What is an MAI Appraiser Designation? Does it Matter to You?

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(**) Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning our company, JCHQ Publishing will get a commission if you decide to make a purchase through the links, but at no additional cost to you.

In most of the states, there are four appraiser licenses. They are the Trainee, Licensed Residential, Certified Residential, and the Certified General Appraiser licenses. In order to provide a real estate appraisal report, you would need to obtain these license(s) by law.

However, there are also designations offered by appraisal associations. Although they are not required by law, getting such credential can certainly further enhance your appraisal knowledge while adding more credibility to your appraisal work.

What is MAI Designation?

The MAI is a designation offered by the Appraisal Institute, the largest association of real estate appraisers, with over 18,000 professionals globally. It is one the most prestigious title you could get in the real estate valuation field.

This designation is held by professional appraisers who provide a wide range of services on all types of real estate. Their work could involve evaluating properties, reviewing appraisals, consulting and advice on investment decisions. Some of the property types may include residential, vacant land, commercial, industrial, and agricultural.

To become an MAI appraiser, you must be a professional with integrity and meet the education, examination and standard requirements. We will also go over the details in depth later in this post.

What are the Benefits of Having the MAI Designation?

real estate clients meeting

MAI is widely known as the ‘doctorate level’ of commercial real estate appraisal. It indeed takes a lot of hard work and years of appraisal experience to become an MAI appraiser. Therefore, having such a designation could give greater confidence and reliability to the people who are hiring for your services.

In fact, many sophisticated companies prefer assessments done by an MAI appraiser. For example, pension fund, REIT, investment funds, developers, lenders, etc.

We talked to some MAI appraisers, and they said this designation did help them in landing some of the projects, which their clients would not consider them before that. It widens their business opportunity. This is especially relevant for large commercial real estate appraisal work.

We receive many phone calls from clients specifically asking for a designated MAI

Sarah E. Land MAI, Certified Real Estate Appraiser

” I am a certified general real estate appraiser in Indiana, Illinois, and Kentucky. I specialize in commercial work including but not limited to shopping centers, hotels, industrial properties, office buildings, apartment buildings, etc.  I have also developed a niche for appraising agricultural land over the years.

As Vice President and part owner of David Matthews Associates, my MAI designation serves me well.  We receive many phone calls from clients specifically asking for a designated MAI. This designation allows me to delve into more challenging assignments and solve in depth appraisal problems with confidence. ”

Sarah E. Land, MAI, Vice President at David Matthews Associates

How Much do MAI appraisers Make?

According to Payscale.com, the average annual income of an MAI appraiser is $98,000.

I also checked with another source, AppraisalTests.com. They conducted a survey on March 10th, 2019, where they reached out to over 2,000 appraisers through their e-mail list and also 6,324 appraisers through several appraisal-related Facebook groups. They found that appraisers with the MAI designation have an average annual income of $94,323.

8 Steps to Get an MAI Designation

Step 1: Meet the Eligibility Requirement

You need to be a Certified General Appraiser or equivalent. Hold a Bachelor’s degree or higher from an accredited educational institution.

However, if you already are a Certified General Appraiser, then you do not need to provide proof of your college-level education. 

Step 2: Join the Candidate for Designation Program

Before you fulfill all the prerequisite, you need to submit your registration to the Appraisal Institute. Here’s the link to do so.

Step 3: Completion of the most current USPAP course

It covers the generally accepted appraisal standard and compliance rules for real estate appraisers.

Step 4: Complete the Business Practices and Ethics Course

This is a 5 hours course with 5 modules. Tuition for AI member is $159.00.

Step 5: Take the General Report Writing & Case Studies Course

There are 17 Modules for this course. You can study online at your own pace, but you do need to finish them within 45 days.

To pass this course, you’ll need to write a 2 hours multiple-choice examination which focuses on components of good writing. Tuition is $469 for AI members.  

Step 6: Pass Multiple Courses Exams

Real estate career studying

You do need to pass the exams for the four courses below. However, there is an option where you could challenge in writing the examinations without taking the classes. So some of the details are just for your reference.

Advanced Income Capitalization 

  • 35 hours course which consists
    • 2 hours of pre-class online session
    • 30 hours in lecture in class room setting
    • 3 hours exams
  • Tuition for AI members is $800.

Advanced Market Analysis & Highest Best Use

  • 35 hours course which consists
    • 2 hours of pre-class online session
    • 30 hours in lecture in class room setting
    • 3 hours exams
  • Tuition for AI members is $800.

