Randall Bell

Company: Bell Anderson & Sanders LLC
Website: www.realestatedamages.com

Tell us how you became a real estate appraiser.

My background is in finance and accounting, but I always liked the “tangible” aspect of real estate. In the 1980’s I was thinking about getting into real estate development and I took some appraisal classes at UCLA. The more that I got into these classes, the more that I liked it and I just kept going.

The list of sites you and your firm have consulted on is fascinating. Crime scenes, landslides, floods, nuclear contamination, the World Trade Center site, the list goes on. How did you first get started in this kind of work?

I was working as a MAI doing bank work for years, and I decided to go to law school. I was admitted into law school and it was getting closer to classes starting. Over the weekend, right before classes were to start, I was playing in the pool with my family and I kept wondering if I should really go to law school or not. I had appraised a few damaged properties and I thought that the field was fascinating and maybe would it be more interesting than being an attorney. At the time, very little was written on the topic, and much of what was written was not really on target. I was floating in the pool and I just decided to forget law school and use my appraisal skill set to specialize in real estate damages.

My timing turned out to be great. In Southern California, we had the Malibu fires, the Northridge earthquake, LA riots and OJ. This meant that there were a lot of damaged properties that had to be appraised. Crime scenes is actually a small part of my practice, but it is probably the most talked about.

You were in the news recently talking about the value of the house where Michael Jackson died. Tell us about that case, and how does that impact value?

I probably do one or two media interviews a month. I just did one for a radio station in Ireland. With the involuntary manslaughter conviction against Conrad Murray, the Michael Jackson house officially became a crime scene. That is usually not a good thing in terms of home values. Generally, it is easier to lease a property with recent crime scene issues than to sell it. I heard that the house is listed for sale, and for the sake of the owners I hope that they get full value, but it will certainly be an interesting case study to follow.

How much time does it usually take for people to forget that a crime happened in a home. Take the Charles Manson case, another one that your firm consulted on. Has everyone forgotten the terrible tragedy that occurred in that Beverly Hills home of Sharon Tate?

Nobody will ever forget Sharon Tate and the horrible crimes committed by Charles Manson. But in terms of real estate, the market tends to “forgive” with enough time. The property sold in the early 1990’s for full value, which is market evidence of that property values can return to full value.

Does the stigma associated with the horrific event last longer now that the Internet keeps the story alive longer? Or do we move on quicker these days?

I am just astounded by the amount of crime and murder in the United States. The vast majority of the cases do not make the news, or have very little reported about them. It really takes something astounding to catch the media’s attention. But in the local neighborhoods, I have observed all of the same concerns and emotions on a micro level as we see on a macro level with the big cases. These local perceptions are what drive the prices. It really does not matter if the case is big or small in the media, what matters is how the local market reacts. With or without the Internet, these effects typically last for five to seven years, but there are some exceptions.

How about haunted houses. Have you done any of those? Is there really such a thing?

I have never seen a ghost. However, I have spoken with a lot of people who have had some pretty strange stories. I always try to be respectful of peoples beliefs, whatever they are. In business, I tend to stay focused more on the facts and to develop market data and case studies that are relevant to those facts.

It must be difficult to do some of these assignments. I see that you were consulted on the land where Flight 93 went down in Pennsylvania. Does doing this kind of work take an emotional toll on you or is it easy to separate yourself from what you’re seeing.

I worked on the World Trade Center and am still working on the Flight 93 crash site. The events of 9-11 hit me, just as they did with every American. When I walked through the fields where Flight 93 had crashed, there was still a lot of debris and I felt sick to my stomach. I felt so bad for the victims, for their families and for our Nation that came under attack.

There is an emotional and a practical side of every disaster, and it is my job to address some of the practical issues.

At this point, I’ve probably been to more disasters sites around the country and around the world than anybody. I’ve observed many things and this information is often of value to my client, beyond just the “numbers”.

Clearly, my role is to be a part of the solution to a negative situation, so I stay focused on that.

Do you have any advice for appraisers who might want to specialize in this type of work?

The biggest mistake that I see are appraisers who are new to real estate damage issues, is that they rely far too much on antidotal evidence. For example, it may sound like environmental contamination always cause a loss to property values, but often they don’t. There are no easy off-the-shelf solutions to these cases and no creditable book gives qualitative solutions. 

You have to look at the market data, and with real estate damages, that is far more involved than many of the typical appraisal assignment. My advice is don’t get into this field, unless you really like to dig long and hard for the market data.

What is your proudest professional accomplishment to date?

When I got into their field it was a mess. There were some articles and some good concepts were developing, but there was also a lot of junk science and nonsense. The Detrimental Conditions Matrix finally set forth a clear methodology that both had the horsepower to address the complexities of these assignments, while being straight-forward enough to explain to a client or to a jury.

I am a big fan of the Appraisal Institute, and I am happy the Detrimental Conditions Matrix concepts became part USPAP AO-9, the Detrimental Conditions Seminar that I taught around the country, as well as the book. I’m really happy that I had the chance to contribute to my profession generally, and to the Appraisal Institute specifically. I think that every appraiser should contribute in some way.

What book are you reading right now?

Right now I am reading The Power of Kindness by Piero Ferrucci, which was recommended by a PhD friend of mine. I am also re-reading Strategy 360, a book I wrote that has nothing to do with real estate and is all about life and business strategy. I am comparing the two books. 

Can you tell us any other really strange or funny stories of appraisals you’ve done?

One day I was in the backyard of a home with soils problems. I was taking pictures of all the cracks, when the attorney came up and told me that this area was expected to drop off the hill. I just kind of laughed and kept taking pictures.

The next day, the yard that I had been standing suddenly dropped 125 feet in a spectacular landslide. If I had been there, I certainly would have been killed. I later joked with the attorney that I guess he did tell the truth once in a while, and that maybe I should take what he says more seriously!


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