Matrix Blog

Appraising

Combinations: Creating a Larger Manhattan Co-op or Condo

April 20, 2014 | 5:58 pm |

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Over my career, I’ve have observed a higher frequency of combination apartments (ie co-ops or condos) when inventory is tight.  A combination apartment is simply the connecting of 2 or more adjacent apartments (to either side, above or below).  It may be easier and/or less expensive to buy the apartment next door to create a larger space (even if you have to overpay for it) than to brave the tough market searching for a larger place to live.

A few years ago I started to track this during the preparation of the Elliman Report: Manhattan Sales. I looked at the actual apartment numbers and counted those that suggested they were combined. I am clearly omitting apartment nomenclature that is not so clear ie 7AB is renamed 7A, so my results are conservative.  The above chart reflects the recent trend of more combinations being sold but doesn’t necessarily equate to more being created, so new combinations would only be considered a subset of this data.

I’ve dubbed the phenomenon “1 + 1 = 2.5” because there is a premium for larger contiguous space.

I’ve always thought co-op or condo building that allow combinations (nearly all do) as providing a potential way for shareholders to realize value upside, thereby enhancing the price structure of a building ie higher values rub off on other apartments in the same building.

Some top line ideas about combinations

  • No shares are lost and in fact, many combinations  result in the acquisition of dormant common hallway space providing additional revenue in perpetuity to the corporation and a cash infusion from the purchase price.
  • Larger units sell for more on a ppsf basis (ie my formula above) potentially influencing higher values for other units.
  • A few less apartments in the mix is a non-issue (ie risk) in a building this size, unlike, say a 4 unit brownstone.
  • I’ve always thought it wise to keep the stock certificates separate to give the buyers and co-op more flexibility, but I see this done both ways (and admittedly don’t understand any legal nuances on this point.)

Some other more granular thoughts

Some layouts don’t work
- Not all combo layouts make sense or provide value upside.
- Layouts tend to work better in pre-war and new developments than post-wars.
- 1980s condos often often the least combinable layouts – ie a side by side 1 bedrooms.
- Over the last decade, developers have kept this in mind during construction to give them more flexibility during the sales process.

Higher value per square foot
- Creating larger apartments creates value upside to existing space ie “1+1=2.5″
- Sometimes large combos can be oversized for the building and there is no ppsf premium for the larger space.
- When a an owner of a large unit buyers the adjacent unit, the mere fact that the same unit owner owns both usually results in a ppsf premium before renovations are made to connect.
- The upside in value for a smaller apartment, means that a buyer can overpay for the unit as an individual sale but the addition of the smaller unit to the large unit adds value to both units on a ppsf.
- The highest value is realized when the buyer can’t tell the layout was comprised of two different units.  Simply creating a door between two apartments would realize the least upside.

That second kitchen
- The biggest “tell” on a combo is the existence of a second kitchen.
- They are often converted to a laundry room or bathroom, taking advantage of the utility connections.
- Buildings might object to the removal of the second kitchen because it may impact the building Certificate of Occupancy – I defer to lawyers on this point.

What do lenders think?
- Some banks are scared of combinations and others are not.
- In my experience banks require financing on the whole apartment – if they have a loan using collateral of one of the apartments, they will require that it be replaced with a new mortgage to cover both apartments.
- Banks often get confused on the value of a combo asking the appraiser to provide a value for each of the separate apartments before they are combined. The problem with that position is that the combination is usually worth more as one apartment (even before considering improvements) – in other words, the sum of the parts is less than the whole and the bank will incorrectly assume the collateral is inadequate.

Maintenance fees
- Many agents tell me it is assumed that maintenance charges are skewed higher for combos. I can’t prove this, all other things being equal.  When it occurs, it’s probably for reasons other than simply combining the units.
- A combo in a small building, ie a 4-unit brownstone co-op, raises the risk to the remaining shareholders if the combo shareholder stops paying their maintenance charges. Risk exposure to a mid to large sized building should be nominal.

Common Area
- Quite often hallways are purchased and incorporated into a combo layout for a better result.
- The co-op wins by getting a cash infusion for the purchase and income in perpetuity for the additional share allocation from the common area purchase.

