Bad Actors: AMC Appraisal Perspective Through Rhetorical Misdirection

October 20, 2014 | 4:45 pm | Public |

I was invited to speak at the Great Lakes Chapter of the Appraisal Institute last week and met a lot of great appraisers who cover the state of Michigan.

Summit2014Brochure

I spoke about the housing market and the misinterpretation of residential housing metrics, inspired by this article and the following infographic from the Detroit Free Press.

Inkster +106.4% !!!!! a largely distressed market with what I was told only has a handful of rock bottom sales ie $10K in 2009 becomes to $30k in 2014 – a perfect example. Hot? Hardly.

dfp-real-estate-hot-spots-2014-MAP

As much as I think I held their attention for the entire hour allotted, my presentation fell short of getting audience adrenaline pumping like the Jordan Petkovsky, the Chief Appraiser of a TSI Appraisal, a large national AMC and affiliated with Quicken Loans. It was confusing to me to come up with how good public relations could be gained by talking to us like a politician – as if we were clueless to the “incredible benefit” that AMCs provide our industry.

Here are a few of the questions (paraphrased) posed to an audience comprised of heavily experienced residential and commercial appraisers:

Q: “I realize there is friction between AMCs and appraisers. What has to happen to solve this problem?”
A: Someone in audience: “Someone has to die” followed by a burst of laughter from the entire room.

Q: “We spend millions on powerful analytics. Wouldn’t it be great for appraisers to get their hands on this technology?” (repeated 2 more times slowly for effect).”
A: Someone answered: “You have to spend millions on technology because the appraisal quality is so poor you need to analyze the markets yourself.”

Q: “How do we attract new appraisers into the business?”
A: My answer “Until appraisers are fairly compensated when banks are financially incentivized to require credible reports, nothing will change.”

Q: “How do you think banks feel about the reliability of appraisals today? They don’t feel the values are reliable.”
A: My answer “Because AMCs pay ±half the market rate, they can only mostly attract form-fillers (aka “corner-cutters”). They don’t represent the good appraisers in the appraisal industry.”

Q: “We focus a tremendous amount of effort on regulatory compliance on behalf of banks and boy are they demanding! We even have a full time position that handles the compliance issues.”
A: My comment – that’s a recurring mantra from the AMC industry as a scare tactic to keep banks from returning to in-house appraisal departments. Prior to 2006 boom and bust cycle and the explosion of mortgage brokers with an inherent conflict of interest as orders of appraisals, the profession was pretty good at providing reliable value estimates. The unusually large demands by regulators (if this is really true and I have serious doubts) is because the AMC appraisal quality is generally poor. If bank appraisal quality was excellent, there would not be a lot of regulatory inquiries besides periodic audits.

What I found troubling with his presentation – and I have to give him credit for walking into the lion’s den – is how the conversation was framed in such an AMC-centric, self-absorbed way. I keep hearing this story pushed by the AMC industry: The destruction of the modern appraisal industry was the fault of a few “bad actors” during the boom that used appraisal trainees to crank out their reports. That’s incredibly out of context and a few “bad actors” wasn’t the only reason HVCC which was inferred.

Back during the boom, banks closed their in-house appraisal centers because they came to view them as “cost centers” since risk was managed and mortgage brokers accounted for 2/3 of the mortgage volume. Mortgage brokers only got paid when the loan closed, so guess what kind of appraisers were selected? Those who were more likely to hit the number – not on the basis of quality. Banks were forced to expand their reliance on AMCs after the financial crisis because the majority of their relationships with appraisers had been removed from the process – the mortgage brokerage industry imploded and banks weren’t interested in re-opening appraisal departments because they don’t generate short term revenue.

The speaker spent a lot of time talking like a politician – “we all have to work together to solve this problem” “appraisers have to invest in technology.” When asked whether his firm had an “AVM”, he responded almost too quickly with “No” and then added “but you should see our analytics!”

