Cheryl Kunzler, SRA, AI-RRS One of the Thought Leaders in Residential Valuation

by Woody Fincham, SRA. AI-RRS, RAA

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I have known our  interviewee for over a decade.  I first met Cheryl Kunzler, SRA, AI-RRS when she came out to teach a class for my then Chapter, the Hampton Roads Chapter of the Appraisal Institute.  Since then few people have done more to help me along in my career professionally.  Cheryl has allowed me to co-teach and audit many of the classes that she teaches.  I have learned so much from her both as an instructor and as an appraiser.  Cheryl is a true leader in the professional being an outstanding appraiser.  I hope you all enjoy learning a but about one of my friends and colleagues.

VN:  How long have you been in the profession?

CK: I have been an appraiser, reviewer and consultant for 40 years.

VN: What is your favorite thing about the profession?

CK: I have always enjoyed the freedom this job has given me.  I can set my own appointments, do my research in my own way and constantly learn new thought processes and different ways of accomplishing the same thing; an opinion of value. Besides others in the profession, I have been interacting with agents, property managers and property owners to learn how to be a better appraiser.

VN: Who are your mentors and idols within the profession?

CK: My father, Lew Pollvogt, was my first mentor; when I expressed an interest in appraising, he suggested I first take some beginning courses to learn what the work entailed. I worked with him for more than 20 years and learned how to be an appraiser.

I was also influenced by some of my instructors also, for expanding my understanding and love of the profession.  Richard Lodge, MAI and John Ammon, SRA both now deceased, along with Thomas  Craddock, SRA, MAI, were very instrumental in my participation in the Appraisal Institute governance and teaching. There were other instructors; just can’t bring them all to mind.

Right now, my idol is Sandy Adomatis. She has developed and written about everything green; an influence on value that I don’t think existed before she began.  Sandy has accomplished so much for our profession in disseminating up-to-date knowledge about a very important topic, for residential and commercial appraisers. She has also encouraged me over the years to move in different directions.

And I admire you, Woody, for your excitement and dedication to appraising and teaching.  I have learned so much from teaching with you. I am so happy to have our profession populated with extremely knowledgeable, dedicated and forward- thinking appraisers such as yourself.

VN: What are some of your passions inside the profession?

CK: I absolutely love teaching appraisal courses and seminars.  Over my many years of teaching, I have been able to pass on much of my body of knowledge, which was passed on to me by other instructors and appraisers. I learn so much from the students every time I teach. Since many starting an appraisal career started out in another career, they have a wealth of knowledge to share. The other students, just starting out in the beginning courses, have so much enthusiasm and are eager to learn and test out what they already know.  It is just so exciting!

 

I have also been involved with reviewing courses and seminars for the Appraisal Institute and writing test questions for AI and others. It really expands and tests my own knowledge!

I would love to have residential appraisers receive more recognition for their abilities and expertise.  I have run across so many people (both appraisers and non-appraisers) who believe that those specializing in residential are “just” house appraisers. Though I have completed residential and commercial appraisals for years, the extent of recognition for the residential side has not changed much in 40 years. I wish I had a way to change that attitude.

VN: What are some passions of yours outside of the profession?

CK: I started traveling internationally over the past four years. I love going to other countries and see their use of wind farms, solar panels, green roofs and unique architecture. Right now, I am taking a Russian language course; I am traveling there next year, and it makes my brain think in a different way.

I also enjoy gardening, but now I must balance that with the times I am out of town!

VN: Where do you see the profession in 3 years?  5 years?  10 years?

CK: In three-to-five years, I think the demand for appraisers will continue to decline.  Lenders have always tried to find ways to eliminate the appraisers from the mortgage lending process. But as I tell my students, look outside the lending arena; attorneys will always need valuations for estates, for divorces, for property disputes. I have always enjoyed completing review appraisal work. It can be interesting to see how others solve an appraisal problem. And regardless of what many appraisers think, there is not always a problem to be discerned with an appraisal review assignment.

In five years, wholly dependent on the trends of our economy, I believe more and more clients will rely on online databases, spreadsheets, hybrid appraisals and other processes to value properties. That is not to say that appraisers will not be needed; just that other skills and areas of expertise will be needed by appraisers. Perhaps more research and analysis, and not as much physical inspections.

In ten years; sorry Woody, I don’t have a crystal ball! In about 2005 or 2006, I appraised a 20-acre residential parcel with three separate houses located on the site. It was for estate purposes, and the highest and best use was for subdivision development. Seven or eight years later, I was requested to complete another assignment on that property, (which by the way, was physically the same as is was at my first valuation). I was unable to take the assignment at the time. However, I looked back on my report and realized there was no way now to support the discounting I had applied originally. The recession had occurred beginning in 2008, and the original market information I had gathered was not at all appropriate. So, I really don’t have enough information to forecast ten years from now.

