Matrix Blog

Appraising

Doubling Down On Appraisers as ‘Lone Wolves’ – Valuation Review

March 23, 2017 | 7:29 am | Articles |

Note: I have been a subscriber of Valuation Review and it’s predecessor for years. It provides a wide perspective on the appraisal industry and I’ve always got something out of it. Over the past few years, I’ve noticed that the voices in the magazine seemed to be skewing more and more towards national level AMC executives. I suspect the PR departments of these firms make their top executives readily accessible washing out the voices of individual appraisers. So I sent the editor a note offering another perspective with links to my content. He was immediately interested in getting another voice so he interviewed me.

From the Wednesday, March 22, 2017, Valuation Review Article:  CEO suggests appraisal industry comprised of ‘lone wolves’.

CEO suggests appraisal industry comprised of ‘lone wolves’

Reasonable compensation, lender and AMC issues are constantly on the mind of the appraiser. When things aren’t falling into place, the process of assigning blame kicks into high gear with appraisers continuing to look for guidance.

“That’s the problem in that there really isn’t any leadership for appraisers to follow. The false narrative of an appraisal shortage continues to be pushed by AMCs, unfairly tarnishing the image of individual appraisers,” Miller Samuel Inc. President and CEO Jonathan Miller told Valuation Review. “When an industry takes a 50 percent pay cut overnight, good people leave or struggle to hang on and weaker players are attracted-which equals problems. But is it the fault of the remaining individual appraisers?

“AMCs are at a seminal moment,” Miller added. “In what other industry does the company managing the talent get about the same compensation as the talent them? An agent representing a Hollywood actor isn’t going to get $1 million if their client is receiving that same amount for a movie role. It is a broken model.”

Like many in the appraisal profession, Miller strongly believes that there is not a shortage of appraisers. In fact, he more than challenges one reason for such a shortage is that too many burdensome regulations are being placed upon appraisers.

“There is a shortage of appraisers willing to work for 50 cents on the dollar,” Miller said. “The AMC model has hit a wall. AMCs have run out of new people willing to work for 50 cents on the dollar. Sadly, consumers think appraisers are getting the appraisal fee stated in their mortgage documents. They aren’t and typically the appraiser receives as little as 50 percent of it.

“The Appraisal Institute says there is a shortage of appraisers and seem to be championing the AMC concept but appraisers don’t understand why,” Miller added. “I’m not against AMCs; rather, I’m against the execution of business by the AMCs. They treat appraisers as a commodity rather than a professional service.”

For the rest of the story, visit here.

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Banks Make Regulations Onerous By Over-Interpreting Them

March 8, 2017 | 11:52 am | Investigative |

Some people are their own worst enemy. And that old saying also applies to financial institutions.

With all the talk about revisiting, gutting or eliminating Dodd-Frank, a significant part of the problem with mortgage appraisal related lending actually exists within the bank risk management themselves. Their over-interpretation of what the regulations require gives outsiders the impression that appraiser related regulations or standards are more onerous than they actually are.

Fannie Mae Allows Trainee Inspections Without Their Supervisory Appraiser
One of the biggest issues today is the lack of mentoring by experienced appraisers because it is not financially feasible under current lending practice. Both banks and AMCs – who act as a bank’s agent – generally do not allow trainees to inspect a property without a licensed or certified appraiser alongside. So in an era where AMCs control as much as 90% of mortgage appraisal work, the lenders are requiring AMCs to require something the GSEs (the party buy their mortgage paper) do not require. This risk aversion is residual from housing bubble collapse. Mortgage lenders today, subjected to low rates and a very narrow rate spread, remain irrationally averse to risk.

However, their underwriting risk management is effectively destroying the future quality of appraisals that will be done on their collateral because the new wave of appraisers is essentially only book-smart without real world context (mentoring). Experienced appraisers can not afford to invest the time to inspect the property with the trainee (in addition to their own inspections) for the multi-year experience period before the appraiser is certified after already taking a 30% to 50% overnight pay cut from AMCs.

From the Fannie Mae Seller’s Guide Update – 2017-01 page 2.

Reporting “Material Failures” to State Boards
In reference to appraisal oversight, let’s consider how banks determine whether an appraiser is reported to their state licensing board.

Dodd-Frank says the following in 12 CFR 226.42(g)(1). Whereby a lender has to report an appraiser for…[bold, my emphasis]

(g) Mandatory reporting—(1) Reporting required. Any covered person that reasonably believes an appraiser has not complied with the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice or ethical or professional requirements for appraisers under applicable state or federal statutes or regulations shall refer the matter to the appropriate state agency if the failure to comply is material. For purposes of this paragraph (g)(1), a failure to comply is material if it is likely to significantly affect the value assigned to the consumer’s principal dwelling.

When the CFPB was asked what they meant by a “material failure” – the following table shows the difference between material and non-material.  So how much is a material failure? A value off by 2%, 10% or 30%?

And by the way, the third option for reporting a material failure seems absurd although I suppose it has to be said – Who is dumb enough to admit that they accepted the assignment because they knew they would “make the deal” happen. The obvious lack of a definitive paper trail in such a situation makes this very hard to prove.

I’ve always had a problem with setting rigid rules in considering the concept of appraisal oversight. With valuation expertise, how does a state agency apply hard rules to value opinions, comp selection and adjustments, etc.? There needs to be a great deal of latitude for regulators and an “I’ll know it when I see it” approach should be allowed.

Separating gross negligence from negligence

Here is the rule.

“Performing an appraisal in a grossly negligent manner, in violation of a rule under USPAP.”

While subjective, it represents a very severe extreme to which an appraisal would be reported to a state board. The rule goes on to say…

“Accepting an appraisal assignment on the condition that the appraiser will report a value equal to or greater than the purchase price for the consumer’s principal dwelling, is in violation of a rule under USPAP.”

