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A serious learning gap for new appraisers
and advice for finding a mentor
Published in the 10/04 issue of Appraisal Today. Reprinted with permission
By Doug Smith, SRA
“So far, I have been focusing on f e-mailing potential mentors, with no luck. I am now going to start to call. I am assuming as soon as I say mentor they will say no thanks. Any advice on how to get them to hear me out before they hang up? Any advice would be helpful. Thanks” Appraisersforum.com March 9, 2004
A shortage of appraisers will not be good for this profession. While not being in a position to take on a trainee, encouraging others is a worthy goal to perform a service for the improvement and continuation of the profession as a whole.
Future generations of appraisers – learning gap
As time goes on, there is evidence that the current system and much of the existing body of knowledge, skills and methods used by appraisers as we know them will not be passed on to future generations.
A serious learning gap is emerging that will have a eat detrimental effect in the future. Recent statistics released in California focus on the “graying” of currently licensed appraisers as the median age advances. Some who welcome a drop in the supply of appraisers or view appraising as a declining business may see this as a good thing. For many reasons, I disagree with these positions.
I believe that the learning gap will contribute more to the decline of real estate appraising than any other force now and in the future. I also think the learning gap will be a hindrance in the growth and improvement of the real estate appraising profession.
Appraising is more than a body of knowledge
Those seeking to enter the profession must also understand that appraising is more than a body of knowledge. What appraisers know is only part of the picture.
Appraising comes with many requirements, not the least of which is a definite set of skills that has many facets and variations. Appraisers have to know how to do many things, from measure properties accurately to manage schedules and plan inspection trips.
Equally important to the appraiser, particularly in today’s business climate, is the observance of high ethical standards and adherence to moral standards with an emphasis on objectivity and honest exchange. In answer to the question of what is our business, the resounding answer always has to be that the business of appraising is a profession built on the foundation of maintaining the public trust.
Appraisers, in their objective opinions and judgments, are keepers and protectors of this trust. The potential trainee must understand that the fundamental reason for experience hours is not some kind of penance but part of the necessary educational path set out by the Appraisal Qualifications Board. According to the AQB, the path to licensing is set out as a means to protect and maintain the public trust.
Competency vs. “getting hours”
Learning from the general tone and content of people writing to Internet forums, the typical person entering the appraisal field has taken steps to complete appraisal course work, started the process of adopting software and perhaps started to create reports. Then, they hit the wall, finally recognizing that there is a lot more to this profession than they first thought. “How do I find a mentor?” they write. “How do I get started?.”
Many of the old-timers do not have any sympathy for the “wannabe’s”, harking back to their own experience starting out. Overall, the information given out by most states is categorically misleading by implying that the only thing required to become an appraiser is course work and the preparation of reports and some months or years in the business.
Trainees need guidance beyond textbooks and classes
The simple reality, which is all too often unmentioned, is that to become a competent appraiser one must work directly under the guidance of an experienced appraiser. Let’s take a simple example.
Measuring a property and defining the room count should be the simplest of exercises and something very easily learned from taking a real estate course. After all, the American National Standard for Single-Family Residential Buildings (ANSI standard book Z765-1996) on measuring is only 11 pages long. In any group of appraisers, however, seldom is there unanimity in the approach to measuring, or, for that matter, agreement on room definition.
There are, then, elements of measuring a property and defining rooms that depend on experience and in some cases, if derived from local market conditions, depend on a variety of analytical methods. As it turns out, what seems to be simple to the beginning appraiser is more difficult in practice and in fact is more of a skill that is improved upon by practice and experience.
Whenever there are skills involved, the learning process is made more difficult. No one can become a good skier or make progress in any skill-related activity without the input and assistance of a good coach. So it is with methodology.
In my experience, no text or, for that matter, no appraisal instructor has ever been instructive enough on the subject of adjustments. Neat examples make the process seem simple in application. In practice, however, this is not the case and it turns out that there are many avenues to derive adjustments and in some cases no method at all except good logical judgment. As in measuring, experience counts, and methods join the pieces of the puzzle that must be assembled before proceeding into the profession as a real estate appraiser. This extra ingredient to the process is being lost as time goes by and can only be restored by good coaching and mentoring by an experienced appraiser.
History of mentoring in appraising after licensing
By 1993, most states and territories had completed and adopted a licensing program for real estate appraisers. Driven by Title VII and known as FIRREA, laws implemented were remarkably consistent from state to state and in the territories and have largely remained unchanged until recently.
