The Cheese Has Moved

There are enough of our foes out there calling appraisers “rats” that I am not going to join the mantra.  However, I do want to make an analogy as it relates to us and rodents.  There is a great book out there by Spencer Johnson titled Who Moved My Cheese. It is worth picking up if you have not done so already.  And, if you’ve read it before, read it again.  Part of what makes it great is that it is short and to the point.  The book makes a profound point and does so in an easy-to-understand way.

Basically, the message can be summed up like this.  We are all like mice in a maze.  Each of us have goals.  Those goals are likened to the cheese, or prize, at the end of the maze.  As creatures of habit, we tend to travel in the same paths and go to the same areas where we have found cheese in the past.  There is nothing wrong with this.  If you want to eat, you go to the refrigerator.  If you need gas, you drive to the local C-store.  Need money?  Go to work.  Wanna lose weight?  Hit the treadmill.  Habits are good things… if they lead us to our goals.  The problem comes when we go to where the cheese has always been… and it is no longer there.  This is when the book gets really fun.  How do mice react when the cheese has been moved?  Simply put, some mice run around in circles and cry about why their cheese is gone, while others venture out and… wait for it… find more cheese!  You can probably guess which mice are successful. 

Throughout the past three or four decades, our “appraisal cheese” (if you will) has been nudged a bit here and shifted a little there.  After the S&L Crises, we saw the move to USPAP and licensing.  New technologies and software have come along, bumping our cheese a bit over the years.  Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac have done their fair share of cheese pushing.  Then along came HVCC, UAD, scope creep, customary and reasonable, and Dodd-Frank.  Let’s just say, our cheese has now officially been moved. 

As these major changes have taken place over the past three to four years, I have watched with interest the reaction of different independent fee appraisers.  Like in Dr. Johnson’s book, there are a whole lot of ‘mice’ running around in circles and whining about their lost cheese.  I find them at appraisal conferences, on the web-boards, and frequently in my email inbox.  They are easy to spot.  Look for common rodent-language using words such as “can’t,” “used-to,” “wish,” and “give up.”  These words are often accompanied with gestures that look much like finger-pointing (but smaller as they are using paws instead of hands). 

Of course, there are the other types of mice as well (though they are clearly in the minority).  These mice are hard to spot because they do not hang around the other rodents.  Rather, they have left to find the cheese somewhere else.  Both types of mouse-appraisers have recognized that something is drastically different than it used to be.  Both are not very happy about the changes.  The main difference  separating the two is that one group has decided to gripe, moan, and wish that things could just be the way they were in 2007, while others have made the decision to do something about it. 

Many ask me why The Appraiser Coach is able to be so successful in such a difficult appraising atmosphere.  The answer has many facets, but if I could boil it all down to one statement, it would be this; “I have been able to recognize the changes to our industry and have been able to adapt.”  In other words, the cheese has moved, and I left the pitty-party to find its new resting place. 

Now, I want to be fair.  First of all, I have done my fair share of complaining as well.  I cannot say I am happy with the majority of the changes that have been imposed upon us over the last little while.  Indeed, appraisers got blamed for a lot more than they were responsible for in this so-called “housing crises.”  The politicians swooped in, and not knowing the first thing about appraisals, ‘fixed’ the problem with legislation that frankly threw the baby out with the proverbial bath water.  Secondly, I have in this article painted appraisers with a broad brush and unfairly placed them into two, distinct camps.  Obviously, that is an unfair characterization.  Surely, most of us have both feet in each camp to some degree.  However, I hope the overall lesson is not lost on the inconsistencies. 

The facts are clear.  Though there are things we should be doing to try to change the environment to a more free-market system, we will never see things return to the old norm.  The cheese will never be rolled back into the same place.  We are losing a lot of our rank-and-file to these changes.  Rather than looking for more cheese, they are lifting up their tails and going home.  What is even scarier is that very few new appraisers are entering the maze to take their place.  And still, a large majority of us are apparently finding it more useful to run around in circles moaning about the lost cheese rather than picking up our paws and scampering off to find more. 

Here’s the good news, kids; there is still cheese to be found.  It may not look or smell like the rich cheddar that we were used to in 2005-2008.  The new cheese may be white and have a few holes in it, but it can be just as tasty.  The lesson is simple; we must each first discover what kind of mouse we are.  Are we going to whine about the way it used to be or get busy sniffing out the new cheese?  I for one am going to do what I can to change the system, sure, but I am also going to busy myself finding and conquering new mountains of cheese and prosperity wherever I can still find it.     

Now, go create some value!



Dustin Harris is a multi-business owner and residential real estate appraiser. He has been appraising for nearly two decades. He is the owner and President of Appraisal Precision and Consulting Group, Inc. He owns and operates The Appraiser Coach where he personally advises and mentors other appraisers. He is also the Founder and President of Your Appraisal Office which implements some of the systems he has developed to help lower costs and free up time. His principles and methodologies are also taught in an online, Mastermind group. He and his wife reside in Idaho with their four children.


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