My 2019, A year in Review

2019 is in the books and we have already begun 2020.  From an appraisal perspective, 2019 was a year of change for me. I am in a completely different place then where I was at the beginning of the year.  I left a large valuation firm to start my own enterprise while also partnering with a large franchise operation in the process.  I have mentored one more trainee into obtaining their certified residential credential and have two more coming along nicely. I have worked on some additional professional designations and made headway into some new spaces to me regarding helping the profession as much as I can.  I also learned some things about how appraisal organizations operate that gave me pause.

The Biggest Change, Going to a New Company

I started getting a feeling that what I wanted to be doing in the appraisal profession was quite different than my employers about a year or so ago.  And honestly, the biggest reason came from the omnibus tax bill that congress put through.  Party affiliations aside, that was a terrible bill that hurts appraisers that work as employees.  It no longer allowed me to write off expenses, most important of which was my mileage, and my employer wasn’t interested in doing reimbursements.  I lost a lot of write offs that year, so it made it hard to continue to stay where I was and earn significantly less money.

I actually was not really interested in starting a new business at first and disliked the idea entirely.  But like most difficult choices in my life I started by doing some research and talking with trusted colleagues and friends.  One such friend, Creighton Cross, MAI, starting chatting with me about a company he had franchised with and he seemed to really like what they were doing as a national company. Enter Accurity Valuation.

Accurity’ s business model was exciting and from what I knew about the profession, a new thing that shows real promise of working  both as a good business model but also (most importantly to me) an ethically sound way to evolve how the profession works with collaboration. I am all for making a profit but never at the expense of doing sound work.   I had drinks with several of the office owners at Accurity in February 2019 in Chicago at Valuation Expo and knew of or had met many of them previously.  What I really liked and seemed most intrigued about was that a few fellow instructors were part of the group, as well as some well-known and well-respected appraisers.  Of course, I was not sold on starting a new company just yet.

I went through the paces of applying for jobs with various entities and had a couple of good offers.  But I had a few things that I needed to do on the fee side before I took a job where I would be doing hardly any actual valuation field work.  I had three trainees, one of which being my son.  There was no way I would take a desk job somewhere while I needed to help them finish their training. Had I left to work in a different capacity there would have been three trainees with way to finish their mentorship. Fast forward to August, I set up a company with my son and we were open as of the 15th of August. Accurity Fincham and Associates, Inc is coming along splendidly. We set up an s-corporation and had the company up and running in no time. I now own my office but have franchised with Accurity. I now have the autonomy to lead my team as I see fit.

The franchise model with Accurity allows me to collaborate with some great business leaders. Some of these folks have been doing this for a long time and have found successful ways to run a valuation firm.  A couple have been well respected instructors for a long time, and I find myself in a positive environment.  I have a couple of weekly calls with the leadership groups (I sit on the executive board, and an innovation team) and those calls are great sessions that help me focus on the larger picture, not just the minutia of my office. I really need that kind of support.

Adding to the Profession

I have finished training my first trainee in almost ten years.  Allen Nicholls passed his state board in December and after three years of hard work, we have added another certified residential appraiser to the field.  Mr. Nicholls has done a great job and has proven he is a capable beginner.  He has worked with me on some complex assignments that included large estates and litigation.  I look forward to watching him develop as a fully credentialed appraiser.  I believe his SRA designation is the next step for him.

Just behind him is my son. He is just a couple of classes from being ready to sit for his exam as well.  Right behind Woody, Jr. is our newest trainee, Trevor Dusing. Trevor is ready to get his core classes finished up and will be ready for his exam within a year.  I love to be part of a team where I am bringing along the next generation.  It makes me a better appraiser because you learn what you are teaching even better after teaching it.  The efficiencies we have developed as team allow us to handle more volume and still write a higher quality report than most of our local competition.

I also taught several classes this year traveling all over this great land of ours.  I spent some time in New York early in the year and enjoyed seeing Long Island for really the first time.  I love traveling and teaching affords me some time to do just that.  While I am never anywhere too long, it is still neat to visit.  Most of all I love the students that I meet.  Most are kind, curious and willing to share their experiences and add to the classes.

More Letters

This past year also saw me add some additional designations to my resume.  I finally got around to applying for my RAA designation with the National Association of Realtors.  I waited a while on doing this but have found it to be as beneficial as any that I have.  Why?  It is simple, Realtors care about working with other Realtors.  I have gotten lots of referral work and best of all my local board has really welcomed me into doing presentations, working on committees and just being able to rub elbows with potential clients. Not to mention, many agents are plain fun to interact with.

Late in the year saw me finally get all my requirements finished for the ASA designation with the American Society of Appraisers.  This is an important one as the ASA has multi-disciplines of valuation professionals.  Personal property, intangible assets, business valuers, fine art, farm equipment…You name it and they have a niche for it. I am looking most forward to working with John Russel, their chief governmental relations profession.  I have gotten to know John over the last couple of years from various trade shows and TAFAC meetings.  John is a great advocate for the profession.

More Letters Means More Organizations, That’s a Good Thing, Right?