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Regulators Turn Focus on AMCs, Proposals Include Hiring “Competent” Appraisers

March 26, 2014 | 12:43 am | Milestones |

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The OCC and an alphabet soup of 5 additional regulators: FDIC, CFPB, FHFA, NCUA and the Federal Reserve issued a joint press release that if adopted, takes a small step forward in the regulation of appraisal management companies, who are largely responsible for the collapse of valuation quality since the credit crunch began.

To many, this action is long overdue. Appraisal management companies control the vast majority all mortgage appraisals in the US, having been legitimized by HVCC back in May 2009. I’ve burned a lot of calories over the past several years pointing out the problems with the AMC industry so admittedly it is nice to see them getting attention. The fact that these institutions are not licensed to do business at a statewide level but the appraisers who provide the valuation expertise they manage is inconsistent at best.

Still, the recognition of this regulatory glitch probably won’t have a significant impact on appraisal quality provided by AMCs. As my friend Joe Palumbo maintains, is like fool’s gold.

I think proposal is at least a starting point.

A couple of highlights – regulators would:

  • Require that appraisals comply with the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (today we had a clerical AMC staffer tell us that writing out the math calculations on the floor plan was a requirement of USPAP).
  • Ensure selection of a competent and independent appraiser. (It is unbelievable to think this is necessary but it does make the legal exposure a little larger for AMCs.)

Housingwire has a good recap of the proposed regulations and so does the Wall Street Journal provides a nice overview (I gave them background for the piece).

The proposal by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, Federal Reserve and other regulators mandates that appraisal-management companies hired by federally regulated banks use only state-licensed appraisers with “the requisite education, expertise, and experience necessary” to complete appraisals competently.

Moral hazard There is no significant financial incentive for lenders to stop accepting the generally poor quality appraisals the AMC industry presents them daily. The hope is that the additional regulatory largess the AMCs have to confront will force the issue with lenders simply because the AMCs will have to raise their fees. Without a real “value-add” to the banks other than cost control and fast turn times, the lack of quality for a large swath of AMCs may no longer be overlooked by banks. Yes I can dream.

Residential appraisers, mostly 1-2 person shops, have largely been left without a voice and the bigger financial institutions have lobbied financial reform overtop of us without the regulators truly understanding what our role should to be to protect the taxpayer from excessive risk.

Anumber of smart appraisers I know have created a petition whose sole purpose is the get the attention of the CSFB to address the issue of “customary and reasonable” fees. Our industry has no other way to reach the regulators or the ability to lobby our views in Washington. I hope they are listening.

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[AppWatch] RoomScan – An Easy Way to Create A Floorplan

March 23, 2014 | 11:38 am |


roomscan I stumbled on to this iPhone app from the Locometric called RoomScan – to measure rooms, create floor plans , calculate square footage on the fly. I was really impressed with the free version and quickly upgraded to the $4.99 pro version to be able to create doorways and connecting rooms. This may soon replace the $500 laser measuring device I’ve hauled around for years.

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An ah-hah moment indeed.

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Online Petition To Get “Customary & Reasonable Fees” Issue In Front of CFPB

March 19, 2014 | 3:16 pm |

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Within the current mortgage industry, predatory appraisal fees are driving experienced appraisers out of the field only to be replaced by an army of “form-fillers.” The appraiser today is being asked to pay for a bank’s compliance with financial reform directly out of their appraisal fee or go out of business. The practice is misleading to the consumer, exposes the taxpayer and the financial system to unnecessary risk and drives invaluable expertise out of the appraisal profession.

The folks over at AppraisalBuzz ask me to provide input into the petition. It is an essential read for all appraisers regarding the practice of predatory fees by AMCs: The Online Petition Every Appraiser Should Know About or you can go directly to the petition and signup if you agree – it takes about 30 seconds.

My hope is that this petition creates a public awareness of how serious and untenable this problem is and how much the reliability of the appraisal of collateral for mortgage lending purposes has deteriorated since the financial crisis began.

Appraisal Buzz post: The Online Petition Every Appraiser Should Know About

Sign the petition.

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[Appraisal Infographic] Common Myths About The Homebuying Process

March 15, 2014 | 1:07 pm |

The Appraisal Foundation published an appraisal infographic that attempts to clarify common misconceptions by the borrowers about the appraiser’s role in the home buying process. The content is amazingly simplistic, but that’s the point.

