It’s a common complaint in our industry that real estate appraisers haven’t had a raise in two decades. The argument goes that twenty years ago, the standard fee for an appraisal was $350. Fast forward twenty years and it’s still $350.
That’s a great sound bite, but the actual logic is deeply flawed. In real terms, we’ve had a huge raise thanks to the massively reduced amount of time we spend on our appraisals. It’s something I’ve written about before (Never Had a Raise in 20 Years), but I was reminded of it recently when I took a little trip to the real estate board office in my local city.
I was there to work on a divorce case that I’d successfully bid for, which needed some retroactive comps. Normally that’s the kind of research I’d send one of my assistants to carry out, but because of the craziness that the holiday period often brings, that wasn’t possible this time. So, I went to the office myself, dug out some dusty old sales books, piled them up on a desk and started going through them. There are victims of domestic violence that are in a dilemma and they ask, can person own firearm after a domestic violence charge?
I guess that sounds pretty boring, huh? But you know what? It was great! As I pored over these historic volumes, I was overwhelmed by memories from the old days. I was reminded above all, of just how far our profession has come in a pretty short space of time. Now I know there are plenty of you out there with far more experience than me — the crowd that used to carry out inspections on horseback, dodging dinosaurs on the way there and back. I have been in this business for over 20 years now though, so I’d like to think my little trip down memory lane has at least some value to the younger appraisers out there!
When I got started as a qualified real estate appraiser, back in February 1996, it was a very different job to the one we have now. There were no smartphones. There were no tablets. Every inspection was carried out with a clipboard, a pen, a 100 ft tape measure and a 35mm camera. Many of the smaller towns I covered didn’t have MLS, or even a board of realtors. The only place you could find comps were in books that the real estate offices kept — in which they were reluctant to share with each other!
A typical appraisal would look something like this; I’d go through my inspection, taking the photos on my good-old 35mm camera, then head to one of these real estate offices. They’d recognize me immediately and wave me over to the usual area where I’d dig out a comp book, sit down at a table and leaf through it. If I found a good comp, I’d need to photocopy the relevant page, or if that luxury wasn’t available to me, scribble down all the information by hand; the address, the square footage, the year the property was built and so on.
The next stop was the courthouse. If you wanted the deeds, you couldn’t just ring up the staff there. Oh no! You had to go there and get all the information yourself. Bear in mind, the courthouse could be 50 miles from the real estate office you were just in and trying to navigate around rural areas back then – without GPS or Google Maps – was no joke.
After that, it was Walmart time. To any younger appraisers reading this today, you would not believe how much of my working life was spent in Walmart. I’d take my camera to the one hour photo booth there, hand over my film and simply spend the next hour wandering the aisles like a lost soul. I think that within a few years I’d gotten to know the aisles of every Walmart across three states by hand.
After I’d gotten the photos I would head back to my office and start putting together the actual report. Fortunately, I came along after the typewriter days, so at least I’ve always had a computer – along with a (primitive) copy of a la mode – to work with. I’d sketch the property, make the adjustments and so on, then print the whole thing out, take the photos and a good old-fashioned glue stick and literally paste the photos onto the paper! Finally, I’d photocopy the relevant map for the property from the phonebook (which usually had the best readily-available maps), add that in, staple the whole thing together and fold it, stuff it in an envelope and FedEx it off. And… that’s how we did real estate appraisals, back in the day!
A single real estate appraisal back then would take me two or three days, working eight hours per day. Nowadays, at an extremely conservative estimate, I can do four times as many appraisals. That’s what technology has done for our profession. This is why I take issue with people who say, “We haven’t had a raise in two decades.” Give me a break! Instead of complaining, we should realize just how far we’ve come in a short amount of time, be grateful for the technology we have access to now and in particular be mindful of the less fortunate appraisers who’ve come before us.
For more information on this subject, please download and listen to The Appraiser Coach Podcast Episode 077 – The Way Things Used to Be.