Tim Andersen is a well-known and highly respected appraiser in our profession. I have always appreciated his candor. He explains things in a straight-forward and logical way. He recently shared one of his articles with me. It discusses the wording some appraisers have used in their reports, and why such wording is faulty. He gave me permission to publish it.
I hope that you enjoy Tim’s words of wisdom. I believe that the points he makes in this article can really benefit all of us appraisers. See if you agree. And if you find that you have used some of these terms, don’t be offended. Tim’s article is meant to benefit appraisers, not offend them. It was written in response to a question that was asked of him by another appraiser. I hope you enjoy it!
QUESTION: I like to use the term, “in my professional opinion” as part of my reports. After all, I am a professional paid to express opinions. Recently, the reviewer for an AMC requested I remove that term from my report since, in her words, “…it has nothing to do with value”. Is the reviewer overreaching on this? The reviewer has the right to tell me if there is an error in my report, but not to criticize the language I use in my report. What should I do?
ANSWER: As Gertrude Stein was supposed to have said upon seeing Oakland, California for the first time: “There’s no there there!” For good or ill, the same may be said about many real estate appraisal reports and the convoluted language they insist on using.
Writing a technical document (and an appraisal is a technical document) has many rules. One of the many is: “if something in the report has nothing to do with the development and presentation of the answer to the client’s question, then why is it in the report?”
Use of the term in my professional opinion is an utter waste of paper and time for at least these reasons:
- If it is not your professional opinion (or a statement of fact), then why is it in the report?
- Your client neither hires you nor pays you for your amateur or unprofessional opinions.
- If your opinion is not professional, then why is your client seeking it, and why are you offering it?
- Your client doesn’t care about your opinion unless you can support it with logic, reasoning, and proof. Without those, it is just a guess (and probably not a very good one). Therefore, your opinion had better be professional!
- If you support your opinion with logic, reasoning, and proof, why do you have to remind anybody it is professional?
- How does the inclusion of “in my professional opinion” make a poorly formed opinion any better?
To answer your question, “what should I do?” you should stop using that meaningless redundancy “…in my professional opinion…” now. This really should not bother you since don’t you have more salient appraisal issues to worry about? And, no, the reviewer does not need to bring things such as this to your attention. However, if bringing them to your attention eventually makes you into a better appraiser, what’s wrong with bringing them to your attention?
Your next step is to take a university-level class on technical writing so you can learn to omit such other appraisal authorial grotesqueries such as:
“the property under appraisement…” (appraisement is not even a word in English!)
“The property was inspected on (date) by myself and (trainee)” (this sentence is so egregiously awful on so many levels, and in so many ways, as to bugger comprehension. The use of the passive voice is the horrible example here).
“The undersigned inspected the property while in the car due to the weather”
- How could the property have possibly been in the car?
- What was it about the weather that caused the property to get in the car?
“The subject is in a good neighborhood” (this presumes a neighborhood is capable of making proper moral and ethical choices, which, really, is not possible. Many humans are not capable of those acts).
“The comparable sales shown in the report are the best currently available”
- “…shown in the report…” is redundant. Of course, the report shows them, otherwise you would have no reason to refer to them.
- “…shown in the report…” is the passive voice, while active voice is the standard English sentence structure (passive voice implies something was merely done. Active voice implies action; taking command; vigor of mind and body.)
- Avoidance of “…are the best…” should be obvious. If they are the not the best sales from and by which to judge a subject’s value, why did you use them?
- Unless the appraiser analyzed ALL the available comparable sales, then to claim those in the report are the best is misrepresentative. Those sales are the “best ” of the sales the appraiser analyzed, nothing more.
- That the sales are “…currently available…” is obvious. The appraiser cannot go into the future to harvest sales that have not yet closed escrow. Since this is obviously clear, why repeat it?
“The adjustments are as shown in the report”
- If they were not, why would the report show them?
- Use of the passive voice (see above).
- This statement does not say anything in that it provides no enlightenment as to why the appraiser chose to make those adjustments. If it does not enlighten the client, why is it in the report? It is padding to the report
- It is self-aggrandizing on the part of the appraiser
“All sales were given equal weight in the final analysis” (this implies post-adjustment)
- Use of the passive voice (see above)
- What this statement says is, “I just averaged the post-adjustment sales” (then, if the final value opinion is not the mathematical average of the adjusted sales, this statement is, at best, misleading, and, at worst, a lie)
“The subject property is under contract in what appears to be an arm’s-length transaction”
- Why have you not confirmed the purchase and sales transaction to learn whether it is or is not arm’s-length?
