“Steve Bullock,” Brooks said, “had this idea that there should be a national appraisal company that’s made up of really good firms throughout the country.” Instead of having to answer to a brokerage house or venture capitalists, the firms in the partnership could focus on quality appraisals and be able to share both expenses and knowledge.
“It became,” Brooks adds, “a lot more than that.”
A week before the first meeting, however, Brooks was fiddling around with letterhead options that included his current firm’s name alongside the one Bullock had proposed: Cambridge Property Advisors. When he shared the results with Bullock, Brooks received a reply saying the first thing everyone is going to need to do is drop their companies’ names and rebrand to the new name. When Brooks expressed that it would make more sense to have both for a while to help keep the continuity of an established reputation while building a new one, he was told he wasn’t allowed to join the meeting and he would be refunded his deposit.
“So I wasn’t one of the original eighteen, because he said I couldn’t come,” Brooks said, “but I went to Boston anyway and visited with my daughter for that weekend.”
After the meeting, one of the original 18 founders who had attended it stopped into Brooks’ office in Columbia and said he didn’t understand why Brooks had been banned from the meeting. When Brooks shared the reason, “He goes, ‘Well, no one’s dropping their name right away. We told him that upfront.’ I said, ‘Well, he didn’t tell me that.’ So he said, ‘Well, you want to get back in?’ I said, ‘Of course.’’”
So Brooks reached back out, sent in a new check, and became number 19, which also happens to be the jersey number for his football idol as a child, Johnny Unitas.
“I still consider myself a founding member,” Brooks adds.
Since that point, he split from the firm in Baltimore, where he had been a partner and member for nearly 40 years, and created the office he currently manages with a couple of others. Together, they serve Maryland, the District of Columbia, Northern Virginia, and coastal Delaware.
“It’s a pretty nice sized territory,” he adds.
Since joining Valbridge, Brooks has found, “It’s not just the IT and it’s not just the efficiency in having, you know, large numbers. It has to do with the friends that we made. And the relationships.”
“I was a partner in a firm for thirty-some years and was never really friends with my partners,” he continues. “And the first real meeting that I went to in Valbridge was in Las Vegas, and I had six or eight friends right off the bat that were just my buddies. And that included [Mike] Naifeh and it included Norm Hulberg, and Matt Lubawy, and John Penner, and Calvin Cummings. There were just a handful of these people that were people I could call and chat with…We’ve just become really good friends.”
“I want to be a part of this thing,” he had said when he rejoined as the 19th founder. “I don’t just want to be a follower.”
There was a Board position open, Brooks recalls, “and then Norm Hulberg said—he was the Executive VP—and he said, you know, ‘I think I’d rather be on the Board of Directors than the Executive VP.’ And he had seniority on me by about a day. And so I became Executive VP and good friends with Norm Hulberg. So it was all worth it.”
As Executive Vice President, Brooks negotiated and manages the USPS contract through which Valbridge appraises post offices across the country, and he worked to create a unified contract with CoStar to aid in the process of gathering comparable data for appraisals.
Aside from his role as Executive VP, Brooks is also the key photographer at all the main Valbridge national events. Through the years he has taken photos at every single national conference except the Boston one and one held in Nashville during the pandemic.
“I enjoy it,” Brooks says of his work. “It’s what I do.”
Besides gaining friendships through Valbridge, Brooks appreciates how he benefits from the national partnership.
“My office is great because we’re like a mom-and-pop office except we have the ability to act like a national firm when we want to—the good things about a national firm—and so I’m pretty happy about that.”
While others in the appraisal industry are typically part of a brokerage firm or financed through venture capital, he shares, Valbridge isn’t. In those other circumstances, he says, “the appraisers have to answer to the man. …And the man has another motive and that motive is: ‘We have to service this client because we’re getting brokerage deals from them. And by the way, no pressure on the value, but here’s what they’re looking for.’”
Not so at Valbridge.
“That’s really a big thing,” Brooks adds. “We very seldom get pressure on value. You know, no more than we would as a mom-and-pop firm and so we’re absolutely able to say: ‘You know what? Here’s the value. Here’s the data. If you have any information you want to present us, we’ll look at it. But we’re not just changing it because you want it to be higher or lower or whatever. That’s not what we do.’”
“What we sell here is our reputation,” Brooks continues. “And you know I’m not going to beat up my reputation because somebody wants a high value or a low value or something that’s not supported.”