Expand Your Consulting Footprint

Sitting In The Witness Chair... Expand Your Consulting FootprintI’ve sat in the witness chair as a real estate expert many times over the years. It’s nerve-wracking, but it is also fun and fascinating. My partner in our commercial firm says there is something wrong with me because I enjoy it so much.

Consider that something you wrote in an appraisal report six months ago is being discussed now and what you wrote back then is not subject to edits. You have to live with what you wrote. I think the quality of appraisals in the U.S. would improve substantially if all appraisers had to sit in that chair early in their career and have to answer to all the B.S. they piled into their report.

When you sit in that chair and are sworn in to testify, there is no going back. You are answerable to no one but the truth.

Sadly many of my peers run away from the opportunity of testimony. Or perhaps that fear makes it more lucrative for those that are willing to testify. It can be a worthy alternative to generic bank appraisals and provides absolute clarity on how non-appraisers, especially adversaries, can interpret (twist) your results and how you conveyed them to the report reader. My favorite clients have long been lawyers because of how they think. It is a strategy exercise like playing chess.

Some thoughts:

  • Always get paid for your report before you deliver the result and hopefully at engagement. Always get paid in advance for your court appearance with the understanding that any overage in time will be paid for immediately after the appearance. Don’t block out a bunch of availability dates unless you have been paid so you livelihood is impacted by a false promise or change in their needs.
  • One of the most important things I’ve learned is to simply answer the question. No embellishment. Remember that opposing counsel will ask you incomplete questions, fish when they don’t know what they are looking for and try to trip you up anyway they can if you are a threat to their client. They’re doing their job so you want to prepare and do yours.
  • You are auditioning for more work. One of the greatest compliments I can get is when I am hired by opposing counsel for a new matter.
  • Remember that you are the expert and you are not guilty of anything. This sounds trite but that is what runs through the minds of those new to this. Your job is to express your opinion and to do it in a way that is credible and conveys it clearly.
  • If you don’t know the answer, then say “I don’t know” – its ok if you don’t know the answer.

With Fannie and Freddie working hard to automate and the whole world jazzed about evaluations and oblivious to the long term decline in reliability that the now terrified bond market expects, expand your consulting footprint. Legal support services are a great way to start.

Jonathan Miller
Jonathan Miller

Jonathan Miller

Jonathan Miller is President and CEO of Miller Samuel Inc., a real estate appraisal and consulting firm he co-founded in 1986. He is a state-certified real estate appraiser in New York and Connecticut, performing court testimony as an expert witness in various local, state and federal courts.

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3 Responses

  1. Avatar Diana N says:

    Very well written and my feelings exactly. I have done a lot of testimony over the years and feel comfortable knowing I have always told it like it is and can support all of my findings and statement. Always do what’s right no matter who hired you, and yes, I have wound up getting work from opposing council.

  2. Avatar James Ebert says:

    Yes, I think there is something wrong with me, as well. It is like being a gladiator, against opposing counsel, and finding out all the creative ways to re interpret the report. For years now, I have always written each report, ” for the judge”. And often in non litigious matters, knowing that as a basis, reminds me what my mother-in-law used to say” Well, who is going to do it better than you?”

  3. Outstanding advice Jonathan; Diana and James.

    We should all seek to expand our footprint into EW work. Competent appraisers have no need to fear it. Don’t be intimidated by oldtimer “hired guns” either. No matter what their credentials are. Some become arrogant and go so far over the line thinking no one will ever challenge anything they write, that they get very sloppy and careless. License violation careless. EW work is actually about as close as we can hope to come to ‘pure’ appraisal. It’s great for those that are detail-oriented in their work.

    Not sure where to start? One possible source is http://www.lawyersonline.com It is a subscription service and will charge you about $700 a year. They claim an attorney database accessing their services of about 35,000.

    You can call Trish Benter (319) 382-8896 [Iowa time zone I believe]. Like all subscription referral services do your homework and research their services and claims for yourself. My initial contact was today, and I’ve personally decided to try it out. My current EW work is about $15k-$20k a year. I’d like to triple that without becoming a full-time appraiser ambulance chaser. A gamble of 1.17% of the hoped-for return is worth the risk to me.

    I’ve tried direct mail in the past and that has very poor results. Word of mouth referrals is the best source. This is hopefully a viable supplement to that.

    As FNMA and MISMO and ‘others’ continue to undermine traditional appraisals for loan purposes, we all need to consider expanding our range of services. This is simply one way to do so.

    Good luck to all!


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Expand Your Consulting Footprint

by Jonathan Miller time to read: 2 min