Real estate appraiser career guide

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Real estate appraiser career overview 

A career as a real estate appraiser could suit those who enjoy a flexible work life. Appraisers can set their own hours, own their own businesses, and conduct work for clients they choose. When real estate markets are active, there is generally enough work to keep qualified appraisers busy.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), real estate appraisers had a median annual wage of $57,010. The lowest 10% employed in this occupation earned less than $31,160 and the highest 10% earned above $104,540. Earnings for appraisers who work independently—sometimes referred to as independent fee appraisers—can vary dramatically, since they charge fees based on each unique appraisal.

Read on to learn what real estate appraisers do, their educational requirements, and potential career prospects in that field.

What do real estate appraisers do? 

Similar to a real estate assessor, a real estate appraiser’s job is to provide estimates on the values of buildings or pieces of land. While an assessor considers the values of several properties at once, an appraiser focuses on a single property at a time. Both professions can specialize in residential, commercial, or agricultural properties.

A licensed real estate appraiser is usually required by law to complete most real estate transactions. Real estate appraisals are prepared for:

Tax assessments
Lease negotiations
Insurance applications
Mortgage lending applications
Estate and divorce settlements

Real estate appraisers create assessments for properties before they sell. Appraisals are also requested prior to the completion of development projects. Real estate appraisers consult official property records to verify the descriptions of properties and support their valuations.

Appraisers may also visit a site to gather accurate, real-time data. While there, they may take detailed notes, measurements, and photographs. Based on their records, they will complete an analysis of the property compared to similar properties to provide an objective assessment of its value.

Here are some significant elements appraisers may consider when assessing the value of homes and other buildings:

The interior condition of each room
The integrity of a house’s exterior
Recent renovations and their quality
Health code or safety violations
The selling prices of recently-sold homes in the area
The materials used in exterior and interior construction
The neighborhood amenities such as schools and public transportation
Characteristics such as square footage and number of bedrooms and bathrooms
Included amenities such as street parking, a finished garage or basement, or a swimming pool

A potential mortgage lender orders a home appraisal to determine the correct value of a property. A home appraisal can take as long as 2 weeks to complete depending on the factors at play in a property’s valuation and what appraisal method the appraiser employs.

A commercial real estate appraiser will look at many of the above factors as well as economic indicators like current interest rates.

Career prospects for real estate appraisers 

The BLS projects a 3% growth in real estate appraiser jobs between 2019 and 2029. This is on par with the projected growth rate for all occupations. Over the long term, factors that create demand for housing and other real estate—population increases and economic expansion—will drive employment growth.

Real estate appraisers often do work for:

Litigators
Divorce lawyers
Estate tax planners
Financial institutions
Mortgage companies
Real estate investors

The BLS noted that in May 2019, real estate appraisers held about 75,100 professional positions. The largest employment sectors and median wages of property appraisers and assessors is as follows:

SECTORMEDIAN WAGES
Real estate$57,290
Finance and insurance$66,430
Local government, excluding education and hospitals$53,540

Steps to becoming a real estate appraiser

The steps to become a fully qualified real estate appraiser are regulated by the state in which you work. These steps vary by state, and in some cases, are determined by the type or value of the properties you wish to appraise. Except for the entry-level state license category, most states require real estate appraiser candidates to have earned at least a bachelor’s degree. This requirement applies to both residential and commercial appraisers.

Localities determine the educational prerequisites for licensing in several states. In some locations, candidates with only a high school diploma may qualify for licensing.

Licensure and certification for real estate appraisers

There are 4 levels of federal licensure that a real estate appraiser can achieve. The minimum criteria are set by the Appraisers Qualification Board (AQB), which is part of the Appraisal Foundation. The cost, full requirements, and licensure details are set by each state appraiser regulatory agency.

For all credentials, except the Licensed Trainee, candidates must have completed 15 hours of instruction on the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP) and passed the corresponding exam in order to receive their license. You can study online or attend classes in person.

Licensed trainee appraiser

The first step toward your career as a real estate appraiser involves becoming a trainee and gaining supervised experience. Training programs for this level of licensure differ by state, and in some states, aren’t available. Where they do exist, most require candidates to demonstrate at least 75 hours of specific education covering statistics, finance, and appraiser valuation, including the USPAP course.

Once those hours are completed, candidates may apply for a job as a trainee. Trainees can only perform appraisal duties under the direct supervision of a certified appraiser. Candidates for this level are not required to have previous appraisal experience.