 

VN: What is one thing about your personal business that you are most proud?

CK: I am pleased at the way my business has evolved over the years; it provides enough variety related to the profession to allow me to expand my knowledge. I am doing review work, course and seminar review, teaching and serving on my county board of equalization.

VN: If you could change one thing about your business model what would it be?

CK: I would like to have started sooner using technology, for marketing, research and analysis. There are so many more efficient ways to complete our assignments than there were several years ago.

I would also have started specializing in litigation assignments earlier in my career; I really enjoy solving a complex problem and testifying to my results.

VN:  What are some present goals for you and what you do are doing in the valuation space?

CK: I would like to complete more review assignments; they challenge my knowledge on many levels. I am lucky to be in a position that I have not completed work for lenders for the past 8 or 9 years.  I don’t want the pressure of time and making everything fit in someone’s process. I mostly complete narratives and find I can communicate better. I am not criticizing anyone who does this type of work; I did it for more than 30 years. I was just ready for a change.

VN:   If you could change one thing in valuation, what would it be?

CK:I would really like appraisers to embrace learning; many appraisers take required seminars on topics they already know or assume that they cannot learn anything new in for instance, a USPAP course. I think we all may have encountered appraisers who assume the way they did things “back then” is sufficient for now. The profession is always evolving, and I hope everyone in the profession realizes that.

VN:  What advice would you give someone just getting in the profession?

CK: Allow yourselves to get a variety of experiences of methods of valuation and property types within your specialty. Don’t just do lender work; there are so many other uses for your services. You never know when you will find a niche not being adequately served in your market.  Get involved with the appraisal profession; find an organization that works for you. I have always been proud to be a member of the Appraisal Institute and serving on local, regional and national committees, so of course that is the one I would recommend. But get involved somewhere! Get a designation, value your expertise and don’t always reject the more complex assignments. Diversify if you are a residential specialist and maybe in commercial you can become more of an expert in one property segment.

VN: This last one is for you to discuss or talk about whatever you would like.

CK: I will have to imitate what many others have said in this blog. Enjoy life, take chances, be adventurous, don’t wait until tomorrow, grab opportunities in work and in life, spend time with your family. Life is too short to wish you had done something else!

Listen!! Amazing what you learn when you are not speaking!

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Sage advice from a respected professional and amazing insight on personal life as well. Many of us are workaholics, I know that I suffer from it.  Cheryl is doing lots of traveling now, I keep dibs on her through her Facebook page.  She is always off enjoying some awesome locations.   She also echoes some of the same advice that we see from many:  get out of the lender space if you can, or limit it’s affects on your business by doing less of it.

 

Thanks, Cheryl, for taking the time to do this.

The Valuer in The Mirror

Written by Woody Fincham, SRA, AI-RRS, RAA 

Maybe I am crazy, but I think all of us deserve a better profession as appraisers than what we have presently within the mortgage and lending world.  We are in an era where the profession is changing fast.  We have many players out there that want to limit or possibly eliminate real estate valuations for residential lending and to some degree on the non-residential side of things as well. The profession should be aligning itself to battle this, but we seem more fractured now than we have ever been.  There is too much in-fighting and disagreement among key players in the profession.  This ranges from the individuals that have appeared as leaders and with the organizations that make up the professional trade groups and professional membership organizations for real estate appraisers.

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The Valuer in The Mirror

The profession is fractured.  We need to take a long hard look at ourselves in the mirror.  We need to do it as individuals and as part of the various organizations out there.  We need to start seeing ourselves as we really are, warts and all.  There is not one organization out there that is going to save the valuation profession.  There is no one organization that is to blame for all the issues we deal with as a profession. Humans love to separate into groups and then immediately set upon the other groups out there as being somehow inferior to your group.

We have reached a point where we need to stop and take stock of what the profession needs.  We are at a point where the fractures are weakening what we can be as a profession.  When I was speaking on the leadership panel at AppraiserFest last year, that was the one thing I tried to get across.  Stop with the tribalism and fracturing into groups.  Stop trying to say your team is the only viable voice out there.  All valuation voices matter.

I think the answer is to start by being open to all the various groups out there and seeing the positives in each rather than the negatives.  Every professional group out there adds some positivity to the mix.  Whether you, as a valuation professional, are a member of a group or not we must see the value in a unified front.  Remember, that what we do for the US Economy is a thankless job.  One of our biggest user groups, lenders, are also one of the biggest groups that see what we do as an inconvenience rather than a protection of the public trust.  It seems with all the alternative valuation products that are constantly being pushed over traditional appraisals that they would rather see us replaced than to deal with us.

