Real estate appraisers have it made in good markets. They have the potential to earn six-figure incomes working as their own bosses. Or they can work part-time, typically earning about $300 or more each time they write an appraisal telling a homeowner or lender what a single-family property is worth.
But, a never-ending trail of regulatory education requirements issued by dozens of committees, boards and bureaucracies keep making it more difficult to obtain the correct education and experience needed to become an appraiser.
As of 2008, trainee appraisers need a minimum of 75 hours of appraiser education and must pass a state exam, says Ian Bayne, managing partner of Advisory Appraisals in Framingham, Massachusetts. The requirements for becoming an appraiser are different in each state, though, so you need to check the specifics in the state in which you want to work.
Wait, There's a Catch
After you pass the exam, there's a catch. You've got to convince a licensed appraiser you're a worthy trainee. Then, you'll need to spend at least a year (if you work 40 hours a week) as an apprentice to your mentor appraiser to become a licensed appraiser. The most advanced title, the Certified General Appraiser designation, requires 3,000 hours of apprentice work in no fewer than 30 months and a bachelor's degree or 30 semester hours of mostly business-focused college classes.
Up until recently, apprentice appraisers were paid pretty well. Bill Johnson, owner of United Residential Appraisals in Davidsonville, Maryland, paid past trainees $125 for each appraisal they completed, which allowed them to earn $25,000 to $35,000 a year.
However, the state of Maryland now says the master appraiser must accompany the appraiser trainee on all jobs. "I'm not going to pay a trainee to go out if I have to do the work myself," Johnson says. "I have a trainee who's willing to go out with me on an ad-hoc basis, and I pay him to write the appraisal [and] pull the comparables, but nowhere near as much as before. The only people who are going to get jobs are those with an in -- a relative in the business -- and trainees who have the ability to bring in new business through contacts in the real estate or mortgage banking business."
If it's that hard to break into the appraisal guild, should you try to land a job before completing your education and exam? "Get the [trainee] license first," advises Bayne. "It shows commitment."
How do you convince an appraiser to take you on? When Bayne hires appraiser trainees, he looks for a solid work history, persistence and experience in commission-based sales. Bayne suggests sending a resume to all the appraisers in your area and then following up by phone to see who might need a trainee. "Be persistent," he says. "As an appraiser, you're going to be doing work off-site, so if someone doesn't follow up a resume with a phone call, I think they probably aren't going to follow up on their off-site work."
You may also be able to find a mentor by joining an appraiser trade association, such as the Appraisal Institute, which runs a scholarship program for diverse candidates seeking to get into real estate appraisal.
If you have a skill appraisers need, such as expertise in computer networking or marketing, pitch that. To convince your future mentor that you're serious, offer to repay the company for the cost of your training if you leave within a set time after completing your internship.
Appraise Your Career Options
Once you've finished training and are a state-certified appraiser, you may want to pursue a specialty. Gary Taylor, MAI, SRA, a past president of the Appraisal Institute, touts the organization's advanced-level courses as a good tool to help you decide whether commercial real estate, residential real estate or even golf course valuations is the right niche for you. Taylor is also president of Rogers & Taylor Appraisers in Hauppauge, New York.
Eventually, you might set up your own shop, or work your way up to a review appraiser position in a larger shop. Other options include working for a large, national appraisal company, such as LandSafe (a subsidiary of Countrywide Home Loans; Countywide is now part of Bank of America), a bank or a local firm.
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