How to Level Up as an Appraiser


As part of our contributor series, experienced appraiser Conrad Meertins Jr. shares his advice on how to level up as an appraiser.

There is a popular saying, “Skills pay the bills.” There is much merit to that in our industry, and it will be even more true as we move into this year with so much uncertainty looming over our heads. Your skills are what make you invaluable. So, how do you level up as an appraiser?

First, I must say that this article is not intended to explain the levels of appraiser licensing. Instead, it addresses a simple measurement technique to help you to assess and increase your skill level.

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How do we measure ourselves?

What is the mark of an appraiser who is at the top of his or her “game”? Is it the letters behind the name (MAI, SRA, etc.)?

The key is not the letters but the competency or skill. For example, are you competent to prepare an entire appraisal from start to finish? You might answer, “Absolutely!” But what if the appraisal form was completely blank with no boilerplate text? Do you still feel the same level of assuredness? What if you could not use the URAR form at all, but still had to produce an appraisal report that could stand up in court? Are your legs shaking? These questions help us to start to gauge our current level.

The three levels that we are going to discuss are “Beginner,” “Intermediate,” and “Pro.” Now, we could go deep and say that there are levels within the levels, but for now we will keep it simple and explore these three main levels. Some view each level as a stepping stone, and some view each level as a permanent parking space. It’s your choice which level you choose to pursue. The goal here is for us to evaluate which level we are at and determine which level we want to achieve.

So, let’s get into it!

Level 1 – Beginner

This is where we all start. There is no shame in this level. Depending on how you were trained, at the beginner level you typically view appraisals as forms—forms with checkboxes to be checked or left blank. If all the right boxes are checked and your report is signed with a value, mission accomplished!

I remember being that guy when I started appraising in 2001. The appraisal order came in on Monday and my Supervisor wanted it back ASAP. I had two objectives: pick three comps, and write up the report. I did no market analysis; I guessed the land value and effective age and adjusted GLA at the infamous $25/SF. I checked off all the right boxes on the form and then picked my best value. What’s amazing is that lenders had no problem with my appraisals! I’m almost ashamed to admit that I didn’t do more, but I’m confessing my sins because I want others to learn from them. The approach I took is what an absolute beginner might take (and an Ill-equipped beginner at that). However, if you are in it for the long haul, to stay at that beginner level would be a career-damaging mistake.

Now, you might say, “I’m not that bad.” And I certainly commend you for being better. But consider the question asked at the outset. If you had to complete a blank URAR, how would you fare? For some, the answer reveals that advancing to the next step is critical.

Level 2 – Intermediate

At the intermediate level, you realize there is more to appraising real estate than checking boxes. Here is where you provide more explanations. If you say the market is stable, perhaps you add a sentence or two to expound on that. If you say that comp #1 was the best comp, you add a sentence explaining why. If you don’t adjust for the subject being on a busy road, you add a sentence about the neutral impact of the busy road and a comparable to support that conclusion—before being prompted to do so by the underwriter.

This level is about realizing that part of the appraiser’s role is to paint an accurate picture of the subject and the factors that influence value. This is done through your words. It cannot be done through a checkbox. Add charts that show the market trend. Explain how you came up with the time adjustment (include the scatter plot in the addenda). Indicate how you made the subdivision adjustment. In fact, state how you came up with all your adjustments. Some great tools to support your adjustments are Synapse by Spark, Solomon Adjustment Calculator, and Bradford Technologies Redstone Analysis. Now keep in mind, there is another level beyond adding explanation and supporting adjustments.

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Level 3 – Pro

There is a subtle difference between Level 2 and Level 3. But one indicator that you have crossed the line from intermediate to pro is understanding how all the pieces fit together. For example, you understand that you do not need a form to produce an appraisal.

On numerous forums, a common question (especially for private work) is, “What form do I put that on?” Don’t get me wrong, there are good forms that can meet the appraiser’s needs. However, USPAP never talks about forms. It simply lets us know what needs to be in a report, and it provides us with the option of providing an “Appraisal Report” or a “Restricted Appraisal Report.” You can create either of these using any word processor. You only need to understand what is required in each one. There are several good folks in this profession who would be happy to review your appraisal to see how you can continue to refine it to ensure that it is always USPAP compliant.

One mark of a pro is being able to use the tools you have available and produce your own report that looks like a form or is more narrative in style. In addition to this, pros keep abreast of the latest changes in USPAP, and they constantly hone their skills through continuing education. At this level, continuing education is not viewed as an imposed requirement but as a sought-after treasure.

Appraisers tend to like numbers and are analytical by nature. Analyze this subject of leveling up by looking at your future self. In one year from now, what will your future self say about your skill level? Will he or she commend you because you did not stay content with simply doing the basics or only what was expected of you? Remember, a Level 1 appraiser checks boxes. A Level 2 appraiser adds explanations, graphs, and charts to those boxes. And a Level 3 appraiser knows how to think outside the checkboxes altogether. A pro-level appraiser may use a form. However, she is not bound by it; she can prepare a narrative report if it is needed or preferred. In addition, he understands the principles of USPAP and never stops improving his craft.

So, how would you measure yourself today? Where would you like to see yourself in one year? May you keep learning so that, if you desire, you can continue to level up as an appraiser to achieve the pro level and beyond.

Conrad Meertins Jr.Written by Conrad Meertins Jr. Conrad Meertins Jr. has been a licensed/certified appraiser for 22 years. Throughout his appraisal career, he has worked as a staff appraiser for premier financial institutions such as World Mortgage Inc. and Wachovia Bank. He has also had the privilege of being a property assessor for Jefferson County, Kentucky’s most populated county. He currently owns and operates Choice Appraisal Services, which he has done for over a decade. Such diverse appraisal experiences have contributed to his passion for the real estate industry and for the appraisal practice. This passion is evident in his commitment to continuing education, and the high level of quality infused into each report that he produces. For more info, visit or

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  1. I enjoy the valuation business but feel I am limited in my work as a trainee or licensed appraiser.
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How McKissock can help you level up as an appraiser

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Editor’s note: This post was updated in October 2023.