If you have an eye for detail, an ability to guess what’s beneath a fresh coat of paint, and you love to explore built spaces where people live and work, a career as a real estate appraiser may suit you. And did you even realize that you could be paid to peruse other people’s houses and judge their views and living spaces? Many people don’t. Typically they don’t discover it exists until they work in a related industry, such as real estate or estate planning. It’s a specialized career that people find their way into because they have the right skills and inclinations.
Why become an appraiser?
Like many real estate professionals, appraisers usually appreciate a home’s finer features. But they have an auditor’s painstaking objectivity more than a salesperson’s knack for a pitch. An appraiser can work as a lender’s representative while understanding and believing that a home’s value is determined by more than material costs. They can also work for lawyers and CPAs.
"Common needs for an appraiser include mortgages, valuations of estates, court disputes, tax grievances, or simply wanting to know the value of a property," explains well-known East Coast appraiser Dina Miller.
What all these situations have in common is that a property owner needs to know the true value of their property and/or home. There’s a lot of sentiment at play when most people try to gauge what their own real property is worth -- particularly their home. An appraiser assesses that property against others in the area based on set parameters.
Training to become an appraiser
Professional appraisers learn how to do their jobs in a two-year training program under a licensed and certified-to-supervise appraiser or firm. A college degree isn't necessarily a requirement, but intensive formal training definitely is.
As Miller explains, obtaining a license requires attending classes and completing 1,500 hours of experience in the field (3,000 if going for a commercial license). This must be completed in a two-year time window. After that, aspiring appraisers must complete a state exam. Once they successfully complete the exam, they get certified for two years -- but ongoing education is required in order to continue renewing a license.
The psychological and emotional side of appraising
It makes sense that this would be a career that requires lots of study, experience in the field, and constant education. Large sums of money are at stake every time an appraiser walks into a property. It may even be the largest transaction that a buyer or seller ever completes in their entire life, but for an appraiser, it’s just another workday. They can’t get complacent, though. Their lawyer, lender, and banker clients expect them to ensure the bank doesn’t pay even a dollar over what the property deserves.
It's very common for lenders and other clients to question and push back on appraisers’ evaluations. It's also common for the property owners to try everything in their power to get a higher valuation -- from claiming more living space than is on the tax roll to passing off cosmetic upgrades as full renovations. Appraisers need to be very steady in their judgment and able to explain to anyone who questions them why certain decisions were made.
The career prospects for a trustworthy appraiser with good communication skills are pretty good. Starting salaries are around $70,000, according to Miller, and can go up to six figures for experienced appraisers. For appraisers who can maintain a strong professional network (even though their job often requires telling people what they don’t want to hear), there’s plenty of work. Property appraisals are a part of the process when buying, selling, refinancing, negotiating leases, dividing an estate, or estimating tax liability.
Appraisers with a residential license stick with homes, but commercial real estate appraisers work evaluating office buildings, retail centers, and other types of property, as well as multifamily buildings.
While many people wonder what will happen to appraisers and other jobs generally performed in person post–COVID-19, the outlook seems to be that these roles are still needed, although with some adjustments. Right now, according to Miller, appraisals may be conducted of just the exterior of a property. Another possible solution: virtual appraisals and contact-free appraisals.
Should you become an appraiser?
Maybe you’ve been considering a career switch into real estate but don’t think the competitive and sales-intensive lifestyle of a realtor is for you. Maybe you love examining properties, but you're more of a realist than a commission chaser. Perhaps you're coming from a professional services career and want to do something that gets you out from behind a desk, doing more than number-crunching. If any of these things are true, you may be suited to become a real estate appraiser.