But big national mortgage companies today like Wells Fargo and others are reporting appraisals to state boards where the value is not supported. ie weak comps, unreasonable adjustments, etc. Reports with those issues may, in fact, be negligent but do not fall under the definition of gross negligence. Let’s not wreck an appraisers career because they missed some better comps. Once these reports are referred to the state, the state must investigate. It opens up the appraiser to more risk of unintended consequences. Think of a scenario where a cop pulls over a driver for a missing taillight and learns that the driver doesn’t have his wallet with him.

Gross negligence requires a much higher test than applying it to an appraiser who is just being stupid.

It is defined as:

Gross negligence is a conscious and voluntary disregard of the need to use reasonable care, which is likely to cause foreseeable grave injury or harm to persons, property, or both. It is conduct that is extreme when compared with ordinary Negligence, which is a mere failure to exercise reasonable care.

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Voice of Appraisal Podcast: E136 A Deep Dive into A.I. with Jonathan Miller!!!

January 19, 2017 | 7:12 am | Radio |

I had another great conversation on Voice of Appraisal with Phil Crawford. The conversation centered around AI National’s “taking” policy debacle, my repository for all the documents on this matter (realestateindustrialcomplex), the viral outrage that has overtaken the appraisal industry, released from my first of several Matrix posts on the topic: Sadly, The Appraisal Institute is now working against its local chapters.

We also spoke about RAC, an appraisal organization I’ve been a member of for two decades and recently became the president. RAC works for its members.

Aside from Phil’s dreamy radio voice, he shares a lot of great content each week for appraisers. Well worth a regular listen.

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Unbelievably, The Appraisal Institute Intimidates A Chapter

December 28, 2016 | 5:17 pm | Investigative |

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On December 20, 2016 AI President Scott Robinson and AI’s legal counsel called a chapter executive director’s superiors about two posts placed on my REIC website (realestateindustrialcomplex.com) – under the guise of being brand damaging to AI National.  This was interpreted as an intimidation tactic.  For the record, the posted documents were already widely shared across the industry and there was no personal commentary provided with the posts. In fact, this person was merely posting them on behalf of someone else.

One of the posted documents, the North Texas Chapter’s position paper on the “taking” was already on REIC…if they had taken the time to scroll through it. The second document was the Chicago Chapter’s response to the “taking.” When I heard about this AI National action from multiple sources, I called the chapter executive director and left a voicemail, inviting them to take down the documents if they wanted to because of the threat. After the posts were removed, I re-posted the Chicago chapter letter since the North Texas Chapter letter was already on the site (it was the first document I ever posted on REIC).

My thoughts

  • This call was a sign that AI National is panicking after creating a massive membership-wide backlash relating to what I call the “taking” policy.  This already implemented policy has been discussed in previous blog posts.
  • The two documents posted by the chapter executive director were already in the public domain after being widely circulated by an outraged AI membership across the country.
  • The heavy-handedness to make such a phone call shows the bully pulpit culture taken against those who speak out.
  • Most members I know are afraid to speak out against AI National for fear of retaliation. This recent call substantiates that fear and that is very sad even though their actions are based on nothing (sorry AI legal counsel) and brand damaging seems to be something that AI National has been good at. AI National has largely ignored their SRA designation to the point where it carries little weight with clients anymore. They have not successfully addressed declining membership, plus explain their singular emphasis on commercial, the international membership spending boondoggle and much more. Perhaps membership should be the one intimidating AI National leadership instead of the other way around?
  • There isn’t any reasonable basis for a lawsuit with what I understand.  Here is some rationale.
    — The two documents are not AI National’s documents.
    — The two documents are being circulated everywhere by AI members and non-members alike.
    — One document was the first document I had ever posted on my REIC website before it was posted by the executive director.
    — This aggressive action by AI National can only be interpreted as an attempt to perpetuate a culture that intimidates members and chapter administrations to allow them to continue on their current path.

Action

I have seen high volume on my REIC site since launch as well as on this Matrix blog and my Housing Notes. However, I have had fewer register on REIC than anticipated based on the traffic. After learning about the phone call and my intention to be transparent on the website with “who said what,” I realized I had not considered how badly damaged the current culture was at AI National and the animosity they show towards its chapters and members.  If that’s not an accurate interpretation, I invite Scott to call me and clarify what was said so we can get both sides of this situation and I can share it with our readers. I am only interested in getting the story right.

Therefore I have asked my web developer to remove all registration requirements on REIC to allow anonymous posts (soon – he’s on vacation) – look for the announcement.

In the meantime, you can email me directly and I will post your content myself on REIC.

Although I am no longer associated with AI specifically because of similar AI National behavior during the exit of TAF, their actions and (mainly) inactions have continued to hurt the appraisal industry.  Let’s stop an insulated AI National leadership from causing any further damage to the AI brand as well as the appraisal industry.

Two more thoughts.

  • It’s a free country and appraisers have the right to provide opinions and share widely circulated letters already in the public domain to whomever they wish.
  • There have been thousands of readers of my analysis of their stealth policy “taking” debacle and additional related content is making the email rounds in a frenzy – so I want to know this: Does AI National plan to threaten their entire membership?

 

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Real Estate Industrial Complex versus The Appraisal Institute’s Stealth Culture

December 18, 2016 | 8:48 pm | Favorites |

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Over the past couple of weeks there has been extreme outrage expressed by the chapters and membership of the Appraisal Institute towards “National” leadership and their stealth policy culture. The last straw was “The Taking” policy of nearly all chapter funds and then charging the chapters to manage them. This major AI policy initiative was passed without vetting of the chapters or the membership. I have written about this in two recent blog posts that went viral.

Sadly, The Appraisal Institute is now working against its local chapters

Incredibly, The Appraisal Institute is taking chapter “excess cash” and charging them for the privilege

Emails, letters and documents are flying everywhere.

