The Anatomy of An Appraisal Fee

Appraisal Buzz

As the song goes, “…Should I stay or Should I Go?” Many appraisers are thinking about leaving the profession and many have already moved on. How much time does it take to complete a residential appraisal, what are the costs to produce an appraisal and what is an appraiser’s net take-home pay after all those costs? Attached is a spreadsheet that can be used as a tool by residential appraisers to evaluate the Anatomy of an Appraisal, the performance of their business and their net take home pay.

Typically, an appraiser would compare their net take-home pay with the gross salary they could receive in an alternative salaried position (appraisal or non-appraisal) when determining whether to leave their appraisal business. As a result, the spreadsheet provided is a pre-tax estimate of the appraiser’s net take-home pay. Some appraisers could opt to hire a staff appraiser to author appraisals for their business and when doing so, would be required to pay that appraiser an acceptable wage which we estimate as a national average gross wage of $40,000. The fees, salaries and expenses in your local area may vary but the model can be adjusted to reflect your actual expenses, revenues and salaries. Our use of an average $40,000 gross salary is for illustration purposes only and immaterial since we add then deduct the salary with business profits or losses to arrive at net take-home pay. Thus, increasing or decreasing of the $40,000 salary we used has no effect on the net take home pay. Some appraisers for example, despite seeing a decline in fees and revenues continue to pay themselves the same salary so they can keep paying their bills. However, this requires increased capital contributions to their business from savings, draw down their IRA or 401K or increased debt. If fees ultimately fail to recover, then appraisers with unsustainable gross salaries would be required to reduce their salaries and the model can help appraisers evaluate their production costs.

We calculate the average appraisal takes about 12.5 hours to produce, factoring in both actual production time plus the appraiser’s non-productive overhead time. Our model also estimates that a typical USA residential fee appraiser produces a mix of fee work with some at Customary & Reasonable Rates and some AMC fee work well below Customary and Reasonable rates resulting in average annual gross revenues of $70,000, representing a gross hourly rate of $23.40. Sounds great right?

However, after accounting for all expenses and cost of producing the appraisal, we calculate the typical residential appraiser has a net take-home pay of just over $29,000, which after accounting for a typical 60 hour appraiser work week represents effective net take home pay of about $9.70 per hour.

Wow. A few weeks ago I offered a comment on the Buzz (in jest) that I was thinking about a full-time 40 hour job at McDonalds or Wal Mart – but I wouldn’t know what to do with the raise or the extra time off. Although it was joke at the time, having now calculated all the operational costs, I find the joke was on me and other appraisers because those alternative jobs would in fact appear to be a raise.

Hold on, it gets worse.

If the appraiser decided to do exclusively AMC work in my market, taking into account the notably lower AMC fees in my area, the appraiser’s annual gross revenues would decline to $45,000 and after accounting for all expenses, their net take home pay would be negative $3.82 per hour! That’s right, after accounting for business losses, an appraiser who relies exclusively on AMC work would have a negative net take home pay. That means there are likely appraisers out there who are funding their business losses and trying to survive by drawing down IRA, 401k, selling off assets, making capital contributions, going further into debt and taking other drastic steps to survive. Taking into account those business losses, a typical AMC dependent appraiser is in fact suffering an annual economic loss and would certainly seek alternative employment.

Appraisers have commonly shared with me two primary reasons for the decision to close their business or leave the profession: 1) Economic considerations and 2) Battle wary and tired of fighting after 17 years of “war”. The war they refer to is the constant battle since 1994 federal policy allowed and required (for the first time since the Great Depression) that Independent and Objective Appraised Value reports be required to compete with advocated values of Broker Price Opinions. Appraisers are also fighting a second War of fees with AMC’s who commonly take 40% to 60% of the overall appraisal fee, reducing fees paid by many (but not all) AMC’s to appraisers well below “Customary & Reasonable” Levels. The third War has always existed (but worsened considerably in 1994 and since) which involves the constant War by clients, borrowers, agent and others constantly wanting to negotiate the appraised value.

Is it any surprise that the huge increase in volume of advocated BPO valuations along with the huge increase in market share of AMC’s since 1994 resulted in a bubble (over valuation of assets) – and an environment where appraisers were forced to compete on the basis of their willingness to hit advocated values and forced to compete with unregulated, agent advocated BPO products? Its been estimated that since 1994, the market share of BPOs in lending transactions has increased from near zero to an approximate 60% market share today compared with a 40% market share for appraisals.

Appraisers are losing the war and as a result, fleeing the profession. An appraisal of the appraisal profession and economic review of the numbers suggests it may be time to get out.

Comments About the Model:

Why include a salary? Most businesses that run a P&L include a market supported salary. Increasing or decreasing the salary for your local market is easy and has no effect on the net take-home pay, as increasing your salary will reduce your net profits while reducing your salary will increase your net profits.

Why such an expensive SUV? That model had lower operating costs and higher re-sale value. Thus, if you use a lower priced car, the maintenance costs may rise and your resale value may decline having the effect of increasing rather than decreasing your annual fully loaded auto costs.

Why loan expense? Above the SUV cost, we needed to account for the car loan interest expense.

Don’t AMC’s have the effect of reducing marketing costs and/or allowing appraisers to produce higher volumes of reports? Maybe. However, in light of the huge difference in fees in my market between AMCs vs Customary and Reasonable, it would be economically advantageous for an appraiser to seek non-AMC work at higher fees and thus they still incur marketing expenses. Also, certainly some appraisers can attain higher rates of production but my experience managing large volumes of appraisers is that these represent valid, sustainable production numbers while maintaining high levels of quality. My sense is that AMCs spend a considerable amount of increased cost and time asking for and chasing down corrections because of their reliance on the lowest fee provider. Conversely, my experience in awarding hundreds of million in appraisal fees that higher fees when coupled with higher quality appraisers, leads to lower overall operating costs and lower loan losses.

My Health Care Costs are higher and I don’t belong to an appraisal organization? Also, the fees are different in my market. Great, adjust the model accordingly to reflect your actual revenues and expenses and find out how much you really are earning on an effective net take-home basis.

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