Does Commercial Appraising Need a Clearer Path to Entry?

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Charlotte, North Carolina skyline

In our last article on why there aren’t more female commercial appraisers, we did a deep dive into why women account for 70% of real estate agents but only 20% of commercial appraisers. In our first article, North by Northwest interviewed two trainee appraisers Erin Hogge and Natalie Lathan. They wondered if the disparity in the two categories had more to do with the barriers to entry in commercial appraising. Erin and Natalie told NxNW that to become a commercial appraiser it was essential to find a mentor who would be willing to work very closely with the trainee for at least two years. 

Additionally, they shared that most of the available mentors were older men. Erin and Natalie thought part of the problem might be that men of a certain generation simply felt uncomfortable taking on a younger female trainee appraiser, when they could instead take on a male trainee. 

But is there really an unconscious bias against women in the appraising industry? To investigate this further I spoke with four women commercial appraisers who have been working in the industry for decades. The aim of the article is to offer a more robust picture of the situation. 

Arriving at Being a Commercial Appraiser by Chance

Once again all of the women I interviewed told me they came about being an appraiser more or less by accident. All four of the women I interviewed had this experience. However, it is also true for many male commercial appraisers.

This includes North by Northwest CEO Anthony Alderman, MRICS. Anthony discovered the career through one of his mature students while he was an adjunct professor. Indeed, one of my interviewees’ Elaine Worzala, who is a Professor of Real Estate in the School of Business at George Washington University in Washington D.C, partially put blame on the US education model. She said university students and young adults have too open-ended of education tracks. Elaine believes there should be a more clearly visible path into commercial appraising for college students. Many people she knows in commercial real estate ended up there by accident. They did not go to College to study real estate.   

Obscurity Around the Career Further Impacts Women

Notwithstanding, this seems to be particularly the case for women entering the commercial appraisal world. All of the appraisers interviewed described their ending up in the field as “lucky.” Valuation Service Director, Colliers SE, Vanessa Hall, MAI, explained that she arrived at a career in appraising after she was recommended by her uncle. She started working for an appraisal company in Chicago when she first started college. 

Vanessa began helping with office administration. At the time she was studying at college to become a teacher. Shortly thereafter, Vanessa’s proactive nature led her to seek being more involved with the appraisals. She began to take on more responsibilities. “I learned a lot from reading [the appraiser’s reports] and also what their bosses were looking for. I learned how to search for comparable data. This meant that all of the things that are the most time consuming to learn when someone first starts on a career path in appraising, I already knew. Then I began to realize I could make a lot more money as a commercial appraiser than I could as a teacher,” Vanessa shared with me.  

Coincidences Create Career Opportunities

Similarly, Certified General Appraiser Laura Gourlay, MAI, AI-GRS, CDA, had been a commercial banker. She got into commercial appraising when the recession hit and her banking job went away. She explains how she was then trying to decide what to do with her life. Around the same time, a former banking colleague asked her to go to a meeting as a favor to help them brainstorm ideas. He then made the suggestion that she be an appraiser. “Since I was a banker I was reading appraisals on a regular basis. I told him I didn’t know where I would find a supervisor. That’s when he offered to be my supervisor,” Laura told me.

Randy Hopkins, MAI, AI-GRS, President of Hopkins Consulting and Review, LLC., said that she also found the career by chance. She had been studying marketing research at Florida State. Her first husband was there studying for a real estate degree, which not many other schools offered. Randy revealed that while she had always been ‘a numbers person’ and as a marketing major, did learn supply and demand, she hadn’t known about appraising. 

Her husband took an appraisal course as part of his program. He then told her he thought it was the perfect avenue for her. So, after graduating, Randy went back to school and re-enrolled in Florida State to take their appraisal courses. “No one then knew about appraising. They let us take the Appraisal Institute’s course book as our textbook. We were able to take their exams. I sat for five exams and passed four. So I had my real estate sales license and had credibility of taking these exams. I was just very fortunate to be at that school. Since they had a real estate major and the option to take appraisal courses. That was unheard of.” 

The Importance of Creating More CRE Educational Opportunities

In preparing for her move to Charlotte she sent out her resume and was approached by a firm. Her future boss admitted to her, while hiring her, that he thought he had been calling a man. “He said, ‘I would not have called you if I knew I was calling a woman.’ In my interview in Charlotte I began discussing terminal cap rates which showed him I knew my stuff. I was his most productive appraiser and stayed with him for 14 years. Then I started my own appraisal company in 2003,” Randy told North by Northwest. 

Elaine describes how as a young student in business school, a visiting female professor planted the seed about doing her doctorate and teaching commercial real estate. She did not do it then but completed her masters and started working as a real estate appraiser.  A year later she returned to UW Madison to complete her PhD in real estate.  She got lucky as her boss allowed her to continue working as an appraiser while she started her doctorate in Real Estate and Urban Land Economics.    

Solution: Clearer Road Map Needed to Commercial Appraising

A resounding question that seems to come out of these interviews is why is there so little known about commercial appraising or commercial real estate as an industry? Elaine joked that when she tells someone she’s in real estate that automatically conjures a picture of selling houses. Obviously, there is a lot more to the industry, but it seems to need a clearer roadmap for new entrees. 

We’d love to hear what’s been your experience of getting into commercial appraising. And particularly what resources you’re aware of to help onboard more young appraiser trainees. Get in touch with us today.