Advanced Concepts & Case Studies

  • 40 hours course which consists
    • 2 hours of pre-class online session
    • 35 hours in lecture in class room setting
    • 3 hours exams
  • Tuition for AI members is $850.

Quantitative Analysis

  • 35 hours course which consists
    • 2 hours of pre-class online session
    • 30 hours in lecture in class room setting
    • 3 hours exams
  • Tuition for AI members is $800.

Step 7: Pass General Comprehensive Examination

This is the final exam with four distinct modules.

  • Module 1: General Concepts (3.5 hours) 
  • Module 2: Cost Approach / Highest and Best Use (3.5 hours)
  • Module 3: Income Approach (4 hours) 
  • Module 4: Sales Comparison Approach (4 hours)

Each module includes qualitative and quantitative questions. The objective of this exam is to test out your knowledge with judgment.

After all, an MAI appraiser should not just be able to memorize formulas, theory, and concept. Rather it is crucial how you could apply this knowledge into your expert judgment.

Pearson-Vue is the test administrator, and the exam fee is $475. After you write the test, they will send you the result within 30 business days. You could find more details in their Comprehensive Examination Guidebook.

Keep in mind that you need to complete all the above 6 steps before you can register for an exam writing. 

Step 8: Fulfill the Working Experience Requirement

Real Estate Agent Using Mobile Phone In New Property

You must have a minimum of 4,500 hours documented experience completing specialized appraisals.

So what is considered to be Specialized Experience

“Specialized Experience is work relating to real estate other than one-to-four-family residential real estate and covered by the Standards of Professional Practice of the Appraisal Institute, or experience gained by
providing practical solutions to real property economics problems as may be further defined by the Admissions and Designation Qualifications Committee (ADQC).

The work that is submitted for Experience credit must be the most recent, qualifying work that has been performed within the previous ten years.

No more than 2,000 hours of credit may be received for work performed in a twelve (12) month period.”

Quote From Experience Credit Candidate Guidebook

The appraisal work could involve:

  • Residential subdivisions (5+ units), residential condemnation (5+ units) and multifamily residential (5+ units).
  • Retail, Office, Commercial.
  • Industrial.
  • Agricultural.
  • All other real estates such as land and special-purpose property, but excluding one to four family residential.

You would submit the experience log, along with one appraisal which represents your typical work.

Then a screener from the Appraisal Institute will randomly select three appraisals from your experience list to be reviewed.

Step 9: General Demonstration of Knowledge 

Once you pass all the exam, your final step would be to fulfill the General Demonstration of Knowledge requirement. There are seven options available.

  1. Capstone Program
  2. Traditional General Demo
  3. E-Demo
  4. Research Project
  5. Peer Reviewed Publications
  6. Thesis
  7. Defense of Reports

This demonstration entails a very comprehensive report of a property, which is beyond most of the appraisals you would do on a day to day basis.
Due to the complexity and the amount of work involved, it could take up to 30 days complete the demo report. Therefore, some appraisers even take time off their daily practices to complete this assignment.

Then, this demo report will be reviewed and scored by another MAI.

Our Final Thought

Becoming an MAI appraiser is the most prestige designation in the real estate appraiser careers. It does require years of dedication to studying and work. Not to mention that there will be tuition, exam fee, and annual renewal fee.

So is the MAI designation a good investment for you? That really depends on the line of appraisal practice that you are specializing.

Tip for Success: Rather than being just another appraiser, consider specializing in a specific niche. (i.e: expert witness, farm appraisal, re-location appraisal). Here’s an article which covers 7 profitable appraisal niches.

If you were only focusing on appraising simple residential real estates, and your clients do not even care the license or designation you are holding, you might not find it worth it.

On the other hand, if you would like to advance your career by getting into assessing commercial properties or more complex real estates, then becoming an MAI appraiser would undoubtedly enhance your credibility and appraisal knowledge.

(If you want to know more about real estate appraiser designations, here’s an article about the SRA designation you might be interested)

Disclaimer: The information in this post is for general information only, and not intend to provide any advice. They are subjected to change any notice, and not guaranteed to be error-free. For full and exact details, please contact the Appraisal Institute.


  • Overview MAI Designation Requirement (source)
  • General Demonstration of Knowledge Requirement (source)
  • Experience Credit Candidate Guidebook (source)
  • Payscale Salary for Certification: Member of the Appraisal Institute (MAI) (source)
  • AppraisalTests.com – What is a Real Estate Appraiser’s Salary? (Source)

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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