A typical change was made recently in Montana regulations. Reacting to glaring deficiencies in report preparation, particularly by new appraisers, the Montana Board of Appraisers, increased the education requirement for newly licensed appraisers to include 15 hours of report writing. Other states are addressing appraisers’ shortcomings by instituting programs to recognize trainees and grant them special status. Overall there is more emphasis on enforcement of quality issues as well as prevention of fraud and malfeasance.
When laws and regulations were adopted governing real estate appraising, action focused on the state of the existing real estate appraising community, the specific skills and methods of appraisers and the general knowledge base.
To become a real estate appraiser, an applicant was directed to have credits in approved education and spend a defined number of hours preparing reports.
Absent in most states was the requirement that these reports be prepared under the signature or even the guidance of a licensed appraiser.
Presently, the current licensing procedure relies on the implied assumption that appraisal trainees are taught and supervised. In reality there is no universal program that may be described as an appraiser apprenticeship, training or internship.
Appraisal associations, with the notable exception of the National Association of Independent Fee Appraisers, do not welcome appraisers in a training status before they are licensed nor do associations offer much in the way of training material directed to either training new appraisers or recognizing the “mentor” status of those appraisers who actively guide, mentor and train new appraisers. The NAIFA has adopted a pre-licensing membership category and stands out in this regard as welcoming neophyte appraisers.
One mentor, or more?
Sometimes it may take not one mentor, but many, to accomplish the goal of obtaining experience hours and learning to become a good appraiser.
Potential trainees are often single-minded in their pursuit of the ideal person to teach them the business, supervise their activities and sign their reports. They look for a “report signer”, when they may be better served by finding several people from whom they can learn.
A mentor does not have to be an appraiser but can be a banker, real estate professional, a home inspector or a business analyst. They may find an appraiser who, while they might not want to sign for them, would be willing to have the candidate go on inspections and learn how to measure a house. They may find a real estate agent who will invite them to attend open houses where they can gain inspection skills.
When I hear newcomers talking about finding a mentor, I conclude that they are not looking for a teacher but for someone to sign their reports, punch their ticket. The first attribute of potential appraisers is to make many contacts and enlarge their scope of search for those from whom they can learn.
Trainee regulations – Montana example
Every year, like clockwork, when beginning appraisal classes are given in Montana, the phone begins to ring. Desperate students are looking for a mentor again.
There are some complicating factors this year as this is the first year of a new program of licensing trainees in Montana.
The recently adopted trainee regulation sets out a program where not only must the license applicant have trainee status, all persons supervising and verifying reports must also be approved. Mentoring approval is based on a review of two appraisal reports with at least one appraisal report at the level of licensing.
To become approved, I was required to submit one residential report and one commercial narrative report since I hold a certified general license. Some forty of almost 250 appraisers in Montana have signed up for “mentor” status putting the program on firm footing in its first year.
The trainee who has been working with me for the last two years is in the home stretch of obtaining her experience hours. But what of all those who are looking for a mentor? From my conversation with those for mentors, I have observed that they all seem to have the same program.
They call to ask if the appraiser has any opening for a trainee. Sometimes they forward a resume. Since I became licensed with the help of several appraisers, I have developed a suggested program to find a mentor. What follows is that program and it is offered to those who are in a position to advise others in what appears to be the greatest challenge to becoming a licensed or certified appraiser, that of finding a mentor.
Trainee induction into appraising
Appraisers become appraisers through the process of induction. Induction is the name given to the process of joining a profession, learning the specific knowledge and skills expected of the members of that profession, and becoming accepted as a professional.
It becomes quickly apparent to the neophyte that the appraisal profession is more than hours in the classroom, some experience and then application to a state agency for a license.
The completion of several courses and so many hours spent in report preparation misses the richness and complexity of the process of becoming a professional in the field of appraising. It is more than just signing up for a career and earning a living.
Induction proceeds at many levels until a person reaches some level of competence which renders him or her worthy of being labeled a professional. When that level is reached, the induction period can be considered complete.
The key question is: What level of competence is enough to be considered a professional? For appraisers, we have the license or certificate from the state and the achievement of that goal demonstrates a level of competence. The Appraisal Qualifications Board has now set that bar higher with its new set of qualifications that become effective January 1, 2008. Those in a position to advise potential appraisers should steer candidates to these new standards as obtaining some of the education must certainly take place at least two years prior to the effective date.