I continue to be amazed at how so few people don’t understand what the appraiser’s role is in the home buying process. Perhaps this is why the appraisal industry continues to be marginalized in the lending process (ie appraisal management companies, Appraiser Independence Requirements) and the exodus of competent appraisers into other disciplines outside of residential mortgages continues.

2014-03-06-BorrowersinfographicTAF

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[Speaking] 2014 RAC / TRN Conference in Frisco/Dallas Texas

March 9, 2014 | 11:16 pm | Public |

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I just returned from an incredibly helpful and fun annual appraisal conference in Texas. I was asked to make a presentation and ended up joining their board of directors. I’ve been a member of RAC (Relocation Appraisers & Consultants) for about 20 years and even though the organization started out with a primary emphasis on relocation appraisals in the early 1990s, RAC is so much more than that. Most of the members provide expertise in complex residential with a lot of work in litigation support. The quality of the residential appraisers in this organization is the best in the country – bar none. Most of the mainstream US appraisal trade groups emphasize or have a majority concentration of commercial appraisals and RAC fills the void.

Seminars
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Having fun filming a video with clients
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It’s time to debunk the debunking of the 3 biggest myths about your AMC

March 9, 2014 | 10:00 pm | Favorites |

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I saw an opinion piece written about appraisal management companies over at HousingWire that made me just about fall out of my chair – and my office chair is a sturdy Herman Miller Aeron so it was quite an unsettling piece. I’ve written about AMCs quite a bit since HVCC came into effect on May 1, 2009 and my last big piece: “Appraising for AMCs Can Be Like Delivering Pizza” prompted a senior executive at one of the largest US AMCs – who we don’t work for – to call me after he read it and say, “all of what you wrote is true – how do we change it?” He sounded very reasonable and earnest and got his Chief Appraiser to reach out to me to explore what to do. That person ended up providing me with robotic and defensive feedback before I even asked any questions – making it clear it was all about keeping his job, not improving the industry. Sad.

Make no mistake – I am not against the concept of AMCs and there are some reasonable ones to deal with – but the majority of them are poorly managed and therefore can only attract appraisers with the “form-filler” mentality.

This HousingWire editorial was called “It’s time to debunk the 3 biggest myths about your AMC” by the CEO of an appraisal management company. We don’t work with them and I don’t know of them or the author. It’s a corporate sounding piece so I’m guessing that it was pitched and written by their PR firm as a way to sell the virtues of a good appraisal management company.

What threw me for a loop was the omission of any discussion about the actual providers of valuation expertise. AMCs do not provide value opinions to banks. AMCs manage appraisers who provide value opinions to banks. My guess is they or the AMC industry in general are receiving more pressure from banks for the rising cost of the appraisal process – not because the appraisal fees are rising – but because the AMC appraisal quality is so poor that relative to the cost, the value-add of an AMC really isn’t really there.

We have started to observe national lenders push back against the poor quality of AMC appraisals and some lender personnel are now bypassing AMCs on complex or luxury properties because they don’t trust the expertise coming out of the AMC. Amazing.

Here are the 3 “myths” presented in this AMC PR piece. I restate each point being made to reflect the reality of the appraisal process:

From the Housingwire guest editorial:

THEIR Myth 1: Appraisal Management Companies add costs to the lender’s business.

So, yes, the costs of putting a solid value on a piece of real estate have gone up. But this is not due to the fact that an AMC has been added to the equation. It’s due to the fact that it costs more to do it right, to employ the technology, to manage the fee panels, to quality-check the results. Like most myths, this one has at its core the ugly truth that the price of an appraisal has gone up between $80 and $200, depending upon the circumstances.

