Career Guide for Real Estate Appraisers

Real estate appraisers estimate the value of  commercial and residential property whenever a transaction is about to take place: sold, mortgaged, taxed, insured, or developed. A real estate appraiser uses local comparison property values to estimate the value of a property.

This free career guide explains the career of a real estate appraiser and helps you pursue a position in this field if you’re interested in appraising real estate.

Real Estate Appraiser Summary

  • Workers generally must be licensed or certified, but State requirements vary.
  • About 27 percent were self-employed.
  • Employment is expected to grow more slowly than the average over the 2008-18 decade.
  • During recessions, demand for appraisers declines; demand for assessors is less affected by economic and real estate market fluctuations.

Working as a Real Estate Appraiser

Appraisers and assessors of real estate estimate the value of real property whenever it is sold, mortgaged, taxed, insured, or developed. They work in localities they are familiar with, so they have knowledge of any environmental or other concerns that may affect the value of a property. They note any unique characteristics of the property and of the surrounding area, such as a specific architectural style of a building or a major highway located next to the parcel. They also take into account additional aspects of a property such as the condition of the foundation and roof of a building or any renovations that may have been done. They might take pictures to document a certain room or feature, in addition to photographing the exterior of the building. After visiting the property, the appraiser or assessor will estimate the value of the property by taking into consideration such things as comparable home sales, lease records, location, view, previous appraisals, and income potential. During the entire process, appraisers and assessors keep a meticulous record of their research, observations, and methods used in calculating the property valuation.

Appraisers

Appraisers have independent clients and typically focus on valuing one property at a time. They often specialize in a certain type of real estate. For example, commercial appraisers specialize in property used for commercial purposes, such as stores or hotels. Residential appraisers focus on appraising homes or other residences and only provide appraisals for those that house 1 to 4 families. Other appraisers have a general practice and are willing to appraise the value of any type of real property.

Assessors

Assessors predominately work for local governments and are responsible for valuing properties for property tax assessment purposes. Unlike appraisers, who generally focus on one property at a time, assessors often value entire neighborhoods using mass appraisal techniques and computer-assisted mass appraisal systems to value all the homes in a local neighborhood at once. Although they do not usually focus on a single property, they may use single property methods if the property owner challenges the assessment. Revaluations of assessed properties are performed cyclically on a schedule established by State statute or local practice Depending on the size of the jurisdiction and the number of staff in an assessor’s office, a mass appraisal firm or a revaluation firm may do much of the work of valuing the properties in the jurisdiction. These results are then officially certified by the assessor.

When properties are reassessed, assessors issue notices to property owners indicating the new assessment. Assessors must be current on tax assessment procedures and must be able to defend the accuracy of their property assessments, either to the owner directly or at a public hearing, since assessors are responsible for dealing with taxpayers who want to contest their assigned property assessments. Assessors also keep a database of every parcel in their jurisdiction, labeling the property owner, assessment history, and size of the property, as well as property maps of the jurisdiction detailing the property distribution of the jurisdiction.

Work environment. Appraisers and assessors spend much of their time researching data and writing reports. However, with the advancement of computers and other technologies, such as wireless Internet, time spent in the office has decreased because research can now be done in less time and at site locations. Records that once required a visit to a courthouse or city hall often can be found online. On-site visits usually occur during daylight hours, and according to the client’s schedule. Time spent on-site rather than in the office also depends on the specialty. For example, residential appraisers tend to spend less time on office work than commercial appraisers, who could spend up to several weeks on one property analyzing information and writing reports. Appraisers who work for private institutions generally spend most of their time inside the office, making on-site visits when necessary. Appraisers and assessors usually conduct on-site appraisal work alone.

Assessors and privately employed appraisers usually work a standard 40-hour work week. However, self-employed appraisers, often called “independent fee appraisers,” tend to work more than a standard 40-hour work week, including spending their evenings and weekends writing reports. Approximately 13 percent of appraisers and assessors worked part time in 2008.

The offices of most independent-fee appraisers are relatively small, occupied by either the appraisers alone or by them and a small staff. However, private institutions such as banks and mortgage companies often employ several appraisers within one establishment. The size of offices of assessors depends mostly on the size of the local jurisdiction and the amount of work for which a particular office is responsible.

Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

The requirements to become a fully qualified appraiser or assessor are complex and vary by State and, sometimes, by the value or type of property. In general, both appraisers and assessors must be licensed or certified. Prospective appraisers and assessors should check with their State to determine the specific requirements.

Education and training. Many practicing appraisers and assessors have at least a bachelor’s degree. Coursework in related subjects such as economics, finance, mathematics, computer science, English, and business or real estate law can be very useful for prospective appraisers and assessors.

Federal law mandates that most appraisers hold State certification. Requirements for these certifications vary by State, but there are certain minimum standards that appraisers must meet. Most appraisers of residential real property must have at least an associate degree, while appraisers of commercial real property are required to have at least a bachelor’s degree.

Unlike appraisers, there are no federally mandated education and training requirements for assessors. In most States, the State assessor board sets education and experience requirements that must be met to obtain a certificate to practice as an assessor. A few States have no Statewide requirements, with standards instead set by each locality.

In States that mandate certification for assessors, the requirements are usually similar to those for appraisers. Some States also have more than one level of certification. All candidates must attend State-approved schools and facilities and take basic appraisal courses. Although appraisers generally value one property at a time while assessors value many at once, both occupations use similar methods and techniques. As a result, assessors and appraisers tend to take the same basic courses. In addition to passing a Statewide examination, candidates are usually required to have a set number of on-the-job hours that must be completed. For those States not requiring certificates for assessors, the hiring office usually will require the candidate to take basic appraisal courses, complete on-the-job training, and accrue a sufficient number of work hours to meet the requirements for obtaining appraisal licenses or certificates. Many assessors also possess a State appraisal license.

Assessors tend to start out in an assessor’s office that is willing to provide on-the-job training; smaller municipalities are often unable to provide this experience. An alternate source of experience for aspiring assessors is through a revaluation firm.

Licensure. Being a Certified Residential Real Property Appraiser is the minimum qualification for valuing any residential property with a loan amount exceeding $250,000 and for valuing any other type of real property with a loan value of less than $250,000. Candidates for this certification must have at least an associate degree or in lieu of the degree, 21 units of specified college-level education. In addition, this certification requires 200 hours of appraiser-specific classroom training and 2,500 hours of work experience accrued over at least 2 years.

Certified General Real Property Appraisers have no restrictions on the types or values of real property for which they can give valuations. Candidates for this certification must have at least a bachelor’s degree, or in lieu of the degree, 30 units of specified college-level education. In addition to a degree, this certification requires 300 hours of appraiser-specific classroom training and 3,000 hours of work experience accrued over at least 30 months. At least half of these hours must be in nonresidential appraisal work.

In addition to the Federally required Certified Residential and Certified General Real Property Appraiser classifications, most States also have the Licensed Residential Real Property Appraiser classification. Holders of this license are permitted to appraise noncomplex one-to-four residential units having a transaction value of less than $1,000,000, and complex one-to-four residential units having a transaction value of less than $250,000. For the Licensed Residential Appraiser classification, candidates must obtain 150 qualifying education hours and at least 2,000 hours of on-the-job training obtained over a period of no less than 1 year. In addition, all candidates must pass an examination.

In many States, those working on their appraiser requirements for licensure or certification are classified as a “trainee.” Training programs vary by State but usually require at least 75 hours of specified appraisal education before one can apply for a trainee position. The number of additional courses trainees must take depends on the State requirements and the kind of license they wish to obtain.

Across all levels of certification and licensure, 15 hours of classroom education must be devoted to the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP), which are set forth by the Appraisal Standards Board (ASB) of the Appraisal Foundation. Additionally, the Licensed Residential, Certified Residential, and the General Real Property Appraiser designations each have an associated examination that must be passed before these credentials are awarded.

For both appraisers and assessors, continuing education is necessary to maintain a license or certification. The minimum continuing education requirement for appraisers is 14 hours per year. Appraisers must also complete a 7-hour National USPAP Update Course every 2 years. Some States have further requirements. Continuing education may be obtained in any State-approved school or facility, as well as in recognized seminars and conferences held by associations or related organizations. Assessors also must fulfill a continuing education requirement in most States, but the amount varies by State.

