Appraising New York: Heather Hassan

April 17, 2013 1:36 pm Last Updated: April 18, 2013 10:15 am

NEW YORK—Heather Hassan is a senior appraiser at the Vanderbilt Appraisal Company. In her day-to-day work, she provides estimates on the worth of properties in Manhattan. Hassan studied psychology in college and worked in the fashion industry before becoming an appraiser. The past year has been the busiest in her career. Below, Hassan talks about her life in real estate; the interview has been edited for space.

What is your typical day like?

Typically in the morning it’s a broker who is reselling an apartment and I am doing an appraisal for the buyer. Then I come back here and I try to write to keep on top of things. But usually I can write about two reports a day, so I’ve been working weekends. Interest rates have been low so we have had a ton of refinance activity and we’re seeing purchases really pick up.

How did you become an appraiser?

I was in fashion. I worked as a fashion stylist for a catalog. It was a really fun career. But it’s precarious in nature. It’s very seasonal. That’s fun when you’re younger. I was getting a little older and I thought stability would be good. 

I had a friend that was an appraiser and one day he told me a little about his job. I took some classes and got my license. A friend asked me to make some extra money during the holidays waiting private parties. I did a party for the Appraisal Institute of New York. I met some people and they introduced me to Michael Vargas and Dave Fisch who now own this company. I interviewed and I liked them and they liked me and it’s the best job I ever had.

Are you originally from New York?

I’ve been here 15 years. I’m from Connecticut originally.

What was it like growing up in Connecticut?

It was really sheltered. It was a great place to grow up. I grew up in Glastonbury, right outside of Hartford. It was a nice suburban childhood. 

And college?

I went to the University of Connecticut. I graduated with a psychology degree. I got a real estate certificate from the graduate program at NYU. I finished that three years ago. I finished college in 1996. 

You said you did fashion… Can you explain?

I would obtain the wardrobe for fashion shoots. We would have to accessorize, dress the models, go on location, it was really fascinating. When you open a catalog and you see the layout, there’s somebody behind putting everything together. I was one of those people.

Are you still into fashion?

Not as much. Real estate is more my passion. I think I dress stylishly. I enjoy shopping like any woman, but I’m not reading fashion magazines. 

About being busy, some bankers are saying they are working at capacity.

The volume is incredible. I mean I could show you my email. I’m getting so many offers for opportunities to bid on jobs. I’m at my capacity as well. For the first time in my career I’ve had to say, I can’t take anymore, there’s no more that I can possibly do. I didn’t even have to do that at the height of the market before 2008. 

Would you say that Manhattan is different from the rest of the world for an appraiser?

I think it’s really interesting to see how people live. You see people with studios, people with one-bedrooms that have to make a little area for their baby, say a big walk-in closet. I’ve seen that before. They paint the walk-in closet and they say it’s a nursery. 

So you’ve seen a lot of apartments. Do you have any favorites?

I saw a pool in someone’s townhouse. I remember one of my first jobs I walked in and they had a huge dome, their ceiling was like a dome. It was two levels and the second level was a library. 

Where do you live?

I live on the Upper West Side, which I think is the best neighborhood in the city. Right now it has some of the lowest inventory as well in the entire city. It’s quiet. It’s almost like the suburbs of Manhattan. 

What’s your favorite place in the city besides the Upper West Side?

I love the Cloisters. There is a restaurant there called The New Leaf Cafe. It’s beautiful, especially in the summer. You can sit out on the patio. They have live music on Fridays. It’s like a little escape from the city. 

For an appraiser, there is so much in an apartment that is intangible.

Light is important and we make view adjustments. In the view adjustment we’re also considering light. First floor units get less light. Something on the third and fourth floor: maybe the view is not great, but you’re not subject to street noise and you’re probably getting a better level of light. You would see it in sales prices because first floor units always tend to go for less than something above the first and second floor. 

What’s the market like?

Inventory is low. There is about 6,000 units on the market right now. It’s definitely a seller’s market. Yesterday a woman told me she had 12 backup offers and today a woman told me she had 11 backup offers. Things are going above ask a lot of the time. There was a time, maybe a couple of years ago, where people were able to negotiate a lesser price. The market has recovered pretty much fully but a lot of sellers are saying, “yes now we’ve got our money back, but if we wait a couple of years we might actually make a profit.” 

Do you have anything to add?

Being an appraiser is a great job. I couldn’t ask for a better job. I work for people who care about me and I feel like in this city that’s an amazing thing to be able to say.