Craig Steinley: Unfinished Business Drives Bid for Second AI Term

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Craig Steinley: Unfinished Business Drives Bid for Second AI Term

by Tony Jones, Senior Editor

The appraisal profession is in a state of flux. At the same time as appraisers are grappling with a historically slow real estate market, dynamic forces like fee compression, public allegations of bias and racial discrimination, property data collection controversies and other factors threaten to splinter the collective.

During turbulent times, professional organizations like the Appraisal Institute (AI), the largest association of real property appraisers, tend to become the de facto public face and work hard behind the scenes to galvanize their memberships and the at-large professional community as well as implement programs and initiatives designed to bring more people into the fold.

As he nears the end of his four-year cycle on the AI’s Executive Committee, now serving as immediate past president, Craig Steinley, MAI, SRA, AI-GRS, AI-RRS, is determined to continue working on behalf of appraisers by running for another four-year term that would begin with the 2025 vice presidency.

A second stint as AI president is almost unprecedented. Only Jim Amorin, who served in the role in 2009 and again in 2017, has served two, four-year terms. But for 2023 President Steinley, who is also principal of Steinley Real Estate Appraisals and Consulting in Rapid City, South Dakota, advocating on behalf of appraisers and working to make the profession more inclusive is a passion and calling that began when he first became licensed and certified in the early 1990s.

Working RE sat down with Steinley to discuss his candidacy and thoughts on some of the big issues facing AI and the appraisal profession. Here’s what he had to say:

Photographed: Craig Steinley

Working RE: Tell us why you’d like to serve as AI president again.

Steinley: During the time that I’ve served on the executive committee the last three and a half years, I believe I’ve helped the Appraisal Institute move forward in a number of key areas. For starters, we have a new CEO. We engaged a professional search partner and completed a nationwide search to identify Cindy Chance. As the new CEO, she’s made a tremendous number of changes in her first seven months including needed modernizations in staffing and reorganizing the entire business enterprise to be more efficient and better serve our members and chapters.

We’ve also addressed three critically important legacy issues from the past decade: declining membership, a collapse in our education market share, and chapters that were forced to merge or close due to a lack of necessary resources. We currently have a distribution network of 65 local chapters across the country that are hungry to deliver more of AI’s gold-standard education and want to better serve their members, and we need to continue to improve how we support them. This is one of the Appraisal Institute’s strongest competitive advantages, and you’ll see continued emphasis on our chapters if I’m fortunate enough to be elected again.

During the time I’ve been on the board, we’ve moved toward a more balanced residential/commercial focus, by adding more residential practitioners to key leadership positions, which I think is healthy. We’re also scheduled to implement several systems and programs that are just now rolling out, including a completely outside-the-box education delivery system and new education products designed to take back market share from the for-profit education providers.

It’s a natural question to ask why I should be given the honor of serving on the executive committee for another four years. The Appraisal Institute’s new direction and positive momentum is at a delicate stage with many improvements onboarding right now. When I toured the country and visited nearly half of our chapters last year, I consistently heard the message that we want to keep going on this path to prosperity. I didn’t initially plan to run for an officer position again, but I’m answering the call to serve from these chapters and members. If I am elected as the 2025 vice president, I’m going to work even harder this time on these modernizations and the new internal processes that will further improve the Appraisal Institute.

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Working RE: What are the biggest benefits for why appraisers should become members of AI?

Steinley: The primary reasons I got involved in the Appraisal Institute included professional connections, self-improvement and its profession-leading education. As I was first becoming educated to enter the profession and learning via boots-on-the ground experiences, I realized it wasn’t a coincidence that the valuers I most admired in my community of service and those I knew in the region were almost universally members of the AI. That said something to me because I wanted to differentiate myself from others for personal and competitive reasons.

As appraisers, we talk about the recharge from going to conferences for networking, but that is often a temporary feeling of personal achievement. There’s something breathtaking about joining an organization that has a recognized reach throughout the United States and other countries as well. The number of referrals that one gets from others in the association, the people that you meet and can seek guidance from on day-to-day business activities, and the networking opportunities at the local chapters are tremendous.

