I have had the privilege of teaching appraisal classes in over 40% of the states in this country within the last three to four years. In every class I speak unremittingly about my appraiser trainee(s) and how I love my trainee. I usually ask the class if anyone is training appraisers and there are very few who actually are. I am often met with hesitation by the appraiser's in the classes. The rationale by most is that trainee appraisers are too expensive, time-consuming, and the apprentices leave the company after a costly investment by the firm, and start their own business leaving you, the mentor, with a hole to fill financially and in your staff. Now this may be true but there are many benefits to having trainee(s) and there will always be challenges within any organization to attrition of the staff and finding ways to maintain loyalty within a company.
Choosing a trainee and some benefits
My appraisal company has always been run utilizing administrative support staff. Any appraiser who does not do this should try it. It will increase the offices efficiency and may bring you some incredible future trainee appraisers. The administrative staff is trained in answering the phones, quoting fees, typing appraisals, checking facts on MLS, public and county records, drawing sketches, putting maps into the forms, etc. If the staff does their job well, your job as an appraiser is confined to checking over the report for errors/accuracy, filling in the portions of the appraisal form that cannot be filled in by support staff, and completing the research, analyses and conclusions that are the basis of the Scope of Work of your report. If the staff is doing their job well, they may be getting their initial appraisal training. Personnel that cannot complete these fundamental things just described are not cut out for appraising and are more than likely not a positive addition to your company either. Just remember, diligence is a primary focus here. I had once had a woman working in my office that would type the same comparable sale twice and put the days on the market as "60 days" instead of "600 days". When I pointed out these errors she responded by saying, "What's the big deal?" Needless to say she did not work for me very long.
The benefits of having this person (or people) doing these things in your office should be increased time for you in the short run, and in the short to long run, the ability for you and your appraisers to write more reports per day and make more money. Having someone answering the phone is part of a basic business model and it provides service to your clients, all which brings you more business and a better bottom line.
When I was a child I worked at my father's Lithography manufacturing plant with the bookkeeper. My father was my idol when I was young. He ran this huge business, had a large office and I thought he was the most important person in the world. Obviously that view has changed somewhat over the years but a lot of what he taught me was so valuable it will always be with me. Of specific significance was when he told me that smart employers surround themselves with people who are smarter than they are. This statement could not be truer and has been a strategy I have always tried to follow myself.
One of the ways I do this is by hiring support staff and trainees that have skills I don't have. As I became older and industry progressed my computer skills became dated and I became a dinosaur, so to speak. I do everything I can to stay on top of new computer tools and skills but it is great that each young trainee comes to me with sharp new computer skills. They have the ability to easily acclimate to mobile appraising, laser measuring devices, regression analysis, new software and appraisal tools that are created to increase the appraiser's efficiency. The best part of having them there was having them there to TEACH ME how to use all these things that came so easily to them! Even simple software tools and browser issues can be resolved by a sharp, technologically smart (which all the young ones are) trainee! Who needs tech support when you have a trainee who can fix and figure out just about anything!
I haven't even discussed the actual appraiser training and the trainee has already increased office productivity thus increasing turn time and appraisal volume, which leads to you making more money.
I am going to go out on a limb and make a suggestion that I believe should be obvious. Don't hire and train someone who has no skills and needs their hands held to progress. You may have to go through a few people (yes hire and fire some) before you find a good fit. The objective of training an appraiser is to create a new highly qualified, competent appraiser that will enter our profession first and foremost.
Inspiration by Training
My most recent trainee, Jessica Hoogs, just passed the AQB Certification exam and became a certified residential appraiser. She had worked for almost three years as support staff before becoming an apprentice. By the time she became an apprentice she was more than 50% trained already. The two years felt long as Jessica became an appraiser but she recently said to me, "I think the time helped me to learn everything I needed to and become a really competent appraiser."
A good appraiser is one that realizes that they are always learning and never know everything. That is Jessica. She was open to learning anything and everything. Even though she did not get "time credit" for assisting me with some of my litigation work, she did it because she learned from it. I take my trainees out on MLS tours and we meet real estate agents and tour houses and discuss the asking price, location, views, upgrades, functional utility, etc. of each home. This is a very important part of their training but they do not get time accredited towards their certification for it. In addition, Jessica questioned me all the time! A good trainee does not just shake their head when you speak and take your word as "gold". They want proof and want to see why and how. Jessica was that trainee.
I trained Jessica with the help the last 6 months of a former trainee of mine, now veteran appraiser, Sheila Howard. I strongly believe that appropriate training encompasses giving the trainee the ability to train with more than one appraiser. In this way, Jessica became well rounded and also questioned me and Sheila when and if we did things differently. It also helped Jessica think for herself and have the ability to think "out of the box". After Jessica began training with Sheila, Sheila would call me to tell me things Jessica had said that she was impressed by and that she could "hear" me saying.
I benefited from having Jessica as my trainee and my friend in so many ways. (I am referring to Jessica because she is my most recent trainee and also has inspired me so much that I wanted to write this article.) When you train someone else it keeps you on your toes. You must stay focused and continue to study up. Teaching is learning and it also helps you be humble and have humility. As a nation we just came through the most complicated economic turmoil for appraising real estate that I personally have ever experienced. I know I am a better appraiser now than I was in 2007. I know that aside for the difficulty in appraising in this economy, I had to rise to the occasion and train Jessica. I had to be sharp and ready every day for Jessica to ask me something that I knew would floor others. She helped make me a better appraiser. I did not want to let her down and I did not want to train someone who lacked the competence to complete anything that came their way. The more I threw at her, the more she threw at me and we grew. When she called last week to tell me that she had passed her exam (on the first try) I nearly cried. Sounds crazy, right? I am so proud of her but that's not all.
There have been licensed appraisers that I offered to train who would not upgrade their licenses because they did not want to go back to school and said they could not do it. Jessica has 4 small boys and a husband, she worked full-time for me and she went to school on-line to get her degree as soon as she decided she wanted to train and I agreed to train her. There were no excuses or rationale for why it could not be done. It just was done. The more time I spent around her, the more I wanted to be a better appraisal professional. While I was training Jessica I finished the requirements for the SRA Appraisal Institute Designation and became a designated appraiser, became an AQB Certified Instructor, and began teaching all kinds of appraisal classes all over the country. I was already doing quite a lot but she inspired me to do more.
Is she an anomaly? I do have to say that Jessica is special but I believe I inspired her as well. I always told her that the industry needed appraisers and although it seemed corrupt right now, it would get better. My office never accepted fees below full fee and we always had a good time while we were working together. I showed her respect all the time, and she showed me the same. I believe that as much as I looked forward to her coming to work, she looked forward to coming in. It is amazing what a positive environment and encouragement can do!
Jessica is not the only trainee I have had and all have been a positive experience worth doing again. The appraisal profession is in dire need of new appraisers. Who is willing to take on the challenge to inspire and be inspired by the next generation. I encourage anyone who has the drive, to find a place for training an appraiser as soon as possible.
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