Changing markets

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By Rachel Massey, SRA, AI-RRS

It is easy to miss the market. Sometimes subtle changes are occurring and it is too early to pick up on a trend. Or there is conflicting information indicating both an increasing and a declining market at the same time, depending on the market segment.

If appraisers had crystal balls into the future, we would be doing something other than appraising. The money would be in predictions, not in measuring the current market. We are expected to be in touch with the market however, but basing our opinions on past, closed transactions is not necessarily the current market. This is one reason analyzing current offerings, pending sales, expired and withdrawn listings, and listening to the chatter of those involved in real estate sales is important.

Between 2007 and 2010 much of the nation experienced significant declines in real property values. Some appraisals that were developed and communicated in that period indicated the market was stable, even with evidence to the contrary. Appraisers were reluctant to mark the declining trends box on the form reports, due to very real concerns of losing lender business by doing so. The 1004MC form, that became mandatory after April 1, 2009, came to being in large part as a way to help ensure that appraisers analyzed the market. Like it or not, this provided structure and direction to lead the appraiser to look at what was happening in the market, at the time of the appraisal. Although many appraisers state this form is woefully inadequate, few supplement it with additional information supporting their market trends decision. This is the thesis of this short article; to be aware of  other elements to observe in addition to the MC document, as well as what to watch for as the market starts to change. Because change is inevitable.

Ten years after the market decline, large parts of the country are experiencing significant increases in real property values. Some markets have surpassed the previous highs, and many appraisers are concerned about a repeat cycle reminiscent of the 2007-2010 market. How do we as appraisers, protect ourselves against being accused of incorrectly measuring what market conditions are? How can we analyze what factors are driving the market, and what should we be aware of as possible bellwether indicators of a changing market?

Although not exhaustive, below is a list of some of what is driving an increasing market in many of our individual areas.

  • Low inventory
  • Low rates
  • Few builder specs
  • Builder entry prices (due to labor shortages and increasing costs)
  • Owners converting housing to rentals
  • Taxes making moves difficult (resetting to higher assessments)
  • Need to sell to buy and lack of opportunity to do so – making downsizing difficult
  • Owners holding on to their residence due to no desire to change circumstances
  • Fear of rising rates causing panic buying
  • Optimism that prices will continue to increase

Being aware of what is driving the market is a good first step to being aware of what could ultimately change the market. Each of the points above can cumulatively or individually result in a change to market conditions.  In addition, the following factors should be watched.

  • Incomes not keeping pace with price increases
  • Increased inventory
  • Rising rates
  • First time buyers priced out of market deciding to opt out
  • Property taxes exceeding allowable write-off

Ways to check what is happening

  • Contract to listing ratios
  • Expired and withdrawn listings
  • Days on market
  • Price reductions or increases
  • Listing prices lower than comparable sale prices
  • Widening gap between list and sales prices
  • Comments in listings “bring offers” “priced below recent appraisal”
  • Agent interviews – agent chatter
  • Falling rental prices
  • Incomes not keeping pace with price increases
  • Increasing relocation assignments

Contract-to-listing ratios are a concept that agents use, but most appraisers do not seem attuned to. It is simply taking a pool of competitive properties into consideration, and looking at the percentage of the listings on the market at that time that are under contract. If the determination is that the competitive market for the subject property is a 1,000 – 1,500 sqft ranch house built between 1940 and 1960 in such and such an area, the appraiser may find there are 100 listings on the market, but of those 100 listings, 40 are under contract. That is a 40% contract to listing ratio, and indicates the market is strong and houses are absorbing into the market. If on the other hand, there are 100 listings but only ten are under contract, that is a 10% contract to listing ratio and is weak, showing the market is not strong. This can be used to measure whether the market is favoring buyers, sellers, or is generally balanced. Through keeping track of this type of information in various market segments over time, it can be used to predict near-term changes in the market. For example, price pressure may show all the listings 20% higher than the sales, but if very few are under contract, it is unlikely there is going to be a jump in prices, but if most are under contract in spite of the spike in prices, it is likely they will close higher and it affords a chance to be left behind. Take for example, this sample that I ran (by price, not by market segment for the simplicity of this article) for my market on 2/16/18 and run again on 3/18/18 for comparison, to see what areas in the market were experiencing the greatest pressures:

