What a dump*, I thought as we surveyed the old house.
I had just started working for my father in his commercial real estate appraisal business (where we’d work together for the next thirty years!) On this day early in my career I would learn a lesson that would serve me the rest of my life—especially in relationships.
A bank had hired us to appraise this property for an estate; its market value was being contested in court and we would testify as the expert witnesses. As we went through the front door, I jumped and squealed—spiderwebs!
“Remember what I told you, Rosie,” Dad advised. “Don’t make up your mind until you make a thorough inspection of the property. First appearances can be deceiving.”
“I know, Dad,” I said impatiently. I looked around at the dead cockroaches.
He’d trained me to make a list of everything that was genuinely marketable, and another list of the defects. Only until I’d weighed both together could I make my final decision on the property value. I had a fiduciary and even moral obligation to my client to present the fullness of truth.
I made notes, thinking, well, the house has good bones. It was open, light and airy, and the floor plan was marketable, with the much-desired three bedrooms and two baths. But on the negative side? The kitchen was small and terribly outdated, as were the bathrooms. The exterior stucco was in shambles. The front and back yards needed to be totally redone. A large tree was pushing up the patio, and when we went outside, we could see the roof needed some tiles.
I didn’t forget location-location-location! Within walking distance were new shops, restaurants, and art galleries. I added that to the “plus” side of my assessment.
“Okay, Dad,” I said when we completed our inspection. “It has a great location and lots of potential, but it needs a lot of work. When we adjust the comparable sales, I think it’s going to come out about $100,000 or more lower than other homes in the area.”
I felt pretty darn smart.
Dad smiled and said, “Okay, honey. But wait until we get back to the office and check every last detail. Remember, if you’re on the witness stand, and the other side has discovered something you haven’t, you’re going to look like a fool. Worse, your reputation in the industry will be shot. Trust me.”
Then Dad started with the same old story I’d heard more than a few times: years earlier, on another court case, he’d made a very thorough inspection, even walking far out into the middle of 160 acres of vacant farm land. There he was surprised to discover a deep borrow pit that couldn’t be seen from the perimeter streets. It substantially lowered the land value and, in court, caught the other side’s appraiser by surprise. Dad’s testimony won the multi-million-dollar lawsuit. The other guy? Well, the way my father told it, he rode out of town after sunset.
But we had inspected every physical inch of this property, I was sure. I felt ready to go to court.
Back at the office, Dad pulled out a large City Zoning Map and called me to come look at it.
“Here’s our property, Rosie. What’s it zoned?”
“Residential, of course.”
I looked more closely and saw that the entire street on which the house was located had a “Commercial” overlay. For some time, the City had targeted this older area for the adjacent downtown expansion. The underlying land had full commercial value. With a modest cost to raze the old house, the property owner would have a retail goldmine. As a commercial lot, it had five times the Market Value I would have given it!
I was not as smart as I thought. Dad had known, because he had learned to check the zoning first. Then my father did as he often did; he chuckled, patted me affectionately, and suggested we go have a nice lunch somewhere.
Face it; we are all too quick to judge. We may be partially correct, but we make up our minds with a sad lack of all the facts, or through the lens of our own limited experience. We bring biases into our judgments that are hard to leave at home.
It can be quite humbling.
As an appraiser, I was paid big bucks for my professional opinion. I was hired to make qualified judgments that helped businesses, banks, marriages, families, and all kinds of people. But I had to refrain from knee jerk reactions, even when I thought I was right, to take the time and make the effort to check all facts first.
And when I read Scripture after that, I saw that all Christians are called to be appraisers:
Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment. Jn 7:24
God wants you to use what my Dad called “that thing sitting on your shoulders” and employ your intellect, instinct, and intuition to make good judgments. It would be irresponsible and even sinful not to assess between right and wrong, in ourselves and others. But we aren’t qualified to judge the state of a person’s soul because only God has all those records.
You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. Matt 7:5
Notice the second half of the instruction: you are supposed to assess the truth and help people see it, but first remove your own personal biases, fears, agendas, and ego.
These verses can help you “Put Your RELIGION into your RELATIONSHIPS” and consider the right way to make judgments. Be a good appraiser; sometimes life and death may be in the balance.
(Don’t forget to share this with your children—no matter their age.)