Matrix Blog

Government, Politics, Regulations & Policy

Bloomberg View Column: Credit Crunch Lives on in Housing

October 22, 2014 | 5:05 pm | BloombergViewlogoGray | Columns |

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Read my latest Bloomberg View column Credit Crunch Lives on in Housing. Please join the conversation over at Bloomberg View. Here’s an excerpt…

Don’t be fooled by low mortgages rates, which once again are below 4 percent: Credit for buying a home or refinancing an existing mortgage has almost never been tougher to get.

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Bloomberg View Column: Rent Control’s Winners and Losers

October 21, 2014 | 3:31 pm | BloombergViewlogoGray | Columns |

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Read my latest Bloomberg View column Rent Control’s Winners and Losers. Please join the conversation over at Bloomberg View. Here’s an excerpt…

Any renter in New York City has probably has felt the pain of coming up with the monthly payment. There are plenty of reasons for the city’s steep rents…

..So what would happen if rent control and its cousin, rent stabilization, disappeared overnight?

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Bad Actors: AMC Appraisal Perspective Through Rhetorical Misdirection

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

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

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

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

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

As much as I think I held their attention for the entire hour allotted, my presentation fell short of getting audience adrenaline pumping like the Jordan Petkovsky, the Chief Appraiser of a TSI Appraisal, a large national AMC and affiliated with Quicken Loans. I still wonder how beneficial this public relations could be by talking to the industry like a politician – as if residential appraisers were clueless to the “incredible benefit” that AMCs provide our industry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But we’re clearly not the “bad actor.”

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Bloomberg View Column: Guess What’s Holding Back Housing

September 27, 2014 | 12:54 pm | BloombergViewlogoGray | Columns |

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Read my latest Bloomberg View column Guess What’s Holding Back Housing. Please join the conversation over at Bloomberg View. Here’s an excerpt…

During the U.S. housing boom, real-estate appraisers acted like deal-enablers rather than valuation experts. Indeed, inflated appraisals were a key ingredient in the erosion of mortgage-lending standards that led to the housing bust. Now we are seeing the opposite — low appraisals — with unwelcome consequences for the housing market.

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[Three Cents Worth #268 NY] Units In New Developments Grow Larger

August 31, 2014 | 3:57 pm | curbed | Columns |

It’s time to share my Three Cents Worth (3CW) on Curbed NY, at the intersection of neighborhood and real estate in the capital of the world…and I’m here to take measurements.

Check out my 3CW column that I posted a few weeks ago on @CurbedNY:

For this chart, I looked at a little more than a decade of Manhattan closed sales by square footage, breaking out the market by new development sales and re-sales. During this period, the average square footage of a new development sale was 1,382—15.6 percent larger than the 1,195 average square footage of a re-sale. However, new development sales size showed significant volatility as developers adapted to the changing market. The underlying driver of volatility is the quest to achieve the highest price per square foot premium a developer realizes by creating larger contiguous space. As a result, the much chronicled “micro-unit” phenomenon falls short and can’t become mainstream under current market conditions without external incentives (i.e. government). The math doesn’t work…



3cwNY8-12-14
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My latest Three Cents Worth column on Curbed: Units In New Developments Grow Larger [Curbed]

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If Choosing Suburbs: Surge in NYC High Wage Earners Choosing NY-NJ-CT

July 21, 2014 | 2:11 pm |

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According to New York City’s IBO, in 2012, there were actually 5 times more moves to Florida than to adjacent Connecticut.

However when breaking the movers into 2 categories: households with real income below and above $500,000, the results really change. New York, New Jersey and Connecticut enjoyed a large increase of high income movers from New York City. The California market share in this category of movers collapsed.

But it is important to recognize that the high wage earners only represent 1.8% of total movers. Florida is still the third most popular destination for movers from NYC who are mere mortals.