Overall the market shows extremely tight, with less than 2.75 months’ worth of inventory as a whole in the entire school district, and by price, in the same realm through to the $500,000 price range. Over that, there is more inventory and a much lower contract to listing ratio, at 24.53% compared to 32% for just a bit lower priced, between $401,000 and $500,000, and even greater at 57.14% in the $301,000 – $400,000 range.  How does this type of information help inform the reader of the current market? It simply shows what inventory is like as well as how active the market is. It doesn’t show price increases if they are occurring, but it is pretty unlikely that a market with 50% of the houses on the market under contract is going to be either stable or declining. If your opinion of value on the property was $190,000, there would be no active competition as of this date and it would be a good bet that the house would be in high demand. Conversely, if your opinion of value was $650,000, there would be much more competition and the expectation would be a longer marketing period. In addition to how the subject of the appraisal might be positioned, keeping track of ratios over time can be useful in noticing a trend before it becomes well known in the market, realizing that figures could vary in a day. In the example above however, the trends appeared similar, showing the highest levels of activity in this market in the $201,000 – $400,000 range, with no inventory under $200,000.

When markets are tight and increasing, it is just as important to discuss the market and any changes that are evident, as it is when the market is declining. Ignoring an increasing market is just as incorrect as ignoring a declining market. Stating that one only adjusts downward for declining markets, but not upward for increasing markets is an incorrect procedure. Document the changes and include what you can in the report.

Document, document, document, as silly as it may seem, using Trulia, Realtor.com and other online tools can help you with keeping a record of trending information on top of what you present in your report. Realtors Property Resource has a tool which provides trending analysis for the property under consideration, the zip code and the county. Realist also provides for price trends, as do Trulia, Realtor.com, Movoto and other sources. Although these data sources provide broader market data, simply having the information you pulled related to trends in the market, in your workfile, is helpful in the event someone comes back years later saying you should have marked declining on the report when all indications were that the market was stable to increasing at the time you completed the assignment.

Markets can change overnight. For those of us appraising in 2001, we can remember how the world stood still on 9/11, and how it took a month or two for the country to breathe again and get back to doing business. Significant market changes can happen quickly, and we have to be able to be aware of what is going on in our market, even with these events. Agents who are active in the market will be in a perfect position to talk with us about what they are seeing as well. It is a good idea to build trusting relationships with agents, who will share their concerns as well, even if it is “off record”. These relationships do matter.

If the market in your area begins to decline, do not be afraid to report what you see – even if the short-term repercussion is decreased work from such and such lender. The long-term benefit of being truthful is more important. Appraisers must work with integrity and not be afraid of losing business for doing the right thing.

 

This post has been copied in its entirety (well, without ads) from the original source of publication, WorkingRE, with their permission. Original link below. Please visit their site often as well 🙂

here

 

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Pools, pools, pools

Hi friends,

 

Jaime Owen has a great blog related to all things appraisal, and he posted an interesting piece this morning that I thought was worth sharing.  Since he is in Cleveland, his insights are not the same as the Washtenaw County market, but there is a lot of similarity with climates.

Please read and enjoy!

 

Do Swimming Pools Add Value

Basement double-dipping

Jamie Owen of Cleveland Appraisal Blog shared a great post related to not double-counting finished basements in the gross living area.

Please see the link to his blog post Here and be careful how you handle counting this area in your listings. In Michigan (and in Ohio it seems), we certainly do like our basements, in particular those walkouts with significant finish.

Observe, Analyze and Report – in that order

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Observe, Analyze and Report- In that Order
By Maureen Sweeney, SRA, AI-RRS and Rachel Massey, SRA, AI-RRS

Appraisers have always faced objections and challenges to their reports as soon as they leave the office. Some are preventable, such as typographical errors or taking a photograph of the wrong comparable property- after all, we are only human. Others are out of the appraiser’s control, such as a foreclosure or a loan repurchase of a property we appraised.