On Thursday it was suggested I set up a central repository for all this information since not everyone in the chapters and membership are seeing all the same information.

So we set one up and it is ready to go. This new web site is a forum that allows users to either lurk or register. If you register you can add content and comments. If you’d rather lurk, that’s ok too since the goal here is to create transparency. I preloaded REIC with some of the information I have. I’m happy to upload information for those of you that are less tech savvy…just use my email address below.

But for now, the best thing you can do is SEND THIS URL TO EVERYONE YOU KNOW and start UPLOADING AND SHARING INFORMATION RIGHT NOW!!!

https://realestateindustrialcomplex.com

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Incredibly, The Appraisal Institute is taking chapter “excess cash” and charging them for the privilege

December 14, 2016 | 4:56 pm | Investigative |

After last week’s post went viral: “Sadly, The Appraisal Institute is now working against its local chapters“, I thought I’d follow up with additional thoughts on AI National’s chapter money debacle.

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On November 18, 2016 the Appraisal Institute Board of Directors adopted their Chapter Financial Management and Administration Policy. I assume most chapter officers are not aware of the details of this major AI financial chapter restructure plan whose policy is officially in place.

How the sausage is made

Here is a relevant excerpt from the new AI November policy on chapter finances:

Make the phrase “excess cash” part of the professional vernacular going forward. Here is a key detail from the policy:

6. Reserve Fund

a. Cash and Investments Held by Chapters
Excess cash held by Chapters shall be consolidated with the Appraisal Institute’s Reserve Fund Portfolio (“Portfolio”).
In determining the initial deposit into the Reserve Fund Portfolio, cash and investment balances greater than three months of the average monthly Chapter operating expenses will be considered excess cash. The average monthly operating expense will be based on the last three fully closed years.
b. Portfolio Structure
Deposits from Chapters to the Reserve Fund shall be comingled with Portfolio assets, however will be accounted for and tracked separately.

So here’s a hypothetical scenario based on the way the policy reads to me:

Lets say a chapter has $200,000 in the bank. This money was collected from chapter members with their hard earned appraisal fees. The money enables a local chapter to function, bring in guest speakers, cover operating deficits, pay for an executive secretary and other operational items. I already know there are chapters with as much as $100,000 to more than $300,000 in their chapter bank accounts.

Lets say the three year average of my example chapter’s monthly expenses is $5,000. By the AI policy formula, all cash in the chapter’s account above $15,000 (3 x monthly average) will be sent to National. AI has said they will keep records of where the money came from. So in my example, $185,000 ($200,000 less the $15,000 calculated amount) immediately goes to National where it is commingled with other chapter’s funds.

There is a complex (to me) protocol for getting the money back to use at the chapter level. It makes me wonder what happens when a chapter needs money to keep the doors open but doesn’t have it or has a short term financial emergency. For most chapter members who already have full time jobs or a part time executive secretary, the process of getting access to cash at last minute to solve an unforeseen problem seems like an unfair burden. Contrary to the sales pitch given by the president in the previous post, I believe this policy will create additional clerical burdens and reduce the flexibility of the chapters.

As time passes, combined with National’s inability to keep chapters and membership informed in recent years, the details of this “taking” will get hazy as time passes. Over the long term it is unclear what will happen with each chapter’s money. This and other AI policies are being written in such an open ended way, clearly banking that membership or the chapters won’t read it and won’t have a way to stop it once they do. Once National takes most of the money from the chapter bank accounts, the chapters are forever at their mercy. Do chapters really want to be placed in this position?

I recently spoke to an AI member, with a reputation among local peers for cheerleading AI mandates for his own political gain. This person told me that the so-called chapter money was really “National’s money.” I can only believe that such an orientation came from National. I immediately corrected the member, saying that “no, it was the chapter/members’ money.” This position spoke volumes about how National sees the chapters as working for National rather than as National working for the members.

But gets better…

Chapters are literally paying National to manage the chapter fees National has decided to take from the chapters without advanced warning.

Here is a relevant excerpt from the new AI November policy on chapter finances:

Incremental costs (“Incremental Costs”) incurred by the Appraisal Institute Finance Department to execute the responsibilities delineated to it within the Policy shall be funded by a fee payable by Chapters. Incremental Costs represent expenses incurred that otherwise would not have been payable by Appraisal Institute without this Policy and may include, but are not limited to, personnel, technology, banking, audit and tax services. The amount payable shall be calculated for each Chapter as a Base Fee plus a Variable Fee Percent of such Chapter’s average annual expenses. The Base Fee and Variable Fee Percent shall be established by the national Finance Committee, subject to the national Board of Director’s approval, so that total amounts paid by Chapters under this section of the Policy shall reimburse the necessary Incremental Costs incurred by Appraisal Institute to execute its obligations under the Policy. The combined Base and Variable Fee shall be paid in four equal installments on a quarterly basis.

Please get familiar with this policy document and remember that the AI board has already adopted it without vetting it with the chapters. I repeat: this is now an active policy of the AI.

After National takes the “excess” chapter funds (my example of $185,000), it charges the chapter to manage it including costs for additional staff. And even more of a concern, the amount of the fixed plus variable cost structure the chapter will pay has not been determined yet. All AI chapters are effectively losing control of their “excess funds” but don’t know how much National will charge them to manage those funds.

Being penalized for success

Based on the fixed plus variable format, a large chapter will probably pay more than a small chapter for National to manage the chapter’s money. I would argue that the larger chapters are being financially punished by National for being larger. The irony here is that larger chapters reflect a certain level of success by attracting and keeping more members or being able to generate funds for a rainy day. Plus the AI money management process is the same for a chapter with $10,000 in excess funds and one with $200,000 in excess funds. Since the chapter funds are tracked on a spreadsheet or accounting software, the number $10,000 is not easier to enter into a spreadsheet cell than the number $200,000 so the size of the chapter is immaterial. If National maintains that chapter size is material, then the unannounced variable plus fixed management fee should be much larger than if size didn’t matter. I would argue that smaller chapters will require more management than larger chapters, no?

