Career Series – What it takes to be Jonathan Miller

Oct 2, 2012 | Career

I’m excited to bring you the first installment of the ASotREG career series. This ongoing series explores the various career options in real estate and explains what to expect as a junior person, the highly coveted skills, typical career paths, and how to succeed in each sector with insights from accomplished professionals in that field.

This idea was spurred by the countless conversations I’ve had with college students looking to get into real estate. They’re passionate and eager to begin their careers, but often times they don’t know the players in real estate consist of anything beyond brokers, investors, and developers.

Saying you want to work in real estate is as vague as saying you want to work in sports; do you want to be a professional athlete, a sportscaster, a referee, a coach, or work in the back office? Real estate is ubiquitous in our world, and the career paths are literally endless. I hope these series of interviews gives you an insight into what each career path entails and what it takes to be successful.

Anyone who follows the New York City real estate market probably recognizes the name Jonathan Miller. He’s been named to the Observer’s prestigious ‘100 Most Powerful People in New York City Real Estate’ and is commonly quoted in Bloomberg, Curbed, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and CNBC.

Aside from being a professional interviewee, Jonathan runs his own appraisal firm, Miller Samuel. Jonathan has been a thought-leader in real estate for some time and has authored a successful blog since before most of us knew what a blog was. I want to thank Jonathan for taking the time to teach us about the appraisal business. If you have any questions feel free to contact Jonathan directly on Twitter.

Coming out of school, what attracted you to the appraisal business?

**I wasn’t.  I didn’t even know what it was.  I went to college to get into the hotel business.  My father was real estate developer that became a hotelier .  After three years in Chicago working for a company that was eventually purchased by Marriott, I realized I had no passion for the hospitality business and switched into the real estate business.  I sold houses for 6 months in Chicago and became the number 2 listing agent in my office and then moved to New York and sold new development condos for about a year becoming the sales manager near the end.  Was intrigued with the appraisers I met and how little they knew about the market.  Approaching the real estate business from a market analytics perspective, I started Miller Samuel with my family.

What are the roles of junior level people in the appraisal business?

**They usually start as some sort of assistant position to an appraiser, learning all the clerical aspects and eventually working up to sitting side-by-side with the appraiser.  It takes an appraiser about 2 years of full immersion in the business to be fully competent, or at least know how to learn how to obtain the information to become competent.

What’s a typical career path in the appraisal business?

**Find a certified appraiser that is looking to expand their practice and start as an “apprentice” eventually be self-sufficient.  The licensing process requires 2 years of experience so look for 2-3 years before you could be on your own.

What skills do you look for when hiring?

**There are three general skills that we look for: “smarts” including “street smarts”.  They are aggressive in their pursuit of information and naturally inquisitive, not merely accepting someone’s word for it.  Writing skills – being able to convey information to the reader.  This is a largely overlooked skill and I am always amazed at how poorly reports can be written, even if the appraiser has great data at their disposal.  The most obvious skill is analytics.  Through the collected data together and reasonably interpret what it means.

What type of people tends to be successful at Miller Samuel?

**Our firm is unusual in that our appraisers are salaried employees.  I was always uncomfortable with the “fee split” orientation that the industry takes.  Speed and quality of work product are always jockeying for first priority when someone gets a commission for their work.  My employees are on salary and thrive on a stable professional environment.  We have little turnover with a 13+ year average appraiser tenure at our firm.

What kept you in real estate appraisal as opposed to moving on to the deal side of the business?

**I actually came from the deal side of the business selling property for a year and a half.  However over the past decade, I have been brought in as a partner in a number of entities due to our firm’s strong reputation and brand, but unrelated to the appraisal business.  Appraising has helped me to develop a certain logic that is helpful with problem solving outside of what we do day-to-day as appraisers.  It’s something I never expected to benefit from but it confirms that we’ve taken the right long term approach to the business of valuation.

What advice would you give to a student trying to enter the appraisal business?

**The hardest part is getting started.  You need to find a mentor who is willing to work with you.  The industry has contracted quite a bit and the short cut of working for the new appraisal management company phenomenon will destroy your reputation if you plan to choose the appraisal industry as your career.

Why do you think real estate makes a great career?

**It’s an asset that people are passionate about because it serves a physical function.  It touches on many aspects of our lives and it is always changing.