I get this question a lot as many friends and clients are interested in how I decided on this line of work and if it is right for them. As I was growing up, I was always into finance and numbers. I dreamt of being a hotshot stockbroker or hedge fund manager when I was still in grade school. After finishing up a degree in Finance, I started my first job in San Francisco’s financial district. I was 22 years old and working long hours in a suit behind a cubicle looking at spreadsheets. I loved the analysis and numbers aspect of the job, but there was something missing. I was missing the face-to-face connection with actual humans, not just their financials. I didn’t know if I would be able to make it 40+ years in this field and it bummed me out frankly.
One day I got a call from a good friend of mine, who was working at an appraisal firm. He told me they were swamped with work and they needed a hand processing paperwork. I was young and ambitious and I thought that it may be good to earn extra income while I was working my full-time job. From the first day at this appraisal firm, I was in love. All the appraisers were happy and made a good living, they had autonomy, and they genuinely loved their job. I started from the bottom just doing administrative work, but I worked hard and asked for more responsibilities. Eventually, the owner of the company asked me to study for my appraiser trainee license which I happily agreed to. I passed my state exam and became a licensed appraiser almost 19 years ago and never looked back! After almost two decades in the industry, I am happy to share my perspective pros and cons of becoming an appraiser.
- Autonomy – After you become fully licensed, and especially if you have your own practice, you can pick and choose your clients. Appraisers can work with lenders, attorneys, CPAs, utility companies, developers, bail bonds, and investors. Most appraisers work with lenders but there is a vast number of uses for appraisals that go beyond the financing world.
- Niche Appraisals – Appraisers can specialize in various types of properties outside of the cookie-cutter residential property. Some appraisers may be specialized in Green/Eco properties, mid-century modern properties, high-end luxury properties, manufactured homes, mobile homes, and in the commercial realm appraisers may specialize in strip malls, apartment buildings, golf courses, airports, etc. The possibilities are endless.
- Income Scalability – Appraisers can make a decent income once you are experienced and especially if you find a specialty. According to Glassdoor, the average appraiser salary is $55,000 per year, however, that does not take into account experience and specialties. Most appraisers earning $55,000 are likely working part-time hours or are working with a firm with a fee split. In my mastermind group, most appraisers are making over $150,000 per year (as a single-person shop) with a few earning more than $300,000 per year (with the help of virtual assistants and trainees).
- Not Boring or Monotonous – Every property is different as architecture changes depending on the region, neighborhood, and taste of the homeowner. Every client is different. This makes your job interesting and less mundane as no appraisal job is the same.
- Work-Life Balance – This to me is the ultimate reason why I love being an appraiser. I can work as much or as little as I want. I can choose which clients and jobs to take on and control the hours I work. I schedule all my own appraisals and I try to not work weekends or nights so that I can spend more time with my family.
- Not Consistent – Real estate, in general, is cyclical. If you do appraisals for financing then as interest rates rise you may receive less refinance work and vice versa when rates drop. If you handle purchase appraisals then you will be busier during the spring and summer selling season and slower during the fall and winter seasons. You will likely never have a stable paycheck and it will fluctuate with the amount of work you take on, especially if you are a fee appraiser. Appraisers who are employees of companies may have more stable income but when times get slow some companies tend to lay off or furlough their appraisers. If you want a consistent workflow, then being a fee appraiser may not be the best career choice.
- Requires Marketing Effort – If you are a self-starter, ambitious, and can market to find more work this is a great occupation. However, if you are the type that waits for the work to come to you then you will have trouble when the real estate cycle shifts. Many appraisers I know are introverted and like to work solo, however, to have a consistent workflow as an appraiser you should be marketable. Many successful appraisers constantly market to their client base and are always looking to grow their clientele. In order to do so, it requires marketing. This can be in the form of offering classes to real estate offices, informative talks with local CPA and Bar associations, blogging, SEO, and posting to social media sites. This is especially helpful if you are looking to do private work for estates/trusts, divorce, as an expert witness, and investor groups. You have to remember that you are operating a business and need to constantly find new work opportunities.
- Mentorship – When you are just starting out as an appraiser, finding mentorship can be very difficult. Nowadays, most appraisal companies are small one-person shops that typically work from their home office. Most mentors do not offer a competitive wage early on as most trainees will require a lot of help at the beginning stages of their careers. As trainees become more competent, their wage/fee split tends to get higher. As a mentee, gaining experience hours and logging them is a priority, but again, the work will be cyclical and may take years to gain enough hours to become fully certified.
Despite the cons to becoming an appraiser, in my opinion, it is well worth it. If you are willing to learn and love the work, then it can be very rewarding. When you poll appraisers around the country, most will agree that it’s a great career choice and if they had to do it again would likely choose the same career path. Being able to set your own hours, having autonomy over who you work with and the type of property you appraise, having huge income potential, and having a great work-life balance are such great aspects of this career. Just be careful to pace yourself and not take on too much work as it can pile up especially when interest rates are low.
Why I became a realtor. After 28 years studying the market and knowing the appraisal process is a huge piece in a real estate transaction I knew I had a leg up on other agents. As a Realtor, being able to price the property you are selling (or helping to buy) is paramount to your clients. If you price the property too high it will sit on the market too long, if you price it too low then you have lost money for your sellers. On the buyers’ side, knowing the price of a property tells your buyers if it is indeed a good buy or if they are overpaying. There is such great synergy being both a Realtor and appraiser and I am very grateful for all the opportunities it has given me!