Ground breakers come in all shapes, sizes and — as Marcus Hill’s story attests — neighborhoods. Growing up in Little Rock, his family lived primarily in a string of rental properties, so it is with no small sense of irony that he’d make a name for himself in the vital, yet commonly overlooked, real estate career of appraiser.
It’s not the sexiest part of the deal for most prospective homebuyers, but you’d never know it to hear Hill talk about his chosen profession.
“It was amazing to get into this type of industry,” he says. “It’s so complicated; there’s a whole lot of appraisal courses that you have to take. Also, you have to get an apprenticeship with a company, then actually go out in the field, doing appraising. It was really amazing to learn. You’re literally in the heart of the most important part of the closing process.”
Hill is something of a double unicorn in his field on account of his age and race. When Hill got into the business, he was just 24 years old, about half of the industry average according to research by career site zippia.com. Black appraisers are similarly rare; in the U.S. they represent less than 4% of the appraising field. Neither of which, by the way, did Hill find particularly intimidating or off-putting.
“You’re given these opportunities in life, and I feel like I seized those opportunities,” says Hill, who is now 40. “I didn’t care how old I was; I was just like, this is a big environment that I’m in now, and I’ve got to make sure I’m on point. I’ve got to make sure I know every single thing about this business so nobody can judge me because of my age.
“I didn’t really realize at the time that I may have been one of the youngest in the South to be in this industry. I just took it as my responsibility to the craft and to represent my family well.”
‘BANGIN’ IN THE ROCK’
Hill’s desire to represent his family honorably was a daily tightrope growing up in the gang-riddled neighborhood of his youth. He was the middle of three children, while his mother worked in nursing and as a school secretary to provide for them. Even so, times were lean, and opportunities of the wrong sort lurked around every corner.
“I grew up in ‘Bangin’ in Little Rock’ in the ’90s,” he says, citing the well-known 1994 gang documentary on HBO. “I literally used to play at Centennial Park when the gangs were heavy around there. That whole environment was a really tough time for me because I was around a lot of negative things growing up.”
Life in that environment changes a person, Hill says, either for the better or for the worse. He describes an existence where the otherwise mundane activities of life are complicated by the daily threat of violence and set to the all-too-common sound of gunshots.
“It’s somewhat of a traumatic experience to be around it, but it’s almost as if it’s a normal thing at some point,” he says. “My environment growing up was very hectic; I went to Little Rock Central High School, and I used to walk to school, and sometimes it was kind of tough getting to school.
“I think for me, what I saw was what I didn’t want to do after being around all of those experiences. There was just something in me that was like, ‘You know what? I don’t want to do anything that is involved with what I see on a day-to-day basis.'”
Hill was provided some primary guardrails on the straight and narrow, starting with his grandfather Alvin Lockhart. A 20-year Air Force veteran, Lockhart instilled in his grandson his earliest lessons on hard work, honor and excellence in all that one does.
“My grandfather was one of the first African American plumbing inspectors in North Little Rock,” Hill says. “I really saw a lot in him as far as being a good husband to my grandmother, being a man of faith, that work ethic and being able to take care of the family and being able to instill good values in me.
“He’s 91 today; he still drives, he still lives on his own, cooks his own food, cleans his own house. It’s a blessing just to have him see the things that I’m doing now and to let him know he played such an important role in all of it. I’m very thankful to have had him here.”
Hill’s other positive influence came from his immersion in church, First Baptist Highland Park in Little Rock.
“Being in church helped me a lot because I was around other people in similar situations, and we were all trying to stay focused, stay motivated,” he says. “You had other people who were your mom and dad; they always looked out for you, gave you words of encouragement. When you’re just a decision away from being in a bad situation, being around church people held me accountable to do the right thing.”
FACED SAME CHALLENGES
Fellow church member Quintin Hughes Sr. has known Hill since the two were children and faced the same challenges of the neighborhood.
“We grew up at a time when there were a lot of negative consequences of poverty and also the drug trade that was impacting Little Rock,” says Hill, who now heads a nonprofit in Oklahoma City. “We grew up around and knew and even were friends with young men who went in different directions than we did. In a lot of ways, the church and our relationships kind of created a protective mechanism.”