It’s no secret that it’s hard to get an MAI. It’s hard to get an SRA. These are not easy designations that come with simply being a member of an organization or paying a fee. To get designated by the Appraisal Institute, there’s a lot of classroom work, a lot of testing, a lot of peer review, and a lot of personal growth. The peer review component is especially helpful because you are guided by other more experienced appraisers who provide expert advice on how to improve your work product. Although sometimes difficult to hear initially, the suggestions in the peer review process have been proven to strengthen an appraiser’s professional abilities and reports.

Another benefit for those that affiliate with the Appraisal Institute is that our advocacy efforts in the states and nationally continue to improve and the thought leadership that we’re providing for the profession is being heard by a larger and more engaged audience. When combined with our ongoing collaboration with other organizations, those who affiliate with the Appraisal Institute benefit financially from these advocacy successes.

Working RE: What important legislative issues is AI actively addressing that appraisers should be aware of?

Steinley: It’s not legislative exactly but let me start with the alleged appraisal bias conversation that’s taking place across the real estate community and the way we’ve strengthened our advocacy efforts there in the past 12 months or so. One of the main foundational pillars of AI’s new appraiser-centric advocacy is that whenever we see studies and results claiming appraisal bias, we look for the proper scientific basis and/or peer review to buttress the claims. When not present, we have strongly called those out and pointed to alternative results that question the conclusions being advanced by the advocates.

Every professional in a real estate transaction has a financial interest in its outcome with the exception of the appraiser. So, what we’re doing in a more forceful way is to remind people that appraisers are trained specifically to ethical standards requiring independence, impartiality and objectivity. This prohibits valuers from being biased and requires them to analyze all the market forces and answer the fundamental questions leading to the current market value. The valuation process is never about the inhabitants of the property or their personal characteristics.

The accusations of appraisal bias have moved into allegations that some appraisal professionals have racist tendencies, or that they have some conscious thoughts that they should repeatedly look at only a portion of the facts and produce a non-objective view when valuing a property. Frankly, I’ve met so many appraisers throughout the country this last year, and I have yet to find one with the tendency of judging a property’s value based on the ethnicity, race, background or other protected characteristics of the owner. I just haven’t seen this happening, and appraisers are overwhelmingly disappointed that their profession is being broadly mischaracterized in this way based only on a few very sensationalized headlines.

The biggest objective in this area is to remind the public that appraisers are the only independent party in the transaction, and they are trained to play a vital role in preserving the safety and soundness of America’s financial system. Valuers have no reason to be anything other than unbiased because that’s what their training and professional skills have instilled in them.

Legislatively, the Appraisal Institute is gaining traction on the Hill with bipartisan support for the Portal for Appraiser Licensing (PAL) Act. The legislation would create a national portal for appraisers and users of appraisal services. If a valuer has multiple licenses, they would deal only with the portal and not with each independent state. They would complete their renewals and upload continuing education certificates through this one-stop shop. The portal would communicate in the background with all the different states and arrange for the appraiser’s renewals and/or new licenses as they become appropriate on the calendar.

Another of our efforts is to really push back on the idea of having unlicensed individuals as property data collectors (PDCs) for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-sponsored entities. In cases when PDCs are spontaneously entering someone’s home and measuring and taking photographs—doing that part of the appraiser’s scope of work—we believe those individuals should be licensed and regulated by the states, just like appraisers.

Right now, if there’s an issue involving a property data collector, there’s generally no recourse. We’re looking state-by-state to start implementing measures to make sure that anyone coming into a home or business has a background check and a professional credential. States need the ability to protect the public and regulate those folks.

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Working RE: Why is diversity important to the appraisal profession, and what has AI been doing to promote a diversified workforce?

Steinley: This is an area where I’m really proud of the way the Appraisal Institute shines. When it comes to diversity, we want the population of appraisers to look like the areas that they’re serving. Where aspiring appraisers found closed doors previously, we’ve tried to open them.

Since 2010, when the Appraisal Institute established our Women and Minority Scholarship Fund, our voice has gotten louder about the limited ways to enter the profession. Fast forward to today, and we’ve created three alternate pathways into the profession via the AI Practical Applications of Real Estate Appraisal (AI PAREA) program, the Appraiser Diversity Initiative (ADI), and our university outreach and relations.

