NAN’s Joni Pilgrim on remote appraisals
Today’s episode of HousingWire Daily continues our Women of Influence series and features an interview with Joni Pilgrim, the CEO and co-founder of Nationwide Appraisal Network. Pilgrim joined us on the show today to discuss her work as a HousingWire Women of Influence and what Nationwide Appraisal Network is doing as a leader in the industry.
She also shares some of the biggest challenges facing the appraisal industry at large, including combating racial bias in the appraisal process and balancing the needs of remote clients.
Here is a small preview of the interview, which has been lightly edited for length and clarity:
Alcynna Lloyd: During the initial onset of COVID-19, appraisers experienced many challenges, including high volume demand and a decline in the overall appraiser population. This forced the industry to adjust their processes by implementing technology. While some companies practice remote inspections, others claim remote solutions put an additional burden on homeowners. Regardless of where the industry stands, it’s clear that remote inspections are here to stay. Do you think remote inspections are beneficial and will they have a lasting impact on the industry?
Joni Pilgrim: I absolutely believe that remote inspections have their place in the industry and that they help address some of the major challenges we face, especially when it comes to appraiser shortages, time constraints, and health and safety during the pandemic. Now, are they the right solution for every appraisal? No. But do they have a place? Absolutely. At NAN, our position is that the appraisal space needs an evolution, not a revolution. There’s a real focus right now on leveraging technology, automated valuations, and data driven solutions. And I’m all in for that. But we can’t forget that the human factor of appraisals is so important. What I think we need to do is simultaneously focus on how we develop the next generation of appraisers who can then leverage technology to make the process smarter, faster, and better, but still keep that irreplaceable human component in the equation.
HousingWire Daily examines the most compelling articles reported across HW Media. Each afternoon, we provide our listeners with a deeper look into the stories coming across our newsrooms that are helping Move Markets Forward. Hosted by the HW team and produced by Alcynna Lloyd and Elissa Branch. If you have a pitch or an inquiry relating to podcasts, you can reach our team at email@example.com.
Below is the transcription of the interview. These transcriptions, powered by Speechpad, have been lightly edited and may contain small errors from reproduction:
Alcynna Lloyd: Hello, HousingWire listeners. Welcome back to another segment of HousingWire’s of Women of Influence. I’m Alcynna Lloyd, HousingWire’s digital media manager, and I’m joined with Joni Pilgrim, the CEO of Nationwide Appraisal Network. Thank you for joining us, Joni.
Joni Pilgrim: Oh, you’re welcome. Thank you for having me.
Alcynna Lloyd: Of course. So today, you’re here to share what makes you a woman of influence, as well as discuss the current movements of the appraisal industry, but before we focus on today’s main discussion, can you share your background with our audience?
Joni Pilgrim: Oh, yeah, absolutely. So as you just stated, I’m the CEO and co-founder of Nationwide Appraisal Network, NAN. We’re headquartered in the beautiful Tampa Bay area of Florida and we’re in our 17th year of business. But I actually started my career in the hospitality industry running a restaurant before transitioning into appraisals, which would not seem like a natural transition on the surface, but it really turned out to be the best possible experience for me to prepare for a career in this industry. For those of us who have worked in the hospitality industry, we all know it’s about fast-paced environment, providing excellent customer service, and a commitment to high quality. So you have to truly earn your customers’ business every time you interact with them. So still to this day, I lean on those experiences and those values in my approach to leading NAN.
Alcynna Lloyd: That’s so true. In hospitality, I imagine your job is to make sure your customer is always satisfied and make sure that you’re always putting them first. So I’m sure that sets you perfectly for the appraisal industry.
Joni Pilgrim: That’s right.
Alcynna Lloyd: Well, thank you for sharing that with us. And now I wanna discuss how you became a HousingWire Woman of Influence. The award highlights women that are transforming the housing industry with their strong leadership, which you displayed in 2020. During this time, the demand for appraisals increased significantly across the country. So I’d love to know how you navigated your team during this time and some of the lessons you learned.
Joni Pilgrim: Oh yeah. So, you know, I’ll never forget March 17th, 2020. That was the day we decided to send everyone home with their workstation. I asked everybody to set up their home offices and log in the next day for instructions and not to worry. We’re gonna navigate through this together, you know, all while trying to not show any fear on my face, you know, brave face. It was definitely a scary time. You know, not only were we all worried about our own health and safety and the health of our loved ones, we truly had no idea what this meant for our industry. You know, states were shutting down quickly. We didn’t know if appraisers were gonna be deemed as essential workers. Borrowers didn’t want appraisers in their homes. Appraisers didn’t wanna go into homes. There was this overwhelming fear of getting sick. It was a challenge.
So as you can imagine, a lot went into navigating 2020. And when you know that your team is looking at you to guide you through, it’s a humbling task. But ultimately, you know, it came down to three things for me and for NAN, culture being number one. You know, we worked so hard to cultivate this internal culture over the last 15 years. We wanted to maintain that, but we knew we needed to do it in a remote setting now. Communication was number two and then finally, execution. So, you know, we decided at the very beginning that we were going to, obviously, prioritize the health and safety of not only our team, but our appraisers out in the field above all else. And that we would leverage our experience and our knowledge of the industry to help our mortgage professional partners as much as possible.
