What does an ARA designation mean for Real Estate Appraisers

What Does an ARA Designation Mean?

What’s the difference between an MAI & ARA?

The term “appraiser” is fairly generic, and industries will often have appraisers with specializations. Even within the real estate industry, there are residential appraisers who appraise homes, commercial appraisers who appraise offices, apartments, commercial developments, and more, and there are farm/ranch appraisers who focus mainly on ranches, farms and agricultural-related properties. While these are very broad categories, all appraisers – regardless of their specialty practice – are required to undergo extensive education and training. Once an appraiser has passed the required coursework, they’re still required to work under a licensed appraiser for a period of time. And like similar industries, each year additional classes and education must be taken to maintain licensing.

With real estate appraisers, there are different designations one can choose to achieve. For the purposes of this discussion, we’ll focus specifically on appraisers who specialize in commercial real estate or farm/ranch real estate – not residential appraisers. An appraiser begins as a trainee and then works toward a state certification. This not only requires numerous classes, but also a period of time to train and learn under a certified appraiser. Many firms require their appraisers to also hold at least a four-year college degree.

Overseeing appraiser accreditations and designations are two main organizations: The American Society of Farm and Ranch Managers (ASFMRA) and the Appraisal Institute (AI). While it’s fairly easy to understand the specialization of ASFMRA members, Appraisal Institute members typically, but not always, focuses more on commercial real estate. Through ASFMRA, the most common designation or accreditation for appraisers is the ARA, which stands for an Accredited Rural Appraiser. Through the Appraisal Institute, the most common designation or accreditation for appraisers is the MAI, which stands for Member, Appraisal Institute. We’ll examine what it takes specifically to achieve each of these designations and what the difference is between them.


To earn an ARA accreditation, rigorous education and continuing education requirements must be met and an appraiser is required to have at least 5 years of appraisal experience. They are also required to submit and defend one demonstration appraisal report, as well as provide six additional appraisal reports for review from their “job log”. Additionally, the Society conducts a comprehensive exam over all coursework that has been taken over the duration of the education process. The ARA is held by professionals that specialize in farm and ranch properties, focused agricultural properties (dairies, feed lots, processing facilities), etc.


To become a designated as an MAI, the appraiser must complete rigorous coursework and testing. An MAI candidate must also submit and defend a demonstration appraisal (or equivalent) and take a comprehensive exam. The appraiser must have a minimum of 4,500 hours of applied work experience. The MAI designation is held by professionals who provide a wide range of services on all types of real property including commercial, industrial, agricultural, residential, and vacant land.