Imagine an appraisal firm that does appraisals from Texas,South America, Asia and has worked from the Amazon Jungle to the Himalayas. Real estate appraisals are boring for some, but Ben Boothe has made this company (www.benboothe.com) into one of challenge and adventure.
Ben on Yak in Mongolia, while on World Bank Project
"One of our brochures has me on the Steppes of Mongolia, on a Yak, to appraise a property." said Boothe. We drove across the Steppes for 12 hours, then rode yaks and then had to hike up a mountain trail. But, we proved we "Would go anywhere" for our clients. "We started Boothe and Associates Appraisals, in 1989, in Fort Worth. Soon we added environmental studies, soon we were asked to go to California, Montana, New Jersey and Florida for projects. Later, clients learned we would travel internationally for special projects."
When the World Bank heard that Ben had banking and appraisal experience they utilized him in several nations. Boothe has some colorful stories:
60 children a month die of land mines in Cambodia. We removed this one on the path to school.
* In Cambodia, after a run for U.S. Congress, Ben did an economic appraisal of the impact of value on "mined" farmlands, when land mines are removed. It had economic implications for the nation. Boothe said, "After running for political office, I found it similar to walking in a mine field." The photo shows Boothefinding a land mine just 12 inches from the path the children used to walk to school. "We probably saved a llife when we destroyed this one" he said.
* In Mongolia Boothe had to explain to the banks why they needed appraisals, then the World Bank team set up an "appraisal" licensing agency for the government. One night he heard a loud noise down the hall of the hotel of the World Bank team. "The daughter of a influential member of Parliament was in the hall screaming at her World Bank instructor, demanding to be "passed" so she could be an appraiser. She began to scream threats about what her father would do to him, when her fatherlearned that she failed her test. That morning before sunrise the World Bank Team (including Boothe) pulled out of Ulaanbaatar before dawn and went to Karakorum, the old headquarters of Genghis Khan, 14 hours out from the capital, thinking retreat was the better part of valor, when faced with a mad Mongolian woman. "I was glad I wasn't her teacher" said Boothe.
• "One day we were asked to appraise a theater in Anchorage, Alaska. While on that job I went to the leading hotel in town, and met Nixon's "Secretary of the Interior" who was also a leading businessman and politician in Alaska. He became a good friend, of mine and although he was an avid Republican, Nixon fired him for being too protective of the environment. He told me, 'I thought the Cabinet member in charge of the environment was supposed to protect the environment, but learned that I was wrong!"
* "Another time,I appraised a 'strip bar' in Texas, and when I walked in with a camera the place emptied out, the men all ran. The women didn't mind but the men were terrified of being photographed in that place." laughed Boothe. The manager asked me to hurry because my camera was bad for business!
* Boothe appraised a mushroom factory in Texas and stayed in a 150,000 s.f. dark building, hiking around outside and then inside for hours, trying to see what was there.
"Appraising a dark mushroom factory is like going to a meeting of politicians looking for the honest one." quipped Boothe.
* One of the most interesting reports was a developer in Florida and Louisiana wanted his "condo development" appraised. They had endured a hurricane, then the Gulf Oil spill, the worst economy in 40 years and the developer wanted us to apply a "very high and rising" value to the property. The developer then threatened to sue and "embarrass" Boothe, if he did not raise the appraised value. "I told him, that better people than him had wanted to manipulate appraisers, and we didn't play that game", said Boothe.
* Boothe was asked to appraise a gold mine in Arizona. His Cherokee stalled on a big rock in a dry river bed and he decided to hike in. "It was only 4 miles, so I thought I could do that in an hour. After about 2 hours in 100+ heat in Arizona, without water I made it to the gold mine, already dizzy from heat. Then hiking back, I came across a 6 x 8 pool of mud, cow manure, and insects. I simply fell into a muddy spot to cool off." Covered with dust and mud, he rushed back to Phoenix to catch a SW airlines flight. "Everyone on the plane saw a mud covered, stinking dirty man and must have thought I was a hermit from the desert. But the stewardess was great. She sat me down and 'accidentally' spilled a full glass of Sprite on me, as she laughed. You have to love SW Airlines." Boothe smiled.