I find the commingling of funds unnerving since membership generally does not trust National leadership and this massive shift in policy was done without communication to the chapters, let alone the membership. The scope of this change is not a simple matter. It should have been vetted on a chapter level if National truly respected their chapters.

Can there be a solution?

Two suggestions for AI National:

  1. I’d like to naively suggest that the National board adopt a chapter level opt in policy so chapters can decide individually whether to allow AI to run their chapter finances. I can see how a few very small chapters that don’t have executive secretaries could be inclined to ask National to manage their funds. However all chapters will be making quarterly management fee payments to National and be subjected to a myriad of rules in this controversial policy. The very idea of an outside party managing chapter funds seems to add more operating burden to understaffed chapters and their executives who already have full time jobs (usually).

  2. The “taking” of chapter funds should be cost neutral. The proposal by National should not cost the chapters a penny. If chapters save operating costs that equals the management fee, then perhaps this can be explored. Otherwise our industry has endured a long term period of fee compression, and this policy simply becomes a money grab by National.

What happens next?

At this point, it looks like the majority of the membership and the chapters are against the AI Board decision to take most of each chapter’s cash.

If chapters resist giving their “excess cash” to National, would it not be too far to suggest that National will nullify the designations of chapter members in a rebellious chapter? Otherwise, what other action could National take to enforce this “taking”? This recent policy and the unrest it stirred has already tarnished the AI brand and will likely accelerate the exodus of existing members. When leadership of an organization is unable to deliver value to their members, the next step seems to be to take something of value from their members. In this case…cash.

The president and board members of the Appraisal Institute demonstrated how little they understand and respect their membership. I believe this is why they enacted a policy to take each chapter’s cash without telling them in advance. As I said in my prior post, AI National is officially obsolete.

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Sadly, The Appraisal Institute is now working against its local chapters

December 6, 2016 | 6:38 pm | Investigative |

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I have a lot of good friends and colleagues who frequently give at least a passing thought to quitting the Appraisal Institute, the largest real estate appraisal industry trade group. At the national level, the association has lost the ability to work for its members and has instead, shifted into a political failure spiral by enacting policies that are against their chapters’ and members’ best interests.

I get these types of comments from members at get togethers who say things like…

“I am only paying my dues to retain my designation.”

“The chapters are the only relevant thing AI provides to help me.”

“The self-dealing politics at National sickens me.”

Their announcement of the new administrative policy on November 30, 2016 continues the trend:

As you might have heard by now, the Appraisal Institute Board of Directors recently took a significant step to enhance your chapter’s ability to focus its attention on providing member services by reducing your current administrative burden. This is great news for chapters.

Here’s the letter that was sent to chapter leaders:

ai11-30-16

It reminds me of an old IRS joke: The IRS agent walks into your office with arms extended for a handshake and says:

“I’m from the IRS and I’m here to help you.”

It has been discouraging to watch the Appraisal Institute (National) erode into irrelevance while the appraisal industry is crying out for leadership at a seminal moment in our history. Dodd-Frank is about to be gutted and appraisal management companies have run out of appraisers willing to work for half pay. Instead they have morphed into a trade group that is unable to help its members. I challenge my readers to provide any evidence of such leadership since the financial crisis.

One of the only remaining redeeming features of the Appraisal Institute aside from their SRA and MAI designations has been the strength of local chapters. It’s where the rubber hits the road, where appraisers press the flesh at local meetings, take classes and listen and interact with guest speakers. The real value of AI membership remains at the chapter level.

At the Appraisal Institute headquarters in Chicago (National), they clearly recognize the power of the local chapters. For an organization that has been encumbered by procedural minutae, they developed the ability to enact policy without input or oversight. Here’s the current controversy over a non-vetted decree from National that involves money.

National has enacted a new policy that requires all money at the chapter level be administered by National. It’s a political power grab that will further alienate dues paying members. This is part of the growing pattern of AI’s lack of communication to their members.

The response

The very large New York Metro chapter responded in a letter from their board 2 days later – about being blind sided by the new policy. It’s an incredible read – a full-on indictment of the thinking of National. So many great appraisers in that chapter but how long will they put up with this? You can see how hard the local chapter is holding back it’s anger for such a policy. See link for pdf or the full text below. Bold emphasis provided by me.

AI Metropolitan New York Chapter Board Letter to AI National Board


December 2, 2016

Dear Members of the Appraisal Institute Board of Directors:

This letter is being submitted on behalf of the Board of the Metropolitan New York Chapter of the Appraisal Institute as a response to the National Board’s recent decision to implement a new Appraisal Institute Chapter Financial Management and Administration Policy. The Metro New York Board met this week and unanimously agreed to communicate our disapproval of the new policy and our astonishment that such a major change could be effectuated without any sort of prior notification or consultation with the Chapters and the Membership. Furthermore, to announce this decision as a fait accompli late on a Friday before a holiday week is alarming to our Chapter’s Directors.

The Metro New York Board finds it surprising and unacceptable that such a significant policy change in the governance of Chapter finances could be constructed without any transparency, input or dialogue with the Chapters and Membership. Simply being informed that national will take over our Chapter funds, albeit with assurances of our continued control of our finances, is outrageous paired with the admission that “Adjustments may have to be made to the policy as implementation progresses.” By creating this plan, effectively behind closed doors, you have not instilled any sort of confidence that the policy you are demanding we accept is acceptable to the Chapter. Given that the Appraisal Institute has a model for gaining feedback from the Membership – with the 45-day notice model provided for other significant actions impacting Members and Chapters – the Metro New York Board feels it is not at all appropriate for the national Board of Directors to unilaterally create this new policy in such an opaque manner. Given the potentially serious impacts of this new policy on the individual Chapters, we believe a more extended, perhaps 90-day notice would be minimally appropriate particularly given that this change was basically “sprung on” the Chapters on the advent of the holiday season that creates extra demands on all of us.

