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WNC Business

It's My Job: Damon Jennings - Bag Appraisals

Mar 25, 2023 10:39AM ● By Randee Brown

Damon Jennings has seen some interesting properties since he began his work as an appraiser 25 years ago. “One day I pulled up to a miniature castle,” Jennings said. “It was a single lady who had requested that her parents build her a castle. It even had round stone turrets and a suit of armor inside. I’ve also seen passive-solar berm houses built right into the sides of hills. When appraisers come across unique properties like these, we have to get really creative when determining comparable values.”

Appraisers work hand in hand with real estate agents and mortgage lenders to determine an appropriate value for residential and commercial properties. Jennings said that although he must meet some requirements and maintain his own insurance, there is a lot of self-governance required working in this position.

“I’ve got to be competent in both the job and the market. I have to make judgment calls geographically as well as regarding specific property types,” he said. “I would have no business going to Charlotte and performing appraisals there because I’m not familiar with that market.”

Jennings’s territory consists of Buncombe, Madison, Yancey, and Mitchell Counties. “It’s a complex market here,” he said. “There is a huge variance in price due to a vast socioeconomic disparity. Coming across properties valued anywhere between $100,000 and $10 million, there’s not a lot of conformity and consistency among real estate in this area. The same holds true for land; there’s a lack of consistency in raw properties as well.”

Appraising runs in the family for Jennings. “I started in the mid ‘90s working in my uncle’s appraiser shop,” Jennings said. “There are more family members getting involved now. Family visits are fun because we all sit around and talk appraisals. Since each of us works independently, it’s fun to 'talk shop’ with others about the job.”

This independent work consists of both time in the office and in the field. According to Jennings, a typical house requires about one hour to measure, photograph, and to make notes about the condition, but that’s not the majority of the work involved.

“Looking at comparable values can take anywhere from three to 20 hours, but it could take days depending on the complexity of the property,” he said. “This is especially true when looking at unique homes in rural areas.”

The driving, Jennings said, is one perk of the job. “I love the rural areas,” he said. “Driving around these mountains and looking at properties is truly something that I enjoy. I’ve looked at thousands of houses during my appraising career, and that part doesn’t get old to me.”

Jennings said he also makes time to speak with property owners about the market, and enjoys talking to agents as well. Real estate agents make a difference in coming to a final value of a home because, he said, because they are experts in their market. “The appraiser's job is to interpret the motivations and actions of buyers and sellers. Since agents work directly with both, they can be very helpful with that interpretation." 

He said there have been major changes in how appraisals are handled since he began his career. “In 1997, an appraisal was a printed document,” Jennings said. “Pictures were processed in a photo lab. One of my first-ever tasks was to drive around and hand-deliver papers to clients for my uncle. Now an appraisal is one digital file that is uploaded to the cloud into the client’s file.” 

Jennings also said that despite inflation, the cost of appraisals has not increased significantly compared to other services because of the cost efficiency of the technology. “I’ve even started using this new mobile app. It’s pretty cool – I can take photos, sketch the building, and input measurements then upload it to the cloud, all while I’m in the field.”

Technology does seem to make it easy, but according to Jennings, there is no substitute for an experienced professional’s value determination.

“Online platforms that approximate values can’t take into consideration the uniqueness of properties being analyzed,” he said. “In some areas with more conformity they might get close with their algorithms, but that’s not the case for WNC.”

Damon Jennings is a certified residential appraiser based in Mars Hill and can be reached at [email protected] for conversations about anything related to real estate, sports wagering, mowing grass, or living with teenage sons.