MY Opinion of Myth 1: The rise in costs is NOT because appraisers are arbitrarily raising their fees. It is because the appraisal management industry takes half of the appraisers fee paid by the borrower at application to cover their costs and ended up driving most good appraisers out of retail bank appraisal work – now dominated by AMCs. The rising costs are being born by the AMCs who try to checklist away the poor quality. Here’s how: Imagine making a modest salary for a job well done and then one day (May 1, 2009) you get your pay cut in half. The middleman between the bank and the appraisers (the AMCs) got to keep the other half of the appraiser’s fee/salary. In reality, this 50% pay cut was the appraiser paying for bank compliance with HVCC by hiring the AMC. Would you quit your job if you got a 50% pay cut? Most would say yes. Who would replace you at 50% of an already modest wage? A lower caliber, lesser experienced person who was able to cut corners – like eliminate research – and essentially be willing to be a form filler rather than a valuation expert – quality evaporates not matter how much “review” is put in place. AMCs have been grappling with poor quality and probably have had to increase oversight as more banks push back against the poor quality. I think the additional compliance issues being touted throughout this opinion piece in this “Myth” are probably more of a scare or fogging tactic than a real reason for higher costs. The higher cost that is being represented by the AMC is more likely from the fact that AMCs are being forced to find better appraisers in certain markets and those appraisers are less willing to subsidize bank compliance with HVCC out of their own hide. We doing more and more AMC work now and we are paid a full fee and are given a fairly reasonable turnaround time. Why? Because that AMC’s panel quality was poor and their bank clients basically told the AMC to use firms like mine or the bank will go to another AMC who will use a higher caliber of appraiser.

THEIR Myth 2: AMCs deliver poor turnaround times that can’t compare to internal teams

Anyone who buys into this myth must live in a world without Service Level Agreements (SLAs) that spell out exactly what a vendor will provide to a lender. It sets the terms of the engagement and specifies penalties that the vendor will suffer should it fail to live up to the promises the document holds. Turnaround times are always part of the SLA between an AMC and a lender…Now, here’s the grain of truth at the center of this ridiculous myth: lenders are working to incorporate so many new compliance rules into their processes that the collateral valuation process is simply taking longer for many of them than it has in the past. Part of this comes from the fact that compliance checking takes time. Part of this comes from unnecessary processes within the lender’s shop that exist out of some executive’s fear of possible compliance problems. The appraisal process is taking longer in many cases, but it’s not due to the AMC. It’s just part of the new business environment we’re working in.

MY Opinion of Myth 2: This is simply a reframing of the conversation between lenders and AMCs. The biggest problem with most AMCs today is they demand an unreasonable turn around time – some require 48 hours (more with complex properties), about 1/3 the minimum average time needed to do a reasonably competent job. Because the AMC bank appraisal quality is generally poor, AMCs have to insert more and more checklists into the QC process to appease their lender clients. The lender clients require more service level agreements BECAUSE THEY DON’T TRUST THE QUALITY OF THE PRODUCT, NOT BECAUSE OF MORE FEDERAL COMPLIANCE ISSUES. In turn, the appraiser gets a gum chewing 19 year old who calls them every day to fill out a checklist. Banks were fine, pre-HVCC, with the turn times of their in-house and outside fee panel staff and it NEVER was as fast as the typical AMC requires today. Today, most AMCs have to differentiate themselves from other AMCs by cost and turn around standards. With the poor quality of the typical AMC bank appraisal, the AMC gets squeezed financially as banks and appraisers are beginning to push back with more requirements and costs. An appraisal is NOT a commodity – it is a professional service. If the AMC doesn’t respect the bank appraisal industry and pays them poorly, all the AMC can ever hope to receive in return is a poor quality product that can’t be check listed away.

THEIR Myth 3: The lender relinquishes control when they outsource to an AMC

The lender is in complete control at all times and federal regulators have made it crystal clear that the lender is the responsible party anytime they outsource to a third-party vendor. No lender will relinquish control to a third party when it knows the CFPB will come back to its front door in the event of a problem. There are some aspects of the collateral valuation process that the government has said must be removed from the control of the loan officers originating the loan and the managers who oversee them. Federal regulators do not want the lender to control the outcome of the appraisal process and so they have made it clear in the regulations that it must be moved away from the origination department. The uncomfortable truth is that the federal government wants the lending institution to lose a bit of control here, for the good of the consumer and the financial institution. But handing responsibility for a few aspects of one process to a third-party outsourcer is not the same thing as giving away control. No lender we know and no good AMC executive would equate these two.