Beyond our uneasiness with the lack of transparency and how this new policy was implemented, the Metro New York Board finds the policy itself to be unacceptable. We believe that turning over our funds to national would limit and impact the autonomy of our Chapter and potentially diminish our stature in the local real estate community. The Metro New York Chapter is one of the most active Chapters and has been diligent in providing necessary education opportunities for our members and candidates, organizing enriching events for our members and the broader New York City real estate community, and fostering a supportive framework to help candidates work towards their designations. Importantly, this last goal contributes to the health of the organization nationally. Many of these programs are supported by our members through a historically successful Chapter sponsorship program. We believe our success in these endeavors illustrates that we are proficient in managing our own funds, maintaining reserves, and knowing how to do what needs to be done on a local basis. Certainly stripping the Chapter of its funds, particularly under terms that may be subject to change, will undermine the Chapter membership’s confidence that our efforts to maintain the economic health of the Chapter constitute time well spent. Furthermore, several Chapter sponsors who have consistently supported Chapter endeavors have expressed concern about this change in policy and that it may impact their willingness to continue such sponsorships in the future considering the substantial loss of Chapter autonomy as a result of the new policy changes.

While we look forward to hearing more details regarding the new policy from National on Tuesday’s call, the Metropolitan New York Chapter Board strongly urges the National Board to reconsider implementing this new policy.

Appraisal Institute, New York Metro Chapter
John A. Katinos, MAI, President
On behalf of the Metro New York Chapter Board of Directors


I heard a rumor that AI wants to do away with chapters and I’ve also been told that is not true – but with the opaqueness of National, I don’t know what to believe. And I keep hearing rumors about AI spending millions to expand their footprint across the globe but haven’t seen any measurable success let alone share the status of this effort with members. Is esoteric global expansion worth raising dues in a compensation compressed environment? Is the membership even aware of this effort and the millions supposedly lost?

Most of my peers nationwide have expressed frustration with an organization mired in self-serving politics. And it only seems to be getting worse.

My moment of zen was their self inflicted and childish exit of the Appraisal Foundation a few years ago. I eventually left AI and moved on to two other organizations that provide what appraisers are looking for. Remember that most of us are “lone wolves” and belong to organizations to get other perspectives. I can’t tell you how many SRAs and MAIs I know are talking about leaving the organization.

And did you ever wonder why there are so many statewide appraisal coalitions popping up? It’s largely because of inaction by National or their opposition to issues important to appraisers.

Incidentally, this new policy parallels the changes made by the Chinese government a while back. They moved the majority of the tax income stream from the provinces to the national government. This forced the provinces to go hat in hand to the national government to beg for an allotment of income each year. Sound familiar?

Lots of graft ensued for the provinces to get their “share” of revenue. In fact one of the reasons there are as many as 40 ghost cities in China right now is because the provinces were incentivized to generate GDP. What better way to do that then to build cities for several hundred thousand residents that would never come.

The moral of the story: central planning is never efficient. Through the loophole that National installed allowing them to modify this policy at anytime in the future is a recipe for disastrous self-dealing.

This is the appraisal industry’s moment to have some impact on our future. There are many challenges in front of us. The Appraisal Institute on a national level is now officially obsolete.

Enough with the self-dealing. We don’t make enough money collectively to fund their boondoggle. We need leadership, not politics.

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Voice of Appraisal Podcast: E123 “Solving Problems with Jonathan Miller!”

October 7, 2016 | 10:30 am |

Had a fun interview with Phil Crawford and his must listen weekly Voice of Appraisal talk show. I’ve set up a home button on my iPhone to grab each new interview. My only regret in life is not having Phil’s smooth silky radio voice. He provides a great service to the appraisal community.

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Miller Samuel at 30, A Short Story

October 4, 2016 | 11:14 pm | Milestones |

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It’s hard to believe that thirty years have passed since my family and I began our Miller Samuel appraiser journey. Here’s a little bit about the experience which reminds me of that old joke about marriage:

“We’ve been married for 30 years and it only seemed like five minutes…under water.” (boom)

It all began in 1986 when my parents, wife, sister, former brother-in-law and I got the idea to form an appraisal company after we had actually raised a substantial amount of money to launch a real estate brokerage firm. My wife and sister were already appraisers. A lawyer that I sold a condo to in 1985 (yes, I was a real estate agent in NYC for a brief stint) found a group of Japanese investors willing to back us. When it came down to it, we just couldn’t sign on the dotted line because we didn’t want to become real estate brokers. Our family’s collective real estate background was mixed, including brokerage, appraisal, management, development, rentals, sales, but most importantly, a lot of analytics and a fascination with technology. We seemed to be different from our competitors, creating our own software (there was no appraisal software), going with the Mac as a platform over PC and collecting any data we could re-use. I remember that we were the first New York appraisal firm to have two fax machines, with a hunt and search two line setup, allowing us to give out only one fax number (LOL). We cold called banks and hand delivered our appraisal reports to better connect with our clients (Who had heard of email?)

It’s a leap of faith to start a new business and in our first month, we received two bank appraisals for a total of $600. Even with the high cost of three couples living in Manhattan, those two appraisal orders felt like $1 billion – and they remain best feeling of validation I ever experienced in my professional career. Within a few months of our launch, our volume snowballed and a year later we nearly tripled in size to 17 employees and lots of personnel challenges.

The October 1987 stock market crash caused appraisal volume to implode. We laid off more than half of the firm shortly thereafter and stuck with an 8-employee line up for the ensuing decade. From this experience we learned a valuable lesson – we were far more profitable with a smaller nimble firm that focused on quality over volume. In addition we were able to do what we loved rather than be mired in personnel issues. Manhattan was our turf and we loved and walked every inch of it.

