Fortunately, I found myself in sunny Ft. Lauderdale last week. Unfortunately, my wife woke up with a kinked neck that really put a kink in our whole vacation. Since she really could not function, we decided to take a trip to the local chiropractor.
Here is a summary of our experience:
- Found one on the Internet and called a receptionist to set up the appointment.
- Was greeted at the door by another receptionist.
- Was ushered back to the examination room and met briefly with the doctor.
- After a quick look-see, the doctor called on a nurse to assist with muscle relaxing therapy while he was on to another patient.
- Once the muscles were prepared, the chiropractor was back for a few more minutes.
- Finally, payment was taken at the front desk by the same receptionist who greeted us upon arrival.
- I assume billing, marketing, and other functions were completed by others behind the scenes.
- $60, and we spent maybe 12 minutes with the actual doctor.
Pretty unusual, right? Of course not. It happens several times a day in most chiropractor’s offices across the nation. It also occurs in doctor’s offices, dentist’s offices, and other medical offices all the time. Frankly, a similar scene also plays out with architects, plumbers, electricians, and other contractors. The same is true for attorneys, financial planners, insurance agents, real estate brokers, and consultants. So, why is it so unusual in the appraisal industry?
Why is utilizing a competent staff to assist with the appraisal process not just considered off-limits but somehow rises to the level of sacrilegious? Appraisers have been brainwashed into thinking that the licensed appraiser must do absolutely everything, from receiving the engagement letter to uploading the final product. The funny thing is, our bible (USPAP) doesn’t require it. Our policemen (state regulatory agencies) do not demand it. Even our primary customers (FNMA/Freddy) are not anti-assistance. They all demand disclosure, sure, but that is a small price to pay for efficiency.
I often get questions from curious folks who see my tax returns on the website. “Yeah, but surely you are not doing all of that work yourself, are you?” Well, duh! When I answer “of course not,” their curiosity turns to condemnation. “I thought so,” they often rage. “It is appraisers like you who are bringing down the whole industry!” As if training and utilizing a professional staff is somehow equated to cutting corners.
Well, allow me to make the case FOR using assistants as part of your business model. It seems the prevalent complaint these days is too many requirements (extra comps, regression analysis, extra commentary, MC Addendums, UAD, etc.) and that the pay has not risen with the demanded extra work. Hey, I get it. The cheese has moved. So, what are you doing about it? I can tell you what most offices have done; THE EXACT OPPOSITE OF WHAT THEY SHOULD HAVE DONE!!! Rather than beef up their hourly employee help, they’ve fired their receptionists and are now doing it all on their own. However, in today’s appraising environment, business owners should be hiring and training people to do ALL of the non-technical side of running an appraisal business so that they (the appraisers) can concentrate on what they MUST do as the experts in the process.
Look at it this way; what was your hourly pay in 2007-2008 before most of this scope-creep came into effect? What is your hourly pay now? Could you leverage some help with the non-technical side at a lower rate than what you get paid so that you could do more volume again? “But Coach, most of these new requirements are too complicated to trust to someone making $10 an hour!” All the more reason to turn the non-complicated work over to them.
Let’s look at some hypotheticals. Say that with the increased requirements, it is now taking you about twice as long to do an average appraisal as it used to. Therefore, you are now making 50% less per hour than you were a few years ago. Now, let’s just assume that 25% of the appraisal process (a number I think is way too conservative) could be done by another, competent individual working at a per hour rate. Since most of the appraisers I speak to are either currently turning down business or could be doing more if they actively sought after it, that means you could do 25% more per day with some help. Okay. Get my calculator out here. Mumbling some numbers in my head. Carry the one. BAM! My figures show you could be doing less of the stuff you hate, more of the stuff you enjoy, and making more money than you are making right now! The reason I have not used actual numbers here is that appraisal fees and hourly employee standards vary so much by area. However, 25% of a typical appraisal fee does not add up to the hourly receptionist/data entry clerk norms in any region that I know of. Now, I can already hear you screaming at the computer monitor (and I haven’t even published this yet), “But what about increased taxes and overhead and training and sick days and… (trailing off).” Fine. Do the math, and see if it works for you. All I can say is that when the ‘housing crisis’ hit, I beefed up my staff rather than pulled back, and it is working for me!
Fortunately, appraisal business owners across the country are starting to get it as well. It is possible (and profitable) to hire out certain aspects of your business processes and increase your volume – thus profits – as a consequence. That is why businesses such as Your Appraisal Office, LLC (see important disclosure below) are doing so well. Here is a company which allows you to assign all of that non-technical stuff to a professional but avoid the typical training costs, taxes, and human resource problems that normally come with it. Furthermore, they charge based on volume, so you are not paying someone to work when you have no orders!
Do yourself a favor; as you drive to appointments, inspect, write-up reports, and try to juggle the phones, email, billing, etc. this week, stop and ask yourself if it is not possible to shift even a little of your workload to someone else. Next time you go into a doctor’s office, pay attention to just how many competent people surround that doctor and make it possible for him to do what he does. Then, ask yourself if a similar model might be a possibility in your appraisal office.
Now, go create some value!
Dustin Harris is a multi-business owner, but he has found most of his success as a self-employed, 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., and is a popular author, speaker and consultant. He owns and operates The Appraiser Coach (www.theappraisercoach.com) where he personally advises and mentors other appraisers helping them to also run successful appraisal companies and increase their net worth. FULL DISCLOSURE: He is also the Founder and President of Your Appraisal Office (www.yourappraisaloffice.com) which implements some of the systems he has developed to help lower costs and free up time for real estate business owners. He and his wife reside in Idaho with their four children.
Great article Dustin. And your right on.