- If you tried to confirm it but couldn’t, state so in the report, and why confirmation was not possible.
- Such sentence structure makes the appraiser look weak and indecisive
“No comparable sales in the last 12 months to reconcile per local MLS and (County) records”
- Local MLS and county records are not the standard by which to reconcile sales.
- Should read, “According to local MLS and county records, there were no sales in the past 12 months to reconcile.
“The GLA adjustment was derived from the market reaction to differences in GLA and resulted in a square footage of $XX in the subject like ranges with a 100′ variance that did not indicate a reaction and therefore not adjusted”
- This is a direct quote from a report an appraiser really submitted to a client
- Use of the passive voice (see above)
- What does this sentence say?!
- What does this sentence mean!?
- Why is this sentence in the report?
“The comparisons made herein were made from the sale to the subject”
- There is no appraisal theory or protocol to support this statement; the appraiser adjusts only the sales, never the subject
- Appraisers read the market to learn the adjustments it would apply
- After adjusting the sales, those sales indicate a range of values for the subject, if the comps had more-or-less the same characteristics as the subject
- What does this sentence mean?
- Why is this sentence in the report?
“In this appraisal assignment the appraiser had to estimate accrued depreciation”
- See SR1-4(c)(iii) relative to calculating accrued depreciation
- The appraiser does NOT estimate accrued depreciation
- The appraiser extracts accrued depreciation from the market, and then compares this rate of depreciation with that of the subject
There are some appraisers who insist in composing their appraisal reports IN ALL UPPER CASE LETTERS
- There is no logical, regulatory, or ethical basis for this;
- Some recipients consider it an expression of anger;
- Since the learnéd professions do not engage in it, why do appraisers?
- It does not hide poor logic, poor appraisal (analytical) skills, poor writing (communication) skills, or lack of professionalism;
- Therefore, don’t type an appraisal report in all uppercase letters since to do so reflects poorly on the appraiser
Too many of us think we are in the appraisal business. This is incorrect; rather, we are in the appraisal communications business. The appraisal assignment is not complete unless and until we communicate it to the client in a manner that is clear and not misleading. Since our basic appraisal education does not even contemplate the concept of effective written communication, we have to pick it up “in the field”. It is unfortunate, however, that most mentors have little (if any) training in technical writing or effective written communication. Since the AQB has decided that, in certain instances, certified real estate appraisers do not need a university-level education, many appraisers will not receive university-level training in technical communications skills. As a result, many appraisers will continue to write as above, relying on redundant clichés, sloppy writing skills, and the use of hackneyed boilerplate, most of which merely raises a red flag in the reviewer’s eyes.
To overcome these limitations, please consider the following as you write your appraisal reports:
1. In so far as possible, avoid starting either a sentence or a paragraph with the word “the”;
2. Unless you are quoting someone directly, or citing something from another source, no word in a sentence should have more than about 15 letters;
3. Unless you are citing someone or something directly, no sentence should have more than about 20 words in it;
4. To test a sentence, read it out loud. If you cannot read it in one breath, then it’s too long;
5. When possible, write at about take sixth grade level. This is the level at which most people read, and at which most people can easily comprehend what it is they have read;
6. When possible, start a paragraph with a question. This focuses the reader’s mind on what follows in the paragraph;
7. Start a paragraph with a topic sentence. A topics sentence introduces the entire paragraph by telling the reader what s/he is about to encounter;.
8. Follow the topic sentence with 2, 3, or 4 short sentences which support the contention of the topic sentence;
9. Next, follow these sentences with one sentence that essentially repeats the topic sentence. This serves to summarize what the reader just read, allowing the reader to remember it better;
10. The final sentence in the paragraph should transition the reader to the topic sentence of the following paragraph
Ernest Hemingway may have written the greatest short story ever penned (the technical name for prose this precise is flash fiction). Here it is in its entirety: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn”. If you are a parent, nothing more needs to be said. You understand it completely. Anything more would be a silly superfluity. Anything less would be a canyon-like omission. These six words rip at your heart; you are bereft at that mother’s loss. A vacuum of empathy surrounds you. You know, down to your soul, exactly what the writer means. This is prose at its finest, at its leanest; a razor that strips ambiguity to the bone, then leaves nothing to your imagination. Our appraisal reports should be equally expressive, lean, and sharp.