When a loan is repurchased, the Government Sponsored Entity (GSE) or lender may turn to the original appraisal to evaluate its accuracy and verify that the observations made during the time of inspection were correctly documented. They may look to see if the contract, market conditions, prior sales history and other observations were analyzed, and that those observations, analyses and conclusions were communicated in a manner that was not misleading. Many of us are great at documenting what we see at a property as well as communicating these observations in our appraisal reports. Unfortunately, many appraisers are not as strong at analyzing data and are uncertain of what needs to be addressed, particularly as it relates to prior sales of the subject and the comparable properties included in the report.

To analyze something is to examine and interpret it. For the appraiser, it is the analysis of the data that we collect, examine and interpret. Appraisers need to report their analysis clearly and accurately to prevent future problems; “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Remember, most of our clients are not mind readers and may need to be walked through why there was a price increase or decrease to the subject or one of the comparable properties.

Most residential appraisers whose work is exclusively mortgage related, work mainly with the Fannie Mae Uniform Residential Appraisal Report (URAR, Form 1004), Individual Condominium Appraisal Report (Form 1073), and/or the Small Residential Income Property Appraisal Report (Form 1025). While these three forms appear to be very different, they have many similarities. Each is tailored to a specific residential property type but each includes a Scope of Work, Statement of Assumptions, and Limiting Conditions. We are all so busy that it is easy to forget what is in the Certification that we sign with each report. As such, it is a good practice to read the pre-printed certification and limiting conditions pages occasionally. This is because each time we sign our report we are confirming that we have completed the items listed on those pages.

Analyze This
There are pressures that appraisers face daily, including time pressure, ever-growing engagement letters that require all kinds of additional details and information, and the constant battle for reasonable fees. Many of us have developed language and statements that help us save time in writing appraisal reports. One thing that boilerplate and drop-down menu statements cannot help us with is data analysis. This is one timesaving corner we cannot cut.

As much as we would like to think that presenting the facts about a sale is analyzing data, it is not.  Analysis is more than a statement that a property sold on such and such a date, for such and such a price. The analysis includes how that sale was positioned in the market at the time of transfer or sale. Was the sale at arm’s length? Was it a REO sale in need of a total overhaul? Was the sale under duress because of some need to sell? Was it one family member selling to another? We need to address why it sold for what it did in relation to what the current appraised or final sales price is. We must analyze the prior sale as well as the current contract, if applicable, and explain and report the results of the analysis or explain why it was not performed.

As markets are rarely static, we need to analyze the current market and any changes to the market since the prior sale. This analysis of the market, and how it has fluctuated, is a basis for part of the analysis of the prior sale in comparison to the current market value. Because of the requirement by the GSEs to use the Market Research and Analysis Form (1004MC), sometimes there are inadequate data within the report to support a trend which might otherwise help paint a picture of an increase (or decline). When there is inadequate data to adequately complete this form, there is nothing stating we cannot include additional information outside of the MC form.

Often, those who look to find fault with an appraisal turn to this section first, because sometimes appraisers do not analyze the data presented in the 1004MC. Boxes may be checked, boilerplate statements may be added, but the data analysis is not summarized. The appraiser knows the market and knows what is occurring, but did not add a summation of the analysis or trends that may be reflected in the data. Are foreclosures and short sales an issue in the market?  Appraisers may click the box “yes” yet not report the impact of those foreclosures and short sales in the subject’s market. When analyzing the market conditions, analysis is not a “should,” but a “must.” As appraisers, we are often so busy and it may seem so self-evident, but six months or a year down the line it may be very difficult to remember precisely what was happening in the market at the time. This extra bit of communication of what we observed in the market at the time can be very helpful, not only to our clients, but to ourselves in the event of a challenge to our work, months or even years down the line.

This analysis of the market conditions is used when analyzing the prior sales of the subject, as well as all comparable sales. Currently Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac require a minimum 36-month sale and transfer history of the subject to effective date, and 12-months for all comparable sales since their most recent closed date. After September 14, 2015, the FHA requires 36-months for the subject and 36-months for all comparable sales.  We are starting to see more ”flipping” again as the market has improved in many parts of the country. There are often examples of houses being purchased below market because they were in need of repair and then rehabbed or renovated, and resold. 

