Selecting and Managing Trainees

Editor’s Note: This is the most recent in a series of stories examining the trainee dilemma and how to repair a system in which mentors can’t afford to take on trainees and trainees can’t find a mentor willing to hire. Steve Massenberg, appraising 17 years, offers a short list of “dos and don’ts” based on his experiences as a mentor. WRE also has established a free online “help wanted/needed” bulletin board for all appraisers, including mentors and trainees. Please use it!

From T.A. Flanagan – an appraisal trainee
“I happen to be an appraisal trainee still in school. I also happened to run across your Working RE website in search of some answers as to why it is so hard for me to find a mentorship with an appraisal firm. My jaw is still on the ground from reading all the articles from all the people who seem so unhappy about the fact that there is new blood coming into the mix. Forgive me for saying so but isn’t that good for business? Isn’t competition a cornerstone of improvement? Service, service, service: look out, here we come.”

Selecting and Managing Trainees

By David Brauner, Editor

The first step to success is making a careful selection, according to Steve Massenberg. “If this is done right everyone wins; the trainee does well and the business grows.”

Like many appraisers, Massenberg gets frequent inquires from trainees and finds that the ones who succeed and stick around long enough to earn their keep typically pass muster in three categories: experience, education and a willingness to work hard; they possess a gritty determination to make it in this profession.

By education, Massenberg means that the trainee has to have finished his/her licensing classes at a minimum. Experience typically means real estate-related, such as sales or brokering or at least some office-related work. “It takes too much to bring them up to speed if you’re starting at ground zero,” he said.

They have to know computers, email and have basic office skills. He also learned the hard way that providing equipment makes expenses too high.

“They need their own equipment: a computer, software, digital camera and high speed connection. I tried supplying all this but found expenses get too high. It nearly cost me the business.”

The willingness to work hard, he says, is usually apparent fairly quickly. “I simulate what it’s going to be like. For instance, I may ask them to meet me at a property one hour’s drive away at seven a.m. the next morning,” he said. “You can weed out who is or isn’t committed this way.”

Availability is also an important element. “Clients call and want a quick turnaround. If I call on a trainee and they are not available for a few days, it does neither of us any good.”

Once he selects a candidate, he asks their commitment to stick with it and ensures they are not still looking for a better offer. He also explains up front that he can not afford to keep them if they don’t produce. “I worked in corporate America many years and this is not like that. It isn’t easy for some people to get used to the idea of being accountable for their production.”

On top of all that, candidates also need ability: math and writing skills.

“Most want to do this work but they don’t write very well. We communicate in writing with our clients, many of whom we never meet. The writing has to be clear and concise. I don’t have time to re-write work.”

Finally, Massenberg says you have to evaluate the candidate quickly and be willing to cut your losses without hesitation- you are not doing anyone a favor if you keep them around if they aren’t making it, he says, and you may be doing your business harm.

To summarize, Massenberg says producing a successful and productive candidate-trainee depends on three things: making a good selection, watching expenses like a hawk and evaluating the trainee quickly. And letting them go if they don’t have the ability or drive to make it work.

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