Patricia Staebler may be a conventionally trained appraiser. But her career and company is anything but conventional — thanks to her ability to adapt and seize opportunities. “It’s been a wild ride,” she says. “And a lot of fun.”
Since the mid-2000s, Staebler’s been running her own Bradenton-based firm, Staebler Appraisal and Consulting Inc. It specializes in the valuation of construction in four disciplines: insurance appraisals for condominiums, reserve studies, cost segregation analysis and 50% FEMA rule appraisals. A lot of other appraisers concentrate on commercial market valuation, so Staebler’s focus has been a differentiator, and a business driver.
“My mentor always said make yourself an expert and you will excel, and it’s true,” she says. “The combination that we do, there is nothing else out there. There’s not a single appraiser who does what I do.”
Sales are up significantly since she established that focus, including doubling revenue every year since 2012. Her daughter, Anne-Sophie Staebler, joined the firm in 2016. The elder Staebler says additional staff would be helpful to assist them with the workload, which stretches from Lake County to Lee County and sometimes outside of Florida. (Staebler declines to provide specific revenue figures.)
“We’ve come to terms with six-and-a-half-day work weeks,” says Staebler. “I have a six-week backlog right now. It’s budget season, and everyone wants to have a reserve study or an insurance appraisal to get ready for the snowbirds coming back.”
Finding someone to join their team, though, isn’t easy, due to the unconventional approach Staebler took to building her career. She started out as a cost estimator in her family’s engineering business back in her native Germany. After moving to Anna Maria Island in 2000, Staebler wanted a green card. An acquaintance who was an appraiser said he’d sponsor her if she went to appraisal school.
Staebler first went into commercial appraisal. She shifted in 2004 after Hurricane Charley threw an opportunity her way. An adjuster company approached her for help reviewing information coming in from the field, and in doing that work she became familiar with the Florida Condominium Act from an insurance standpoint.
“When I returned to my usual appraisal business, I said there is merit in this, because Florida statute requires an insurance appraisal every three years,” she says.
Staebler invested in a single mail marketing campaign targeting about 1,500 condo associations in Manatee County, advertising her insurance appraisal services. She got a single response. But that job connected her with an insurance agent on Anna Maria Island, who helped send more work her way.
Networking has played a big part in the growth of Staebler’s business. Joining the Community Associations Institute helped connect her with clients. Involvement in the Appraisal Institute helps her tell others about the company she has created. And being a member of Gulf Coast Builders Exchange introduced her to contractors and others in the construction industry she can turn to for advice and insight.
“People get to know you and trust you,” she says. “You have people to fall back on but can also be there for them. And with that you can run a successful business.”
But because of her combination of services and focus areas, there’s no clear-cut path a new employee could take to join the firm with the needed skills. “You are neither an appraiser nor a cost estimator,” she says. “You are something in between. I hope that at one point in time when construction is slowing down a little bit — and we will reach that point at some time —that we will find someone from the construction industry. Maybe a construction management graduate who is willing to learn the ropes of what we do.”
Until then, Staebler’s dedication and “German engineering” will help her keep plugging away, no matter the time or cost. “If it takes me $2,000 to finish a $500 job, I do it because I would never deliver substandard work,” says Staebler. “We don’t cut corners.”
- Business Observer