By 1989, appraisal licensing came on the scene after the S&L crisis. While I had already taken appraisal courses, continuing education became a mandatory requirement for the upcoming licensing law. On a whim, I remember flying on a Trump Air helicopter from Manhattan to Atlantic City for $75 to take an appraisal course for my license – who knew appraising was so exciting? As a self proclaimed cool geek, I felt very out of place standing on the heliport near the Javitz Convention Center waiting with the Atlantic City heavy hitters wearing white polyester blazers, gold chains and white patent leather loafers, ready for a weekend of gambling.

The subsequent years brought us through a recession where the New York region was hit far harder than the rest of the country and distressed real estate was the next wave. Remember the division of the FDIC known as The Resolution Trust Corporation (RTC)? By 1990, 50% of our practice involved co-op foreclosures, a byproduct of the high velocity rental to co-op conversions and a tremendous amount of investor activity that overheated the market – eventually the music stops in any housing boom. Renters were flipping their insider rights to outsiders for their retirement nest eggs.

Other appraisal firms arose in the early to mid-1990s that pushed out many of the “out of area” firms with token representation in Manhattan. Indirectly, these large new competitors ended up being helpful to us as they worked very closely with mortgage brokers and were hyper focused on high volume. We were focused on quality and low to moderate volume. From the beginning, we had worked hard to reduce our dependence on mortgage related work. Mortgage brokers, who were paid only when the loan closed, got to pick the appraisers. That conflict of interest was always mind boggling to me. The mortgage brokerage industry generally did not pay for appraisal reports until they reviewed the value to confirm whether it was adequate to make the deal work. By that point the appraiser had been officially converted from valuation professional to deal enabler. We weren’t very popular with mortgage brokers since we required payment before we would release the value.

By the late 1990s the Dot-com boom was in full force and the irrational exuberance we experienced in the 1980s returned, carrying all the way through the housing bubble. Our firm did not fair very well during the bubble from 2003-2008 because we weren’t morally flexible to work in this new world where risk was assumed to be managed away so reckless behavior was the standard – conflict of interest was the standard. We saw appraiser competitors’ volume explode to the point where they dwarfed us in size. Their commissioned staff were able to do as many as 40 appraisals per week, which included taking the order information, making the appointment for the inspection, getting information from the managing agent, searching for comps, calling agents to confirm condition and other comp information, writing up the report and fixing edits from the reviewer, following up with calls after the client received the report, etc. I should mention that Manhattan still doesn’t have a traditional MLS and sales were not public record until 2006, 20 years after we began. Our firm was based on salaried staff to control quality and maintain professionalism but maxed out at about 8 appraisals per appraiser per week. I never understood the math for the high volume process unless virtually all quality corners were cut. Our appraisal staff is still salaried with benefits today. Back then, those types of “crank it out” firms thrived at the expense of the dwindling pool of ethical appraisers. It was a frustrating period in our history because we could have tripled our volume overnight if we sold our souls. We just couldn’t.

By 2005 it became apparent that the end of the bubble was coming and I still needed an effective way to get the word out – that something was wrong with the mortgage process – not that anyone would listen since they were making too much money. U.S. banks began closing their in-house review appraisal groups as “cost centers,” and loan officers began to call and demand higher values or cut us off and mortgage brokers were dominating the market even more. So I started blogging about it. I figured I had nothing to lose by going public. And thankfully the feedback came quickly. My first blog post on Matrix (I had start writing on my appraisal blog Soapbox the previous month and later merged them) was in the summer of 2005 based on an APM Marketplace radio interview. Later, CNBC came to my office to talk about “real estate’s dirty little secret”…where I said on national television that “75% of bank appraisals weren’t worth the paper they were written on.”

I knew we would be out of business in three years (by 2008) if we didn’t change our business model. So we fired all our national bank clients (before they could fire us) as they went to the appraisal management company model that essentially removed all local market knowledge from inhouse. The onslaught of dumb questions from AMCs made the decision easier (i.e. sample AMC review question: “What does a doorman do in a co-op or condo building?”) We proceeded to focus on the underserved private and legal work – our ability to adequate serve these clients had been hampered from the mind numbing clerical tasks that appraisers were required to do. And it worked! Our new focus on clients that actually wanted to know what the value was and were willing to pay a fair fee for paid off.

When Lehman collapsed in September 2008 almost simultaneously with the bailout of the GSEs and AIG, mortgage appraisal work nearly came to a halt. Thankfully we had already inverted our business model away from retail bank appraisal work in the prior year, around the time that Bear Stearns had collapsed. Our new business model was very contrarian to the state of the market. The change to our business and new revenue streams were inspiring and liberating. Our firm has experienced record sales nearly every year since 2008 but only because we have stayed away from retail mortgage appraisal work. Aside from the very low fees, AMCs that issued appraisal orders for banks kept expanding clerical requests to justify getting half of the appraisal fee. Since the Lehman moment, most of my competitors have gone under and most of the principals either no longer have their licenses or have left the business. Unfortunately for mortgage lenders (even though they don’t realize it) is that most of the “best” appraisers in each housing market have either left the business or moved on to more lucrative market rate work.

The false appraisal shortage narrative being perpetuated by the AMC industry is disturbing since it is really about the shortage of people willing to work for up to half the market rate. There is no shortage of appraisers. Over thirty years of measuring housing markets and valuing property has taught my firm that appraisers, like housing markets, are subject to supply and demand. The current mortgage lending environment is stuck with a solution that ignores that basic fact, so good firms like us move on to greener pastures. As a result, Miller Samuel is not looking to return to generic retail mortgage appraisal work anytime soon. That is a shame because we have 30 years of market experience to share with those banks to help them make informed lending decisions on their collateral.