Licensed residential appraiser

Many states offer this level of licensure. A candidate must have the following qualifications to earn the residential appraiser license:

  • 30 hours of college-level education
  • 150 hours of qualifying education, including appraiser valuation, comparison, and report writing (which can include the 75 hours earned as a trainee)
  • 1,000 hours of work experience gained over a period of 6 months or 2,000 hours earned over a minimum of 1 year, depending on the state
  • Successful completion of the Licensed Residential Real Property Appraiser exam

This license allows the holder to appraise non-complex and complex 1-to-4 unit residences without any supervision. The former has to have a market value lower than $1 million, while the latter, a market value of less than $250,000.

Certified residential appraiser

This tends to be the most sought after real estate appraiser license. A candidate must have the following qualifications to earn this particular certificate:

  • Bachelor’s degree in any field or an associate degree in a specific field
  • 200 hours of qualifying education, including appraiser valuation, comparison, and report writing (these can include the 75 earned as a trainee)
  • 1,500 hours of experience in no less than 1 year or 2,500 hours completed in no less than 2 years, depending on the state
  • Successful completion of the Certified Residential Real Property Appraiser exam

Holders of the certified residential appraiser license may appraise buildings with a maximum of 4 residential units. There are no restrictions on the property’s value or its complexity. Those who hold a residential appraiser license with at least 5 years of experience may qualify without an educational degree if they meet specific requirements.

Certified general appraiser

This tends to be the most sought after real estate appraiser license. A candidate must have the following qualifications to earn this particular certificate:

  • Bachelor’s degree in any field or an associate degree in a specific field
  • 200 hours of qualifying education, including appraiser valuation, comparison, and report writing (these can include the 75 earned as a trainee)
  • 1,500 hours of experience in no less than 1 year or 2,500 hours completed in no less than 2 years, depending on the state
  • Successful completion of the Certified Residential Real Property Appraiser exam

Earn a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution 

Earning a bachelor’s degree usually takes 4 years of full-time study, or 120 credit hours to complete. If you choose an accelerated format, you may be able to achieve this degree in much less time. Most universities offer hybrid structures for education or even programs that students can complete entirely online.

Undergraduate coursework in the following subjects can be useful for prospective appraisers:

Finance
Statistics
Economics
Mathematics
Data analysis
Computer science
Real estate or business law

It is important to earn a degree from an accredited institution if at all possible. To gain national accreditation, schools must demonstrate high standards to an independent accrediting agency.

Continuing education 

Real estate appraisers are required to complete continuing education courses to maintain their license. These requirements are state dependent but typically involve 8 to 15 credits every year. Most states require appraisers to renew their license every 1 or 2 years.

For those interested in working in rural environments, the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers (ASFMRA) offers additional accreditations to certified general appraisers. These include accredited rural appraiser and real property review appraiser. Interested candidates can find more information on the organization’s website, available in the Additional Resources section at the end of this article.

Gaining practical experience online

As of January 1, 2021, the Appraisal Qualifications Board (AQB) of The Appraisal Foundation offers the Practical Applications of Real Estate Appraisal (PAREA). This program allows aspiring appraisers to complete their experience requirements using innovative technologies. In environments created online and through the use of virtual reality, it combines methodology and appraisal theory in real-world simulations.

Financial cost and aid 

Published annual tuition and fees for full-time students in the 2020-21 school year average:

  • $10,560 for public 4-year in-state programs
  • $27,020 for public 4-year out-of-state programs
  • $37,650 for private 4-year in-state programs

Information on types of financial assistance, eligibility requirements, and loan repayment options is available at the Federal Student Aid website. Scholarships, loans, and grants are often offered by colleges directly. Although available, not every student will qualify for them. Additional information, including deadlines, is generally included on a school’s website.

The Appraisal Foundation (TAF)
This umbrella foundation is the leading authority on the valuation profession in the U.S. Authorized by Congress, this organization sets the qualifications and standards for real estate appraisers. They provide valuation guidance on methods and techniques to all professions in this field and in-depth licensing information. The foundation includes the AQB and the USPAP.

Appraisal Subcommittee (ASC)
This organization provides federal oversight into state appraisal management companies (AMCs). It also provides a monitoring framework for the Appraisal Foundation.

American Society of Appraisers (ASA)
This member-based organization of professional appraisers represents all appraisal disciplines. With an emphasis on professional ethics, they offer education, accreditation, publications, and additional services.

American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers (ASFMRA)
This member-based organization is the largest professional association for rural property land experts.