The residential appraisers in the audience were largely seething after the presentation based on the conversations I heard or joined with afterwords.

It’s really sad that appraisers don’t have a real voice in our future. We’ve never had the money to sway policy creation and we can’t prevent the re-write of history.

We’re clearly not the “bad actor.”

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Bloomberg View Column: Only Brooklyn Is Over the City’s Housing Bust

October 13, 2014 | 2:32 pm | BloombergViewlogoGray | Columns |

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Read my latest Bloomberg View column Only Brooklyn Is Over the City’s Housing Bust. Please join the conversation over at Bloomberg View. Here’s an excerpt…

Housing prices in four of New York’s five boroughs still haven’t reached their pre-crash highs. The outlier? Brooklyn.

Housing prices in Brooklyn now are more than 8 percent above the peak reached in 2007. The other four boroughs, meanwhile, are all more than 10 percent below their highs, with the Bronx still down by almost a quarter….

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[Video] Fox Business Risk & Reward with Deirdre Bolton 10-6-14

October 6, 2014 | 4:24 pm | Videos |

I spoke with Deirdre Bolton on “Risk & Reward” today to speak about last weekend’s excellent New York Times real estate piece by Julie Satow called “Dialing it Down.” Deirdre focused on the metric developed during my preparation of last week’s Elliman Report of Manhattan sales in 3Q2014 showing that luxury inventory has doubled over the past year.

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[Manhattan Absorption] September 2014 – While All Markets Cool, Sub $3M Remains Brisk

October 4, 2014 | 3:27 pm | Charts |

9-2014Manhattan [click to expand]

Thoughts A noticeable downshift from last year yet the market remains brisk. Nearly all price segments are showing slower absorption rates with more weakness seen above the $3M threshold (roughly where the luxury market begins i.e. top 10%).

Side by side Manhattan regional comparison:

September 2014 v September 2013
9-201409-2013 [click images to expand]

I started this analysis in August 2009 so I am able to show side-by side year-over-year comparisons. (I got tired of the red/gray look in 9-2014 so I changed it) The blue/red line shows the 10-year quarterly average for context. The pink/orange line represents the overall average absorption rate of the most recently completed month for that market area. 

Definition Absorption defined for the purposes of this chart is: Number of months to sell all listing inventory at the current annualized pace of sales activity in our market report series.


Manhattan Market Absorption Charts [Miller Samuel]

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Bloomberg View Column: When $7 Million Is Average for Manhattan

October 3, 2014 | 12:05 pm | BloombergViewlogoGray | Columns |

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Read my latest Bloomberg View column When $7 Million Is Average for Manhattan. Please join the conversation over at Bloomberg View. Here’s an excerpt…

It’s pretty much universal knowledge that Manhattan real estate is expensive. What isn’t so well known is what’s happening at the top of the market: Price increases have been crazy.

Ever since the financial crisis, housing prices for the most-expensive 10 percent of the Manhattan market have increased more than 15 percent. Compare that with the modest 2.5 percent gain for the remaining 90 percent of the market….

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Miller Samuel Turns 28

October 1, 2014 | 6:44 pm |

NY-28

It’s hard to comprehend we launched our residential appraisal and consulting practice 28 years ago TODAY. It was before…

  • appraiser licensing.
  • co-ops were public record.
  • real market reports.
  • Bryant Park was safe to walk through during the day.
  • graffiti was removed from the subway system.
  • Derek Jeter joined the Yankees.
  • McDonalds in Manhattan were commonplace.
  • $10k per square foot.

Billions in valuations later…it’s still fun.

Tomorrow we get working on year 29.

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3Q14 Manhattan Sales Market: Operating Just Below Record Levels

October 1, 2014 | 6:17 pm | delogo | Reports |

Manhattan_3Q14

Today Douglas Elliman published the Elliman Report on Manhattan Sales that I author. This quarterly report is part of an evolving market report series I’ve been writing for Douglas Elliman since 1994 (20 years!).