Church also provided a setting for Hill to see a different future to aspire to, making it easier to ignore destructive role models in the street.
“When I was in middle school, I saw people in the church come home from college, and I was just amazed,” Hill says. “I woke up one morning and I was like, ‘I’m going to college. I’m going to do something for me.’ Even though my environment was crazy, that was the one thing I wanted to do, be a college graduate.”
Hughes says the duo’s close-knit group promoted each other’s ambitions, resulting in numerous success stories.
“Our peer group definitely had expectations of Marcus, but also had expectations of myself and of each other,” he says. “We had a different reality than a lot of the folks who were in the neighborhood because of that. It wasn’t competitive, it was just the norm. So, we definitely expected Marcus to succeed, and we knew he would do well because he was driven. We all were,” Hughes says.
BIG MAN ON CAMPUS
Yet another positive outlet for Hill’s energies was sports. From an early age, he played football and would emerge as a star defensive end for the Central High Tigers. His all-state level athletic talent brought him to Fayetteville in the fall of 2000 as a member of Houston Nutt’s Razorbacks. And while his career was cut short by injuries, he says the lessons of athletics only fortified the goals he had for the next chapter of his life.
“Athletes are different; you get to a point where you’ve been doing something so long it can affect your mentality, in some people,” he says. “I had the best of all worlds in college. I was an athlete, a fraternity guy. Going to the University of Arkansas was just an amazing thing because it was the top school in the state. So, for me, even though I got to the point where I couldn’t play anymore, I knew I wanted to graduate. That was not a question.”
Hill’s transition from student-athlete to just student was also smoothed by his fraternity brothers in Kappa Alpha Psi, young men who shared in his vision of success and achievement for themselves and one another.
“The main goal was achievement,” he says of his frat’s influence. “That played a role within me, giving me more confidence by being around people who were trying to have things in life. They’re trying to accomplish things. They’re trying to give back to their community and be positive.
“It literally was the first time I was around a group of people who focused on advocacy, doing the right thing, being successful. That was another thing that helped me dream, like hey, yes, I can graduate, I also can be successful.”
Hill would indeed walk the stage in Fayetteville, then set his sights on law school. But a return home for the summer would dramatically alter those plans and change the arc of his life.
“I ran into a church member, a guy named Phillip Thompson, who I knew from growing up,” he says. “He’s like, ‘Hey, what are you going to be doing?’ I was like, ‘I’m coming back to Little Rock and preparing to go to law school.’ He was like, ‘Well, do you want to come work for me for the summer?'”
Thompson, owner of Elite Appraisals, showed his protege the world of real estate appraising, something Hill knew absolutely nothing about.
“I’d developed this mindset to be open,” Hill says. “Open for opportunity, open to try something out and if you don’t like it, cool. But it may work out. [Thompson] gave me an opportunity, and I saw him like wow, he’s an African American man who’s successful, doing something positive. He not only became a mentor to me, but a friend as well.”
A QUICK STUDY
Hill’s passion for the career was immediate and all-consuming. He devoured all there was to learn — through formal classroom study and from his real-world mentors, which included Thompson’s father and fellow appraiser Felix.
“He stood out as a very aggressive young man, and hard working,” Felix says. “He was eager to learn every facet of the appraisal business and all parts of it — how to collect data and how to assimilate the data, which is the primary focus of what we do. He caught on quick to it; when you’re working with someone, that’s what you are looking for, somebody that can catch on quick to the concepts, and that’s what he did.”
“I’m learning things about real estate, I’m learning different types of homes, brick homes, frames,” Hill says. “Appraisers have to know every single thing about a property. For me, learning about the different types of property, sizes, condition, age, all those things were fascinating to me. Even though I lived in [houses], I never really looked at them.”
Hill would strike out on his own, launching Executive Appraisals in 2008. It was an ill-advised time for starting such a venture given the housing market crash at that time, but Hill’s grit and work ethic saw him through.
