Turn and Face the Strain… an Appraiser's Life


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Turn and Face the Strain… an Appraiser’s Life
by Ashley Wolthuis, Certified Residential

On a rainy, cold November morning I found myself in a run-down part of town, standing in front of a vacant fourplex taking subject photos for an upcoming report. A car came barreling down the street screeching to a stop in front of the subject. A man exited, leaving the engine running and the car door flung open, though I think I noted those facts secondarily to the guns and pepper spray resting on each hip.

He quickly asked if I was the appraiser of the property and informed me that he was a bounty hunter and had reason to believe that a criminal he was seeking was holed-up in one of the units. He asked my permission to observe my entrance into each unit to make sure the building was in fact vacant. I handed him the keys and told him to be my guest; I wasn’t getting paid enough for this job as it was!

After a quick sweep of the building and determining the person he was after was no longer around, he started to make his exit. Before he left I asked him, “By the way, how did you know I was an appraiser?” Usually, when found taking pictures of a house from the street, the first assumption made by the public is not that I’m an appraiser. “Oh,” he stated, “I used to be an appraiser but the pressure got to me.” LOL, right?!?

And that is it, isn’t it? That’s the piece that no one talks about. I’ve read countless articles, listened to endless presentations and viewed Congressional hearings about why the number of appraisers nationwide is decreasing. We’re aging out. There’s too much education required. The amount of work experience is excessive. It’s too difficult to find a mentor. I’ve heard all of these excuses and more, yet never once have I heard any expert ask the real question: why do people leave a profession that they worked so hard to join? Why are appraisers, who have already completed the education and experience requirements, found a mentor, passed the test and have no further hurdles ahead, choosing to give up their licenses? And they aren’t leaving the workforce in general; they are abandoning our profession. Why? Because it is a profession rife with high stress, low fees and an overall lack of support and respect.

Instead of listening to the “experts,” I’ve been listening to the appraisers actually completing the work and what they are saying. How am I expected to complete this type of appraisal assignment with the given limitations placed on me and still be expected to put out quality work? How can I be expected to make a living, support my family and provide credible results when my fees are so vastly reduced and expected turn times so short? What if I make an error? Will I lose my livelihood and ability to support my family because I relied on information provided by someone else, or was too rushed trying to meet unrealistic timelines? Can I afford to accept the low fees being offered? Can I afford not to accept them? Who can I turn to for help? How do I deal with this pressure and is working in this profession worth it any longer?


Time for Change
Those with the loudest voices in the real estate industry are saying that appraisers are to blame for excessive fees and long turn times and that it is our performance, or our poor performance, that has forced them to develop new valuation products to limit or replace the role of the appraiser. They want faster appraisals, cheaper appraisals, or sometimes no appraisal at all. While at the same time, appraisers continue to ask questions such as, “Who is looking out for the public trust?” and, “We have vital insight into the real estate industry; is anyone listening to us?”

The first thing that needs to change is who is being listened to. Our profession is solitary by nature. Most independent appraisers are just that, independent. We have been left at the mercy of other professions and special interests because we are the easiest to intimidate. Without a loud and united voice, we will continue to have others dictate the terms of our own profession.

The lack of support in my day-to-day business was one of the leading causes that convinced me to join my state appraiser coalition. Joining the Utah Coalition of Appraisal Professionals (UTCAP) was one of the best decisions I have made since starting my own appraisal firm. For the first time in the appraisal sphere, I found fellowship among a group of professionals who had many of the same concerns and questions. The pressures associated with modern appraising were growing and I knew changes needed to be made. I also realized that the fastest way to make legislative decisions concerning our profession is at the state level. This is how joining a state coalition can make the biggest impact.

Coalitions that are registered and recognized by the state, with strong memberships, have the ability to advance the corrections and safeguards our profession needs. If you want to see change, you need to start getting involved. In addition to state coalitions, there are several national coalitions that work on behalf of the independent appraiser. Research these coalitions; talk to members; find one or several that appeal to you and join forces with the people in your profession who share your concerns. As a current co-chair of the Board of Governors for the National Association of Appraisers, I work firsthand with state coalitions from across the nation. If you need help contacting your state coalition, or would like to start a recognized coalition in one of the states currently without one, contact us at info@naappraisers.org. The stress of our profession can be overwhelming, especially when you feel alone. Having the support of a coalition can be a lifeline in an otherwise solitary career.

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About the Author
Ashley Wolthuis is a second generation, Certified Residential Appraiser in Utah. She is also a licensed Real Estate Agent and an Educator licensed through the Utah Division of Real Estate. Wolthuis is the Co-Chair of the Board of Governors for the National Association of Appraisers and the Past-President of the Utah Coalition of Appraisal Professionals (UTCAP).