As the incoming president of RAC, a group comprised of the best residential appraisers in the U.S., I observed that many of our members moved out of the mortgage appraisal business as we did to land higher quality work. This mass exodus of the best appraisers in each market presents an incredible loss to the collective knowledgebase of the mortgage lending industry. Perhaps because of the federal backstop employed at the “Lehman” moment in 2008, the mortgage industry still thinks they have risk management under control. They don’t.

Hopefully at some point in the not too distant future, regulators, taxpayers, government employees and other assorted stakeholders will come to realize that it is for the greater financial good of the taxpayer/consumer to have a mortgage appraisal industry exist that is:

  • competent through education and mentoring
  • allowed to provide a neutral opinion of value without fear of retribution
  • adequately and fairly represented in the mortgage process

These elements do not currently exist. In order for the current disconnect between mortgage lending and collateral valuation to be fixed, it must be understood that:

  • a real estate appraisal is not a commodity, nor is the appraiser
  • real estate appraising is a professional service
  • real estate appraisers are the most essential element of understanding collateral values in order to make informed lending decisions
  • without adequate representation, appraisers will continue to be overrun with scope creep
  • appraisers are subject to the laws of supply and demand like any industry
  • cutting the pay of appraisers by half has an adverse impact on the reliability of the valuation result

It’s been quite a journey for our firm.

Miller Samuel is going to continue to do what it does best, provide neutral valuation opinions on collateral to enable our clients to make informed decisions.

And yes, these past thirty years have felt like holding our breath for five minutes underwater, but it was worth it.

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Multi-millionaire Motivational Speaker Dean Graziosi Shares His Appraisal Wisdom

October 4, 2015 | 4:40 pm | | Favorites |

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Over the past few days I’ve been sent this blog post by a number of real estate appraisers who are upset with its derogatory reference to our profession. It was written by Dean Graziosi in the Huffington Post guest blogger section. I’ve never heard of him but perhaps that’s because I’m not a real estate agent. If you insert the word “scam” in your google search, there are a lot of additional insights that come up.

His Huffpost bio and web site indicates he is a NY Times Best Selling Author along with one of the top personal motivation and real estate trainers in the world. I also learned from his bio that he is a multi-millionaire, a guru in the personal motivation sector and cares deeply about his students. Translation: He basically teaches real estate agents how to sell.

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Good. While it’s not my thing, I’m happy for Dean’s success (notice how his watch is strategically placed within his Facebook head shot as an indirect confirmation of his success) assuming no one was hurt. However as a public figure (as indicated on his Facebook page with 340K+ likes), Dean has a responsibility to convey information accurately to his students if he does indeed care.

While I doubt he wrote it it personally, his brand handlers managed to mischaracterize two key issues in a small blog post on HuffPost:

  1. Graziosi frames the current housing market as equal to the bubble’s peak but doesn’t accurately describe what that means.
  2. Graziosi frames the real estate appraiser as something other than a real estate professional while the real estate agent is a professional.

1. Housing Market

Graziosi cites the FHFA trend line as breaking even with the 2006 peak. Yes, based on FHFA methodology that’s certainly true and taken directly from the most recent FHFA report. I do feel the need to split hairs here since his “brushstroke style” of simplifying everything misaligns with reality. He says:

First, and most important, it requires repeat sales of homes, so if there aren’t huge numbers of sales, then we’re looking at a number derived from a small set of sales data. So, we’re not necessarily seeing an excited bunch of buyers flocking to the market. We are seeing a whole lot of homeowners who aren’t selling, waiting for rising values. So, we have a small inventory and competition for it.

The problem here is that there are a lot of sales outside of FHFA data – and FHFA only tracks mortgages that go through Fannie and Freddie. Roughly 30% of home sales are cash and another 5-10% of them are jumbo loans, too large to be purchased by the former GSEs – so they don’t get included. FHFA also excludes new construction.

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The Case Shiller index is also a repeat sales index like FHFA but shows a different price point for the current market because it includes transactions outside of the GSE world.

CSJuly2015CR

If we look at the number of sales, which is the key point he makes, sales activity is low because we’re not necessarily seeing an excited bunch of buyers flocking to the market. But in reality, home sales are not low and they have been rising for 4 years. Of course sales are not at pre-crash highs because those highs were created largely by fraudulent lending practices including the unethical behavior of consumers caught up in the systemic breakdown that included nearly all particpants in the mortgage process.

EHSAug2015CR

Graziosi is right that inventory is low, but not because buyers aren’t flocking to the market – many buyers are being held back credit access has over-corrected. Many homeowners can’t qualify for the next purchase so there is no point of listing their home for sale.

EHSInvAug2015CR

Conclusion – we are not at the pre-Lehman market peak unless you only look through the eyes off FHFA, a distorted subset of the overall housing market. I would think that real estate gurus understand this.

2. Appraisal Industry

Let’s move on to the real reason I am writing this post.

I can ignore Graziosi’s “lite” market commentary but I can’t ignore his misunderstanding of the appraiser’s role in the purchase mortgage process (buyers applying for a mortgage to purchase a home.)

Don’t call an appraiser, as their approach to market value is different than that of a real estate professional. The real estate agent is trying to get you a sold price near to the top of the market, and their CMA, Comparative Market Analysis, is going to give you a pretty good idea of its value.

There is so much to talk about within these two sentences I’m not sure where to begin. It’s mindbogglingly simplistic, misleading and uninformed. Perhaps this is how he makes his students motivated?

Lets go for the big point first:

“Don’t call an appraiser, as their approach to market value is different than that of a real estate professional.” He must be thinking along the lines of the IRS definition, which is

To meet the IRS requirements, you need two things: spend the majority of your working time spent performing qualified real estate activities (regardless of what you do), and rack up at least 750 hours. Qualified activities include “develop, redevelop, construct, reconstruct, acquire, convert, rent, operate, manage, lease or sell” real estate.

Nary an appraisal-related definition within that list.