 

Were any of the comparable sales sold previously below market value due to their condition and lack of modernization?  Did these houses sell for a higher, similar or even lesser amount after improvement and is this consistent with the market conditions analysis?  Sometimes this cannot be determined by looking back 12 or 36-months. Perhaps the comparable prior sale sold 40-months ago, but sold at a similar time as the subject’s prior sale.  Would comparing that prior sale to its current sale further support the changing market conditions?  Would it support the information presented in the Sales Comparison Approach to value? If the prior sale was a “trashed-out” REO sale and there are photos in the MLS, consider including a few of these photos, in addition to the narrative, as they can add needed support for the change. As appraisers, we may have to go beyond the minimum time and reporting requirements to accurately analyze the prior sales in order to develop credible assignment results.

Analyzing a Sale
How does one analyze a sale?  The following is one simple example:
“Comparable sale 1 sold on 01/01/2015 after being exposed to the market for 7 days.  It was bank owned, and in need of significant work, including replacement of all cabinetry, flooring, light fixtures and paint.  It also needed a new roof and furnace. The water heater was in working order and the electric had previously been upgraded. The house was listed for sale for $99,000 and sold under a bidding war for $105,000.  The purchaser of this property gutted what was remaining, replaced cabinetry, flooring, light fixtures and windows, as well as installed new siding, roof, and furnace.  The entire interior was painted and the owner had the property staged for sale.  It was offered for sale on 06/01/2015 for $225,000 and received three offers according to the listing agent. The house sold in 5 days on the market for $230,000 without concessions. The increase in price of $110,000 was partially related to the increasing market but in larger part due to the remodeling that took place in the interim.”

In this example, the appraiser analyzed the prior sale, then reported this information in the body of their appraisal report. This sale, which would have generated many questions, did not. The appraiser communicated their analysis in writing instead of only keeping notes in the work file. There was no need for questions by the appraisal reviewer, especially since MLS photos showing the prior and current condition were included in the report.

The Working RE story Supporting Market Conditions has one example of how to complete a market analysis outside of the 1004MC form. In short, if there are insufficient data points to provide any type of robust market analysis, include additional information supporting the position of how the market is changing or has changed, before the effective date of the report. Let the client know what has happened in the market since the prior sale of the subject as well as what has happened to the subject itself. Part of our jobs as appraisers is to help clients understand the market.

Should Do/Must Do
The appraiser’s job has changed dramatically in the past 10 years. We are under increased scrutiny by all parties in the mortgage industry as well as state regulators, attorneys and borrowers. Those of us still in the industry are paying for the sins of individuals who were part of various financial crimes, some even appraisers. Many of those who were guilty of these sins were not appraisers, yet many in the industry, the media, and the public insist on pointing the finger at us.

Some of the bad apples left the industry, by their own choice or through the encouragement of their state appraisal licensing boards. Because of this, what once was a “should,” has turned into a “must.”  It is important to observe what is at the property and what is happening in the market, analyze that information, and provide at least a short summary of our analysis. Because of the massive amounts of information we are required to know and the constant changes that we see in the industry, sometimes we know much but don’t report enough. Sometimes we have to show our work. By showing our work and including our data analysis, objections and challenges of our reports will be a thing of the past. This is particularly the case related to prior sales of the subject property and the comparable sales included within the report.

 

Note, this originally appeared with WorkingRE 2.5 years ago, but the sentiment remains very much the same. This has been republished with their permission.  Please visit the original at Here if interested.

Appraising Lakes, Beyond Front Footage

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When attempting to determine the value of lakefront property, there’s so much more to the equation than just measuring waterfront space. Here’s what appraisers and agents need to know.

As summer approaches, activity on lakes—large and small—increases. But in my experience as a REALTOR® and certified appraiser, it is apparent that many agents, brokers, and appraisers have not acquired all the knowledge, skills, and perspective needed to accurately evaluate lakefront property. In the hope of filling in some of the gaps, here are some tips on how appraisers can provide a more defensible appraisal on these complex properties as well as some of the nuances that agents who are new to lake properties should consider.

The Why of the Buy

Both appraisers and agents alike need to be aware of the motivations that result in sales. Appraisers need to be in touch with the vagaries of the different submarkets in order to adequately analyze the properties they appraise, and agents need to understand that there is much more to selling lake property than front footage.