AI PAREA is the first alternative to the long-standing apprentice or mentor model. It offers a virtual way to get experience credit by combining appraisal theory and methodology in real-world simulations. We’ve found that those enrolling in this alternate path to experience are a lot more diverse than those entering via the traditional supervisor-trainee model. To date, 35 percent of our AI PAREA participants are not Caucasian and nearly half are women. They’re also very diverse in their ethnic and racial backgrounds, and 10 percent are veterans.

The Appraiser Diversity Initiative has significant funding from Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the National Urban League, our three main partners. We’ve given over 600 full scholarships for people entering the profession. Most are younger and diverse, which is what we want to see in the profession.

Finally, we’ve stood up a very intense effort the last couple of years to get our AI professionals in front of college and university students in their real estate law or business finance classes. These AI professionals can talk to the students about what it means to be an appraiser, what the profession is like, and what the path forward to an appraiser credential involves. We’ve seen some surprisingly positive results there. We’d like to turn all our AI-designated members into ambassadors like this at colleges and universities across the country—imagine the results!

About the Author
Tony Jones is senior editor of Working RE magazine, published by OREP, a leading provider of E&O insurance for real estate professionals. Based in San Jose, California, he has nearly 30 years of business publishing experience and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Arizona. To reach him, email tony@orep.org.

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Comments (17)

  1. by Amy C MCCLELLAN

    Craig has been an amazing leader for AI, he has worked hard to get AI headed in the right direction and deserves time to continue his efforts. Our new CEO is the best and we can thank Craig for that. For those who think Craig “threw us under the bus” it is clear that there is a lack of understanding of the complexities of appraiser regulation and appraiser regulators. Dealing with appraisal regulation and regulators is not easy and takes courage and diplomacy due to so many varied opinions. I have worked with Craig in other leadership roles and he is the BEST. Looking forward to having him as president again.

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  2. by Joyce J Potts (RM, SRA, AI-RRS 1984 - 2002 RETIRED)

    Wake up, people. Craig Steinley did NOT throw appraisers under the bus. He brought sorely needed leadership, ethics and transparency to the Appraisal Institute; a professional organization that has gone stale, with their ranks ripe with chest beating, unethical and self-enriching so-called ‘authors’ who have limited field experience and who piggy back off of others. If the appraisal profession is to survive, appraisers need to get behind the AI and Craig Steinley to salvage whatever is left. He has my full endorsement.

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  3. by Eric Schwartz

    I’ve known Craig for almost two decades and have worked with him on the AI Audit committee as well as the Board of Directors. He is finest, most professional officer this organization has had in years. Certainly in my memory. Above all, he is laser focused on returning the AI to a member centric organization and a leader in appraiser education. The AI lost market share in the education arena due to a variety of reasons, Craig is the one person who has been the most instrumental in returning the AI to prominence and is shaping it to gain more market share. Craig is above reproach and any other candidate for the 2025 VP office pales in comparison.

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  4. Craig has had to puck up the previous leadership mess. The ignorance is obvious with comments that there is no bias in Appraisals. Those before Craig have made a huge mess and it will take just as long to fix it as the same amount of time decades they destroyed it. Keep up the hard work Craig the work will not go unnoticed

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  5. For Those Who deny appraiser bias are the problem. The ignorance is apparent in those who say Craig threw us under bus. He was the only one who went to defend us honestly and knows that our industry is bot perfect. Who else did you see up there …no one so if you think he is a bad person and hasn’t done good for the industry then get off your lazy butt and help fix the problem. The people who sit behind a desk and complain in words and no action are sinking our ship. Craig has been one reason that I am going to be part of the solution and not be part of the problem. You don’t like him because tou can’t be him. He is smart and actually cares about the future and why he did what he did HONESTLY! cutting a small video to fit your narrative is cowardly. Which shows you are bias. He does deserve it because of the difference he has made.

    Corruption takes time to fix and those who have not been part of AI have no idea what kind of Corruption was going on. Stop complaining and be part of the solution.

    I 100% support Craig I wouldn’t be this successful and confident in my work so thank you Craig.