Key Points
- Sales fell below last year’s third quarter record but still 29% above decade quarterly average.
- Luxury market price gains outpaced the overall market.
- Inventory is up from last year’s low but still 18% below decade quarterly average.
- New development market share of closed sales was up from year ago level, but expected to rise sharply over next year.
- Highest market share of sales at or above list price in 6 years (49.2%).

Here’s an excerpt from the report:

Manhattan housing prices continued to rise as additional supply remained inadequate to meet demand. Bidding wars and a shift toward larger units applied additional upward pressure to rising price trends. Sharp gains in New York City employment, the continued influx of international investors and low mortgage rates have kept the market tight. A product of five years of pent-up demand and the fear of rising mortgage rates, sales volume fell short of prior year records. Marketing times and negotiability eased, as the market downshifted from last year’s frenetic pace. Luxury market price growth exceeded the overall market, while new development product targeted at the luxury segment continued to enter the market…

The Elliman Report: 3Q14 Manhattan Sales [Miller Samuel]
Miller Samuel Aggregate Database [Miller Samuel]
Market Chart Gallery [Miller Samuel]


Bloomberg View Column: Giant Condo Tower Needs More Billionaires

September 29, 2014 | 2:26 pm | BloombergViewlogoGray | Columns |

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Read my latest Bloomberg View column Giant Condo Tower Needs More Billionaires. Please join the conversation over at Bloomberg View. Here’s an excerpt…

In post-crash Manhattan’s high-end real estate, few projects loom larger or more visibly than the 1,004-foot-high One57, the tallest residential-hotel building in New York. This is a rarefied market, with two penthouse units selling for more than $90 million each, including one to hedge-fund baron Bill Ackman.

Amid all the hyperventilating about the tower, including complaints that it’s out of scale with the neighborhood, it’s poorly reviewed design and that it casts an afternoon shadow on Central Park in the winter, the little known fact is that the 92-unit building seems to be less of a hit with buyers than one might glean from the PR machine….

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Lone Wolves: Appraisers Fighting Everyone, Including Appraisers

September 27, 2014 | 2:20 pm | Milestones |

appraisalreviewcartoon

A few days ago I published a critical piece on the appraisal industry for Bloomberg View called Guess What’s Holding Back Housing.

There are many great people, incredible talents and solid organizations within the appraisal profession. But in my opinion only 20% of the industry are truly competent professionals and the remainder are merely varying degrees of form fillers.

I have been an appraiser for 28 years and it is apparent that the industry is dying a death of a thousand knives. One of the key reasons for this slow death is the lack of national leadership and the extreme fragmentation since most appraisal shops are comprised of a single or just a handful of professionals. I’d also like to offer that the majority of our profession seem very willing to make unsupported negative inferences on reviews of a colleague’s work such as appraisal field reviews or troll columns like mine.

Like I said, 80% of the profession are really not professional. Many of these appraisers have not looked up from their clipboards in quite a while and take an objective look at the world around them.

I have found appraisers throughout my career to be hyper defensive about the quality of their own work (I am definitely one of them on occasion). Just ask any bank review appraiser what it was like to call an appraiser out on an unsupported analysis. And just ask any appraiser what it is like to get meaningless criticisms from a bank appraisal reviewer over nothing germane to the value opinion.

A few week’s ago a colleague sent me a link to the first empirical study on the impact of HVCC on the appraisal profession by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia. The thrust of the study was the analysis of “low appraisals.”

When I used the term “low appraisals” in my piece combined with their editors choice of post titles: Guess What’s Holding Back Housing all bets were off.

It was “game on”, yet I’m in the appraisal trenches with all of them. The most amazing thing about the adverse reaction was that most of the appraisers who trolled the comment section or sent me scathing emails never read the Fed’s working paper on the analysis which was the basis of the post. The core of the working paper is only about 10 pages double spaced in length yet they were more willing to troll a colleague than undertake a professional debate.

