Commercial Grade is a post by John Cicero, MAI who provides commentary on issues affecting real estate appraisers, with focus on commercial valuation. John is a partner of mine in our commercial real estate valuation concern Miller Cicero, LLC and he is, depending on what day of the week it is, one of the smartest guys I know.

John is starting to sound a lot like an old man with a pocket calculator, but with wisdom far beyond his boyish charm facade.
…Jonathan Miller

I was recently reminiscing about how much this field has changed over the past 23 years, since I first began appraising in 1985. We had no computers then. Rather, every appraiser had a yellow legal pad where he/she would hand write the entire report. The “boilerplate” would be copied from another report and taped onto the pad. We’d then give the pad to a typist who would take a couple of days to type the report. If changes were required, the typist would use “correct-tape” to replace one line of text with another. If she was good (I don’t mean to be politically incorrect, but we had no men typists), you could barely notice the changes, but more often than not the lines were crooked and extended well into the margins.

Fax and email had not been invented yet; the internet was the stuff of science fiction movies. (I don’t recall if Fed Ex service had begun yet.) We didn’t have the instant gratification of doing market research that we have today. Market research was done the old-fashioned waymanually sifting through property transfer cards that were mailed daily and making lots of phone calls. No googling sale comps, or subscribing to web-based data services.

It was before state licensing, and appraisers were actually respected. Holding the MAI designation meant something and young kids out of college actually aspired to being a professional appraiser.

Banks didn’t ask you to “bid” your labor, through web-based bidding sites. There were no goofy checklists that need to go in the addenda of reports.

Two things have remained the same over the past two decades: I have the same lucky HP-12c that I bought in May 1985 (though I’ve had to change the battery a couple of times), and fees have not increased a dime.

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8 Responses to “[Commercial Grade] Reminiscents Of An Old Timer”

  1. Lucia says:

    I have found a kindred spirit: I, too, have the same calculator I bought in 1986, a Texas Instrument BA-35. It’s battery is solar powered so I’ve never changed it. And you are so correct, fees are the same, expenses are higher and in 2007 I earned half of my typical average yearly income.

  2. Ben says:

    Fees not increasing greatly concerns me, as a newly license Certified General. What can be done? Why did appraisers never raise fees?

  3. John Cicero says:

    Ben, That is one of life’s greatest mysteries..and a topic for a full day roundtable discussion! Unfortunately too many of our bretheren are willing to sell their expertise very cheap. If you’ve read my past posts railing against the current fee environment, you’d see that a low fee – not a quality appraisal – is what gets an appraiser hired. Hate to be a cynic, but…

  4. Geo Gervasi says:

    Great article John, although I was just 20 in 1985 I can relate your post to a multitude of fields and situations in life. I have been an appraiser for only six short years now, the last four as a commercial appraiser. The one thing I noticed after only about 3 months into this profession was how short-sighted and crooked some our fellow appraisers truly are. The time we put in- with regard to education, both previous and on-going, the research, and constant learning processes compared to the current fee structure is, in my opinion, disgraceful.

    I am amazed at how many in this field will ‘sell-out’ for a bottom feeder price. It seems that there is little we can do to combat these ‘wh*res’ in our profession. I am completely dismayed and disgusted with appraising and do not see myself staying in the field for the long-haul. All I can do, is produce quality, credible, work and hope that the rest takes care of itself, but the reality is – that is not enough. Keep up the great work at your firm – both you and Jonathan are an example of what is good in the industry.

  5. Leon says:

    I too started at about that time. Disagree with only one thing. I started in ’84, First purchase was one of the first sales of a Radio Shack IBM clone. Had 2 old timey floppy drives, one for the software program and one to put your data report on (as I recall). Open it up & you could see the hardwire corrections on the mother board. Screaming dot matrix printer where you had to try to line up the pre printed report because it was only filling in the blanks and once it started, you couldn’t stop it. I too still have the first HP 12C.

    For Ben, Appraisers couldn’t raise fees because the number of appraisers kept expanding faster than the amount of work available. John is correct. Too many buying appraisers based upon fee & turn time, not upon the quality of what they receive.

  6. Brendan says:

    excellent article! concise, interesting, and hilarious for this young appraiser.

  7. John Cicero says:

    Thanks, Geo. Though it’s hard not to get discouraged with the current state of the profession, I think the key is to choose your clients carefully, and work only for those that recognize quality and are willing to pay a little more for it.

  8. Landflip says:

    That was an excellent reflection of the past. Although I am unable to remember life without a computer, it is very interesting to look back and see how things have changed. My father owned a business growing up. I remember playing with his type writer and correction tape. Wow…things have really changed!