* One man was known to be a poor businessman, so he kept hanging around politicians, looking for favors. He was investigated by the FBI and other agencies for questionable dealings, and as Boothe says: "Ironic, that his guy, who couldn't make a living working, got appointed to an agency in the state capital by his friend the governor. Wouldn't you know, a crooked politician put him on a state board to review ethics!"
* While doing environmental reports Boothe has dug up and transplanted turtles in the deserts of the Arizona, and Nevada, worked with Indian reservations on sacred sites, climbing around on rocky bluffs and in Maryland,put cameras in the woods to photo endangered species. "We have learned to be sensitive to environmental issues, but also to maintain common sense and practical values for clients", said Boothe.
One one job in a swamp in Florida, Boothe had to slog through the undergrowth, poison ivy,in foot deep snake infested water. Boothe says: "It seemed like the movie DELIVERANCE. I get the hard jobs, and that is why my clients hire me. But it has rewards, if you could read my mind, everywhere I travel there are developments, buildings, malls and commercial buildings that our company has appraised. In some cases, our efforts to personally inspect thoroughly sometimes by walking every foot, has given the reports credibility. Our valuations helped make many developments possible. That is satisfying."
* "One day the board Chairman of a bank holding company told me, 'You saved our bank' after we appraised his REO file." Apparently the bank examiners didn't force them to charge off all of those loans when they read the appraisals done by Boothe's company. "We had to look at every one of those properties, and some of them were set back, a mile or more behind security gates". But the extra effort paid off, when that bank, later became a very profitable and successful holding company in Texas. "It would have failed, at a cost to the stockholders, the customers, the community, everyone would have lost, but our appraisals helped save it." said Boothe.
Boothe was making a speech for a bank convention and told this story to the audience.
"Bank examiners sometimes come to banks, long after bankers have already identified their problems, and put in economic policies to fix what is wrong. Then the examiners, reading their "operating manuals" rush in to tell the bankers what the bankers already know.
"Examiners are like Indians who come upon a wagon train that has broken down in the desert, is just about repaired and ready to go, when the Indians ride down and shoot the survivors."
I got a call from the OCC (Comptroller of the Currency) and the regulator told me that he didn't appreciate the comment. "Two years later the same man (now retired) came to me personally and apologized. He said, You were right, we went too far on many banks in Texas, but we were under pressure to consolidate the system.'"
Boothe's methods seem unorthodox, but they are effective. Of 60 law suits where Boothe's firm has represented the value for clients "Our clients have won all but two cases" Boothe said.
When CBS TV and National Public Radio featured Boothe on national media, his reputation and career blossomed, he has since published 7 books, been in over 300 magazine and news articles, and been on radio or TV featured interviews in 60 cities, in the USA, Asia, Latin America, and Central Europe. Perhaps that is why his company client list has over 3,000 bank and corporate clients.
In 2010 Boothe's work changed, and income dropped, when he experienced health and leg issues. "I have always hired MAI's and appraisers or professionals for appraisal and environmental work, but now do it more. It is costly" and while he often brings the business to the table, and oversees reports, he lets others do more of the physical work. An injury in 2010 has made it difficult for him to hike and do property inspections. "I've been trying to lose weight and get my knees back in shape, so I can again be as active, and handle our customer requests for me to be active in the field", said Boothe. "I hope to be back 100% in a few months", he said.
He has lost 35 pounds and is working on 30 more, working to improve mobility.
"In an economy like this, you have many pressures to distort value, up and down. Some big banks want a low value, so that if they foreclose or repossess, they can liquidate quickly."
Some lenders want high values so that regulators won't criticize them.Some borrowers want a high value, so they can borrow more, or attract investors. Some developers, and "high rollers" always want higher values, and in some cases, he says: "Some bottom feeders want real low values so they can get a bargain. You can identify the vultures and bottom feeders who want to steal assets, when people are weak and cannot defend themselves."
"We find that our clients know that Boothe and Associates in Ft.Worth, will look after them and we will do whatever it takes to find good research and data that will give them a fair and honest value." said Boothe.
"A great man with the Appraisal Institute once told me, that after all the data, analysis and facts, step back, lean on a fence post and think what really is fair and reasonable here!"
Common sense is a feature, often lost in the current appraisal and environmental industry, it is nice to know there is a Boothe and Associates, around.