Beyond the confines of learning the appraisal body of knowledge and adopting its skills sets, there appears to be three steps necessary to the overall induction process of becoming an appraiser:
- Orientation to the overall work atmosphere of appraising, the specific work requirements and client expectations. For the most part, appraisers do not operate as members of an organization; nonetheless there are social, cultural and philosophical issues within the field of appraising outside any organizational confines.
- Appraisers have to proceed within the induction process with a sense of commitment to the work in general, and a commitment to develop skills and knowledge to operate at levels equal or better than other typical appraisers.
- Induction into the shared mind set of the profession. Every organization develops standards and a vision of what it might become and what it takes to excel.
Taking these three essentials into account, induction into the appraisal profession is more than the sum of the parts and it is only when mentoring addresses these issues that a beginning appraiser may become a competent professional.
What is Mentoring?
Mentoring, from the Greek word meaning enduring, is defined as the sustained advising relationship between an advisor and an advisee found in business, education and all areas of life. Mentoring is a process that can both precede and follow induction, and also occurs during induction.
Mentoring can occur in any situation where a person seeks to learn from another person who has experience and background. Mentoring is the complex and developmental process which advisors use to support the learner through the process of induction into any field or profession.
How is mentoring different from coaching? Mentoring is the all-inclusive description of the full process of supporting learner orientation and professional development. Coaching is one of the methods which mentors must learn and effectively use to further the mentoring relationship.
Coaching is the reinforcement of learning provided by the mentor using observation, information and descriptive, non-judgmental reporting on progress made in adopting behaviors and technical skills. Coaching is a matter of emphasizing choices faced by the learner. Coaching helps learners to objectively see their own patterns of acting, prompting self-reflection, future-oriented goal setting, and action to increase the desired results of the overall learning experience.
Advice for trainees
Starting as a researcher
In urban areas, where there are large appraisal firms, the potential appraiser has better options. Most large appraisal firms take on “researchers.” People who intend to become appraisers obtain staff jobs, with an understanding that as their skills advance, will be given more responsibility and work expansion to enable them to gain experience hours.
Here the trainees must carefully analyze their skill sets. Typical researchers and staff interviewers must have good computer skills and knowledge of word processing and spreadsheet software.
The potential appraisers must understand that the process is a two-way street. They must take some time to define their role in the process. When I was gaining experience hours, I was able to find a residential appraiser who wanted help with narrative reports. I had done many hotel feasibility studies and was more comfortable with that type of reporting. I was not familiar with residential appraising and I was able to learn from my mentor while at the same time assisting him with expanding his services.
There is hope for trainees
While anyone considering a profession should do so with realistic expectations, I personally do not think that a gloomy projection of the future of the profession is in the best interest of the potential appraiser or the profession as a whole. If a person is looking for assistance, accept that the person is pursuing their best interests.
Furthermore, appraisers already know that getting into this profession is not for the timid. Accept that some are more ambitious than others and that there are a myriad factors that motivate persons to become appraisal professionals.
Secondly, know that there are many who are willing to take on a trainee under the right conditions. It is simply not a fact that there are no appraisers out there who are willing to train others. It is true that not all established appraisers want to help candidates or even spend time talking with them. There are many shortsighted individuals who feel that new appraisers have to pay their dues and undergo the trials of “survival of the fittest.”
There are also, however, many who have a larger view of the industry who step forward as mentors and counselors in an effort to improve the professionalism of the industry and encourage high standards. Encourage rather than discourage. The foundations of the profession of appraising are skills, knowledge and attitude. If the new appraisers start out with the right attitude, a will to succeed and an open mind, they will meet and work with mentors who will give them a leg up and help with skills and knowledge. You never know. Someday, someone you encouraged may be in position to be of great assistance to you.
Getting started finding a mentor
The starting point of finding someone to be a “report signer” is for the candidate to make up his or her mind that there is someone out there who will help him or her. Then, they need to make a plan. It is the plan that will make or break the potential appraiser.
Appraisers are frequently asked to become mentors. Potential trainees are part of the clutter. Potential appraisers must make up their mind that they are not part of the clutter but have something to contribute and stand out from the crowd.
Here are my specific suggestions:
- The trainees must not only rely on Yellow Pages and/or the phone directory. They need to clearly define the market. They do this by sitting down and making a list of all the appraisers within reasonable distance miles.
In Montana, a trainee may not receive experience credit for any property more than 100 miles from the business address of the mentor. An exception is made for commercial appraisals. This list of appraisers may be obtained from the ASB Web site (National Registry of Appraisers) at .
