Frank Ashby got a car license from his wife, Jean, that says U NVR QWT, and that's virtually true, despite the relief many real estate appraisers have felt since the new tax act went into effect.
Ashby is, as he puts it, "as busy as ever," even with the prime rate and mortgage interest increases. "Actually, we're busier," he said. "People are more in a hurry now to get an appraisal."
Along with being in a hurry, people sometimes approach him, as they do other appraisers, with suggestions that are hardly ethical. "People have ordered our appraisals, then wanted us to change the numbers," he said.
Once a client raised the valuation by changing $1.8 million to $2.8 million on an original appraisal report.
"We didn't give out our original appraisals for a long time after that," Ashby said, "and now, we give originals to lenders only."
He has been offered bonuses and bribes to appraise properties at specific figures and many times, he said, prospective clients will say, "We need a $4-million appraisal on this property" before he has even seen it.
His standard reply is: "I can't come up with a value until I see the property. I can't guarantee a value up front. It's in the American Society of Appraisers'code of ethics."
Ashby is a member of the Society, which Sylvia Wade Olson, executive secretary for the Los Angeles chapter, calls "the only multi-disciplined organization of appraisers."
Among its members are appraisers of stocks, bonds, businesses, machinery and equipment, personal property, public utilities, real estate, movie and video equipment, and computers.
It also has educators and administrators in its ranks, which number 395 in the Los Angeles area and about 5,000 throughout the world.
"There are only five of us that test," Olson said, referring to appraisal organizations, "and there must be 100 associations of appraisers out there."
Besides the Herndon, Va.-based American Society of Appraisers, the other organizations that test are the Chicago-based American Institute of Real Estate Appraisers and Society of Real Estate Appraisers; St. Louis-based National Assn. of Independent Fee Appraisers, and Denver-based American Farm Managers & Rural Appraisers.
Favors State Licensing
All have codes of ethics but even so, many members of these associations, including Ashby, favor state licensing. "Of the designated appraisers I talk to, nine out of 10 agree with licensing," Ashby said.
"Some appraisers who've been at it for 30 years don't want to take tests, but part-time appraisers don't produce the same quality appraisals as the full-time appraisers, and licensing would cut out these guys."
Ashby might be considered more than a full-time appraiser. He averages 80 hours a week on the job for several reasons:
He is self-employed--runs an appraisal shop in West Los Angeles--and his company is different from most appraisal companies and departments, which mainly value buildings and land for construction loans, refinancing, divorce cases and boundary and tax disputes.
Ashby's firm handles these appraisals, but also handles many other kinds, including business valuations. His personal specialty is appraising celebrities' homes that are 6,000 square feet and larger for insurance purposes.
He wouldn't discuss specifics but confirmed that he recently appraised the Hollywood Hills house actress Jane Seymour sold in March to Cheryl Tiegs; Mac Davis' Bel-Air home, Joni Mitchell's Bel-Air house, Neil Diamond's Malibu and Holmby Hills residences, Olivia Newton-John's Malibu home, and Stevie Wonder's Manhattan town house, New Jersey estate and Los Angeles record studio.
Ashby just finished an appraisal of TV personality Dick Clark's Burbank office buildings and equipment in readiness for Clark to form a public company.
Charlton Heston was the first celebrity for whom Ashby worked, in 1965, a year after the appraiser established his company. Since then, Ashby's client list looks like a "Who's Who of Hollywood."
"How it happened that we got so many celebrities, I don't exactly know, but the word spread that we do this kind of appraisal, and we do it confidentially," he said.
In most cases, it's the celebrities' business managers who hire Ashby to do insurance and other appraisals.
For the insurance appraisals, he said, "I do the real estate, and I have nine fine-arts appraisers who work with me on the contents." There are fine-arts appraisers who specialize in jewelry, furs, musical instruments, antiques, first-edition books, artworks, musical manuscripts, and/or autograph and other collections.
"We've also been handling a lot of fine-arts appraisals--even whole libraries--for charitable donations and estate planning," he said. "These are other areas of appraisal most people don't think about."
Most people don't think to get insurance appraisals unless their insurance agent, accountant, attorney or business manager suggests it. However, sometimes people are prompted to get insurance appraisals after such personal tragedies as house fires and burglaries.
Of course, Ashby isn't the only expert in insurance appraisals. There are just "a whole lot of other people," as the 55-year-old Texas native describes them, who appraise real estate for fair market value.
He often delegates fair-market appraisals, especially those involving litigation, to these specialists but works on construction costs himself.
To find insurance and other appraisers, Ashby suggests calling local appraiser organizations, checking the Yellow Pages and/or asking an insurance company or agent.
And what are the fees? Ashby charges anywhere from $200 to $5,000, depending on how long it takes. It's varied, he says, from a few hours to several days.