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[Vox Video] Housing Crash Fix Explained From Geithner’s Perspective

May 13, 2014 | 11:03 am | fedny |

Former US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is promoting his book chronicling the financial crisis Stress Test: Reflections on Financial Crises. Great book name, btw.

He sits down with Vox Media’s Ezra Klein to talk about what happened. I highly recommend watching this entire interview. Once you get past Ezra Klein’s sock selection, he touches on all the key points that would help us better understand what went wrong. It reconfirms why I enjoy reading anything Ezra writes.

I also have to say that Geithner has a great engaging conversational style that I enjoyed and helped me gain additional insights. However the problem with the Geithner’s responses – that I can’t seem to get past – is that Geithner was head of the New York Fed, surrounded by Wall Street, during the housing bubble run up. You walk away from this conversation feeling like his actions were the only appropriate responses to the crisis – ie focus only on the banks (and grow moral hazard significantly). Of course it has to be a nightmare to get anything done in Washington. However, I also got that same feeling when I read Andrew Ross Sorkin’s well written “access journalism” book, “Too Big To Fail” – that saving the banks was all that mattered to him.

It doesn’t help that I read previously Neil Barofsky’s terrific book “Bailout” which provides a lot of insights into how the sausage was made – identifying the US Treasury’s exclusive focus on the banking system when there were opportunities to help main street at the same time. Apparently Geithner takes Barofsky to task in the book, probably because Barofsky did the same.

I’m not sure if I’m going to pick up a copy.

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Canadian Housing Prices Now Pushed Up Same Way as US

May 4, 2014 | 1:28 pm |

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I was reading Tara Perkin’s piece in The Globe and Mail about the record price spread between the US and Canadian housing markets and saw one of the most startling housing charts of late (above). To be clear, this chart doesn’t adjust for the exchange rate but the article says the Canadian/US existing home price spread would be large – closer to 50% than 66% – still huge.

The article cites Bank of Montreal’s chief economist Doug Porter as saying:

“The main takeaway is that, contrary to all expectations, the Canadian housing market has just kept on rolling in 2014 even as the U.S. housing market has paused for breath (after a steep climb out of the dungeon),” he writes in a research note. “Put it this way, how many pundits a year ago were calling for Canadian home prices to rise faster than their U.S. counterparts in any single measure?”

Yes, true, but this is probably another good reason not to rely on anything published by a lender’s “chief economist” title due to their inherent bias toward the interests of their employer. What I find fascinating about the Canadian housing market is the proliferation of the false rationale that prices are being used as a measure of housing health. For the US counterpart, think Miami and Las Vegas circa 2005 when prices were skyrocketing and sales were falling.

The Canadian government tightened credit conditions a year ago and sales fell sharply:

This time last year it was far from clear when and if the Canadian housing market would emerge from the sales slump that ensued after former Finance Minister Jim Flaherty tightened the country’s mortgage insurance rules.

Focus on March 2014 v. March 2012 in the following chart:
canadahomesales3-2014

With Canadian home buyer’s access to credit now reigned in, sales fell sharply yet housing prices continued to rise. But Canadian housing prices are rising now much like they are in the US, based on restricted access to credit that keeps inventory off the market. And we’re not talking about household debt.

New housing inventory entering the market in Canada is now falling which is continuing to goose (sorry, Canadian geese pun) prices higher.

canadahomelistings3-2014

The Greater Fool Theory Applies to the Canadian Housing Market

A theory that states it is possible to make money by buying securities, whether overvalued or not, and later selling them at a profit because there will always be someone (a bigger or greater fool) who is willing to pay the higher price.

Of course from our past experience in the US, it’s not surprising to see every outpouring of Canadian housing market bubble concern met with an equal outpouring of Canadian housing bubble denial.

Please stop using housing prices as a measure of housing health. It was obviously flawed logic when applied in the US during 2003-2006 and now it has become apparent it was flawed during the 2012 to 2013 US run up.

Housing price growth doesn’t reflect good housing market health in Canada either.

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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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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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