- The Washington Times - Friday, August 16, 2002

It takes a lot of work to become a home appraiser, not the least of which is putting in the time to keep ahead of an industry that is changing every day. But for those with patience and the ability to hustle, the financial payoff could be substantial, industry insiders say.

Since they are responsible for developing and reporting the value of real property, home appraisers must work well with numbers and have good analytical and communication skills. Much of their time is spent interacting with clients and writing reports.

Appraisers are the first and many times only defense against unscrupulous brokers and lenders who would base a loan on misleading information about the neighborhood, market conditions and trends and improvements of the property, appraisers say.

The salary range varies. Deane Wilson, chairman of the Real Property Committee for the Reston-based American Society of Appraisers, says, "the typical appraiser with a regular 8-to-5 job can make between $40,000 to $50,000. But some appraisers can go into the six-figure range. If you hustle and work 12-hour days, you can make pretty good money."

That sounds simple enough, yet the path to becoming a home appraiser isn't easy.

"The laws are not favorable to start-ups," Mr. Wilson says. "Many states are looking to see how they can fix this. Right now, it is difficult for anyone wanting to get into the home appraisal profession."

Guidelines to become a licensed appraiser in the District, Maryland or Virginia currently require at least 90 hours of classroom instruction and 2,000 hours of on-the-job experience, in addition to passing the appraiser examination and completing 14 hours of continuing education annually.

The requirements, which vary slightly from state to state, are the bare minimum.

To belong to a professional organization such as the American Society of Appraisers, the requirements increase significantly.

"It's tough. Regulations are very tough. You need two to three years of training as an intern and must have 90 hours of classroom experience," says Hallie Stone, owner of Washington Appraisers. Changes proposed for next year in appraiser licensing and certification requirements will include an increase in classroom instruction and new college requirements.

According to the Appraisal Foundation, a not-for-profit educational organization based in the District, there are many opportunities for home appraisers to practice the craft. Lenders seek appraisers for loan collateral purposes, lawyers use them in property disputes, insurance companies use them to help determine the value of the property, and property owners use them when buying or selling real estate.

Besides working independently, corporations, government agencies, financial institutions and real estate investment companies all employ real estate appraisers full time. Specialties include residential, commercial and agricultural property.

While some have predicted that professional real estate appraisers will be replaced one day by satellite images and computerized databases, appraisers have worked to counter this forecast by using their real estate knowledge and the latest technology to boost their incomes.

The Internet is increasingly being used by appraisers to perform "online analysis" of a property for sale. Buyers and sellers get access to a full appraisal of the property and the entire appraisal exhibits, including interior and exterior photos, floor plans, maps, surveys and other information.

Advocates of a computerized appraisal process point to the failures of the present fee-based system that has appraisers in a consulting role in which they receive an upfront fee based on the services they provide.

This buddy system prompts some appraisers, hoping to get future work, to overvalue in order to hit a predetermined value, industry observers say. If he refuses to play ball, an appraiser usually loses the client.

Estimates run as high as a fifth of all appraisals being overvalued by more than 10 percent, industry officials say.

"A lot of times, people will have their own personal opinion on what their property is worth and won't accept what you say as being correct. They tell you that their neighbor's house down the street sold for a specific amount but never have all of the facts to back up their claims," Mr. Wilson says.

One of the most difficult steps in becoming a home appraiser is finding the initial required work as an intern or trainee.

"Most people don't want to take the time to train because their own productivity goes down. Right now I'm training my daughter. People who get in the business usually have family that helps them out. It takes so much dedication to commit to train someone," says Ms. Stone.

Many established home appraisers agree that it is hard to invest the time and energy into training someone because once they've completed their hours they usually go off and work on their own.

"It's the nature of the beast. Independent thinkers with a true interest in real estate will eventually go off on their own," Mr. Wilson says.

"It can be a tough time getting work. No one wants to go through the trouble of training someone who will just leave," Ms. Stone says.

Although a background in real estate is not a prerequisite for becoming a home appraiser, it helps. Many appraisers come from other fields in real estate and have all different types of experience and education levels. Mr. Wilson warns people not to limit themselves to just appraising.

"People thinking about becoming a home appraiser should explore other opportunities in real estate that would include appraising, which would be more rewarding for a long-term career," he says.

"Some appraisers just fold up because they didn't realize the importance in the value of a real estate background," adds Ms. Stone, a 37-year veteran of the real estate industry. "Most people should start from square one as a Realtor. A lot of appraisers don't know much about real estate and need to."

Being a home appraiser is ideal for people who enjoy working alone and who don't want to be glued to their desk all day. Mr. Wilson advises prospective home appraisers not to get discouraged and to be persistent.

"If you've got the stomach and like independent working," he says, "keep calling around for a trainer to help get you started."

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