As the co-founder of MAC Valuations Group, Alex McIntosh has a unique perspective on the state of the valuations industry and the broader implications it holds for the real estate market.
A graduate of the Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas, he has developed intensive experience across Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Tennessee and Louisiana in assessing the values of properties across the retail, office, multiunit residential, industrial, agricultural and other specialized categories.
His hard work paid off quickly, as he received the MAI designation (as a member of the Appraisal Institute) and Certified General (CG) licensure by the age of 30, making him the youngest to hold such designations in Arkansas for an extended period of time. Yet even with all his success, McIntosh and MAC have had to contend with the economic hardships wrought by the pandemic and its lockdowns, which have risked devastating the office sector.
One thing that keeps him going is the fact that his trade is filled with endless variations, keeping every day fresh and intriguing. After all, MAC offers litigation support, expert witness testimony and fee appraisals to clients, in addition to assessing all manner of real estate property.
McIntosh explained, “No two days are alike for us. One day, we may be looking at a 4,000-acre rice and soybean farm on the Mississippi River, and the next I’m working on a mixed-use apartment project. So, what distinguishes us is the ability to adapt. A lot of clients have very unusual needs, like we may be hired to value property in a divorce proceeding, then turn around and work for Arkansas Game & Fish in valuing their land swaps.
“But that daily experience of never having the same day twice is what draws a lot of people to our side of the business.”
Mcintosh founded his four-member staff in 2016 with Geof Carmack, but initially dreamed of a political career. After working for a couple of failed campaigns, he knew it was time for a change of plans. He joined a small boutique firm in Northwest Arkansas in 2003, taking a risk because, “They said they’d be paying me peanuts for two to three years while I learned the ropes.”
Yet fortune smiled upon him when Walmart decreed in 2005 that all of its key vendors were required to open offices near its corporate headquarters in Bentonville or somewhere within the region.
“The office real estate market exploded overnight, and my boss said, ‘Well, you’re not going to be doing these little cookie-cutter residential assignments anymore,” McIntosh recalled. “We quickly did some complex commercial work, and the rest is history. Everything took off from there.”
Indeed, the 41-year-old McIntosh has risen quickly to the pinnacle of his profession, attaining the coveted highest-level ranking of MAI status from the industry’s governing body, the Appraisal Institute, by the age of 30. He noted that there are fewer than 30 appraisers with that status in the state, and only five under the age of 45.
McIntosh made it clear that his brand of valuations is markedly different than the kind used by homeowners seeking to get their homes appraised for a sale.
“That’s a totally different animal because it’s volume-driven, and the fees and the pricing are very competitive while those guys do three to 10 a day just to make ends meet,” he said. “We deal in complex properties that can be mixed -use. I’m working on a large office development in Conway right now, which has 50 apartments sitting on top of it.”
One danger facing the valuations field is that rapid attrition is occurring in the ranks of appraisers. McIntosh estimates that the average age of top-level appraisers designated CG is about 65, which puts many at retirement age at a point when it’s getting harder and harder to convince young people to replace them.
“A lot of people don’t think this industry is sexy, and it’s tough to convince a 22- or 23-year-old college grad to come work for two to three years at first making peanuts,” he said, noting that starting pay is poor throughout the industry. “The key thing is that once you earn your stripes and get licensed and understand all that you need, it can be extremely lucrative. Many people at the top of this, working as chief appraiser for a Bank of America or a multinational lender, make up to nearly $800,000 a year.”
One major reason that firms like MAC start appraisers off with low pay is that it’s a skill learned on the job — and those who get certified in Arkansas often leap to big-city markets like Dallas, Atlanta and Tulsa. McIntosh even noted that one of his prime competitors from 2004 in Fayetteville managed to conquer Manhattan’s market, earning seven figures before the age of 30.
But he also says that the large-market sectors of the industry are responding to the rapidly shifting pandemic labor market by offering large sign-on bonuses. Another threat that’s facing the residential side of the appraisals market is the fact that online behemoth Zillow is using automated valuation models in an effort to eliminate the human aspect of home valuations.
“Thankfully, it’s different on the nonresidential side of the industry. We have a body of knowledge that makes this essentially the scientific method,” McIntosh said. “When you have a mixed-use project, that’s two or more entirely different sets of formulas, and that’s something a computer isn’t equipped to handle yet.
“What separates good appraisers from others is that I can pick up the phone and call a complete stranger, and I can make them tell me things about a transaction that they wouldn’t tell to someone walking down the street. There’s a real art to it and a real science.”