One of the problems with using the term best to apply to comparable sales comes when a reviewer (or – heaven help all appraisers! – the plaintiff’s attorney) finds better ones. That just smears egg all over your face and costs you any credibility you ever had. It puts you in the position of having chosen the wrong “best” sales. That is not the proper protocol. The market chooses the best comps, not you. You merely search sales until you find the proper comparables. The proper comparables are, by the way, those with the same highest and best use as the subject. If they don’t share this quality, they are, by definition, not comps.
Hopefully you found the instruction in this article to be beneficial! It’s a little tough love. The goal of sharing this information is to help us to write in a manner that reflects well on us individually, and in our profession.
I would like to thank Tim Andersen very much for allowing me to publish his article! Tim works hard to help appraisers to stay out of trouble with the State. He also helps appraisers when they do get into trouble. He does not do so for free. But the value he provides far exceeds his price!
You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at (561) 635-5265.
Thanks for being here! Have a great day!
Here are some other articles and videos I enjoyed recently! I hope you will also…
Rats And Housing Markets Don’t Care What You Think – Housing Notes by Jonathan Miller
Slow is not a dirty word in real estate – Sacramento Appraisal Blog
9 Things Appraisers Wish Agents Knew – Birmingham Appraisal Blog
Can Art Be Logical? – GeorgeDell.com
Why price per square foot is not the appraiser’s choice – Ann Arbor Appraisal Blog
Probate – proceed with caution – Ann Arbor Appraisal Blog
Find MyAppraiser – Yolo Solano Appraisal Blog
What’s Fannie Doing and Why – Shadow Banks – Photoshopping – APPRAISAL TODAY
What Does the Word Analyze Mean for Appraisers – The Appraiser Coach Podcast
Here are some articles I enjoyed related to Northeast Ohio
Lake effect: Four big Erie Hack ideas that can help keep our lake Great – Jen Jones Donatelli FreshWater Cleveland
How 3 families live, work & place in Cleveland – and why they wouldn’t have it any other way – Jen Jones Donatelli – FreshWater Cleveland
Could Coventry P.E.A.C.E Campus be Cleveland’s next great arts district? – Karin Connelly Rice – FreshWater Cleveland
16 thoughts on “Write Like A Professional – Pro Writing Tips From Tim Andersen”
Great post Jamie. Our local appraiser meeting this month was a writing class and ties nicely into this. And thanks for the mention.
Thank you Joe! Good timing. You’re very welcome! 😃
Just shared your post with our local appraiser forum. Lots of great tips for the practicing appraiser. And I’m jealous of your local weather-heat wave out here.
Thank you so much for sharing my friend! Tim is so awesome. It was mice of him to let me share his article! In other news, I can’t believe how hot it is out there. I wish I could send some cooler weather your way. Hopefully you will get some relief soon!
In my professional opinion this was a good post.
I see what you did there.
Great supplement to the REAA class this month, wasn’t it?
LOL! Well said, I think. Thanks Ryan!
So many great tips and examples! Thanks Tim Anderson and Jamie Owen! (Did I use too many explanation marks?!)
Haha! Thanks Shannon! I know I do.😁
Oops! This made me a little nervous since I’m guilty of at least one (not going to go any further with that and incriminate myself!). Thanks for sharing this as I think we can all become better writers. Now I’ll be editing my reports using Tim’s excellent suggestions.
Haha! My pleasure! I have definitely learned some things from his article also. I think it will help us all in some fashion. 😊
I would have enjoyed it a tad better if there were no typos in the article & suggested articles at the end;
Is the science of Logic in art? Is there are in the science of data? – GeorgeDell.com
Thanks for pointing that out. Sorry about that!
Thank you for the article on writing tips. Please tell me why should we not start a sentence with the word “the” and what are the alternatives. I do it all the time.
Hi Hilary! I sent your message to Tim. He asked for me to have you call him at 561-635-5265. He can answer your question in person. Thanks you!