InsightsThe Art & Science of Being an Exceptional Appraiser

Appraisers share insights into what it takes to excel in their profession and why they continue to see appraisal as a high-potential career opportunity.

Diane Huff recalls the moment when the instructor of one of her continuing education classes asserted, “Appraising is not a science; it's the art of communicating an opinion.”

“That statement really struck me. It influenced how I conducted my own appraisals when I was in the field, and it continues to come to mind as I have conversations with appraisers who don’t recognize the full value of their art,” says Huff, a certified appraiser and senior analyst in the Risk Assessment and Standards Department of ServiceLink*. “Anybody can find comparable sales, slap a number on a form and call it an appraisal, but it’s truly not. Lenders want to work with appraisers who gather relevant data, properly analyze that data and effectively reconcile that data to create a well-supported, well-thought-out and well-communicated report.”

Alan Pair, chief appraiser and senior vice president of Valuations at ServiceLink, adds, “An appraisal is an opinion of value that is supported by certain facts. Lenders require appraisers to support their opinions; this includes explaining the rationale behind their adjustments to the comparables and supporting their analysis of the market trends within the subject neighborhood. The science of an appraisal is being able to analyze and support the data; the art, is to form a credible opinion based on the facts.”

Appraisers who excel, say Huff and Pair, are those who achieve a healthy balance of the art and the science. Let’s look at what goes into that mix.

Education, Skills, and Integrity: Laying the Foundation for Success

Appraisers who excel tend to hold a “lifelong learner” mindset. First, they must meet the education, experience and examination requirements for appraiser licensing and certification set forth by the Appraiser Qualification Board (AQB) of The Appraisal Foundation. Then they are required to stay updated with the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP) and other industry updates through continuing education programs offered by approved providers.

“Becoming an excellent appraiser means being a true student of the profession. It also requires having unshakable integrity,” says Robert Murphy, whose 40-year career in the valuation industry has included serving as director of Property Valuation and Eligibility with Fannie Mae.

“An appraiser’s skill set should cover a variety of areas, ranging from time management, appraisal methodologies and problem-solving to writing, math and technology,” Murphy says. Interpersonal and customer service skills are vital, too. “In addition to understanding that you are putting your reputation on the line every time you sign off on a report, you need to remember that you are a salesperson, selling yourself to your clients. Why should they use you versus another appraiser? Prove yourself through the quality, integrity and timeliness of your work, and know how to sell yourself convincingly,” he advises.

Experience and Mentorship: Building Expertise to Master the Art

Murphy says that real estate appraising knowledge is gained through study and experience — with a heavy emphasis on the experience piece. “It is one thing to understand the theoretical applications of the process, another to apply the theory to practical real-life scenarios,” he explains.

That’s why, in addition to education requirements, the AQB requires appraiser trainees to book up to 1500 hours of experience, depending on the license they’re pursuing. They need to have a mentor supervising that work, too, which can be a challenge in today’s market.

Huff shares, “When you’re getting into the business, you have to align yourself with someone who will agree to teach you, mentor you and stay with you until you can go out on your own. When I joined the profession, there was more mentoring going on. Today, appraisers are not only pressed for time; many also view having a trainee as unwise, because they think they’re going to train that person to become their competitor.”

Huff and other members of ServiceLink’s Risk Assessment and Standards team, who are themselves appraisers, see mentorship as a career-long pursuit. They invite their panel of appraisers to call for advice anytime. “We have the opportunity to counsel appraisers after we’ve performed our risk review — to talk with them one-on-one and try to help them build their expertise,” Huff says. “We often hear, ‘I never thought of it that way!’ That’s not surprising: It can be difficult to find someone to bounce ideas off of when you’re a one-person shop, as so many appraisers are.”

Adaptability: How COVID-19 and Technology Are Changing the Game

As in every other industry, the pandemic has presented challenges for appraisers, who have historically needed to earn the trust of customers as they step into their homes and now face the additional burden of proving their commitment to minimizing the spread of COVID-19. “While this is a challenge for appraisers, it can also be an opportunity: You can market to your clients that you take every available precaution — masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, social distancing — to ensure a safe experience,” says Pair.

Pair describes another factor that’s having a strong influence on appraisers — one that began before COVID-19 emerged: “Turn time has become a big issue in certain markets across the country. Lenders have a limited amount of time to keep a mortgage rate locked in, so they need the appraisal, title work and other services returned as soon as possible. This has led to a growing push in the past couple of years for alternative valuation products.”

Among these products are desktop valuations that may or may not include third-party inspections; and self-inspection tools such as EXOS Inspect, a product recently launched by ServiceLink to address the ongoing demand for digital experiences by millennial borrowers. Appraisers need to be familiar with these, as well as the platforms that they and their AMC partners use for day-to-day management and operations.

“It is a unique time to be an appraiser, given the coronavirus pandemic and evolutionary changes to the appraisal industry,” says Monty Marcus, vice president of Desktop Operations at ServiceLink. “The new expectation among lenders and AMCs is for appraisers to incorporate technology at a rapid pace; some appraisers are pushing against this to a certain degree, because it’s unfamiliar to them and they don’t immediately recognize the benefits. Others see that they can become more efficient if they adopt the new technology.”

By way of example, EXOS Valuations equips appraisers with a personalized calendar, real-time notifications, and other tools to bolster their productivity, and EXOS Schedule enables consumers and their agents to schedule appraisals at their convenience. Another ServiceLink product called DVI (Desktop Valuation with an Inspection) expedites the appraisal by sending a real estate agent or field inspector to inspect a property, which leaves the appraiser to spend more time on the art of the appraisal.

“The report submitted by the inspector gives the appraiser a good understanding of what’s there so they can make informed judgments,” says Marcus. “Then they complete a shorter, streamlined version of a compliant appraisal. The process is faster and more cost-efficient, yet it provides the same end product in terms of quality and credibility.”

Evolving technology tools such as DVI and EXOS Valuations, Schedule and Inspect help ensure appraisers are working smarter, not harder.

Opportunity: Appraisal as a Career Choice

What kind of potential does the valuation industry hold for emerging talent? Recent data compiled by Clearbox® LLC says that the nearly 75,000 appraisers in the U.S. — 72% male, 28% female — are on average 54 years old and have about 23 years of appraising experience. The aging of the talent pool has created plenty of space for younger talent.

“I encouraged my two sons and my nephew to join the industry because I think it’s the best time to become an appraiser,” says Marcus. “There will always be a need for good appraisers, and I expect the opportunities to continue growing. Younger people adopt technology quickly. It’s easy for them — just the normal way of getting things done. They have the potential to use the new technology to their advantage and build strong businesses.”

What many appraisers appreciate about their jobs is the independence it affords them. “You’re in control of your working hours. That can be an advantage from not only an efficiency standpoint but also a family standpoint. When I was growing up, my father, who was an appraiser, was always available to see my games and pick me up after school; I did the same with my kids,” says Pair. “In addition, as an appraiser, you also have control, to some degree, over your income. If you’re a go-getter and hit the ground running every morning, you can make good money once you have your appraisal license. You can grow your business by expanding your coverage and hiring staff appraisers, too. And those who embrace the technology, which we would expect younger generations to do without hesitation, can produce more, making even more money. The potential for building a successful career is great.”

*ServiceLink Valuation Solutions, LLC (“ServiceLink”) is licensed as an appraisal management company in all states plus the District of Columbia; license numbers include: NV # AMC.0000118, VT # 077.0067954-MAIN, WI #2-900.

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