PayScale: How did you get started as a home appraiser and appraisal reviewer?
I went to college for electrical engineering. Being an appraiser and an appraisal reviewer is a long step away from electrical engineering. I majored in that because I did not know there was anything else that had the things I love to do: math, designing things, and using math to design things. It was not until I picked up a book about ”finding the right career for you” that I discovered residential home appraisal. I read the description and was surprised to find that there was a job, much less this job, that had all the things I love to do as a necessary part of the job. As an appraiser it was even required that I write, use math, take pictures, and study real estate. As an electrical engineer, I was never able to use my interest in city planning and analysis of neighborhood trends in my job. Also, a distinct advantage to being an appraiser is that I got to work outside half the day. The other half of the day I was able to work in my home office to be home for my kids when they got home from school every day. Although I loved appraisal, I became an appraisal reviewer because the work is nationwide and it is a lot more stable.
PayScale: What do you love about your appraisal reviewer job?
I loved being an appraiser and I love being an appraisal reviewer because I simply love my job. I love doing the math, taking pictures of various houses, and especially helping people who are just getting into the housing market find a house they would never be able to afford otherwise. Houses change as the decades roll by and I love being able to see the differences and trying to figure out what caused the changes in trends. I love comparing the woodwork, or looking at how houses built in the 1920s usually had a parlor to entertain company whereas now the living room is primarily used. As an appraisal reviewer I get to look at reports from all over the country and I can see how, even if the houses are nearly the same, the house markets can be completely different. When I was an appraiser I always had to check if the house was in the ”flood zone,” but when I first became an appraisal reviewer I started reviewing houses in Hawaii. Instead of checking whether the houses were in the flood zone, I had to check if houses were in the ”lava zone.”
I love helping first-time buyers pick out a house they absolutely love. A few years ago, I was doing an appraisal for a tiny house in St. Paul. The home wasn’t very big, and it wasn’t very expensive, but it was cozy. I was taking pictures and I met the buyers. They were a young couple who had just moved here from Thailand. Even though they hardly spoke any English because they had recently immigrated into the country, they were so happy just to be able to buy a home and move to America. In that moment I remembered how much I enjoy my job, not just for the variations between houses in the same city, or the elements in my job that fit me so well, but also because I love being able to experience the joy that buyers feel when they find the perfect house at an affordable price.
PayScale: What are the biggest challenges you face as a home appraisal reviewer?
Some of the biggest challenges in being an appraisal reviewer are trying to get the appraisers to do their job, and do it the right way. There are a lot of requirements appraisers have to meet in terms of how to write the appraisal, how and what to take pictures of, and which walls or measurements need to be taken. Some of the procedure requirements are from Fannie Mae (Federal National Mortgage Association), the FHA (Federal Housing Administration), the USPAP (Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice), state laws, and client requirements. In addition to following those, sometimes there are conflicts and there is an order of precedence that needs to be taken; if an appraiser does not follow it correctly, I need to tell him or her to follow the correct guideline when it takes precedence. Another difficulty is trying to keep the client happy.
There are specific deadlines for each appraisal and it wouldn’t be very difficult to meet those deadlines if everything was done correctly the first time. It takes a few days for an appraiser to get to the house and then another few days before the report is completed, which is when I get it. I read it and check for errors. If there is no mistake, then it is all good to go. If there is a mistake or a problem, then the appraiser has to go back to the house, fix the mistake, and bring it back to me, which doubles the time the appraisal takes. It is difficult to manage the short amount of time we have to do the appraisal, especially if the appraiser does not follow the correct procedures or write the report right. There is another challenge when underwriters don’t understand the idiosyncrasies of the local market. This makes it difficult to communicate what’s happening in a local market to an underwriter from another state.
PayScale: What advice would you give to someone interested in real estate appraisal jobs?
For someone who is just getting into residential home appraisal, I would tell them to get a good foundation of education before they begin. It is important to know a lot about math and to have good writing skills. No one wants to get back an appraisal report they paid several hundred dollars for just to find it has simple grammar and spelling errors in it.
It is important to read articles in industry trade journals, related publications, or other magazines and newspapers talking about changes in the industry and the market. It’s also important, not just for beginners or people who are starting off, to stay up-to-date in the economy, local markets, and news. Tiny changes in interest rates, inflation, or unemployment can greatly affect the housing market. Keep a dictionary on hand - there are many words you may not know that you need to know. Pay attention to local markets because there may be environmental issues that affect which houses sell for more or less. Environmental changes can include anything from a big company dumping toxic waste into a river, to a new stadium being built across the street. Also, changes in flight plans or expansions on airports can completely change the flow of traffic and how loud or quiet nearby neighborhoods are.
It is also important to watch the Federal Reserve because future interest rates will affect current prices and demand in the market. When you are first starting off as an appraiser and you have to do appraisals in the winter, use a pencil because it won’t freeze, and always dress warmly because you don’t know how long you’ll need to be there. Learn the procedures that need to be done and do them; if all the appraisers did the procedures right the first time, it would be much easier to finish the appraisal in the given time frame.
PayScale: What are the craziest things that have happened during your real estate appraisal jobs?
As an appraiser, and even more so as an appraisal reviewer, it was a rare occasion when something crazy or interesting happened near me. One time, when I was in an inner city neighborhood, I had stopped to take pictures of a house that was a comparable property to the one I appraised. A few minutes later a white Escalade pulled up next to my car and a tall, heavyset man wearing gold chains got out. I became a little nervous about what he would do because he might have been angry at me for taking pictures of his house. His house was probably less expensive than his car, but we started talking about his house, which he was renting. I asked a few questions I needed to know to write the appraisal report and he seemed very friendly and answered my questions enthusiastically. We had only been talking for about five minutes when a police car parked behind me turned its lights on.
By the time the police officer reached my car, she had already run my plates and knew I lived a ways away. She asked me what I was doing, and I explained to her that it was for an appraisal. She proceeded to tell me that she thought I was buying drugs from the gentleman who lived in the property and owned the Escalade. He had already gone inside, but it took me 15 minutes to explain that this house was a comparable property to the house I appraised before she let me go on my way. Another time I was inside a house that was supposed to be vacant, but when I got to the basement there was an old guy sleeping in rags in the corner. He woke up and I apologized, but he said it wasn’t a problem and I could just go ahead with my appraisal. That’s the extent of my crazy experiences as an appraiser.