I could chalk this unprofessional reaction to the battering our industry has taken over the past decade – I certainly feel that way – but it doesn’t explain everything. Because our industry has no real voice in related public policy, we continue to be marginalized by robotic institutional processes such as AMCs, AVMs and upper management that still sees our services as merely a cost center.

When I received the first email troll comment, I queried his email address and called him up right away. He was surprised that I found his phone number but we had a pleasant discussion. He was concerned that I would out him.

I exchanged emails with several of the email ranters and the replies were much more civil. I also did this with a few of the commenters on the post.

Although the majority of these responses are rambling rants, they shed some light on the state of the appraisal profession.

Take a look at a sample (I redacted their last names, firm names and contact info):

Hello Jonathan- I’ve heard good things about your firm and its work, so I am doubly shocked by the headline in your article “Guess What’s Holding Back Housing,” and the implication that somehow appraisers are to blame for the sluggish pace of the housing recovery. There’s no question mark at the end of the “Housing.” It’s not a question, but more of an accusation. You do know we’ve been through a severe recession, don’t you? That in spite of the increase in employment that has taken place we have created a lot of part-time jobs and done away with a lot of high-paying full-time jobs. Labor force participation is way down. You do know that lending standards have tightened? Are you aware of these facts? I ask that because your article conveys ZERO understanding of any of these fundamentals. The term “Low Appraisals” manages to be erroneous and stigmatizing at the same time. That an appraisal is “low” tells me nothing about the quality of the appraisal. It may be a great appraisal. It may be a terrible appraisal. It says nothing about whether the appraisal conforms to regulatory guidelines and industry standards and is a credible opinion of market value. I NEVER use that term when referring to an appraisal. I have dealt with many irate customers throughout the years and I always take the time to explain to people what an appraiser is supposed to do – which the general public frequently does not understand. The term “low appraisals” is also stigmatizing. If “low” appraisals are “holding back housing,” well that is not a good thing, is it? As a leader in an industry which is poorly understood by the general public, I am saddened that you would take the space granted to you to further the misconceptions people have about appraisers and what we do. It is NOT our job to “make” or “hit” a number. When we make that the job is when the problems start happening. You could have explained to Bloomberg’s readers that appraisers have to weigh an offer for a property in light of market evidence. If the evidence to support the sale price is not there, an appraiser is doing his or her job in NOT “hitting the number.” Your use of the “low appraisal” term suggests that the appraisal is somehow flawed. If the appraisal is flawed, it is not because it is “low” but because it does not incorporate appropriate data and/or analysis. In all my time in the appraisal industry I have always offered irate clients a change to point to specific, substantive errors or omissions in any appraisal when they do not agree with its findings. The overwhelming majority of the time the client, or broker, or other interested party has nothing to say. They are angry because the number is “too low.” They don’t know or care if the appraisal is well done or poorly done. All they care about is that it is “low.” I hope you will use your prominent position in the industry and your access to publications such as Bloomberg to speak the truth about what appraisers are do, not further misconceptions. Sincerely William

I called William directly and we spoke at length.

How can you, a highly recognized real estate appraiser, write an article for Bloomberg suggesting that appraisers are partially responsible for the weak housing market when the quality of the appraisal reports was not analyzed? How can anyone, or an agency make such a suggestion if the reports weren’t analyzed? I am a retired general real estate appraiser who reviewed many reports and to do so required a knowledge of the real estate market in which the report was prepared. In my own opinion, again without an analysis of any reports, it is more likely that the appraisers are better now and are NOT trying to hit the target as was the case prior to the 2006, 2007 blowup because they are under so much scrutiny from the lenders. For example, no more calling an average property “above average with no repairs necessary” when, in fact, the property has a few problems. The local appraiser group has shrunk as the worst ones are no longer in business, as is the case of many of the unscrupulous lenders who employed them.

My response to the above:

Hi Thomas,

Thanks for sending the note.

It’s actually quite easy to write about it. I disagree with your observations about today’s quality. It is very poor.