Earning the designations that I have help open doors and show potential clients that I take what I do very seriously.  But with designations also come the organizations that bestow the credentials.  And if I have one major negative thing to say about valuation organizations in general it’s that the politics can be painful. And before I write anymore, I am not referring to any specific organization (I am new to the ASA and NAR so they are not part of this observation). For many years I wondered why the valuation profession struggles so mightily with residential topics and over the last 18 months or so, it has become quite evident.  The issues do not just exist with the one organization, they are a part of most organizations. Maybe it is just human nature, but I have never seen anything like this including many years or soccer (playing and coaching), being in bands and other things that I have done involving social communities. The amount of unprofessional infighting that goes on adds unneeded drama and simply creates a general community of unfriendliness and unfortunately creates various pockets of camps or clicks as we called it in High School.  It seems that as any one person succeeds to a position of leadership among the residential folks, there is some faction that is resentful (jealous) towards that person or persons, and drama ensues. Going everywhere from stalking everything that person says and participate sin on social media and complaining to the organization, to outright character assassination.

No wonder it seems residential issues do not get anywhere, the very ones that should be showing progress on residential issues and looking like professionals are too busy jockeying over position rather than using their energy to do good.  I guess folks forget that volunteering is supposed to be about helping others not about elevating oneself for personal gain.  Exactly what an appraiser gets out of climbing a ladder in an organization besides an ego boost baffles me. Life is too short to try to step on another person’s back to achieve a personal goal.

My final perspective on this looks at the dishonesty there seems to be among some people in leadership.  Leadership seems ready to lie, cheat and steal to get what they want personally out of something. I personally have had two senior leaders in an organization come to be and ask me to do a very unethical thing, and I refused. I am sure my unwillingness to help them game the system will have some form of retribution attached to it at some time. I have seen colleagues get attacked directly and indirectly by creating  complex schemes to go after someone they dislike, and worse yet, the organizations don’t just have a process for it, they seem to aid in the tearing down of a member if the situation fits. All it takes is two or more people willing to create a false narrative and there you have it.

It seems leadership only cares about being accused of not doing something rather than having a just reason to go after someone.  And I have seen it happen repeatedly to different folks.  When it is done, it is done in secrecy, so membership does not find out about it, but it seems to get out anyway.  In one case issues are handled by a committee that works separate from the main leadership, and they have the autonomy to do what they want, even having their own attorney to do it, without any oversight from the main leadership group.

I won’t mention any names, but I have had at least a dozen people mention this scenario to me over the last 10 years, and after watching these folks seemingly disappear from leadership or active roles, I certainly knew something was awry. In another case, I watched two long time members of leadership drum up an issue with a member to try and push the member out, and it was done with fabricated issues.  All because there was personal dislike between these two “leaders “and the member.   You honestly could not make some of this stuff up if you tried.  Luckily cooler heads prevailed because attorneys were circling the fracas.

The biggest take away I think is that when outside stakeholders and potential members see this kind of thing, it reinforces to them that associating in a membership organization is not worth it. That the politics are unprofessional and often, simply juvenile.  Just think of what an organization could get done if it actually used its resources to accomplish things for positive change.

One thing to counter what I am writing about here is that there are many, many good people in every organization.  The good far outweighs the bad, but like anything a few bad apples spoils the bunch. I guess it is of no surprise that those with the desire to lead attempt to get there by any means necessary. Afterall, wanting to be a leader takes a bit of gumption. Great leaders, most often, are the ones that do not selfishly seek the spotlight but show up with an attitude or service to help others.

My intention is not to go on a personal rant, but rather to shine a little light on practices that are harmful to more than just the people being attacked for the sake of others trying to advance or just get rid of people they dislike.  Boards and committees are better when there are various viewpoints, good ideas come out of disagreeing and working through a problem together.  Diversity, people and ideas, is a great thing and trying to stop that hurts the profession.  While I have thought about stepping away form trying to help the profession anymore through organizations, I decided that is not me. I am not going anywhere and will continue to advocate for residential valuation. I will just be doing it in different ways.

In Closing   

2020 is going to be a great year. My firm is off to the races, having a great third and fourth quarter, with momentum pushing us into a new year.  As the year evolves, I do challenge anyone reading this to not be an island unto themselves, get involved somehow in helping the profession. When you take your CE this year, don’t phone it in, take a class that will challenge you to learn something new.  If you have taken all the residential classes that interest you, take a general valuation class. I promise you will learn something to help you in your residential practice. Those of you that have years of experience, really consider taking on a trainee.  The growing pains of teaching another will make you better at your job.

Inclusiveness and transparency are things that we need as a professional.  Egos and attitudes get us nowhere.  Be wary of some out there that claim they want what is best for our profession but actually are seeking out shameless self-promotion.  Here is to a great 2020.

Published by Woody Fincham, SRA, AI-RRS, ASA, RAA

Residential appraiser in the Charlottesville and Shenandoah Valley specializing in high-value homes and properties that include equestrian use, hobby farms, High-performance homes (HERS, LEED, Pearl, Earthcraft), large acreage and any residential style property.

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