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Appraising in Retirement
by Isaac Peck
According to the Appraisal Institute’s latest Valuation Professional Factsheet (Dec. 2018), over 70 percent of all licensed or credentialed appraisers across the U.S. are over 50 years old, with over 20 percent being over 66 years old. As appraiser demographics continue to shift older and grayer, some within the industry have predicted sharp declines in the number of practicing appraisers as they begin to retire. However, as the numbers show, appraising appears to be an optimal career to continue part time, in retirement.
Melvyn Wolf, a Certified Residential appraiser, licensed in Illinois and Wisconsin, is one such appraiser. Born in 1942, Wolf is 77 years old and has been a real estate appraiser for 33 years. He says he will continue appraising as long as he is physically fit and in good health. Here’s his story.
Wolf graduated college in 1965 in the midst of the Vietnam War. Forced to choose from being drafted, becoming a teacher, or accepting an ROTC commission from college, Wolf accepted his ROTC commission and began his career in the military at Fort Lee in Richmond, VA. After his training, his orders were changed from Korea to Vietnam. Wolf and his future wife began corresponding by letters during his time in Vietnam. They married in 1969 making 2019 their 50th wedding anniversary.
After his stint in the army, Wolf settled in Chicago working as an industrial engineer for 16 years with a variety of companies, including Motorola, Sunbeam, Price Waterhouse, Wyler Foods, and Gillette. After 16 years as an industrial engineer, Wolf’s interest in real estate was piqued by his wife. “At the time my wife was working as Vice President of Marketing for a local bank. The President of the bank suggested I explore appraising since I was not happy as an industrial engineer,” reports Wolf.
Beginning as an Appraiser
Wolf began his career as a real estate appraiser in 1986, at 44 years old. “I started by contacting the Appraisal Institute and began taking appraisal classes. Then I was fortunate to be mentored by a couple of veteran appraisers, but there wasn’t really a true mentoring program. We would go out in the field, I’d come back, they put me in front of a computer and I would do my own thing. I’d call it on the job training,” says Wolf.
In the late 1980s, H. F. Ahmanson and Co. entered the Chicago market and began opening branch banks called Savings of America. “The offices needed to be staffed with bank officials and appraisers, so I began as a staff appraiser for Savings of America, going on to become a senior staff appraiser. Then in 1995, H.F. Ahmanson closed the banks but kept the loan operations because they were very profitable. Appraisers were set up with modems, laptops and company cars and we began working from home. I was laid off and brought back, and after I was brought back a second time I decided to go out on my own and start my company in 1995,” says Wolf.
So in 1995, Wolf started his own company, Townline Appraisal, Ltd. “When I first went out on my own I was substitute teaching until I could get enough clients to support my family. As I built up the business, I brought on trainees and even hired other appraisers. I’ve had a number of appraisers working for me over the years, with up to six appraisers working with me at any one time, plus one or two administration assistants running the office. I trained six trainees in all over the years,” says Wolf.
Today, Wolf lives in a 55+ Del Webb community that’s home to over 750 families. Most residents living in the community are retired, but if you ask Wolf why he doesn’t consider himself retired he says “I’d rather be working than sitting around, My wife is one of those people who is constantly on the go, so I am trying to keep up with her and share a variety of activities. Appraising is my independence and it gives me great satisfaction. As long as I am physically fit and good health, I’m going to continue appraising.”
One of the main reasons Wolf is still appraising is because he enjoys it so much. “There are very few parts of appraising that I don’t enjoy. If I had to pick my favorite part of appraising, it is meeting all types of people and seeing such a variety of properties. No two houses are alike. I’ve seen everything, including a house where smaller people lived. The entire home had been scaled down to accommodate the residents: lower kitchen counters, lower toilets and everything. It was incredible,” Wolf says.
In the 33 years that Wolf has been an appraiser, he has seen the industry radically transform from one where appraisers used to get their photos developed and then tape them onto the appraisal form, to today where appraisals are done with smartphones, digital cameras and advanced software. “So much has changed since I started. We have many more tools and data sources available: flood maps, zoning—everything is on the internet. The challenge now is to locate your data sources and ensure your reports are as accurate as possible,” reports Wolf.
As far as the physical aspects of the job, Wolf is still handling it well. “I don’t use a laser; I’m still a tape measure kind of guy. Being an FHA appraiser too, I also carry a ladder around to get into the attic, too. I had a situation recently when the attic happened to be 15 feet up in a cathedral ceiling, so I couldn’t get in the attic with the ladder I had with me. I had to go home and get my 75–pound heavy duty ladder. Luckily, the person buying the townhouse is a tenant and he helped me get it up the stairs, which allowed me to poke my head in the attic. But, for the most part, I get along just fine,” says Wolf.
Recognizing the value of marketing, Wolf just had his website redesigned by a professional web developer. “My new website provides current information about the areas I cover and the types of appraisals I do. In addition to mortgage work, I also service attorneys, estates, divorces, and Realtors® as well. They all need to know how much a house is worth. I also do a lot of networking including direct calling on potential clients, i.e. Realtors® and attorneys, attending various home improvement shows and belonging to the Chamber of Commerce. I like to meet potential clients face to face and attend luncheons. Because of my presence in the community I serve, I am often called by real estate agents when they are trying to list a house, for instance, and the owner(s) do not agree with the listing price,” Wolf reports.
Wolf also stays active as the Commander of a local war veterans group and helps with babysitting his grandchildren occasionally. Wolf estimates he probably averages 15–20 appraisals per month. Despite his part time appraising, Wolf still enjoys the leisure activities associated with retirement. “In the summer I like to play golf and bocce ball, and in the winter I bowl in a league. I also spend time with my veterans group raising money to obtain supplies for the local Veteran Affairs (VA) hospital. All the money we collect goes for equipment— electric scooters, laptops, wheelchairs and such. In addition, Buffalo Grove JWV Post 89 runs a monthly bingo game for the veterans who are hospitalized and provides refreshments. I believe in giving back to my community and helping others,” says Wolf.
As busy as he is, Wolf says he won’t ever stop working (or volunteering) until he can no longer physically walk the beat.
About the Author
Isaac Peck is the Editor of Working RE magazine and the Vice President of Marketing and Operations at OREP.org, a leading provider of E&O insurance for appraisers, inspectors and other real estate professionals in 50 states. He received his master’s degree in accounting at San Diego State University. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (888) 347-5273.
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