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  6. by Jean Gannon, SRA, AI-RRS

    I had a discussion only today about Craig Steinley with a non-AI appraiser who has been watching the organization closely these last several years. We both agreed that AI has taken a giant leap in the right direction since Craig served his first term and his selection of a functional CEO Search Committee hit it out of the park with the hire of CEO Cindy Chance. She has been the much needed solution to an organization on life support. I look forward to watching his continued successes as he serves membership again in the AI board. It’s about time the AI champions for the residential appraiser!

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    • by Eric Schwartz

      I wholly concur. AI had been headed down the wrong road for too many years. In particular, members were not being properly served, the education system was outdated and market share had dwindled. Craig was and is the consummate professional leader who values service over self. A rare but much needed quality in any organization. Those who engage in ad hominem broadsides are part of the problem.

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  7. Mr. Steinley has been a great leader and he is the reason I belong to AI. I am thrilled he wants to continue his efforts to get AI back on a path worthy of the organization and its members. Go Craig!!!

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  8. A lot of criticism without knowing full background. Craig’s former speeches were following the organisation’s official views at the time. Craig’s leadership is why the AI has a new dynamic CEO, who has ‘pivoted’ the organization from that downward spiral. Without that leadership, the AI would be on same path it was prior to the new CEO.

    PAREA was pushed by former Sr Management / Exec, so can’t blame that on Craig.

    So that the AI rights itself from being a sinking ship that crashed on the reef, we need leadership like Craig’s not to just get off the reef, but the foresight on where to navigate once floating again.

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  9. A horrible leader, a worse person and a lawsuit waiting to happen. Rumors are rampant. If the Ai board elects him again they too are culpable for what happens next. They know and are turning a blind eye.

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  10. There is ample public record now of Mr. Steinley enthusiastically selling appraiser licensees down the river on the bias, licensing, and how proper Administrative Procedures Act protocol at the state level should work. He has not been honest with regulators or policymakers.

    Licensees and state agencies can’t afford another cycle of this risk. It is time to move on from this regulatory capture. Sooner than later.

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    • by Joyce J Potts (RM, SRA, AI-RRS 1984 - 2002 RETIRED)

      Lori, seriously?? How long has the AI been around in DC to effect change with regulators? Your mantra that all state boards and federal regulators are all ‘captured’ is far bigger than just the mortgage lending and appraisal industries. It’s not only naive, it gets old and has always lacked specificity.

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  11. PAREA is a huge failure. 5 graduates. That is all folks. Craig Steinly threw appraisers under the bus. There is NO BIAS in the appraisal profession. None. This is nothing more than a false narrative. Selling appraisers down the river is probably the worst thing that Craig has ever done. All licensed appraisal professionals should be censuring this individual. Craig Steinly does not represent me or how I envision the Appraisal Institute. There is a new sheriff in town. Her name is Cindy Chance and she is promoting real change at the Appraisal Institute. Change that I can support. All regular Joe appraisers need to start reading the “From the desk of Cindy” articles. They are fantastic. She has quite the vision moving forward and I am hopeful we can get new folks on board.

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  12. Do not vote for this man. He is a large reason why Appraisers have been walked all over from the ASC hearings. Instead of standing up against a false narrative he bent the knee. Any individual who will bends the knee to try and save face is not a leader but a self preservation opportunist. I along with a few others have been collecting information from appraisers across the US in regards to AMCs and Lenders for over a year showing predatory practices that both the consumer and appraisers. We are successfully getting it to people in DC to show the truth.

    We need fighters with ethics.

    We don’t need the AI of old, we need a new AI that will act and use member funds to advance policy that benefits commercial and residential appraisers alike. Under his leadership thousands left the AI.

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  13. I saw this man testify before Congress and he threw us under the BUS! Now with declining membership and AI stands to lose money, all of a sudden he is standing behind us with the same issues already noted by thousands of Appraisers since this whole bias situation has been in the news with inflammatory stories that held no merit. HE DOES NOT DESERVE A SECOND 4 YEAR TERM. WE NEED SUPPORT AND THIS IS TOO LITTLE TO LATE JUST FOR HIM TO WIN A SECOND TERM.

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