Other qualifications. Appraisers and assessors must possess good analytical skills, mathematical skills, and the ability to pay attention to detail. They also must be able to work alone as well as with other people. Because they work with the public, appraisers and assessors must be polite and have the ability to listen and thoroughly answer any questions from clients about their work.

Certification and advancement. Many appraisers and assessors choose to become a designated member of a regional or nationally recognized appraiser or assessor association. Designations are a way for appraisers or assessors to establish themselves in the profession, and are recognizable credentials to show employers and potential clients a higher level of education and experience. Obtaining a designation usually requires 5 to 10 years of training and experience, which is more than the minimum licensing requirements. Many appraisal associations have a membership category specifically for trainees, who then can receive full membership after licensure. Since States differ greatly on the requirements to become an assessor, licensure is not necessarily required for membership or designations; however, the imposed designation qualifications tend to be very stringent.

Advancement within the occupation comes with experience. The higher the level of appraiser licensure, for example, the higher the fees an independent fee appraiser may charge. Staying in one particular region or focusing on one type of appraising specialty also will help to establish one’s business, reputation, and expertise. Assessors often have a career progression within their office, starting as a trainee and eventually ending up appointed or elected as a senior appraiser or supervisor.

Employment as a Real Estate Appraiser

In 2008, appraisers and assessors of real estate held about 92,400 jobs. About 27 percent were self-employed; virtually all were appraisers. Employment was concentrated in areas with high levels of real estate activity, such as major metropolitan areas. Assessors are more uniformly spread throughout the country than appraisers because every locality has at least one assessor.

About 29 percent of appraisers and assessors worked in local government; nearly all were assessors. Another 31 percent, mainly appraisers, worked for real estate firms.

Job Outlook

Employment is expected to grow more slowly than the average. Job opportunities should be best in areas with active real estate markets, and most job openings will result from the need to replace appraisers and assessors who retire or otherwise leave the occupation permanently.

Employment change. Employment of appraisers and assessors of real estate is expected to grow more slowly than the average over the 2008-18 decade, increasing by 5 percent. Demand for appraisal services is strongly tied to the real estate market, which can fluctuate in the short term. Over the long term, employment growth will be driven by economic expansion and population increases—factors that generate demand for real property. However, employment will be held down to a certain extent by productivity increases brought about by the increased use of computers and other technologies, which allow appraisers and assessors to deal with more properties. The increased use of automated valuation models to conduct appraisals for mortgage purposes might also shift work away from appraisers.

Job prospects. Most job openings will result from the need to replace appraisers and assessors who retire or otherwise leave the occupation permanently. Employment opportunities should be best in areas with active real estate markets. Although opportunities for established certified appraisers are expected to be available in these areas, aspiring entrants to this occupation may have difficulty locating a trainee position because traditional sources of training positions, such as real estate offices and financial institutions, increasingly prefer not to take on new trainees.

The cyclical nature of the real estate market will have a direct effect on the job prospects of appraisers, especially those who appraise residential properties. In times of recession, fewer people buy or sell real estate, causing a decrease in the demand for appraisers. As a result, opportunities will be best for appraisers who are able to switch specialties and appraise different types of properties.

Because assessors are needed in every local or State jurisdiction to make assessments for property tax purposes regardless of the state of the local economy, assessors generally are less affected by economic and real estate market fluctuations than are appraisers.

Projections Data

Projections data from the National Employment Matrix
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2008 Projected
Employment, 2018
Change,
2008-18
Number Percent
Appraisers and assessors of real estate 13-2021 92,400 96,600 4,200 5
NOTE: Data in this table are rounded.

Earnings for Real Estate Appraisers

Median annual wages of appraisers and assessors of real estate were $47,370 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $34,330 and $66,640. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $25,900, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $88,680. Median annual wages of those working for local governments were $43,550. Median annual wages of those working in activities related to real estate were $47,890. Earnings for independent-fee appraisers can vary significantly because they are paid fees on a per appraisal basis.

Though the real estate market has taken a hit recently, many real estate appraisers enjoy what they do for a living and look forward to a real estate market recovery.

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