What motivates a buyer to purchase a lake property? Is it the tranquility? The beauty of the water? The excitement of a speedboat and waterskiing, or casting a line into the water in hopes of landing a trophy catch? It is all of these things, and none of these things. The motivations are almost as numerous as the buyers looking for a lake house are, and one buyer’s paradise is another’s hell. Different types of lakes attract different buyers, and the buyer looking for tranquility is going to be very unhappy purchasing a house on a lake crowded with jet skis and powerboats. The same would be true for the avid motorist who buys on a small, quiet fishing lake.

Quality Over Quantity

While some depend on how many “front feet” the property has on the water to determine value, that is not necessarily the best course. The amount of frontage usually relates to space between neighbors and how much area is available for docking and beach toys. But consider the house sitting on the edge of a bluff, with 200 feet of frontage and 100 steep steps down to the water. What if the shoreline is also rocky and reedy? Five lots south, the topography has sloped in to a gentle, almost level lot and the frontage itself is a natural sandy beach. This lot has only 50 feet at the lakefront. Which is more valuable?

The value of a lake property could be tied not only to the ease of the access and the quality of the frontage but also to the lake itself. For a clean swimming lake, the narrower 50-foot lot might be much more valuable than the less accessible 200-foot lot. But for a lake that is picturesque but not good for swimming or boating, the 200-foot lot with the elevated views might be the more valuable site. It all depends on the lake and why buyers might be interested in that particular spot.

Present and Future Demand

I live and work in Michigan, a state surrounded by lakes of all kinds. The Great Lakes are a treasure, but not exactly the bastions of privacy and quiet you see on some of the smaller inland lakes. Many of our inland lakes are massive in size, deep, and clean. Some are shallow, reedy, and mucky, making them more of a viewing amenity than anything else. Some lakes allow all the toys and others only a kayak or canoe. Some are merely ponds in buyers’ eyes.

There are many questions that buyers, real estate agents, and appraisers should consider in addition to the present appeal of the lake itself, because these issues contribute to whether the lake remains appealing into the future. Some lakes are manmade in that they are the result of damming a river. Some municipalities are considering removing such dams—in that case, what happens to the manmade lake? Some lakes have been invaded by unwelcome species such as zebra mussels, Eurasian watermilfoil, and other nuisances. Lakes with public access sites tend to have more trouble with these invasive species, though they do also travel naturally through waterfowl and other means. Could a lake with an invasive species problem become less desirable than one without? Is there any guarantee that a pristine lake will remain so? What about the life cycle of a lake? Is it a dying lake, or is it likely to stay in similar condition for the foreseeable future? How is the management on the lake? Is there an active association that seeks to ensure the health of the lake? Are septic systems monitored? Does the association have prohibitions against fertilizers?

But just as bodies of water can change, so too can our perspectives on them. Is it possible that we are starting to see a shift, as our population ages, to the desire for quiet lakes that do not allow gas motors? It used to be that these quiet “no-wake” lakes had less appeal, but in many instances, they are now attracting buyers that would not have considered them 10 or 20 years ago. There is something to be said for the quiet of a lake without loud motors and loud reveling at all hours of the day and night. On the other hand, these lakes have limitations of use, and buyers who want to have it all might find the sportier lakes desirable, in particular if there are limited year-round residents. The lack of year-round residents could mean that the owner has quieter weekdays, with increased activity on the weekends and over holidays.

The Tools at Your Disposal

The Department of Natural Resources maintains lake maps in most areas. These maps show the topography and composition of the lake bottom. DNR maps will also show public access points, existing housing, and other features. Appraisers and agents alike should become familiar with these maps. Plat maps are also available in many areas, and these can be used to examine other features, such as ownership issues where a third party may control the frontage in between a property and the lake shore. Another concern that can impact value is keyholing or funneling, where backlot owners have rights to a parcel on the water. Just being aware of some of these issues can help you be a better advocate for your client and know when to direct them toward legal counsel to help determine whether they have water rights.

Not All Sales Are Comparable

If possible, it’s best to find comparables on the same lake, but remember, lakes also have varied topography, both on shore and to the lake bottoms, and just because the potential comparable property is on the same lake might not mean that the properties are actually comparable.

