Saturday , 28 November 2020

How I Knew – A Trainee Story

It was February 2020, and there were rumors about a new virus beginning to get traction. I was in retail leadership in Sedona, AZ and beginning to wonder if I wanted to work with the public during a pandemic. Julie Friess was one of my true “local” customers in a store that relies on the international tourism that floods Sedona. I did not realize when she uttered those words that it would lead me to taking the biggest risk of my life and becoming a member of Appraisal Camp Sedona. You can imagine the response I got when I told my friends and family that I was going to leave a secure job (health insurance, industry leading pay, Covid-19 bonuses) to become a Real Estate Appraiser Trainee. They pointed out the long road to certification, the lack of appraisers willing to mentor trainees, and the smaller pool of lenders willing to allow trainees to sign reports. A big thank you to Don at the AZ VA for being our first. I decided to go along anyway.

My first inspection was a home built in 1972. A 2800 square foot site-built residence in one of the communities near Sedona. Julie assured me it would be fun and a great way to determine if I had any interest in or passion for appraisal work. We hopped in the car and zoomed off. As we entered the neighborhood, Julie began to take note of the types of homes we were driving by and I could see that we had gone from “driving around” to beginning our inspection. I asked why, as we hadn’t even arrived at the property we were going to inspect. “You’ll see,” she said.

As we pulled up to the home, Julie asked what I saw when we were driving the neighborhood. I didn’t know what she saw, so I modestly replied, “A bunch of houses?” Sharp, I know. She nodded and we walked up to the house to begin our exterior inspection. The first thing I noticed was how soft the ground around the home was, especially at the edge of the small level portion of the hill that it sat on. It was as if the soil was not packed down properly or it was eroding quickly. Several months later, we visited again out of curiosity and two sinkholes had appeared in the driveway. Before we got far, Julie informed me that there was huge problem with this appraisal and a mystery to solve. I was in the dark, but totally “IN”. Were all assignments this fun?! What I did not notice driving the neighborhood was that every structure was a manufactured home, but ours was reportedly not.

Our Subject was sold pending for $300k as a site built home, someone was going to take on that loan as a personal obligation and a lender was taking on the risk of that loan counting on the collateral value to be correct should it default. Julie explained that when a loan goes bad, the public is often on the hook for it in a variety of direct and indirect ways. The Appraiser’s role is to mitigate risk for all parties involved, and this is one of the ways that we “Protect the Public’s Trust.” Julie is extremely passionate about this aspect of the job and THAT formed my attitude right.

After a quick walk around, Julie told to me that she now knew that we were looking at a manufactured home dressed up and sold as a site-built one. I asked if there was any way for a manufactured home to be modified and become site built.  The answer still makes me laugh today.

“A manufactured home can never become site-built, just like Pinocchio will never be a real boy.” – Julie Friess, March 2020.

The home had several rooms added to it over the years and they were blended into the home with various techniques, mostly tons of paint. It was obvious that someone had spent a lot of time and effort hiding something. This is when I began to understand the phrase “Lipstick on a Pig” in a whole new way.

The proof we needed was a crawl space and the pictures it would yield. After circling the house a few more times, we still could not locate one. Initially we thought that the additions concealed the crawlspace and that maybe there was interior access to the crawl space instead. We did not find anything inside, but I did get a great picture of Julie touching the ceiling of the living room without effort.  “I found the old kitchen!” she said. She is only 5’3.”

I wish I had been filming when Julie found the crawl space. They HAD built a room around it. It was a little shed attached to the side of the home and the door was nailed shut. Julie literally kicked the door down and bingo, crawl space! We opened the panel and pointed our flashlight inside revealing the tongue and axle of a manufactured home. It had never been removed! We could also see how the additions were not supported by a foundation, but instead were attached to the I-beam and acting as levers pulling the overall home apart. A pre-1976 manufactured home, sitting on a hill, actively eroding away from underneath.

On the drive back to the office, as we were unpacking the events of the day……it hit me. We kept someone from being a fraud victim. We alerted the lender and kept them from making a high-risk loan that would never return their investment if it defaulted. We kept them from potentially footing the bill. We protected the public, and their trust in the Real Estate market. Julie had invited me to become a hero. How awesome is that?

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