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Comments (5)

  1. “Those with the loudest voices in the real estate industry are saying that appraisers are to blame for excessive fees and long turn times and that it is our performance, or our poor performance, that has forced them to develop new valuation products to limit or replace the role of the appraiser. They want faster appraisals, cheaper appraisals, or sometimes no appraisal at all.”

    It is a mistake to think tis is new. Back when USPAP was first implemented I was Chief Appraiser for a downtown Los Angeles Title Company. Their push was for CHEAP/FAST 704 drive-bys for a combined fee (limited liability policy of title insurance $110+$100 appraisals) at a time when most 704s were running $200-$250 alone.

    God forbid declining one because the property was not visible or was too complex for a driveby.

    USPAP was still bing drafted back then. DeMinimis was proposed as $25,000 but some wanted it much higher at say $50,000. Using that old if a little increase is good then even greater increase must be SO much better; o we wound up with a deminimus of $250,000 instead of the original 1/10th the amount.
    Original drafts of FIRREA also called for 1 in 10 appraisals to be field reviewed. A practice which if followed would have made the TARP/Collapse of ’08 impossible.

    The original FIRREA properly PROHIBITED making a specific designation to obtain work a requirement. Even fed jobs could not say “MAI (let alone SRA) designation required” as some do today (ignore that folks-OPM readily accepts alternative experience .

    We concur with the authors recommendation to join a state colaition. Just be sure it is one that is actively engaged and figting for what YOU want.

    Other groups active in the national trenches are ASA (American Society of Appraisers and AGA (American Guild of Appraisers). Coalitions have not been as effective on national issues as they ahve on state issues. A broader umbrella is needed where most issues find thier solutions…at the federal level. AI COULD do that, but often their objectives are at cross purposes to resdiential appraisers or even independent fee appraisers (one person shops).

    - Reply
  2. I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m in my 36th year as a residential appraiser, and just turned 66- so retirement is around the corner. And none too soon. I was an SRA for over 25 years and gave it up. Paid $1,000/yr dues on the promise of ‘promoting the profession’ In my 36 years one lender- SunTrust- asked for only SRA’s do their residentials, then six months later rescinded that requirement. Not one homeowner, not one, looked at my card and knew what an SRA was. The straw that broke the camel’s back was having to take a second job when AMC’s came along and would only pay the office $200, a residential fee that was in place about 15-20 years prior. And the AI did nothing, or could do nothing. We looked at the website of our largest AMC, and the processor that sent the majority of work to our office, showed as having been at K-Mart six months prior to this position. And she was dictating every change, correction, comment, etc. on reports.
    My yardstick for the lack of respect we are afforded- would you, as a client, EVER dictate to any other professional- Banker, Accountant/CPA, Medical, Attorney, Investment Advisor, Realtor, Architect, etc.- a due date for completion, what you will pay for services, cancelled jobs if you dictate a higher fee for your services, demand follow-
    up calls or emails confirming your progress, tell them what needs to be changed or altered (regardless of your tenure or training), and after a phone/email discussion, ‘put what we discussed about in your report’.
    And yes, I’ve spoken to fellow appraiser’s who don’t sleep at night. As one friend stated- I stare at my file cabinet and wonder which prior job is going to end my career. As one class instructor quoted from a state inspector (Florida)- there isn’t a perfect report. If you get turned in, we’ll find something between FNMA, FHA, USPAP, state requirements, addendums, photos, sketches, maps, and of course the report itself.

    - Reply
    • Amen! Two culprits here. Your state boards & the AI. The AI does nothing for residential appraisers. All they care about are the MAI’s. This is evident in the drastic drop in the number of SRA’s awarded each year. Compare the numbers from 20 years ago. Residential appraisers aren’t taking the bait, any longer. The state boards care for nothing except that you bowed before the altar of USPAP. If bi-furcated reports ever become the norm, see you at the employees lounge at K-Mart.

      - Reply
  3. Hope you got combat pay for that 4 plex. Never had the Bounty Hunter experience, but have found a dead body in abandoned motel, had guns pointed at me, back window shot out twice & run off road more than once & been pulled over by police for taken photos of comps. Nobody knows what we have to do to meet all the requirements. Years ago, it was AVMs that were going to replace Appraisers, now it’s butrificated appraisals that will increase turn time & lower cost. My question is “if the next better solution” does happen (it won’t) who will they blame? Lenders’ do not care if/when the next crash comes, as they will have made billions in fees, sold the loans in the secondary market, pay a few billion in fines & the government/taxpayers will foot the difference. Appraisers have been around for a long time & will continue to be around. After 46 years in the business I have seen a lot of changes & changes will be a constant into the future. All the “next better solutions” will soon whither & die & then it will be a new round of government regulations that increase the onus on actual appraisals. Keep a stiff upper lip & charge accordingly, as there is a future in being an Appraiser, just be ready to accept change & requirements. Join a local/regional/national association for education, networking, representation & you will be surprised @ the advantages & further your career & professional standing.

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