MY Opinion of Myth 3: One of the biggest myths furthered by many AMCs is to fog lenders with the idea that HVCC requires banks to use them to be compliant. The statement “The uncomfortable truth is that the federal government wants the lending institution to lose a bit of control here” is very misleading. All the government wants is a separation between the sales function and the quality function of a bank – a firewall – which is an AMCs major selling point. The irony here is that large AMCs are just as susceptible to lender pressure as the individual appraisers, but on a much larger scale.

I am not anti-AMC. However I am against bank appraisers paying for a bank’s compliance with HVCC and being marginalized as a result. The appraiser is the expert developing the value opinion for the bank, not the AMC.

In my experience to date, the majority of AMC bank appraisals that I have seen are very poor. But it doesn’t have to be that way. If the lender paid the market rate for an appraisal and an additional fee for the AMC to administer the process, the quality would improve. Borrowers today generally don’t realize that the bank appraisers is paid a fraction of the “appraisal fee.” Today’s bank appraiser is paying for the bank’s compliance with HVCC and this has largely destroyed many of the quality firms in the appraisal industry. It doesn’t help that the residential appraisal industry has no real representation in Washington.

But I do like my chair.

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Why AMC Addendums Are Bane of an Appraiser’s Existence

February 27, 2014 | 5:54 pm |

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One of our appraisers just got an addendum request for an appraisal we recently delivered to an appraisal management company. If you know my history, relax, it’s an AMC that accepts our reasonable fee and turnaround times rather accepting the typical AMC terms dictated to most appraisers (we won’t work for that type of AMC). But as reasonable as this AMC is to deal with, we do receive maddening addenda requests (asking the appraiser for written clarifications on the report originally submitted).

Here’s the latest:

Reporting discrepancies noted regarding subjects site size (pg 1, addendum comments, survey). Appraisers to comment and revise as appropriate, including applicable site adjustments.

Translation: we needed to reconcile the following:

  • Lot size per town records (and used in our report): 0.365 acres or 15,529 square feet.
  • Lot size per survey: 0.3655 acres or 15,530 square feet.

That’s a 1 foot difference in the amount of land under the house or a 0.006439565% difference in the amount of land reported in public record and the survey (aside from the fact that the town drops the 4th digit from the acreage measurement in their public record listing).

As a result of using public record for the acreage information, we got dinged on our “appraiser rating” which impacts our volume flow (appraisal requests from a client)

This is just the tip of the iceberg as to the types of addendum requests we receive. Curiously, we NEVER receive requests questioning the value or how we arrived at it – the questions are always clerical minutia, reflecting the 19 year clerk chewing gum who doesn’t really know what an appraisal is.

Sigh.

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[Pre-Nor'easter Keynote] Long Island Housing Market: Transitioning from “Recovery” to “Recovered”

February 12, 2014 | 12:17 pm | fedny | Public |

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A while back, I was invited by the Long Island Chapter of the Appraisal Institute to keynote for their winter dinner/seminar tonight in Westbury, Long Island:

LI Housing Market: Transitioning from “Recovery” to “Recovered”

It’ll be great to catch up with my friends and colleagues and I always love to talk appraisalspeak for extended periods of time.

The presentation will cover (2 CE credits):

Long Island Market Reports, Key Trends, Drivers of the Current Residential Market, Fiscal Cliff, Pent-Up Demand, Record Low Inventory, Mortgage Rates, Federal Reserve, Transitioning to a Sustainable Long Term Housing Market Recovery

In a question and answer period, discussion will include Snapshot of the Long Island Housing market, including 4Q 2013 market research results in Long Island, Hamptons and the North Fork; Affordability, What is driving Sales Activity?; The relationship between Sales and Prices – Why is inventory low?; Spike in Mortgage Rates; Federal Reserve taper miscommunication; Why are Housing Prices Rising?; Long Island and Manhattan real estate economy, Credit Issues, Lending, Market Trends, Impacts, and Challenges in Year 2014.

The latest Nor’easter is supposed to start at about 2AM so it looks like we’ll get this done just under the wire!

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The Low Appraisal “Hassle” is a Symptom of a Broken Mortgage Process

September 16, 2013 | 3:58 pm | nytlogo |

Last week we saw a chorus of “appraisers are killing our deals” stories in some major publications:

  • When Appraisal Hassles Tank a Home Sale [WSJ]
  • When Appraisals Come in Low [NYT]
  • Appraisals Scuttle Home Sales Where Prices Rise Fast[IBD]

I’ve long been a critic of my own industry. Like any industry there are terrific appraisers, average appraisers and form-fillers. Post-Lehman there are a LOT more of the latter.

