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to the art of real estate appraisal
When you meet people like Robert Von Ancken, it's
hard to understand how they find enough hours in
the day for all the work they do.
Von Ancken, who serves as an executive managing
director of the metropolitan valuation and consulting
practice with Grubb & Ellis, does appraisals
for such projects as the World Trade Centec, the
Farley Post Office and the West Side Rail Yards
during the day, then goes home to run his own acquisition
and disposition business.
Perhaps it was just meant to be that way. Von Ancken,
who holds a degree in engineering from the City
| University of New York, actually
stumbled into the area of real estate appraisal
by the grace of fate.
There were few engineering jobs available when he
graduated, so he decided he would give real estate
a try. However, just weeks after he started as office
leasing canvasser with Julien Studley, Von Ancken
was called to active duty by the U.S. Army Reserve
and his plans fell through once again. After a year
of Army service in Panama, Von Ancken came back
to New York and enrolled in the graduate real estate
program at City University.
"I decided I wanted to go into the business
part of it," he explains.
He worked for a variety of smaller firms for a while,
including Model Cities Program and Abbot & Addams.
His big break came when he joined Wm. A. White/Tishman
East. Soon after Von Ancken joined the firm, the
head appraiser retired and he was able to take over
the division and expand it. At Wm. A. White, Von
Ancken started to do bigger, more important appraisals,
many of them for New York State and City governments.
"My first major job was on behalf of the State
of New York--it concerned the acquisition of 50
properties for the construction of a state office
building," Von Ancken recalls. "That led
to more and more work with matters where I had to
testify [before a court]. I testified on behalf
of the Landmarks Commission--we were able to prove
to the Court of Appeals that as a landmark with
the right to transfer air rights, Grand Central
Station was a viable entity. That case solidified
the landmark law. During that period of time, it
was a continual progression of appraisals for court
purposes and market and feasibility studies for
new buildings. And that led us into a special sort
of niche--determining the value of the land under
a long-term lease, both for apartment and for office
Wm A. White/Tishman East (the company was later
bought by Grubb & Ellis) was also where Von
Ancken met his future business partner, Leslie J.
Garfield, with whom he runs a small real estate
investment enterprise. Garfield, who also worked
at Wm. A. White, had the desk next to Von Ancken's
and, in 1980, he came to his neighbor with a proposition
to buy a building together.
"He thought it was a good deal and I analyzed
it and said 'Let's buy it,'" Von Ancken says.
"And we've been doing it ever since.
"Unfortunately, we also sold a lot of buildings,
which we shouldn't have," he laughs.
Von Ancken says he enjoys the side business his
buildings bring him, but serving as his own broker
also gives him an insight into the market other
appraisers rarely get.
"It helps me tremendously. I mortgage the properties,
I take care of the retail leases--it gives you a
first-hand idea of what's happening in the market,"
"Appraisal is not a science, it's an art,"
he adds. "I read a lot to keep abreast of the
market and I check all of the sales in Manhattan,
just so I have a good general understanding of what's
happening in the market. I also like to talk to
brokers. Especially when the market is escalating
the way it is today, the brokers [are the people
who know the most.]"
Von Ancken is self-effacing about the scope of his
knowledge, but some of his recent projects testify
to how respected the Grubb & Ellis appraisal
department is in New York City. Von Ancken and his
staff were charged with estimating the value of
the World Trade Center prior to the terrorist attacks
on behalf of the insurance companies and completed
special assignments on the East Side Access plan
and the expansion of the Jacob Javits Convention
Center. There doesn't seem to be an institution
in New York that is not one of Von Ancken's clients,
including the Metropolitan Transportation Authority,
the Board of Education, Columbia University, Mount
Sinai Hospital and Battery Park City Authority,
among hundreds of others.
Among all of this work, however, Von Ancken never
seems to get tired. In the past few years, he has
bought and renovated an old mansion in Briarcliff
Manor for his family and he sets out on sailing
adventures about twice a year.
"I've sailed all over the world--Turkey, Greece,
France, Croatia," he admits. "Me and my
sons used to rent out boats in the East Hamptons
in the summer and then we would take them to Florida
in the winter."
"We stopped [doing that] because some of the
people we hired to bring the boats from one place
to another would take a long time to come back,"
Von Ancken, who has three sons and a teenage daughter,
says that two of his children have already followed
in his footsteps and became real estate appraisals.
However, he hopes that the trend will stop there.
"I have another son at Vassar. He worked here
during the summer, but I really hope he's not an
appraiser," he says.
"Three real estate appraisers in one family
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