By submitting a query, they may download a list of all the active appraisers. The list may be generated in Word document and Excel Spreadsheet. From this document, labels can be printed and put on 3″X 5″ cards.
These cards will become handy making sorting easier and keeping notes of phone numbers/Internet sites and results of phone calls etc. This list may then be cross-referenced with the phone book and Internet sites. On my Web site, I have a link to most of the appraiser search engines. Specific information can be obtained from many of these appraiser-listing services. The Web site is: www.datamontana.com/FindAppraiser.aspx
Once they have that list, they must next determine if these appraisers do residential work or commercial work. This will narrow the number of appraisers to contact if the intention of the trainee is to do residential work only.
Preparing a resume
The resume used to find a mentor should be custom made to highlight the candidate’s skill set. It should prominently describe specific skills in word processing, spreadsheet analysis and highlight any above-average skills in such areas as network maintenance and software management.
In this age of changing technology, some appraisers benefit greatly from having some assistance with technological issues and Internet research. This is so important to some that it can be the entry door to making an alliance with a mentor.
The candidates should add to their resume, either in the resume itself or in the cover letter, a list of jobs they are willing to do like research, filing, interviews, measuring.
“Training the competition.”
The candidates should give some thought to the future. They should determine whether they are seeking long-term employment or whether they intend to become an appraiser in another area served by the mentor. Several of my mentors were in other markets and I traveled out of my area eliminating the possibility that I would become a competitor in their market.
It is helpful to state their intentions in the cover letter or in the initial interview. Many potential mentors simply consider mentoring as “training the competition.”
While there may be some evidence of this, in most cases those who have trained others report that in the long run a relationship with a person who has been trained does not hinder continued marketing efforts and in most cases results in referral business that benefits both parties. There is also something to be said for maintaining a high level of quality in a market.
After deciding what the candidate can offer the mentor and working from a prepared master list, the candidate embarks on a contact campaign. Personal contacts are preferred. It is easy to turn down someone over the phone.
Appraisers are busy but there are opportunities to spend some time over lunch or on an inspection/ comparable picture-taking trip. Without seeming to be pushy, a personal interview or meeting is best. Failing to obtain an interview, the candidates are encouraged to ask if they might receive a personal packet of information.
Go where the appraisers are
The next step is to go where the appraisers are. Serious candidates can be encouraged to join the Appraisal Institute as unlicensed members. Double check with all appraisers who are members of the Appraisal Institute and attend Appraisal Institute meetings. Potential appraisers may also join NAIFA as unlicensed members.
Appraiser candidates may be encouraged to check with all appraisers who are members of the NAIFA. NAIFA has a rich tradition of supporting appraisal education and some local chapters are very strong with very worthwhile local chapter meetings where candidates can meet practicing appraisers. Potential appraisers also have an opportunity to meet other appraisers when taking CE classes.
Encourage the potential appraiser to also consider the appraisers who work for banks and the assessor’s office. There are many appraisers who t hold licenses but work for companies. Local electric power companies may have a real estate staff and some might be licensed appraisers. They are not worried about competition and they may be willing to help fledgling appraisers. They may want to keep their hand in “real” appraising.
Encourage the candidates to put themselves on the firing line where they will have chance to work in the business and possibly meet other appraisers. Other suggestions include:
- Setting up a Web site offering to do research for comparables/ property inspections
- Going to real estate agents and volunteering to put together their Broker’s Price Opinions in the form of appraisals. Measure houses for real estate agents and assist them with brochure write-ups.
- Trouble shooting computer problems for appraisers and real estate companies.
- Putting an ad in the paper to do real estate research.
- Seeking out part-time work with a title company.
- Seeking out part-time work with the property assessor’s office. They often hire contractors to assist with photographs and field measurements.
Selling the Invisible
The most significant help for any appraiser looking for a mentor comes from a book: “Selling The Invisible: A Field Guide to Modern Marketing” by Harry Beckwith. It focuses on selling a service business, but it can help candidates sell themselves. It is a great read. There would be no appraisers if someone did not train. Above all, the candidate should be given encouragement that there is someone out there if they do the pick and shovel work to find that person.
About the author
Doug Smith has an appraisal practice in Missoula, Montana, and is a certified general appraiser doing both residential and commercial appraising. He has an MBA from the University of Montana and the IFAS (commercial) designation from NAIFA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.