North by Northwest interviewed one of its commercial real estate appraisers, James Milner. James offered some helpful tips for when inspecting a remote property. James is based in Boone, North Carolina. Boone is a town that is 3,333 feet above sea level and a part of the Appalachian mountain region. Boone is primarily a college town, and not very remote itself. However, its neighboring towns and counties are outside of urban developed areas. Many of these assignments require inspecting rural and hard-to-access areas.
James told me that any job in this area could require him to access properties along steep and winding mountain roads. “It takes a while to get to some of these properties, even if it looks close on the map. It can take 45 mins or an hour to safely access remote areas.” But is there any particular danger to appraising at high altitudes?
How to Plan Accordingly
Not if you plan accordingly, James assured. “We are not exactly driving sedans up these roads. We have to have a four wheel drive.” James said it is important to prepare for any situation. “If it is cold we have to dress appropriately. Safety is a big consideration.” There is also the point that many of these areas don’t have cell service. So in case of an emergency it is important for appraisers to let someone know the general area of where they’re going. Small markets where there isn’t a lot of development or much sales activity means that appraisers have to rely on relationships and call people to be able to do their best job.
James relayed three questions every appraiser should ask themselves before they head off to do an inspection in the mountains:
- What kind of risks do you have to take into account?
- What is the landscape like?
- How do you prepare for extreme weather?
As for the weather, it is essential to have a basic understanding of weather patterns. And find the right window to get a remote appraisal done. When the weather is clear and mild, that is the optimal time to drive these longer distances and do the inspection. If it’s sub-zero temperatures or a very gusty day, then it’s smarter to hold off.
People in Remote Areas are a Risk Factor Too
In addition to extreme weather, or dangerous roads, people can also be a risk factor. As Zachary Northcott explained in a previous interview, many people react with suspicion or even hostility if they see strangers taking pictures near their property. James indicated that on more than one occasion he has had to deescalate a situation. In those instances residents did not understand why he was near their property or taking pictures.
“I think we have the type of work in real estate that can be emotional for people. Understandably, people are very connected to their homes, their land, and their buildings. Oftentimes we have to diffuse difficult situations. We are put in the middle by a property owner who is upset and doesn’t always understand the situation. And our client who has asked us to do work. We try to do the very best we can within the limits we are given as appraisers. This is an important thing for the general public to understand. We have our own set of rules or regulations that we have to follow like the right of way manual and USPAP. We have an obligation to our license,” James said.
When I asked what advice James would give to an appraiser in a confrontational situation with a property owner, he talked about the importance of hearing the property owner out. “You just have to let people voice their concerns. We often say ‘I understand you’re upset. We’re here to do a job and we need to do it to the best of our abilities.’ We also try to put ourselves in the shoes of the property owner.”
Doing Due Diligence
Ultimately whether the inspection is in Boone or at the beach, James said that an appraiser will do what needs to get done. As long as there is adequate preparation and understanding for what you’re dealing with, the appraisal will go well. Oftentimes, James told me, appraisers don’t do enough due diligence on the front end of their inspections. “You need to be looking at GIS data, site characteristics, topography, understanding the neighborhood and patterns of development, and if you’re adequately prepared from an appraisal and a safety standpoint then there isn’t any way you can go wrong.”
North by Northwest Gets the Job Done
Finally, James said he felt that the North by Northwest firm was very lucky to have a myriad of people scattered across the state. All of whom continue to provide their clients with excellent appraisal services. “I think that we work very well together. Like with any organization there are ups and downs. But at the end of the day we do our best to serve our clients throughout our region and state to the best of our ability. I’m grateful to be part of that team,” James said.