Appraisers need to understand the lake itself and which lakes are reasonable alternates if nothing is available on the lake upon which we are doing our appraisal. Know your market and write about what is important to the target audience. How large is the lake? How deep is it? What types of activities are allowed on the lake? What are the other lakes that the buyer for our property would reasonably consider and why? Fully describe the topography, frontage, and access to the water at the subject site. Write about whether the beach is sandy, mucky, rocky, reedy, and so forth. Document sunrise and sunset views, parking, and docking. Agents don’t have the same communication requirements as appraisers do here, but they should be aware of what appraisers are considering and what they are reporting, because such factors affect the pricing conversation as well.

Determining logical comparable search criteria is incredibly important in lakefront homes because buyers may consider properties on lakes that are 20 or 30 miles apart, something that might scare some of the most experienced underwriters if not properly explained. A smart appraiser will set the stage ahead of time through the narrative in the report, which will help the underwriter and reviewers understand the thought process for the choice of comparables. Once the appraisers have spelled out the reasons that have drawn a buyer to the subject lake, discussion follows about the lakes that are competitive and why they are competitive. This can justify the use of sometimes very distant comparables.

Agents can help by providing appraisers with information about the lakes that the buyer considered and why they considered them as competitive. If your buyer would only consider one lake, explain why. While it might not be possible for the appraiser to stay on that lake due to lack of recent sales data, the buyer’s motivations to that lake over others can still be helpful.

Summer is coming and lake buyers will be out in force again soon. Be prepared to have a lake appraisal take longer and be costlier than a regular subdivision job. Take the extra time necessary for these lake deals to research the lake and the site, in addition to the improvements on the site. Hopefully the extra effort will pay off and you’ll be better able to enjoy your next lakeside sunset or cool dip in the water.

 

Reprinted from REALTOR® Magazine Online, March 2018, with permission of the National Association of REALTORS®. Copyright 2018. All rights reserved.

beyond front footage

 

 

 

 

 

It certainly would be ideal to have a magic pill that would allow one to stay in shape, at the same time as staying productive at work. The advent of the treadmill desk and its increasing popularity is making this magic pill seem a real possibility. Imagine being able to work, talk, research and type, all while walking. Sounds great doesn’t it? It is, but there are limitations. The set up can be awkward, and if you are vertically, or space challenged, there can be limitations with the workspace. If you are a bit of an overachiever, like I have a tendency to be, there can be real limitations to the physicality of the system.

I purchased my first treadmill desk in 2011 in an effort to get up off my seat and ease my aching back. Sitting was causing a whole host of physical issues, not the least of which was an increasingly widening girth and backside. I already owned a good solid treadmill from the days when I was a runner, and trained on this workhorse of a machine. The desk itself was something that could go on top of any treadmill and that was very appealing because it made the set up much less expensive than buying one of the combination treadmill desks that have gained popularity in the marketplace.

This brings me to the first limitation: space! If you have a large scale treadmill then it is not going to have a small footprint. If you are going to be using one of these beasts upwards of four or five hours (or more) per day, then it darn well better be a workhorse or the motor and/or deck and/or belt are going to wear out very quickly.  So the big treadmill takes up space, and the desk itself can take up a lot of space as well.  The area that contains my treadmill desk takes up eight by seven feet and this doesn’t include any of the office peripherals such as bookshelves, printers, cabinets and so forth. While you may be able to get by with a smaller workspace and treadmill, most people want to have at least two monitors at their disposal, and therefore the larger workspace may be imperative.

Another limitation to the setup is the treadmill itself. Treadmills that are for runners and exercise are not designed to do long hours at slow speeds and the motors can burn out quickly, in particular if you have something like an orthopedic belt to soften your tread. If the treadmill deck is too narrow, or two short, drift may cause you to step on the rails and crash, not a pleasant experience. A good wide deck that is long enough to have your body close to half way back, in order to accommodate the desk, and a treadmill that can take hours of use every day at a low speed, is going to cost a pretty penny. At the same time, if you buy one that is not robust enough to handle the stress, it will burn out far sooner than desired and the expense of purchasing a new one is often cost prohibitive. There are some brands that have both treadmill and desk combined, with a treadmill that is built specifically for the long hours of use at a slow speed, and these, while expensive, are often the best solution.