Within the organizations themselves the jockeying for individual position holds the organizations back from being truly great. The politics are cut throat and reward those seeking personal gain more than profession-oriented growth. Most of the long tenured organizations are a political nightmare that are more leadership driven than membership driven. I truly do not understand what one gets from hurting others in their jockeying for a position.  All this type of behavior does is make individual appraisers not want to participate, thus weakening both the organizations and the individuals.

What should we be doing?

The worst thing any of us can be doing is not participating in the profession.  Many, many folks are vocal on forums and social media yet have no membership or involvement with any organizations.  What good does it do to complain but do nothing?  There are lots of folks that want change to happen but that means you must get plugged in somewhere.  Anywhere.  Join a state coalition or one of the national organizations.  Sitting on the fence and complaining will get the profession, and you, nowhere.

If you have the time attend the meetings and add your voice to the mix.  Be opened minded when you are at these meetings and be open to changing your mind about some things.  Many of us that use social media get hard-headed about somethings and forget to listen.  What I notice with in-person meetings is that social graces tend to come back.  People are not so myopic in person (usually) and we tend to be politer in person.  On social media folks can sometimes lose their connection with manners.

Not one person reading this, or the knuckle-head writing this, knows everything.  If you are not open to discourse in a professional manner, then you may want to reassess yourself.  I have found myself feeling very strongly on certain things, only to find out later that I probably should have looked at it differently.  This is true of being a member of an organization.  No organization is perfect, and they all mess up time to time. All these organizations are run by people and people make mistakes.

Any valuation organization out there worth the cost of their membership should be doing multiple meetings with the other valuation organizations out there several times a year.  While we cannot expect them all to agree on all things, they need to be exchanging information and ideas.  Some sort of valuation congress.  Even the largest organizations have weaknesses that another organization can help with.  Some organizations are residentially focused where others are commercially focused.  That’s fine.  But each organization needs to accept that

What Should We Not Be Doing?

We are an opinionated lot.  We get paid to tell others our opinions, and we dig in like a tick when we make up our minds.  Many of us are great appraisers but we lack a true understanding of other things. We are a group of professionals that excel at market research that leads to supportable conclusions yet lack the same set of skills when it comes to the larger profession. I cannot tell you how many times I speak with colleagues that have some strong opinions about something related to the profession.  Then I find out that they have never read about or researched the topic at hand but had come to their seemingly strong opinion based on conjecture.  Often, they have heard another’s opinion on the topic and drawn a conclusion from hearsay. We must treat opinions from others like we do comparable sales data. Research it and find support for it, don’t just take the opinion as fact.

If we concentrate and expend energy on the negativity out there, we are taking energy away from doing something positive.  Those that seek to make money off us as professionals benefit form the distraction in-fighting creates.  While we spend time finding more reasons to fracture apart further, they continue making money off our work.  Some also are using that advantage to try and replace us.  It is okay to agree to disagree, it is not okay to try and attack someone just because they disagree with you.

Once you are involved with an organization do not put yourself before the whole.  Trying to earn a position at the expense of a colleague is not a good thing.  I have seen some colleagues turn into bullies and try to use politics to hurt others to gain a position or to unseat a colleague.  If that is your M.O. you are better off not getting involved.  Many need to ask themselves, “Are you trying to help out or is what you are doing going to hurt what the organization is doing?”

 

In the End

We are a small group of professionals.  There are, by my account, approximately 75,000 professionals nationwide.  We do not have the same lobbying power as the lenders out there.  To be honest, the only reason that we have lasted this long is that some legislators see the benefit that we add to protecting the national economy.  Since we are so small it is imperative that we cease the fracturing from within.  Find an organization that you can support and work with them.  Volunteer and stay involved.  Organizations cannot work against their members if the members do not become passive.  Passiveness is what has hurt the profession more than anything.  Well that and bad business practices, but that is another blog post for another time.

Find an organization, or a couple of them, to work with and volunteer to do some work.  Do not wait for someone else to try and solve your problems for you.  Sitting back and watching what others do will not work at all.  Between the different organizations out there look for ones that align with your thoughts and ones that seem open to you and your views.  Not every organization for everyone, and even after you lock into one, over time, you may find that someplace else ends up being a better place for you, for that time.

If you have limited time, find an organization that you can support and join.  Like anything, not everyone can always get really involved, but your support of the organization makes funds available to help the profession.