The Unlikely Appraiser Advocate

Jillian White, a minority appraiser, says entire industry needs reappraisal

Steve Goode headshot
Steve Goode
Jillian White

“I did find it odd that my instructors would consistently ask me who in my family was an appraiser, but I didn’t yet know what to make of it,” she said.

It was only years later when she was in a room full of appraisers for a continuing education course that White saw the shift in demographics. “Those interested in becoming appraisers versus those who actually became appraisers were two distinctly different groups,” she said.

The disparity hit home when White, then working at White Picket Fence Appraisals, began networking on the national level at a conference, where she was the youngest attendee, one of four women, and the only person of color.

There are about 75,000 appraisers nationwide and only about 300 are Black women, according to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics. That means there are a few hundred appraisers who understand both what it’s like to be Black in America and also what it’s like to have an appraiser’s methodology.

White was about eight years into her career when she met Ernest Durbin II at a meeting of The Collateral Risk Network back in 2011. Durbin recalled that she was running her own appraisal company in New York.

“In conversations with her, I learned that she was 29 years-old and had a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience from Columbia University. This led to the inevitable question, ‘How did you end up in the appraisal industry?’” he said.

Durbin, who was publisher of a national valuation magazine call “LiveValutation,” said he was impressed with White and asked her to write about her personal experience getting into the industry.

> U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics

White did not disappoint, as she pointed to the lack of young appraisers and willing mentors in the business.

Durbin noted that the article highlights an issue that still remains in the appraisal business a dozen years later; a lack of diversity in the industry

As for the question about her degree in neuroscience, White explained that she would have had to pursue an MD or PhD and she wasn’t interested in that so she looked for other options.

One Big Advantage

As hard as it was to break into the business, White recalled having the distinct advantage of a financial cushion provided by her family. It enabled her to hang in there instead of switching to something that paid the bills.

White lived with her parents, who also covered her food and insurance needs while she took a part-time job as a cheerleading coach, which covered her gas money and hanging out with friends.

“I was able to send out hundreds of resumes, and wait. I could afford to go on a few inspections a week and still have a roof over my head,” she said. “I didn’t have to worry about making a living wage in those first two years because I had financial support.”

But it wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies. By 2016, White said the strain of running a business was wearing on her to the point that she was on the verge of leaving for an office job. Three weeks later she got a call from Better Mortgage.

Jillian White 2

“They needed someone to build their appraisal department from the ground up. I got to put all of my appraisal knowledge to work while being in an office setting. It was my dream job,” she said.

During her time at Better Mortgage, White said she created a staff appraiser panel and hired 19 appraisers, most of whom were trainees and 50% of whom were women or minorities.

The Present

More recently White, who is now a member of the board of trustees at the Appraisal Foundation, and the government relations committee at the Appraisal Institute, has become a public, vocal advocate for combating appraisal bias in communities of color. In December, she was featured in “Our America: Lowballed” a documentary that highlighted the ongoing issue of unfairly low property valuations among Black and Hispanic homeowners, In January, the New York Times published an article that shined a spotlight on her and two other Black women who are on a mission to end bias in home appraisals.

“Bias in appraising is complex and requires a multifaceted solution. It cannot be eradicated by appraisers alone,” she said. “Therefore, the issue needs to be addressed from many different angles. Every opportunity to speak to a different audience is also an opportunity to discover new perspectives and resources, which then get added to the toolkit to address the issue.

White and Kenon Chen, executive vice president of strategy and growth at Clear Capital, have spoken on a number of panels highlighting the need for more diversity in the appraisal industry and the need for greater transparency on issues of racial bias.

Chen said the two started collaborating on improving the appraisal process several years ago during her time at Better Mortgage as head of collateral/chief appraiser.

“I remember being impressed right away at the thought behind her questions and the grace with which she dug into problem solving,” Chen said. “Over the years that impression has only grown as I have watched her navigate professional and personal challenges. She has a willingness to understand the root cause of issues while looking for innovative solutions to move forward.”

That includes looking at her profession honestly and being willing to point out where it can and should be better.

“It is much easier to be defensive and take the approach of protecting every inch so you don’t lose a mile,” he said. “Appraisal bias is an incredibly complex issue with years of history at the federal, state and local levels to unravel.”