Limitation number three, at least for me, is height. At 5’2” I am a bit vertically challenged, and my treadmill desk does not go low enough for me to work at a good ergonomic height. As such, I had to purchase a laptop that had a wide and comfortable keyboard that included the integrated touchpad in the center of the computer so I didn’t end up with carpel tunnel from repetitive motions, i.e., no mouse. That and sometimes my shoulders are touching my ears, not a good thing for ergonomic design. The large laptop and a smaller monitor next to it work well though, without me having to look down.

The final, but most limiting of limitations for me was repetitive use and the development of tendinitis in one of my feet.  Because I have a tendency to overdo things, I thought that if walking four hours a day felt so good, walking six hours a day would feel even better. At first it did. I lost weight, I felt great, my energy was superb, but within a year of having upped my walking to six, and sometimes seven hours a day, I developed a roaring case of tendinitis that sidelined me from walking for months. Now over a year after taking a couple months off, I cannot walk the way I used to without aggravating my tendinitis, and am happy walking only two or three hours a day, and nowhere near the speed I used to walk. Unfortunately the weight has come back, and with it, the feeling of sluggishness. That said, when I walk, I feel great, and my mind is clearer and I am able to concentrate better.

The limitations that I described above are all just cautionary for those who are thinking of a treadmill desk setup. Four years into using one, I cannot imagine returning to sitting for more than a couple of hours at a time, and hope to be able to use one of these desks until I decide to turn in the keyboard. Limitations that arise are nothing compared to the benefits that are gained in my opinion.

The treadmill desk is a magic pill to a stationary office worker, as long as moderation is used and forethought is exercised in setting up your workstation. Remember a good solid treadmill with a wide and long deck is key, and no orthopedic belts because they will burn out the motor faster. Think how you will use the desk, and make sure you have a place to sit in between periods on the treadmill because most of us cannot spend a full working day walking, without consequences.

 

Originally published with AppraiserNews in 2015

What does the SRA mean to me?

black belt

 

  • What does being a designated member of the Appraisal Institute mean to me?
  • Does my designation matter to my clients?
  • Do I get more business because of having earned a designation?
  • Is it worth the time, effort and cost?

These are questions I often hear from people contemplating this path. For me, there is no one answer, because it means different things at different times and in different situations. What I can answer, with certainty, is that I would do it all over again. I never once regretted going through the designation process.

The process is designed to help one become a better appraiser. It is designed to provide a solid foundation, from which to grow, and designed to provide the tools to become a lifelong learner. Working through the process of becoming designated made me a better appraiser. That said, it is a continual process. It is a start, not an end. The goal is to continue to improve as opposed to reaching a point and stopping. I see earning the designation very much the same as earning a black belt in a martial art. There are many excellent martial artists who never test for a belt. Likewise, there are many excellent appraisers who have no desire to work on a designation. But, working towards a goal such as a designation or a blackbelt, provides a focus of intense learning and growth. Having a blackbelt does not mean that one is an expert, all it means is that a level of proficiency has been reached, and the martial artist is a serious beginner. Earning a designation means that a level of proficiency has been reached, and the designee is a serious beginner.  For me, it provided the structure and a goal, as it does and did for countless others.

I was designated towards the end of 2003. Completing the demonstration appraisal report was a monumental task for me, and through it, I saw how the three approaches to value fit together in the real, and very imperfect world. It was amazing to see that the sales comparison, cost and income approaches tied together on my subject property. Even more amazing being that my subject was a fifty plus year old house in a 100% built-out development. The biggest sticking point was the cost approach. In fact, my first submission passed on all but the cost approach section. I ended up attending part of Course 500 again (the cost approach day) to make sure I approached it correctly.  Second time I submitted was the charm.

The demonstration appraisal process provided me confidence in working through a problem, and communicating my results in a manner that was judged, and eventually accepted. This was, and still is, my seminal appraisal education experience. Even though in the end, it took me well over three years from start to finish, and countless hours, once I actually started writing, it taught me more than book-learning likely ever would. It gave me confidence in my ability to analyze and extract adjustments from imperfect real-world data. I had help from many mentors along the way, from the instructors in my narrative reporting writing course, to local appraisers who I leaned on for moral support and to steer me in the right direction if I thought I was going in the wrong one. Not only did the process help me become a better appraiser, but I forged relationships with more senior appraisers along the way, all of whom gave of their time willingly and freely.