“I was appraising here in Little Rock, and I was doing quite a bit,” he says. “I had the appraisal company, I was doing mortgage loans, I was in the investing world of buying properties. I just kept an open mind because once I got into real estate, I wanted to learn it all. I was just so fascinated, and I felt like this would help me be successful.”
Hill caught the eye of Fannie Mae, and he joined the government mortgage behemoth’s Dallas office in 2012. As with every other step in his career, he leveraged the opportunity as a chance to advance his knowledge and skill set.
“I got the opportunity to learn more and not only learn [real estate] values in Little Rock, but learn values all over America,” he says. “Getting an opportunity with Fannie Mae was amazing to me. I’d never lived anywhere other than Arkansas, but it was the opportunity of a lifetime for me.”
A few months ago, Hill returned to Little Rock, where he still works remotely with Fannie Mae. With nearly 20 years in the appraisal business under his belt, he has become an expert in his field, and once he got back home, he decided to do something with that extensive knowledge and experience that mirrored the investment of his mentors all those years ago. His public speaking career, designed to introduce more people to his industry, was born.
“I saw the 2019 study from the Appraisal Institute, and I saw a statistic that showed it was less than 1% [of appraisers] under the age of 25 in the industry,” he says. “It’s also been my reality since I’ve been in appraising that there’s a real lack of diversity in this field. That’s what inspired me to want to share my story. I was like, I really should talk to the youth, I should inspire more women to get into this field, I should try to inspire more people of color.”
SPEAKING TO AUDIENCES
For the past 18 months, Hill has done just that, speaking to various audiences in several states about various topics concerning financial literacy, home ownership and especially the profession that has helped him achieve so much at such a young age.
“The vast majority of Americans don’t even know how to read an appraisal,” he says. “I do events for the youth, I do the home buying process for teens. In high school, you really don’t know who you’re going to encounter in the home buying process. But it’s good to know what they do, who they are, and how the process goes, as well as talk about renting versus home ownership.
“Learning these things comes from a mindset to challenge yourself and to really decide how you want your life to turn out. I had lots of opportunities to go down the wrong path. I feel like when you have a particular mindset and you want something, if you’re given an opportunity to study or you’re given an opportunity to take those courses or be open to a mentor, you need to take it.”
Hill says developing his public speaking acumen, as well as writing the book he has coming out soon, meant getting comfortable with sharing things about his upbringing he’d rarely told outside of a very small circle. Despite describing himself as “just a worker,” he has come to see the value in talking about some of the harder aspects of his early days as a way to connect with and ultimately inspire others.
“I never really have shared much about my life,” he says. “People in my inner circle knew I did this and that, but I never really shared it with anyone else. But to me, that message is the most important thing, and it almost came naturally. Now I want to share a little bit about my life and give people some tips that maybe will resonate.
“What has kept the jitters away is, I’ve been in my field 17 years now. I know my stuff back and forth, and I feel like when you have a message that can help somebody, you have to be present for the opportunity. I hope to share some things that I learned that another youth or adult will pick up, and it will help them on their journey.”
• My favorite book is: “Rich Dad Poor Dad” by Robert Kiyosaki.
• My personal motto is: “A motivated mindset is priceless.”
• If I hadn’t gone into Real Estate appraising, I wanted to be: An attorney. I always had a heart to serve the community.
• The one thing I know to be trie about all people is: We are all created differently, but have a lot of things in common with each other.
• The hardest piece of criticism I ever received was: When people told me I was too young to get into real estate and start an appraisal company.
• The secret to my happiness is: To keep God first in all things.
• My guilty pleasure would have to be: Chocolate chip cookies.
• One hidden talent not many people know about me is: I have learned to efficiently do multiple things at one time.
• I consider it my proudest accomplishment that: I have had the opportunity to use my appraisal expertise to place a value on a residential property in every state in America. Also on that list: graduating college.
• One of my favorite quotes is by my former coach Houston Nutt: He said, “Do what’s right, even when no one is looking.”
• The three people I’d most like to have dinner with would include: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, and my grandmother.
• The secret to success in business and life is: To take calculated risks and always think outside the box. Success will come when you have the heart to share and help another person.
• The one word that best describes me is: Passionate.
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