I have reviewed thousands of residential appraisals, been an expert in a number of national litigation cases and the quality right now is just as bad as it was during the boom, but different. The Fed study I referred to in the piece inferred a quality problem as a result of the metrics presented. Talented professionals like I’m sure you were are no longer entering the industry.

Yes the mortgage broker-orientated appraisers are largely gone now but the new generation of appraisers working for AMCs are just as bad, but in the opposite direction. Now we have an industry working for half the market rate who need to cut corners to be able to complete the report. With AMC’s it is much more common for the appraiser to be missing local market knowledge and to drive much farther to their assignment.

Mortgage appraisers today who work for AMCs tend to be biased low because they don’t know their market area cold which is just as bad as being biased high back during the boom.

I want our industry to provide a neutral well research product. The problem is the the clients don’t care and see us as a commodity rather than a profession.

Again, thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Thomas did not respond.

Jonathan, Summarized: Appraisers were responsible for the housing bust AND now for holding back progress in the housing market. Funny how that is……..that so many cover the above as truth and that few actually write about the actual purpose of the appraisal process. I suppose it would be harder to headline an article like that and draw readers in. I enjoyed this part in particular; “The quality of appraisal reports wasn’t analyzed, but the paper suggests that it may have declined.” I look forward to reading more. Sincerely, Adam

My response to Adam:

Hi Adam

Summarized: you need to drop the righteous indignation lathered in sarcasm approach. It’s not productive unless you are merely a troll.

Otherwise I assume you are an accomplished appraiser. Would you like to discuss this tomorrow? I’d really appreciate dissecting the disconnect.

Let me know.

Adam did not respond. The more sarcastic the commentary, the more afraid appraisers like Adam are to engage in reasonable discussion.

I don’t think you have all the correct information. For only a $400 to $500 fee an appraiser will make sure I don’t pay too much for a house. Nor pay the real estate agent a 7% commission which on a $500,000 home would be $35,000. Nor pay $300,000 in interest to a mortgage company. So are “low ball” appraisals really the problem? Or were “inflated values” the problem? Or is it that appraisers keep the other guy honest? Sorry sir, but I want to not get ripped off! Bobby

My reply:

Bobby

Thanks for the reply. On a bank appraisal, the appraiser’s client is the bank, not the borrower – a common misunderstanding.

We had a continuing dialogue.

