Is Commercial Real Estate Appraisal a Good Career? [+ Salary Info and License Requirement]


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Many real estate appraiser that I met focus on appraising for residential properties. Some are not satisfied with the appraisal fees that are receiving. After all, residential appraisers made up of nearly 60% of the appraisal workforce. The rule of thumb is when too many businesses are chasing after the same clientele, it would inevitably lead to a price war. Therefore, some appraisers are upgrading their skill set and explore commercial properties appraising.

Is commercial real estate appraisal a good career? Yes, commercial real estate appraising is a good career. The payout is lucrative, and it’s a respectable profession.

However, whether this is a suitable career path for you would depend on numerous factors. Do you like handling a massive amount of researching work? What is your income expectation? What type of work environment do you enjoy?

In this article, I’ll go through the type of work involved as a commercial real estate appraiser, the income potential, and the training you need to have to become one. This way, you could make a judgment whether it worth your time and investment to become a commercial real estate appraiser.

(By the way, CRE stands for Commercial Real Estate. I’ll use it interchangeably throughout the article.)

real estate appraisers primary job function

What is a Commercial Real Estate Appraiser?

Your role as a commercial real estate appraiser is to find out the appraisal value of properties through extensive research and careful anaylsis. Your appraisal report could be used by investors, financial institutions, asset managers, or by the government for tax assessment purposes.

What type of property can a commercial real estate appraiser evaluate?

Commercial Real Estate Appraisal

The range of property types is wide. You could be appraising for small office unit, golf court, retail store, farmland, industrial plant, hotel, or even the entire plaza.

Most CRE appraisers are holding the Certified General Appraiser license, which allows them to work on all kinds of properties. Unlike a residential appraiser license, the Certified General has no limitation on the real estate value and complexity.

What exactly does a commercial real estate appraiser do?

real estate professionals with clients

I talked to a CRE appraiser. For every assignment, he would speak to many different parties to gather details about the property. (i.e., owner, tenants, property manager, asset manager, comparable property owners.)

Then he would conduct extensive research on the subject property – for instance, the district, zoning, taxes, revenue streams, county governance, maps. Most of his commercial appraisal report would end up with over 120 pages of detailed information and analysis.

Although developing a commercial appraisal involves lots of hard work, he said these are fantastic opportunities to learn about the real estate in depth. Every time that he completed an assignment, he is confident that no one would know better than him about all the subject property.

He emphasizes this is learning the fundamental of the real estate. There is actual relevant data to support the appraisal value. Unlike real estate securities, where their short-term values could be driven by market sentiment.

What type of jobs is available for commercial real estate appraisers?

Real estate career

As a commercial real estate appraiser, you could be working for an entity such as appraisal firm, institutional investors, asset management firm, or government agency.

Due to the amount of complexity and workload involves in each assignment, most appraisers will work in a team. Therefore, CRE appraisers tend to work at an organization with decent size and rarely a one-person shop. One appraiser that I talked to is working at a national boutique firm with 5 offices and over 100 employees.

A real-life example of a CRE appraiser job

There is a job posting from an appraisal firm in Chicago. This is a privately owned company by practicing appraisers, with offices across nine major cities in the U.S. They have over 70 years experience in providing appraisal services to nation’s leading financial institutions such as private and public pension funds, Wall Street investment banks.

Currently, they are looking for a Commercial Real Estate Appraiser. The candidate will be responsible for appraising institutional grade commercial properties. In addition to writing real estate appraisals, your job could involve other specialty valuation services – for instance, expert court testimony, investment consulting and conducting highest and best use/feasibility studies.

How Much Money Does a Commercial Real Estate Appraiser Make?

Real Estate Appraiser Income

According to Salary.com (June 27, 2019), the average salary of a Commercial Real Estate Appraiser is $99,925, while they generally fall between the range $85,945 and $114,627.

I’ve heard from an appraiser shared that a reasonably competent CRE appraiser in their office is generally making their six figures of annual income. The best is they have a pretty good work-life balance. In some extreme instance, I have heard some top-notch appraisers are earning over $700,000 per year. $75,000 per year.

Your income depends on numerous factors such as your experience, the type of assignment that you specialize in working, the scale of the company that you work for.

[Here’s a complete guide about real estate appraiser earning. In there, you could find the average income of commercial real estate appraiser in every state.]

In addition to the lucrative salary, many CRE firms also offer health benefits, dental coverage, 401k matching, E&O insurance to their appraisers. Some would even cover the appraiser license fees and the tuition of the CE courses.

How much can you charge for a commercial appraisal?

The appraisal fees for commercial properties could range between $2000 to $5000. I got these figures from several valuation firms. Depending on the complexity of the assignment, sometimes, the appraisal fee could go as high as five figures.

How much does a commercial real estate appraiser trainee make?

I looked through multiple job postings. The average salary for a commercial real estate appraiser trainee is range between $35,000 to $50,000.

Is CRE appraiser a respectable profession?

Yes, CRE appraiser is a highly respectable profession. Many institutional investors, pension funds managers, and other large corporation are relying on your appraisal report in making their investment decision.

An appraiser told me that many mortgage underwriters treated his residential appraisal as a formality. They only looked at the first page to ensure the appraisal value is not less than the selling price. Then they wouldn’t read further into the report.