The scenario that prompted these articles and others like them occurs when a sale is properly vetted in the market place and an appraiser enters the transaction and subsequently appraises the property below the sales price. It supposedly is happening in greater frequency now, hence the rise in complaints.

My focus of criticism has largely been centered on appraisal management companies (AMC), who have tried to convert our industry to a commodity like a flood certification or title search rather than a professional service. AMCs serve as a middleman between the bank and an appraiser and they have thrived as a result of financial reform. Most only require an appraiser to be licensed, agree to work for 50 cents on the dollar and turn work around in one fifth the time required for reasonable due diligence. Appraisal quality of bank appraisals has plummeted in this credit crunch era and as a result has prompted growing outrage from all parties in a transaction.

Of course, the market value of the property may not be worth it. But the real estate industry doesn’t trust the appraiser anymore so we point them finger at them automatically.

Yes, it’s a hassle. So let’s decide what the problem really is and fix it.

A long time appraisal colleague and friend of mine once told me before the housing bubble burst:

“Jonathan, you as the appraiser are the last one to walk into the sales transaction. Everyone involved in the sale is smarter than you. The selling agent (paid a commission), the buyers agent (paid a commission), the buyer (emotionally bias), the seller (emotionally bias), the selling attorney (paid a transaction fee), the buyer’s attorney (paid a transaction fee) and the loan officer or mortgage broker (paid a transaction fee) all know more than you do.”

The appraiser in this post-financial reform world doesn’t have a vested interest in the transaction like they did during the housing boom – some could argue they are too detached. The vested interest I speak of occurred during the bubble when mortgage brokers and most banks generally used appraisers who always “made the number.” Incidentally, many of those types of appraisal firms are out of business now.

Let’s clear something up. The interaction an appraiser has with a lender when appraising below the purchase price now is not that much different than during the boom. When an appraiser kills a sale, the appraiser is generally hit with a laundry list of data to review and comments to respond to questions from the AMC, bank or mortgage broker who use the “guilty until proven innocent” approach even though the bank likely won’t rescind the appraisal. The additional time spent by the appraiser is a significant motivator to push the value higher to avoid the hassle if the appraiser happens to be “morally flexible.”

And by the way, sales price does not equal market value.

The sources for most of these low appraisal stories I began this post with come from biased parties so it makes it clear that low appraisals are the problem. In reality, the low appraisal issue is merely the symptom of a broken mortgage lending process. The problem is real and becomes more apparent when a market changes rapidly as it is now. Decimate the quality of valuation experts and you generate results that are less consistent with actual market conditions and therefore more sales are killed than usual. Amazingly the US mortgage lending infrastructure today does not emphasize “local market knowledge” in the appraisers they hire no matter what corporate line you are being fed. This is even more amazing when you consider that most national lenders have only a handful of appraisal staff and tens of thousands of appraisals ordered ever month.

The cynical side of me thinks that rise in low value complaints reflects an over-heated housing market – that the parties are getting swept up in the froth and the neutral appraiser is the voice of reason. The experienced me realizes that financial reform has brought new appraisers into the profession that have no business being here (and pushed many of the good ones out) and that the rise in the frequency of low appraisals has only seen the light of day because housing markets are currently changing rapidly.

Here’s my problem with the mortgage lending industry today as it relates to appraisers:
• Most of the people running bank mortgage functions are the same as during the bubble, only see appraisal as a cost, not as eyes and ears.
• Banks love the current state of appraisals because the values are biased low (banks are risk averse) and they fully control the appraiser.
• Appraisal Management Companies themselves have no real oversight (some are very good, most are terrible).
• Banks no longer emphasize local market knowledge in their appraisers or they pay lip service to it.
• Short term cost savings trumps emphasis on quality and reliability.

Every now and then (like now) everyone seems surprised and feels hassled when appraisal values don’t match market conditions. However the bank appraisal process has largely morphed into an army of robots on an assembly line – either because we are unaware of the problem until it affects us directly or we just want it that way.

Let’s focus on fixing the mortgage lending process or stop complaining about your appraisal.

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