There was a lot of changes happening in our industry with the release of the temporary flexibilities. The information was changing daily. There was a lot of confusion amongst our lender and appraiser partners. So we decided ultimately that the best bet was to stay out in front of these changes and truly be a resource by creating informational webinars about the changes related to COVID-19. We were fortunate enough, you know, the webinars were picked up by the industry’s largest organizations and were ultimately attended by more than 2,000 mortgage professionals. So we felt like we were able to help in some way when there was a lot of confusion, you know, swirling around about how do we interact with appraisals now? What’s the next move? Internally, you know, we had daily all-hands meetings via video conference. We became really good at the video conference calls with the entire team. We developed training processes that worked in a remote environment versus being in office under one roof. And we really emphasized the importance of how can we help approach.
So we’ve always been really proud to be that company that embraces innovation and change, but we truly had to live that in 2020, you know, whether we wanted to or not, it was there, you know? So, you know, we re-imagined our approach to customer service. We eliminated the call center model. We knew our clients needed to get through and talk to us now, you know? There was no wait time because there was so much change happening. We created unique appraiser incentives for our appraiser partners who were out in the field tirelessly getting these appraisals done. We built out new interactive website features that were relevant to getting those questions answered in this current market. And we did all of this while tripling the size of our team. It was a learning experience. I’ll never forget it.
And I think one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that transparency makes all the difference. With our lender and broker partners, with our appraisers, even with our team internally, I think especially, you know, being a leader didn’t mean that I needed to have immediate solutions to every problem that came our way during this time, it just meant that I needed to be able to see the big picture, understand everybody’s perspectives and challenges that we all faced. You know, not only us, but everybody that we work with. So it was more about listening than it was about talking.
And from there, it was about collaborative efforts. You know, how do we address the challenges and foster that internal culture that embraces change? Because we knew that that’s what was before us, you know, we’re changing. The industry is changing. The needs are changing. So, you know, at NAN, our executive team checks their egos at the door. It doesn’t matter if we’ve been doing something the same way for the past 17 years. If we have a new team member who’s only been here for a week and they have an idea or a way to make things better, stronger, faster, we wanna hear it, test it out, and ultimately put that idea to work.
Alcynna Lloyd: So, as you talk about changes, I wanna talk about your leadership further and also talk about the growth of your company. From 2019 to 2020, your company had 101% border growth, and it’s set to track an additional 85% this year. Furthermore, aside from the external growth, your staff grew by 200% from 2019 to 2020, and it’s projected to grow by another 50% by end of the year. So what is driving this growth and demand and also new hires?
Joni Pilgrim: That’s a great question. You know, in March 2020, the Federal Reserves slashed interest rates, which helped to stimulate the economy, the interest rates fell to their lowest levels and the trend still continues to this day. We’ve seen unprecedented refinance volume due to the low mortgage rates, which caused an increasing demand for appraisal services. So more demand meant a higher volume of appraisal requests coming to NAN all over the country. So even though we pride ourselves on our use of data and analytics for smart appraiser decisions and appraiser selection, and we use technology to streamline the processes, there was still a high-touch element on every appraisal order to ensure that the process is moving along the way that it’s intended, especially now. So, you know, the appraisers have been operating at max capacity for almost two years. We’re seeing extended turn times throughout the country.
So this means that we need to ensure that service levels are in place, and that communication is our number one priority. We’re extremely conscious about maintaining service levels in this particular market. It’s so important. And because turn times have increased, our lenders need more communication. We can’t let an appraisal go for a day without a touch to the lender letting them know that at the very least, we are on track. So communication has really been our number one tool to combat this unprecedented market. And the feedback that we’ve received from our lender partners has proved that hiring and growing the team was the right move for NAN. That is what has truly allowed us to maintain that high touch and high communication kind of serviceability for our appraisal requests.
Alcynna Lloyd: That’s definitely important with the amount of volume. I know lenders are seeing it now. Definitely.
Joni Pilgrim: Yep.
Alcynna Lloyd: So I wanna switch gears and talk about something we’ve been discussing a lot at HousingWire, which is remote appraisals. During the initial onset of COVID-19, appraisers experienced some new challenges, including high volume demand and a decline in the overall appraiser population, forcing the industry to adjust their processes by implementing technology. While some companies practice remote inspections, others claimed remote solutions put an additional burden on homeowners. Regardless of where the industry stands, it’s clear that remote inspections are here to stay. So that being said, I’m curious on your take. Do you think remote inspections are beneficial and will they have a lasting impact on the industry?