He now focuses his practice into appraising for commercial properties. Since the appraisal fee is much higher, his clients actually would contact him with questions about the report. It reassures him that they are treating his work product seriously.

Actual Feedback from Commercial Real Estate Appraiser

Be willing to work extremely hard in the beginning as it will work out well in the long term.”

Jeffrey Harris, MAI, Commercial Real Estate Appraiser and Consultant

“I appraise a variety of commercial properties. Although, I do more investment types than any thing else (office, shopping center, multi-family), I do a little bit of everything, excluding marinas, hotels/golf courses, single-family residential.

I started working for a commercial appraiser in college. I have never done any residential work.

There are several challenges in the field, but overall, it has been wonderful for me. I really enjoy the flexibility the career offers. I would say the pay typically starts out low, but within 2-4 appraisers can make more than their counterparts that choose different careers though, the counterparts likely start out at a higher salary). Every day is a new property and a new challenge and that helps break up the monotony.

For someone who wants to become a real estate appraiser, it depends on what stage of life they are in. If they are still in college, I would advise them to seek out real estate courses/real estate degree.

It provides a very good head start. Otherwise, contact some local designated appraisers. Many of them are willing to take on trainees, but its difficult to find people wanting to become appraisers. Be willing to work extremely hard in the beginning as it will work out well in the long term.”

Jeffrey Harris, MAI. Commercial Real Estate Appraiser and Consultant at Harris Property Advisors

How to Become a Commercial Real Estate Appraiser?

Appraiser questions

We have covered the financial aspect and job duties to be a CRE appraiser. Now it’s time to go over what it takes to become one.

To become a commercial real estate appraiser, you need to obtain the Certified General Appraiser license.

The Appraisal Qualification Board (AQB) specified the requirement to obtain the Certified General Appraiser license, but each state could impose additional rules. You could find the details of your state on our licensing page.

But here are the steps according to the AQB:

  • Step 1: Complete 300 hours of qualifying education
  • Step 2: Accumulate 3000 hours of appraisal work experience in no fewer than 18 months. Of which at least 50% of the work must be related to commercial assignments.
  • Step 3: Pass the Certified General Appraiser Exam
  • Step 4: Register with the Appraisal Board in your state

We have another article which covers in-depth on “How to become a Certified General Appraiser?” Make sure to check it out.

Proportions of real estate appraisers license
Source: Appraisal Institute – U.S. VALUATION PROFESSION FACT SHEET Q1 2019

How Long Does it Take to Become a Commercial Real Estate Appraiser?

real estate professionals looking at watch

It would take at least 18 months to become a commercial real estate appraiser. The AQB does not recognize the 3000 hours of work experience if they are accumulated within a shorter period.

I believe this is reasonable. Want to know why? Let’s do the math.

Suppose you are working full-time 40 hours per week, then in 18 months, you would obtain 2880 hours of appraisal work experience. There is still a shortage of 120 hours of work credit, which is equivalent to 3 weeks of full-time work. During the process, you also need to complete the 300 hours of qualifying education and pass the exam.

Therefore, even without the rule, 18 months would be the fastest way to earn the Certified General license level.

How Much Does it Cost to Become a Commercial Real Estate Appraiser?

It would cost about $2,000 to $2500 to become a commercial real estate appraiser. Let’s use the licensing requirement in California as an example. Here’s a breakdown of the cost:

  • Exam fee – $85
  • License fee – $710
  • Qualification courses fee $1300 (McKissock has a package plan where you could access all the qualifying education courses of different licenses level for 12 months.)

Adding all together $85+710+1300 = $2095. However, some states don’t allow their trainee to upgrade the license directly to the Certified General level. They must become licensed/certified residential before that.

Therefore, there could be additional costs (i.e., courses, exams) to fulfill the residential appraiser license requirement.

Study tip: Whenever possible, I prefer to take online courses. You can study at your own pace at the convenient of your home, library, or wherever there is internet access. Here’s an article review of an online school that I like.

Conclusion

If you wish to work in the appraisal field in the long haul, becoming a commercial real estate appraiser is certainly something to consider. Not only the compensation is attractive, but your work also plays a crucial role in other’s decision.

I’m not saying CRE appraisers are superior over residential appraisers. After all, regardless of the real estate type that you are working, you still need to remain professional in developing an unbiased appraisal value.

Furthermore, for a large commercial property assignment, you are likely to work in a team to complete it. If you are not a team person, then working on a residential project could give you alone time to focus on your own work.

However, I strongly encourage you to obtain the Certified General Appraiser license. This would open up the door of appraisal work opportunities. Then it would be your choice to decide the career path that you want to take.

Disclaimer: The information in this post is for general information only, and not intend to provide any advice. They are subjected to change anytime without notice, and not guaranteed to be error-free. For full and exact details, please contact the Appraisal Board in your state, the education or service provider.

Reference:

Jacob Coleman

Jacob is a content writer and a real estate investor. He has experience working with different real estate professionals throughout the years. (i.e., appraisers, real estate agents, property managers, home inspectors.) In order to build a career you love, Jacob believes not only you need a thorough understanding about the profession, but you also have to find out what type of jobs could match your personality, lifestyle and expectation.

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