Chen said that while there isn’t going to be agreement on many aspects of identifying problems and solutions, he appreciates White’s willingness to share her story and address the issues head on with the goal of making the process better for everyone.

To that end, White left her position as head of growth at Aloft Appraisals in December to create her own venture, Appraisal Insights. White, the CEO, is awaiting approval of the name. The company, she said, is focused on closing the information gap regarding appraisal bias with data and resources that can assist lenders, regulators, consumers and appraisers as they go through the process.

“This new venture allows me to focus exclusively on the latest developments in appraisal bias whether they be related to policy, reporting or enforcement,” she said. “My offerings include speaking engagements, educational courses and consulting with the aim to prepare stakeholders for the changes that are arising specifically from the Property Appraisal and Valuation Equity initiative.”

The Future

Over the next five years, White sees herself continuing to work on policy issues, especially those related to homeownership and closing the wealth gap. The biggest challenge facing the industry now, she said, is working within the current framework while trying to innovate for the future, which White thinks is doable.

“Not every bet is going to pay off,” she said. “Therefore, the challenge is in knowing which opportunities to say yes to and which ones to pass on.”

> Jillian White

A decade down the road she sees the appraisal industry finally catching up to technology.

“I see the appraisal industry finally entering the 21st century,” White said. “I think virtual inspections will be the norm, appraisers will have greater access to data, and technology will enable faster and more defensible reports.”

She also believes that the requirement of needing to know an appraiser to become one has a disparate impact on people of color and that the proof can be found in the demographics.

“Until the qualifications to become an appraiser change, the demographic of the appraiser population will remain the same,” White said. “Even when there is a concerted effort to pair diverse talent with supervisors, it is not enough to get trainees to become licensed or certified.”

White also noted in her comments in “Our America: Lowballed” that the first step to changing the problem is an industry-wide acknowledgement that there is a problem and that there is still a level of disbelief.

“If you are human, you have bias,” she said.

During an interview in the “Lowballed” documentary, Marcia Fudge, secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, agreed that more diversity and a better understanding of the neighborhoods appraisers are working in are important to changing the current state of appraisals.

U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., has more serious consequences in mind, including removing the Appraisal Foundation from its responsibility for appraisal standards and creating a federal agency to oversee the industry. Lee would also like to see financial penalties for appraisers found to be guilty of bias in determining the worth of a property.

“Consumers need protection,” she said in the documentary. “If an appraiser is found to be biased, there should be consequences.”

Chen said the debate continues about the best path forward for the industry, but added that he is encouraged by the steps being taken by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to modernize the process. He also believes that White will play a prominent role in how and when things get to where they need to be.

“I think Jillian is uniquely positioned to play a prominent role in making an impact because of her experience, talent and ability to share her story in a way that brings people together instead of alienating them,” he said.

Steve Goode headshot
Steve Goode
This article was originally published in the NMP Magazine May 2023 issue.
Published on
Apr 25, 2023
More from NMP Magazine
Helping A Friend (& Dogs) Find A Home

Helping man’s best friend and their owner shelter

Dealing With Today’s More Difficult People

Help them isolate the issues through good communication

Dave Hershman
Making Algorithms Work For You

How social media content performance varies across platforms

Erica LaCentra


OriginatorTech Deep Dive: Jaro's True End-To-End Appraisal Solutions

During the webinar, Jaro will demonstrate how their platform simplifies the appraisal process, reduces turnaro...

May 23, 2023
Investor Confidence in Today’s Non-QM And Why Originators Are Paying Attention... A Virtual Town Hall

We host Angel Oak Mortgage Solutions for a special 2021 edition of their virtual town hall series they ran fro...

Apr 08, 2021
How to Help Real Estate Pros in a Post-Refi World

Hear from Melissa Merriman, REALTOR® with The Melissa Merriman Team at Keller Williams, on what real estate pr...

Mar 18, 2021
5 Federal Agencies Propose Guidance For ROVs

Addresses reconsiderations of value (ROV) for residential real estate transactions. 

Freddie Mac Adds Affordable Housing Program For Native Americans

HeritageOne will increase access to affordable mortgages for tribal members living in tribal areas.

A Gloomy Snapshot Of The Housing Market

3 separate reports show low inventory affecting homebuyers’ perceptions.

Connect with your local mortgage community.

Meet your your colleagues, both national and local, by attending an event in your area.