The problem with Graziosi’s communication skills as a best selling author and nationally renowned real estate guru who gives seminars for a living to communicate to his students (agents) how to succeed is – if we (appraisers) are not “real estate professionals” then it is a hop, skip and a jump to suggest we are “unprofessional” as if appraisers are something less than a real estate agent. Ask any consumer if they hold real estate agents in higher regard than real estate appraisers? In my view both industries don’t have sterling legacies but one isn’t more professional than another. Remember that he is used to speaking to his students who are real estate agents, the kind that sign up for this type of course. Promote BPOs and help agents get more listings – has got to be his recurring mantra.

The second issue with his quote concerning an appraiser’s value opinions – “their approach to market value is different” than a real estate agent. Providing an opinion of market value is likely the intention of both. Most real estate agents are hoping to get the listing and the appraiser is not incentivized by the home’s future sale. The agent may be the most knowledgeable person in the local market but there is an inherent potential conflict. Graziosi suggests that the broker will give you a price you want to hear. However I do like his idea of getting three broker opinions – that’s a very common practice – nothing new there. Ironically both an agent and an appraiser are looking at closed sales, contracts and listings but the appraiser doesn’t have an inherent conflict. They aren’t going to get the listing no matter how accurate their value opinion proves to be.

One problem with today’s appraiser stereotype as this column brings out indirectly, is that bank appraisers now generally work for appraisal management companies (probably about 90%) and the best appraisers tend to avoid or perform minimal AMC work because they can’t work for half the market rate. As a result, good appraisers aren’t necessarily known as well by the brokerage community as in years passed unless they get in front of the brokerage community in other ways, like giving seminars, public speaking, etc. Competent brokers within a market will know who the competent appraisers are.

There are unprofessional professionals in every industry – doctors, lawyers, deepwater diving arc welders and farmers, so please don’t make sweeping pronouncements to the contrary – especially if you are in the business of communicating information to “real estate professionals”.

Conclusions

The real estate appraisal industry is not unprofessional
IRS definition aside, real estate appraisers are real estate professionals

As I’ve walked through this response, I realized that the silly advice blog post in the Huffington Post by an infomercial guy did what it intended, stir up conversations of any type to get his name out there when his actual content was devoid of useful information. There is a great post I stumbled on the industry of motivational speakers: Real Estate B.S. Artist Detection Checklist. Worth a read.

Looks like I’m never going to be a multi-millionaire wearing a huge watch strategically placed in my head shot. If you notice my own head shot in the righthand column, my watch is very small.

Sigh.


UPDATE From the I have no idea for whom the appraisal is being performed but I am a 20+ year real estate professional (see definition above) department: Here’s an article from the Santa Fe New Mexican “Be cautious of appraisals” that damns appraisers using a stunning lack of understanding of the appraiser’s role in the mortgage process given his experience. This piece was written by a mortgage broker who was also a former financial consultant and real estate agent. The author states:

Everyone in every business falls under some measure of accountability. Certainly appraisers must also be accountable to their customer. The customer is the homeowner, not the AMC.

No it isn’t.

The appraiser’s client in the mortgage appraisal situation you describe is not the homeowner. The AMC is acting as an agent for the lender in order to for the lender to make an informed decision on the collateral (of course that’s only a concept). The appraiser is working for the AMC (who works for the lender) and not for your homeowner. Your logic from the housing bubble still sits with you today.

Yes I agree that the quality of AMC appraisals for banks generally stinks, but blame the banks for that, not the appraisers. Quality issues don’t change who the appraiser is working for. AMCs do internal reviews and make ‘good’ appraiser’s lives a living hell for half the prevailing market rate loaded with silly review questions by 19 year olds chewing gum to justify their own institution’s reason for existence. No wonder you are frustrated with appraisers from AMCs. ‘Good’ appraisal firms like mine avoid working for AMCs whenever possible. Yes I would be frustrated as a mortgage broker today because your industry got used to using appraisers as “deal enablers” during the bubble and nothing more. I contend that the current mortgage process post-Dodd Frank is clearly terrible and AMCs are a big part of the problem.

ASIDE This new era of online journalism for print stalwarts like the “Santa Fe New Mexican” and new versions like the “HuffPost” rely on filler-like the above 2 articles discussed here. Very sad.

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Miller Samuel turned 29 today

October 1, 2015 | 2:43 pm | Milestones |

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Hard to believe we’ve been around so long.

I personally feel about 29 years old (maturity of a 19 year old, obviously) yet after we published our Manhattan report today that cited 26 year record highs, the math places me a bit older than 29. My birthday was yesterday (I’m still milking that day for all I can) and our company’s birthday is today. We launched in 1986, working in our apartments and communicating via fax machines, buying Macintosh Plus computers, creating our own appraisal software, using bar code scanners, Scantron readers, tape measures, measuring wheels, sonic measuring devices, laser measuring devices and beepers. It’s been a surprisingly fun but difficult journey.


An Honest Appraisal – Some Personal Background Including My Favorite Color and Love of Yo-Yos

July 30, 2015 | 9:59 am | Articles |

A while back, Kim Velsey at New York Observer reached out and thought it would be interesting to do a profile on me. Who wouldn’t like to talk about themselves for hours? What an opportunity! LOL. Uh, Yes?

We met and she proceeded to “drain my soul” as I am fond of saying – by the end of the interview my head was spinning and I wasn’t quite sure what I had said or if I would look foolish (the sign of a good interviewer). I was also getting a little worried when I started hearing through the grapevine who she was reaching out to – in other words this was an actual, real interview profile thing!

It turned out to be a fun, extensive and detailed read that captured a very fair and accurate picture of me for which I am very grateful (and relieved).

Jonathan Miller Is the Most Trusted (and Quoted) Man in New York Real Estate
An Honest Appraisal by Kim Velsey July 29, 2015

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Photo credit: New York Observer

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