Jennifer Benton reflects on Valbridge culture and her evolving career

by Rachel L. Richardson

The Valbridge Difference

As Valbridge Property Advisors celebrates its tenth year, we join Jennifer Benton—Valbridge Women’s Council president and appraiser with the Southern Michigan office—as she reflects on her place in Team Blue.

When she joined the Southern Michigan office about six years ago, Benton already had experience in commercial real estate (CRE) appraisal. During a hiatus from commercial appraising, she gained experience as an appraiser of residential real estate and as a realtor, but realized she wanted to return to her roots in CRE.

She found an opening with the Southern Michigan office on a job posting website and connected well with its Senior Managing Director (SMD) during the interview.

“Since we work so closely with our managing directors,” Benton says of appraisers, “I feel like it’s important to have a great working relationship with that person. And I felt like I found that with Jim [James] Hartman, who’s the SMD for the southern Michigan office.”

A good SMD can make all the difference in employee retention, Benton shares, saying it’s a key factor in why she has remained with the company.


  • When seeking a return to commercial real estate appraisal, Jennifer Benton was drawn to the leadership of the Valbridge Southern Michigan office and the access to its templates and database technology.
  • Tapping into her interests, latent demand, and an available mentor, Benton invested in her specialty: appraisal of multifamily housing and projects using grants and tax credits.
  • As her career has developed, Benton has honed her specialty and cultivated both her leadership of and connection with members of Team Blue across the nation.
  • Benton values the opportunities for leadership and career development Valbridge provides, the culture of connection it fosters, and the technology that helps her create quality appraisals with efficiency.

“I definitely feel like it was a good relationship,” she adds. “And I liked the technology that Valbridge had: the connection with the national database and their templates.”

“I’ve worked at other smaller firms,” she shares, “and sometimes the tech is just not where it needs to be.”

Appraisers without this technological support, she adds, must rely on inefficient practices, like learning about similar properties their coworkers have appraised, asking to see their comparable data (comps), then re-typing the relevant comps for your report.

“It’s just a waste of time,” she says. “It’s hard to stay competitive if you don’t utilize technology… so that was a big pull for me.” Combined, her impression of the SMD and the efficiency provided by the Valbridge databases and templates helped clinch her decision to join the firm.

Forging a Career

Her niche within the local office and within the company overall has evolved and grown in the years since her interview with Hartman, Benton explains.

As far as a career, she says, “I feel like it’s still forming.”

At first, Benton utilized her keen interest in the multifamily sector and developed a specialty in this property type—particularly those projects involving government grants and tax credits, like low-income housing, seniors housing, rural development, and the like.

Of multifamily housing, she says, “I’ve always had that interest. But I was fortunate enough to have that interest and that opportunity align in my office because we had an appraiser that was approaching retirement who typically handled those type of property types. So as he transitioned into retirement, I began to take over his portfolio.”

Given a large example portfolio and access to his insight and mentorship, Benton cultivated this specialty area within her office and their region of practice.

Eventually, Benton joined in with the Valbridge Women’s Council (VWC) and as she invested in it, the opportunities expanded from there. Her transition into the VWC and some the experiences it has led to are highlighted in our recent post, “From One Legacy to the Next,” which includes her role as the fourth president of the VWC.

“Before it was all about just appraising… [and] selecting a specialty,” she said. “But with the Women’s Council, I find myself getting more involved in corporate efforts.”

“The Women’s Council has helped me realize something about my career,” she added, and described a common question in job interviews: Do you work better individually, or in a group?

“And the Women’s Council has helped me realize I have been answering that question wrong for years,” Benton says with a laugh. “I absolutely do work better in a group. And it’s allowed me to kind of re-channel some leadership skills that I guess I forgot I had or I hadn’t really utilized since I was in school… So it’s reminded me that I actually enjoy roles like that.”

As part of the VWC, Benton has personally grown a network of appraisal and operations professionals across the country, with whom she can connect when visiting other states, attending the national Valbridge conferences, within VWC committee meetings, or even simply over the phone. In her leadership role with the VWC, she seeks to connect more Valbridge women to mentorship and speaking engagements, and to nurture the connectedness she has experienced in the group.

“That’s the thing about Women’s Council,” she shares, “I know people from all over now.”

“I feel like Valbridge is a good size for people looking to grow in their career,” Benton remarks. “It’s big enough where you can still leverage this nationwide network, but it’s not so large and institutionalized like other companies,” which can involve “glass ceilings” and “politics” that inhibit or prevent paths to success.

“There are a lot of opportunities here,” she says, applauding the autonomy Valbridge provides to those investing in it as leaders in the company. “If you want to get involved, there are opportunities to do so.”