Late U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt is credited with saying, “a smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.”
Heather Cote, who overcame childhood bullying, anxiety, depression, and body dysmorphia to become a winning horsewoman, a Mrs. Maine contestant, a model, and to launch her own real estate appraisal business in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, would likely agree.
Heather is a Certified Residential Appraiser/Notary Public. During the pandemic, after realizing that working from home really worked for her, Heather parted with her employers and launched her own real estate appraisal company, HLC Property Appraisals, LLC, which she says has been very successful.
Success has not come easy, however. Heather says she was bullied in school to the point that she changed high schools during her junior year.
She credits her love of horses with helping a great deal. Her grandparents ran a horse farm, and her aunt would often give her rides even when Heather was just a toddler. The aunt eventually became an instructor/trainer, “and I helped her break and ride horses up until the age of 15.”
Heather shows American Quarter Horses, traveling back and forth to the southern states to do so. Her current show horse is with a trainer in North Carolina. In Maine, she has a retired show horse that she calls “my heart horse,” and a pony for her 3-year-old niece.
Competing in the 2014 and 2015 Mrs. Maine America Pageants boosted her confidence, and led to modeling offers. Heather did commercials for Oxford Casino. Her image was also used in their print marketing, in AAA’s magazine, and some national publications for fire prevention and safety. She signed with a Boston modelling agency and did freelance work on the side.
“This was a huge thing for me, as I have battled with self-confidence and self-worth for years,” she said.
Learning the real estate appraisal ropes, flying solo
She began appraising in 2005.
“I rode horses with a young lady and her stepfather was an appraiser. It seemed like a good fit so I took the courses needed and got my trainee license. It took me about two years before I found the right company and supervisor and found myself really liking the job,” she recalled.
After accumulating the required number of hours, Heather sat for her state exam and became licensed as a Residential Appraiser in 2009.
“I always wanted to be certified. However, there was a college degree requirement that kept me back. In 2018, the nation removed the stipulation, and as long as I took the required courses, produced complex samples to the state board, and had been an appraiser for more than five years without disciplinary action, I could sit for the test. I was certified in December, 2019.”
At that time, Heather explained, complex samples were anything with a value of over $1 million, due to her license level.
“Now, complex can be anything from high-end waterfront, unique properties that are not like anything in the area, or a run-down hole in the wall that really needs to be torn down, but the lender wants it valued as it is.”
Appraisal inspections entail looking at how homes are built, what condition they are in, measuring them, doing a sketch and taking photos. This is not the same as an inspection sometimes done to determine the condition of various construction elements of the home, such as the roof, basement, etc., she said.
“We look at homes like we are a potential buyer,” Heather explained. “I look for ‘comparable’ properties that have sold in the past year to six months in the area to compare them to, and I write a report.”
A comparable doesn’t mean every home in a neighborhood that has sold, she said.
“A true comparable is a home that is a closed sale of similar style, size, room count, amenities and location,” said Heather. “If you have a ranch, capes and colonials are not comparables – unless your ranch is very large in square footage and there are no other larger ranches found.” By examining the sales prices of truly similar homes in similar locations, an appraiser can place a more realistic value on a property, she said. “In the case of waterfront properties, the differences in location can sometimes be hundreds of thousands of dollars. Something on Bonny Eagle Pond is nothing like Sebago Lake.”
Heather may only do a few inspections some days, while others, “I inspect six to eight, traveling a couple hundred miles. Some inspections are full interior/exterior, and others are just exterior, which requires me only to drive by the property and take a photo. I can get an average if eight to ten report out per week depending on how many inspections I schedule.”
The appraisal process is built on the ‘Principle of Substitution’, she said. “If I can buy a similar home as yours for X, then why would I pay Z? The easiest way to look at it is this: when you buy a car, you shop around at a couple different dealers to wee who has the best price. If you find the car you want at one dealer and a very similar car at another dealer, but one is priced a lot higher for some reason, which one are you going to buy? It’s that simple,” said Heather.
“Last year, when the pandemic hit and we were all forced to work from home, I realized how convenient it was and how much more work I was getting done,” she said. “I talked with two of my former coworkers who made the jump to going on their own successfully, and they told me I was crazy not to do it. So in May, I took the steps needed and started on my own June 1, 2020.
“This was both exciting and scary, as I had been with the same group of people at two different appraisal management companies who had molded me and provided me with the guidance to be a detailed, honest, and accurate appraiser. They were also dear friends who I would miss terribly.”
The decision is one of the best she has ever made.
“In six months of operation I doubled my annual income, found myself working more, yet stressing less. My clients are great to work with and I have developed some great relationships with lenders as well as real estate agents who appreciate an appraiser who is willing to explain certain aspects of the valuation process that they may not understand.
“I just never realized how much working for someone else was holding me back,” Heather said. “I have done all of this on my own – well, of course with the help of my husband, Chris Cote, who owns his own very successful plumbing and heating company, New Energy Solutions, LLC.”
In March, Heather reached back to pay it forward. “My former coworker was also looking to make the transition. However, like myself, he was nervous about leaving the stable environment we had been in for so long. I extended a hand and helped him make the move and he now works as a subcontractor for me in areas of his choice.”
In the future, Heather hopes to mold and shape trainee appraisers for the future of the industry in Maine. “There is such a need for them right now as many in the profession are aging out or moving on into other pre-retirement careers,” she said. “I also would like to become active in the Maine Board of Appraisers and have already become active in the New England chapter of the Appraisal Institute in their Programs Committee.
“There is a huge need for ‘quality’ appraisers right now. So many cut corners and produce misleading reports that it is really hurting the public’s trust in the appraisal profession,” Heather explained. “I want to do my part, as an appraiser who takes great pride in producing an honest, creditable assignment, to help educate and bring to light the problems with the industry.”