We work in an interesting industry where, unless you do a majority of non-lender work, most of our human interactions do not occur with our actual clients. Instead, we communicate with the AMC and lenders through email and web-portals. Most appraisers spend a majority of their work time either in front of a computer, traveling, or inspecting homes. Typically, the only portion of that formula which includes human connection is with the home owner(s).
There may be a temptation to relax our professionalism and customer service skills around home owners because they are not writing our paychecks, but this is a grave mistake. No matter what your industry (appraisal not excluded), you are in the sales and marketing business. First of all, if you think that borrowers do not talk to their loan officers and report back as to how the appraiser performed, you are blind to the truth. This report can affect your ability to work for that lender in the future. Secondly, the borrower of today is potentially the client of tomorrow. Making a great impression can do wonders for possible return business for non-lender appraisal work down the road. Finally (and most importantly), living the Golden Rule is simply the right thing to do. I treat every home owner as if they were my customer and here are a few suggestions to consider when you interact with owners, tenants, or other contacts at the homes you inspect.
Be on Time and Communicate If You Won't Be
Show up when you say you will be there. Most home owners do not typically sit around all day doing nothing. They normally rearrange their lives (including taking time off work) to be there for you. If you say you will be there between 9:00 and 10:00 AM, do not show up at 10:04 AM. It just is not nice. I realize that in the real world 'stuff' happens. If it does, just be sure to communicate. I work a rural area and there are times when weather, for example, just makes my travel time slow (or even non-existent). As soon as I know I will be late (or unable to come at all), I make a diligent effort to get ahold of the individual meeting me and explain the situation. Most home owners are pretty understanding as long as you keep the lines of communication open with them.
Remember Whose Home You Are In
As an appraiser, you walk through a great many homes. Because you know what you are doing, the inspection can become routine. Do not let your work become so monotonous, however, that you forget whose home you are in. Our homes are our castles and it is a disconcerting thing to have a stranger walk through them. Think for a moment about how you would feel if the roles were reversed. If you were opening up the private places of your home (even closets) for a stranger to view, how would you like them to act? Respect their sanctuary. With few exceptions (you know what I mean), take off your shoes when you enter the home. I do this even if the home owner insists it is not necessary. Do not spend excess time in areas that, though interesting, may not affect your data-gathering process. Clean up after yourself. If you must do a head-and-shoulders inspection of an attic and some insulation falls to the ground, try to leave it better than you found it. If there is clutter on the floors, do your best to step over rather than on items.
I always announce my presence in various parts of the house. Simply saying, "I'm going downstairs now," will let the home owner know where I am so there are no startling or embarrassing encounters. If there is a closed interior door, I will knock before I enter (even if I think there is no one home). Of course, there is almost never a reason to touch or pick up personal items. Just do what you came to do and disturb the home as little as possible.
With few exceptions, home owners are not knowledgeable about the local market or the appraisal process. Use the opportunity of the inspection to share your expertise and knowledge with them. Let them know what is going on with the local real estate economy. Explain what an AMC is and why you cannot communicate with them about value once you have finished the appraisal. Talk about what you are doing and why as you move throughout the home. Tell them what you are doing (i.e. "I will be taking pictures of every room) before you do it. Ask them if they have questions and answer them to the best of your ability.
As you educate, of course, be careful to not embellish or mislead in any way. It can be tempting to fabricate an answer in order to not look like you do not know your stuff. If the home owner asks you what the percentage of homes selling in their neighborhood are REO/foreclosures and you do not know, the correct answer is, "I do not know." You might even want to add, "… but I can find out and get back to you," if it applies.
Much distrust and bad feelings can occur simply out of ignorance. You are an educated and intelligent professional. Be willing to share your wealth of knowledge with others and help squelch some of that mistrust.
Begin and End With a Great Impression
Studies show that impressions are made within milliseconds of meeting someone. Make your first impression a positive one. I practice the habit of smiling whenever the home owner answers the door. I introduce myself as the appraiser and extend my hand in greeting. I want to put their fears of a stranger in their home at ease before they become an issue. I will also usually look for some kind of common connection that I can begin a conversation with. "I see you have kids," might be a line I use to build on commonalities and also put their fears of a cluttered home to rest at the same time.
Most of our communication as humans is non-verbal. Remember what you wear and how you conduct yourself is key in how the home owner perceives you. Dress the part. That part may mean something different in the various areas we work. In my neck of the woods, nice, clean, cowboy boots are the norm, so I wear them. I would never wear flip-flops to an appraisal inspection. My brother, on the other hand, works in Hawaii. Wearing flip-flops in his world is considered normal and professional.
Before leaving a home, I always ask the home owner if there is anything else I might have missed or if they have any further questions. I do not want them to feel like I am rushing in, around, and out of their home without concern for them or their role in this process. Finally, I always leave a pamphlet* which gives more information about how the appraisal process works as well as a small gift as a token of my appreciation for allowing me to be in their home.
The best word I can use to describe what I am trying to get across here is 'PROFESSIONALISM.' I often hear from other appraisers about how they wish more people treated us and our profession with respect. Unfortunately, some of that reputation may be self-imposed. In all of our interaction (whether in person or over the Internet or phone lines), we should act as the white-collared professionals that we are.
Now, go create some value!
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