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.

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I have Google Earth and I know how to use it

Originally published in Appraisal Today, thank you Ann O’Rourke for allowing me to republish

I have Google Earth and I know how to use it

Seriously though, as a reviewer, it is one of the first tools I reach for when I look up the property that is the subject of the appraisal I am reviewing. Assume all reviewers do. We use it to make sure that the property does not back up to, side against, or face some type of externality such as a major 8-lane freeway, massive shopping mall or toxic waste facility. Hopefully the appraisal that has one of these externalities addresses it. Sometimes the appraisals go to great length to discuss externalities and any effect on marketability and value. Sometimes there is a sentence or two. Sometimes crickets.

Yesterday I pulled up GE on the house that was the subject of an appraisal I was reviewing and it backed up to a bunch of buildings. Looked possibly to be a school, but the street view maps took me around the side and to the entrance of what turned out to be a large condominium complex. Absolutely no big deal, but there wasn’t one single word related to this in the appraisal. I asked a group of appraisers whether they would make a comment if their subject property backed up to a condominium complex, and the responses ran the gamut from “of course”, to “no way, it is already covered in the neighborhood check boxes”.

While the check boxes for the neighborhood include multi-family, they do not include condominium, and in this instance, there was nothing in the appraisal even hinting that there was a mixture of single-unit uses in the area. This property didn’t raise a red-flag insomuch as backing to a freeway, commercial shopping center or toxic waste facility, but it did raise a question and warranted a bit more research. This is fine as it part of my job, but as someone who actually reads the reports in front of me, I was just left confused as to why it wasn’t even mentioned. I was even more confused by why so many appraisers say that it is not worth mentioning.

Maybe it is being old fashioned, but I grew up with the understanding that an appraiser was the eyes and the ears of the client, and that anything that would likely raise a question for the client should be addressed. Of course the freeway, mall and toxic waste facility are givens, but wouldn’t anything that was literally in the backyard also be something that would get questioned? How many minutes does it take out of the process to write a few sentences about a condominium complex? Couldn’t it be as simple as saying “The subject backs up to the XYZ condominium complex and has a seasonal view of some of these buildings. There is no negative effect on marketability or value of the subject property related to its location adjacent to this residential use” or some such rot?

While it is easy to overlook potential concerns due to the amount of reporting we have to do (and remember, there is no such thing as a perfect appraisal), stepping into the mind of the client and asking yourself “what would the client be concerned about” is a very useful exercise. While the client may not care about the house backing to a condominium complex because it is a residential use like the subject, they may care about it backing to the complex if for some reason it does affect marketability and/or value. It is up to us, as appraisers, to report and analyze what it is we see, and although we can never catch every little thing, our value is partly measured by our ability to communicate and to analyze these nuances.

Remember, reviewers have Google Earth and other tools at their fingertips, and most use them.