John Mackris, MAI, MRICS is an Executive Director within the Valuation & Advisory (V&A) group of Cushman & Wakefield Inc., a full-service worldwide real estate company with over 43,000 employees. Cushman & Wakefield’s V&A group provides advice on real estate equity and debt decisions to clients on a worldwide scale and comprises 1,670 professionals located in more than 130 offices in 30 countries worldwide. The group’s capabilities span valuation and advisory services relating to acquisition, disposition, financing, litigation, and financial reporting, and 18 practice groups deliver real estate strategies and solutions to clients with unique operational, technical and business requirements. Mr. Mackris is also a Midwest Region Leader within C&W’s Retail Industry specialty group.
How would you currently describe the US real estate appraisal industry and what shifts do you expect throughout 2017?
The US real estate industry has been evolving at an accelerating pace over recent years due to advancing technology and better equipped professionals. Access to an extensive level of market information at the appraiser’s finger tips combined with more sophisticated software to analyse this information has resulted in much more credible and supportable valuations. While the number of US-based appraisers has declined by about 2.5 percent per year over the last decade, the number of appraisals has increased, as appraisers have become more efficient. Over the next five to 10 years, this trend of fewer appraisers is anticipated to continue due to retirements, fewer new people entering the appraisal profession, economic factors, and increasing government regulation. The question is whether the rate of appraiser efficiency can continue; if not, expect appraisal fees and turnaround times to rise.
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Specific to 2017, appraisers will need to be cognizant of the Trump administration’s new tax and deregulation policies, and how they will impact various types of real estate in different geographic locations. Most investors are anticipating lower corporate and personal income taxes, but potentially higher border import taxes. The implications of tax policy combined with deregulation will potentially have a varied approach across the US real estate market. Real estate in import-oriented areas might suffer, while areas with heavy manufacturing geared to domestic consumption will benefit. Overall, most economists are anticipating strong economic growth compared to the Obama years, where GDP growth hovered in the 1.0 to 2.0 percent range. If GDP growth reaches the 3.0 to 4.0 percent level, appraisers can anticipate significant changes in almost all property types, with new development and adaptive re-use becoming an increasing part of the assignment log. Strong economic growth, however, will also bring interest rate hikes from the Fed, which would push borrowing costs upwards and change investor purchasing assumptions. The key for appraisers in 2017, and more so than in years past, will be constant market research and understanding the factors that are driving each transaction.
What would you say are the biggest challenges facing real estate appraisal companies in the US?
There are many challenges facing appraisal companies, such as finding and retaining good employees, or staying compliant with an ever-growing barrage of governmental regulations, but these are not new to the industry. What has changed over the last decade is the need to incorporate more technology into the process and balance this against an overreliance on technology. Appraisal has often been described as a combination of science and art, with “art” being a synonym for common sense and experience. While the next generation of appraisers, or “millennials,” bring a strong technical skillset to the field, the key for this generation will be whether they can transition back to the basics of primary research. In laymen terms, this means picking up the phone and talking to market participants rather than simply searching on Google. With an ever-aging base of appraisers, this transition will be critical to good quality valuations in the years to come.
Do you foresee the need for legislative change in the near future, if so why?
Yes, there is a strong need for legislative change in the near future. The appraisal process has become more costly, more complicated, and less productive due to out-dated regulations. The federal regulatory structure for real estate appraisals (FIRREA) has not changed since 1989. As a result, appraisers have to deal with a layering effect of rules and regulations that discourages new people from entering the field, while also decreasing appraiser profitability. As an example, the industry has seen several new, time-consuming regulations pertaining to the role many senior appraisers conduct as a supervisor-appraiser to a trainee-appraiser. In discussing these new regulations with my peers, many have elected to drop plans they had for new hiring as they felt the time, cost, and effort of staying compliant were not worth the benefits afforded by the new hire. The Appraisal Institute is fighting to reduce the number of regulations, but it will take time to reverse the increased regulatory trend over the last decade.
In your opinion, what would be the best approach to modernize the US appraisal regulatory structure?
Often times, appraisers work in multiple states. This is common among appraisers who reside near their state border, and appraisers that specialize in unique property types, in which their expertise is in demand across a wider geographic area. As an appraiser based in Chicago, I often complete assignments in the nearby states of Wisconsin and Indiana. And as a specialist in retail shopping centers, I cover a territory which comprises the entire Midwest region of the US consisting of nine states. Needless to say, completing each state’s licensing regulations can be time consuming. What makes this process frustrating, however, is that these states all have slightly different requirements for education, reporting, application dates, and regulatory fees. While they all share the same goal of ensuring the integrity and professionalism of appraisers within their states, their varied regulations add unnecessary burdens on industry professionals. A simple solution would be if each state could outsource its regulation to a single interagency firm and provide a multi-state license. Or, at a bare minimum, each state should try and synchronize its regulations with the neighbouring states.
In your role, what are the main challenges you encounter and how do you work alongside your clients to overcome these?
An appraisal assignment contains many steps in a process, with the finished product comprising the final appraisal report. The first step is gathering property-specific information, such as rent rolls, leases, operating statements, etc. Gathering this information from the property contact as soon as the assignment is engaged is critical to an on-time delivery, as often times it may take the property contact several days to gather and deliver these items. Once delivered, the appraiser can then commence his or her analysis. The initial receipt of this information can often open up a need for additional items, which can then add pressure to the promised delivery date. Over the years, I have found that effective communication with my clients regarding the nuances of the property and what property-specific information is needed can effectively eliminate the need for deadline extensions. Some clients have realized that they can facilitate the process by informing their borrowers of what items will be needed prior to appraiser engagement, which can eliminate days of waiting.
Looking at the work of your peers, and in your past experience, how would you say the role of a real estate appraiser has changed over the past 20 years?
Surprisingly, the role of appraisers over the past 20 years has stayed the same more than it has changed. The market still looks to appraisers for the insight, expertise, knowledge, and unbiased view of market value. While technology has changed the process of appraising, the appraisers’ role, fortunately, has not changed. If appraisers are true to their mission, they can offer market participants an impartial view a property’s value, and the state of the micro- and macro-market in which it is situated. In an environment often tainted by varied interests, nothing can be more valuable than a real professional’s unbiased opinion.