Appraising not as interesting now

By Glenda Price: CNJ columnist

I did not do well in the study of economics in college. When the professor spoke oh so eloquently of “elasticity” of supply and demand, I felt my eyes glaze over.

During that time I learned that “if you place all the economists in the world end to end they will never reach … a conclusion.”

Unfortunately, the professor failed to see the humor in that observation. Luckily I was good enough at regurgitating professorial comments (that I didn’t understand at all) that I got a decent grade.

One of the ironies in my life — I married a brilliant agricultural economist, Gene. Wow! I had it made. I didn’t need to know that stuff after all.

He eventually had his own business as an accredited farm and ranch appraiser — actually one of the best in the nation.

He tried to help me understand that stuff, but I never did. An appraiser’s first action is to get the property’s legal description, from which he builds maps delineating the property’s tenure. In the American Southwest that’s a big deal. Most rural properties contain private land, deeded land, Bureau of Land Management-controlled land, state lease land and sometimes U.S. Forest Service lands. All that makes the land tenure map of a property resemble a checkerboard.

Legal descriptions start with instructions like “Beginning at”… a certain spot in Township such-and-such, Range so-and-so, whatever state, etc., then proceeding a certain distance in a northwesterly (southeasterly, whatever) direction to a marker of some kind, at which point you change direction.

In those days valid information was in the county courthouses. One time Gene and another appraiser asked us wives to help out at the courthouse.

We found the property description all right, but the guys wanted us, using that description, to draw a map of the property. That ranch happened to be in a county that once was part of a Spanish land grant. Those legal descriptions were really interesting.

Some of the markers I found were a rimrock, a mountain summit, a large dead pine tree. This was written more than a hundred years earlier, so we definitely had a problem.

Working separately we wives finished our individual maps. We were excited because they looked “kind of alike.” The guys fired us, thus ending my fact-finding appraiser’s assistant job.

A flood a few years before one appraisal assignment had left the county courthouse under water for a few weeks, so all the records, mostly moldy, were relocated to the basement.

One of Gene’s most interesting assignments concerned rural property near Grants in New Mexico. The value requested was “as of” a date in the early 1900s. On the specified date all that uranium (later found to be valuable) was just rocks out in the pasture.

Gene of course, regardless of my little economists joke, reached a defensible, provable conclusion of value for all his appraisals, and he was an excellent expert witness in court.

Later, most property description information became available online, but I wonder how computers describe those interesting benchmarks.