I just read the article on Bloomberg View and I have to say, as a certified real estate appraiser, I am a little offended. I know the graphs and the statistics show that there has been an increase of real estate sales and refinances that are killed by the appraisal. I also agree that the HVCC and later the Dodd-Frank Act has increased the number of what are called “low appraisals”. I think the problem myself and many other appraisers have is even the often incorrect use of the phrase “low appraisal” itself. As in all professions there are always going to be the few that don’t do the job correctly or even those who falsely skew the results. The other 98% of the appraisers out there are just giving the honest truth, as we are required to by our ethics and the law. Most appraisers including myself have a great respect for the fact that we are there to protect the borrower and the lender, or the seller and the buyer in the case of a sale. I have read many articles in realtor or mortgage professional trade magazines and online blogs about these “low appraisals” and the bad “low ball appraisers”. The story often goes like this; A realtor Jane Doe describes how “bad, low appraisals” have killed 4 of her last 10 sales. She says the problem has gotten worse and she has been a realtor for 20 years and appraisal quality is at an all time low. The truth is that most agents, like appraisers are honest professionals who are doing a good job. The issue is their job is to get a buyer and seller to agree on a price… so that they get what they want and money can be made. They are advocates for “brokering” the deal and work on commission. There are few checks and balances in that system, it is self regulated by the free market, which is great… most of the time. What sometimes happens is this: The house for sale is a nice 2,000 sf, 3 bed 2 bath ranch home in Niceville Subdivision, the seller feels his house is worth at least $250,000 and the buyer loves the house and they feel that $240,000 is the highest they can pay. The house goes under contract for $240,000 and 2 agents and 2 clients are happy… for now. Then when the appraisal comes back at $225,000 everyone thinks it is a low appraisal, 2 agents, 2 clients, 1 loan officer, etc. all want the house to be worth the agreed upon $240,000. The problem is the appraiser is doing his job and found that out of 30 total sales in Niceville S/D, 8 of them are similar ranch style homes that are in “average” to “very good” condition selling between $190,000 and $220,000. Most of the ones that best match the size, condition, # of garages, amenities, etc. have sold for about $215,000 after + & – adjustments are made for differences. That is what is known as “The MOST PROBABLE PRICE a property will bring in a competitive and open market”, not the highest price “if you get lucky”, or the price you can get “if the buyers are from out of town and don’t know the local market”. The scope of work we agree to is just that, the most probable price. Lenders want to know that if the loan stops performing that they actually own something that is worth what they lent on it. If 90% of homes like the one in this case sell for $215,000 and I value it for $240,000 I have not done my job correctly. If the loan defaults 6 months later when the buyer losses his job and the bank loses money because they can’t find that rare buyer willing to pay too much, I have harmed them. If the buyer of that house gets relocated in 6 months and cannot sell it or has to take a loss when he realizes he can only get the usual $215,000, I have harmed him. The agents and loan officers that made the high commissions 6 months ago have nothing to fear, they did their job and got the deal done. The appraiser will be the one that will be getting the call from the attorneys. That is something that needs to be remembered. We are NOT paid on commission and our work is scrutinized by underwriters to test us constantly. It is in our best interest to do the right thing and value a property fairly, not too high or too low…. And that is what we do…. and get pressure in one direction or the other if values are going up or going down. That is why the average age appraiser is over 55 years old and few are joining the profession. Being a punching bag for doing the right thing gets old as fees go down gobbled up by the AMC’s that Cuomo forced on the industry as the cost of living, gas, business expenses, insurance, etc. goes up. P.S. Look at Cuomo’s involvement and gain, in creating a forced middleman in the modern appraisal industry. Regards, John

Thanks for your thoughtful reply John.

The phrase “low appraisal” was the metric selected by the Fed and the basis of the study. It strikes a nerve in appraisers and rightful so. They used it in a mechanical way versus the way NAR might complain that appraisers are killing their deals. Still, the appraisal quality of the industry is worse today compared to 10-20 years ago. Are there good appraisers out there? Of course. I am. You sound like you are. But the industry is dying and part of the reason, but not the entire reason, is us. We have no leadership and are simply being marginalized – the outcome in my opinion is a lower quality product that reduces the reliance on our industry.

Thanks again for sharing your thoughts.

John replied again with a very well articulated description of the state of the appraisal industry.

I agree that we need to do more. In Louisiana we are pretty good about regulating AMC’s and there is a requirement for them to pay C&R fees but many still don’t. I am sorry if I sounded rude in my first e-mail but as you know the low appraisal thing strikes a nerve with most of us. I would love to see a large powerful national organization that truly advocates for appraisers the way NAR does for realtors. That would be the real answer. Getting most of us in one organization I agree is the problem since we are lone wolves in many ways.

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Bloomberg View Column: Housing’s New Wealth Effect

September 27, 2014 | 1:00 pm | BloombergViewlogoGray |

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Read my latest Bloomberg View column Housing’s New Wealth Effect. Please join the conversation over at Bloomberg View. Here’s an excerpt…

It was a busy week for housing market reports. The U.S. Census published its new home-sales results for August, showing an 18 percent gain from the prior month and a 33 percent increase from August 2013. News headlines relied on words such as “surged” and “soared” to describe the results.

Only a few days earlier, the National Association of Realtors released its existing home-sales report for August, which showed month-over-month sales falling for the first time in four months. The inventory of unsold properties was 4.5 percent higher than a year earlier. I recently addressed the market slowdown in “Understanding Housing’s Dog Days.”

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