Joni Pilgrim: You know, I absolutely believe that remote inspections have their place in the industry and that they help address some of the major challenges we face, especially when it comes to appraiser shortages, time constraints, and, of course, the health and safety during the pandemic. Now, are they the right solution for every appraisal? No, but do they have a place? Absolutely. There are lots of ideas being floated right now for how to modernize the industry. And I think that’s great. You know, at NAN, our position is that the appraisal space needs an evolution, not a revolution. There’s a real focus right now on leveraging technology, automated valuations, and data-driven solutions. And I’m all in for that. But we can’t forget that the human factor of appraisals is so important. What I think we need to do is simultaneously focus on how we develop the next generation of appraisers, who can then leverage technology to make the process smarter, faster, and better, but still keep that irreplaceable human component in the equation.
Alcynna Lloyd: I think that’s really interesting. We’re finding when we talk to people that work in the FinTech industry, that’s something that they also discuss is while people do like to be able to do everything on their phone, or do everything digitally or behind a computer, but human element is still such an important part of the process.
Joni Pilgrim: Absolutely.
Alcynna Lloyd: Human part takes me to another question, our next topic is I’d like to discuss the biasness in appraising that we’ve been hearing about so much in 2020 and 2021. During 2020 and 2021, there’ve been a lot of new stories discussing racial biasness in the appraisal process, so much so coalitions have been created to combat this discrimination. So I’m curious, how do you make sure your team ensures fairness during the appraisal process? And do you have any advice to other appraisal companies?
Joni Pilgrim: That’s a great question. This is something that has definitely been on the forefront of our minds here at NAN. It’s especially challenging in our industry, which has subjectivity to it by nature. The appraisal is ultimately an opinion of value. So if I take the three best appraisers in my town and send them to my house, odds are I’m not going to get the same exact value on all three reports, right? So how do we ensure that the appraiser’s conclusion is based on the facts and not on racial or cultural bias? So, you know, of course, as an AMC, we have no idea the racial background of the borrower or the racial makeup of the neighborhood, so there’s no way for us to proactively screen for bias. So we’re in a position where we’ve got to be reactive rather than proactive, which is always a challenge.
At NAN, we have two primary lines of defense to manage any concerns that are brought to us. First, we have our robust compliance team that immediately initiates an in-depth investigation of any concerns that are sent our way. We interview both parties or all parties involved. We review the appraiser’s history. We take a deep dive into the allegations that are presented. Concurrently, we have a team of in-house staff appraisers, who can objectively look at the report to determine if anything seems out of place on the data, photos, comparables, anything. If we have any reason to believe that bias played a part in the valuation, we will not hesitate to order an independent third-party review or even an entirely new appraisal to ensure that we’ve reached the correct valuation. So we take immediate action internally as we have zero tolerance for this behavior.
Alcynna Lloyd: All right. Well, thank you for answering that. I know that’s definitely a topic that we’re gonna continue to hear about. So I’m always interested in what companies are doing to ensure fairness in the process. As we talk about fairness in the appraisal process, I want to discuss your efforts in making sure children have a fair education. You are the founder of…your company’s non-profit, Backpacks 4 Kids, which provides backpacks filled with supplies to schools with large concentrations of low-income students in Florida. In the last few years alone, your team has raised between $10,000 and $15,000 from community support and corporate sponsors. So can you share the heart behind this foundation? Education is extremely important and I found this question like one of my favorites.
Joni Pilgrim: Oh, thank you. Yes, absolutely. And I could talk about this one all day, obviously. This one is near and dear to my heart, and it’s definitely a passion of mine, especially as a mom. You know, I think that every community is responsible for the children within the community. You’ve heard the term, it takes a village, and I believe that wholeheartedly. The community is the village that takes care of the kid. You know, they need us to advocate for them. They need us to support them, especially when families are struggling financially. I wanted to make it our mission to ensure that these kiddos have a level-playing field and they start through a school year off on the right foot by having the supplies that they need to be successful. And as you know, it’s not just the students that need our support, but the amazing teachers who are out there every day, even spending their own money, in a lot of cases, on supplies, just so that they can get through a lesson or even start a lesson. I think that the teachers in our community are the real heroes. And so we need to show up for them in a big way. And that’s really the goal behind Backpacks 4 Kids.
Alcynna Lloyd: I think that’s amazing. Who knows? You might have future appraisers in those kids that you’re helping.
Joni Pilgrim: Exactly. That’s exactly it.
Alcynna Lloyd: That’s amazing. Well, before we wrap today, I wanna know if there’s any advice you can offer to other women who aspire to your level of success.
Joni Pilgrim: Yes. You know, I think the best advice I can give is to find organizations and groups that share your passion and get involved with those groups, attend trade shows, network, meet the folks in the industry that are out there every day doing great things, share your ideas, collaborate, and learn as much as you can. This industry is ever-changing. So don’t be afraid to speak up, take a stand, and work every day to make this industry better than it was yesterday. And that’s probably the best advice I can give.
Alcynna Lloyd: Well, I think that’s great advice.
Joni Pilgrim: Thank you.
Alcynna Lloyd: Well, Joni, thank you so much for joining us today.
Joni Pilgrim: It was my pleasure. Thank you for having me. I really had a great time. It was wonderful speaking with you.