After earning my designation, I thought that magically, business would fall in my lap from the heavens above. But we all know that this is not the case, and you must work for it. Never being very good at marketing, it did not magically fall in my lap, but I did have increased opportunities with some clients.  The attorneys started using me greater regularity after I received my designation. My relocation work increased, as did my estate work. Lender work declined. It declined because I had been consciously ridding myself of that business to make way for more private, attorney and ERC work since the late 1990’s.  Having earned my designation, I was able to increase this private business. Being in the Appraisal Institute directory exposed me to new potential clients better than any other marketing tool I had available.

By the middle of 2004 our market had started to shift. We were building inventory in housing, and although there were no price declines noted at that time, there was evidence that some change was coming. The contract-to-listing ratios were declining, and inventory was not absorbing at anywhere near a normal pace. Any lender work that I did take on, seemed to end up with angry borrowers and particularly angry loan officers. Other appraisers were also moving into the non-lending niche, probably noticing some of the same factors in lending. With more appraisers moving into private work, I started to lose enough of this work to worry me, designated or not. The final straw for me was a divorce appraisal that had been referred to me by both the husband’s attorney, the wife’s attorney, and the mediator facilitating the settlement. I lost the assignment to someone who charged only a fraction less. The designation helped me get the referrals, but my fees lost me the work.

Instead of fighting piecemeal for work, I decided to look for a job with a regular salary and benefits, and having my SRA opened the doors and got me hired with a large national lender. Although I left that job and moved onto another shortly after, I likely would not have been able to even have an interview if I did not have the designation behind my name. In the years that followed I have been in and out of the fee world, preferring review to field work, but always happy to take on relocation work. The designation has helped me have greater options on what I do.

So, does the SRA matter to my clients? To the clients that I care about and want to keep, it seems to matter very much. These include relocation companies, attorneys, and my current employer. Do I get more business because of having my SRA? When I have been in the field, in between my review jobs, yes. I picked up trust and estate work through the Appraisal Institute directory, and through networking and referrals from other appraisers. Does it help get me lender work? When working as a staff reviewer, I think I was hired in large part because of having the designation. For mortgage work related to private client groups, yes, I do believe that work comes through in part due to having a designation. For AMC driven mortgage work, no, I do not see it as a selling feature, but I have long tried to move away from that type of work on the origination side anyway.

Is it worth the time, effort and cost? My answer to that is an unequivocal yes! At least for me, yes, yes, yes! It is worth it because I understand very well that getting a designation does not mean you achieve it, and then leave it, never progressing past a certain point.  It means giving back to the profession in whatever way I can. For me this is teaching, writing, participating in committees and work groups, and trying to help other appraisers.  Other appraisers help/helped me, because they too see giving back as a critical need. This is part of being a lifelong learner, because through teaching, writing, participating, and assisting others, I continue to learn. I learn in the classroom, I learn outside of the classroom, and from other appraisers. I believe that going through the designation process set me up to expect that I would need to continue to be open to learning if I remain an active appraiser.

A well-developed martial arts program will instill that same idea to the practitioner. Reaching a blackbelt level does not mean that you have arrived and are an expert, but that you have reached a level of being a very serious beginner. To continue progressing in martial arts means constantly revisiting basics, and to progress as an appraiser, the same process of revisiting the fundamentals also exists. For martial artists, teaching is a great way of learning, as it exposes weaknesses that need to be corrected. This is no different from appraisers, who find that through teaching, their weaknesses are also exposed, and through that exposure, recognition on what needs to be corrected.

The process of becoming a designated appraiser was long and sometimes arduous. Being designated does not mean that I am an expert, but that I reached a level of proficiency and need to continue building from there. Success, in terms of work has followed directly based on the amount of effort that I put into learning and improving, and ebbs and flows, as does everything in life. While I would like to be able to answer with financial statistics related to how much value the designation has had for me, I cannot. I cannot because I cannot quantify it in that manner. From the perspective of professional satisfaction, it has been an immeasurable benefit. I would encourage anyone who wants to exceed their own expectations, to pursue the path, even if you no intention of ever being designated. After all, knowledge is power.

 

This was first published in Appraisal Today and has been re-shared in its original form, with permission by the publisher.