Sales price in the 0-3 month period just click on that number to bring up a table of all the properties Spark used to get that number. You can also click on any point of data (or bar) in a chart to see the data that comprises it.

7) Why isn't Spark automatically checking the Increasing/Stable/Declining boxes for me?

Spark doesn't do that. Spark is designed to give you all the information necessary for you to draw a conclusion about trends in your area based on how you prefer to analyze data. However, we believe that the actual decision about whether things are going up or down is better left to a human appraiser than a piece of software.

You can click here to read a little about our design philosophy behind this and this page also has and explanation of our calculations. 

8) What if my MLS only lets me export 250 or 500 properties and I need a lot more to do the analysis I want?

Click here for a video showing how to do this and keep reading for the explanation if you prefer.

There's a simple way to add data onto data you've already uploaded in Spark.  To explain, let's assume you want to do an analysis of competing properties that goes back four years but due to MLS limitations on how many properties you can export, it would take four files to get all the data you need. 

First, narrow down your search (either geographically or by time) so that the number of listings is below your MLS threshold. Then export that file. In this example we'll get the first year of data and then export the file. Then go in and do a search just for year two and export that and then repeat the process for years three and four. Now you have four files which comprises all the data.

In Spark, load in the first file as your Competing file and click 'Next'. On the next screen where you see the 1004MC, click the 'Data' tab at the top. Now, next to where it says 'Competing' click the '+' symbol and upload your second file. Repeat this and upload your third and fourth file. That's it! Now you've got all your data loaded in despite your MLS export limitations.

9) How does the Spark monthly subscription work?

When you purchase a monthly subscription to Spark that means you (the licensed or certified appraiser) has unlimited use of Spark for the month. In addition, a la mode will automatically charge you on the same day every month. If you first purchase the monthly subscription on May 12th, you will be charged automatically every month on the 12th until you cancel.

IMPORTANT: Subscriptions are "per appraiser" not "per office" so if you're in an office of multiple appraisers you'll need to purchase a subscription for every appraiser that has data from Spark loaded into their report. Trainees (until licensed or certified) and admin personnel that are not appraisers do not have to pay separately for Spark. For example, if you have an office of five appraisers, one trainee, and one admin who loads data for the appraisers into their reports, you would purchase 5 subscriptions (no subscription needed for the trainee or admin personnel). **EXCEPTION** If you use a la mode software and a la mode requires your trainee or admin personnel to have their own customer number then you would have to pay for Spark separately for that person. Please contact us with any questions on this.

10) How does "per use" pricing work? When do I get charged for a "use"?

When you purchase "uses" in either the 4 Uses or 16 Uses method, a la mode charges a "use" against your account the moment you click the 'Import' button in the 'Data Import' wizard (see screenshot).

IMPORTANT: You do not get charged for a "use" when you use Spark, so you can load data as many times as you want into the Spark website and you will not get charged, only when you click the 'Import' button in the 'Data Import' wizard. ALSO, you can load data into the exact same report a total of 4 times and that only counts as one "use". A second "use" will be charged if you load data a fifth time into the same report. This, however, should never happen if you're using Spark as it was designed. If you find yourself constantly loading data into your report 3 or more times then contact us and we'll help you find ways to use Spark more efficiently.

11) How do I change colors of charts?

Chart colors are set up Profile-wide which means whatever profile you're using controls the colors of your charts. If you want to change the color, click on your Profile (in blue) at the top right then choose Manage Profiles. In the next screen just hover your mouse over whichever profile you want to customize and click on 'Color Scheme' and choose the colors you'd like.

12) Can I create defaults for Location, Quality, Condition, and Functional Utility?

Yes! By default these are turned off since we don’t get any data for these fields but you can turn them on and set defaults for each. When you're looking at the grid in Spark just click on Location and type in whatever you want Spark to put into your grid for location. Similarly, click on Condition, Quality, and Functional Utility and type in whatever you want as your default and Spark will use that for all properties you load in.