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Posts Tagged ‘Appraisal Fees’

[Sounding Bored] Negotiating Appraisal Fees, Staring In The Headlights

June 4, 2008 | 9:32 pm | Columns |

Sounding Bored is my semi-regular column on the state of the appraisal profession. I was particularly annoyed about getting pressure to drop my fee this week, so I turned on my headlights.

I was highly recommended by several sources to perform an appraisal in a sticky legal matter. We delivered an engagement letter. After a few days the client left a message saying the proposal looked good “but see what you can do about the fee” in a slightly sarcastic tone.

I winced when I heard the message because this was a complex matter involving litigation and court testimony and I quoted what I thought was a fair fee. Of course I may not have been in sync with expectations or this individual simply expected to negotiate.

There is nothing wrong with negotiating a fee up or down if the ultimate assignment, once defined, is not what was originally expected. However, I am particularly sensitive to the commoditizing of appraisal services (ie AMCs) that has occurred over the past decade.

…that we are just a bunch of form-fillers.

I tend to see our industry as a deer in headlights when negotiating fees and turn times.

In other words, as an industry we are way too happy to accommodate (I guess that correlates well with the credit crunch) the client whether it is fair or not.

Of course I am being very idealistic here but why not?

I don’t to be in the game of quoting a very high fee building in the expectation of negotiating downward. I quote what I am willing to work for. That seems to be more a professional approach to me. Avoiding being:

  • defensive.
  • condescending.
  • showing righteous indignation.

It sounds pretty basic but I am often amazed at how many of us (I ahve had my moments) have acted that way to a client.

We don’t need any more apologists for our worth as experts. Of course it ultimately is what the market will bear but why automatically negotiate?

Suggest that the client looks elsewhere if they are uncomfortable with the fee.

It has been my experience that the client doesn’t always go elsewhere if they were handled professionally in the past.

Incidentally, that particular client ended up calling back and hiring us for the assignment and expanded the engagement for a higher fee.

You get what you pay for.


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[Sounding Bored] Apparently Credit Cards Are Not As Good As Cash

February 27, 2008 | 11:45 pm | Columns |

Sounding Bored is my semi-regular column on the state of the appraisal profession. This week I charge at the latest credit problem.

Last fall, my appraisal firm was engaged for consulting services in a litigation by an attorney representing one of the parties in the action. A formal engagement letter with the terms was signed and returned to us. The retainer was paid by the client using their American Express card. Over the next few months, the services were rendered and there was constant dialog with the client. They provided access to the property as well as information and documentation.

We delivered the report and received feedback that our services were complete and the client was satisfied. We were then was asked to provide additional services by the client in the same matter and we submitted a new proposal.

About two weeks later we were contacted by American Express saying the cardholder questioned the initial charge from the past fall and the removed the amount (a substantial fee) from our AMEX account. Apparently credit card companies are only required to send via US Mail in order to provide an opportunity for the vendor to contest the complaint. A non-response indicates the vendor is not fighting the contested fee and the cardmember gets their money back.

We never got their mail notice, and therefore never responded (they are not required to send via certified or overnight mail) so our fee was removed from our AMEX account. We noticed the account debit when we got our monthly statement. The fee was significant and we had received no notice, so we called AMEX in a panic.

The AMEX people were very nice but my first contact gave me the clear impression that because the attorney had signed the engagement letter, and then asked his client to call in the fee using a credit card, so we were not protected.

I was taken aback because the client had interacted with us for months and had called in the card number to us. It smelled like fraud if we were to lose our compensation for our efforts this way.

In order to contest the action, I was told to send a letter to AMEX and they would decide whether the fee was reasonably taken from the cardmember. That sounded pretty ominous to me. It would take 2-3 weeks for us to get a decision.

About 2 weeks later we received a notice via US mail (glad we actually got it) that AMEX had returned our fee to the account. Game over, money returned.

This experience was pretty distasteful since 4 months had passed since we were originally engaged and paid.

Apparently credit cards are not as good as cash.

Duh.

UPDATE: AMEX was contacted by the cardholder again who simply submitted the same documents and said they protest the charges. These were the same documents that we submitted already that prove that the cardholder was simply trying to get out of paying for services they had already authorized. AMEX called me and I explained again what the situation was. They agreed that this was unfair to us and indicated that the case was closed and we would retain our fee. What a nightmare.


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[Sounding Bored] Appraisal Fees Aren’t Inflated: Treading Lightly Instead Of Communicating Our Value

August 31, 2007 | 8:02 am | Columns |

Sounding Bored is my semi-regular column on the state of the appraisal profession. This week I create my longest (and most inflated) rant list ever on the state of the profession.

An appraiser from North Carolina wrote me looking for historical data on appraisal fees going back to the 1970′s (I graduated from high school in 1978 so I didn’t have a clue of what an appraiser actually was back then).

From what I’ve been told by some older appraisers…many appraisers are charging about the same fee today that they were charging 15 years ago. I think all appraisers could benefit from a historical overview of the evolution of appraisal fees to where they are today.

This comment triggered some thoughts on how bad our profession is as a business. Here’s why.

  • We have little lobbying influence in Washington, DC to suggest legislation favorable to our profession (unlike NAR) so its easy to be blamed when things go sour. No one really understands what the problem is except those within our profession.
  • Appraiser licensing laws have little teeth to them and as a result, its tough for good appraisers to compete with “good” [wink] appraisers.
  • Our national appraisal organizations have lost membership by the thousands since licensing laws were enacted because a license is all that is needed to be qualified for many lenders (we take the state license test among dog groomers and pool cleaners applying for their industry licenses…whom are often more professional than we are).
  • There is no teeth to the enforcement of bad appraisers, because resources allocated to the problem aren’t adequate and lenders are reluctant to turn them in because of (the real) fear of litigation liability.
  • Good appraisers are being forced out of the business by high volume shops who employ trainees acting essentially as form-fillers rather than valuation experts.
  • We have let the mortgage industry remove the barriers between the quality and sales function subjecting us to obvious as well as subtle pressures to be results orientated. Most of us serve those who are on commission and thats a fundamental flaw in the integrity of the lending system.
  • Some of us work for Appraisal Management companies at half the going rate as our other clients with turn time expectations of 24 hours but provide slower more expensive service to loyal and sophisticated clients.
  • We act defensively when our values are questioned, even if the client concerns are legitimate.
  • Forget who our client is and speak to anyone about an appraisal who calls and asks. For example, a borrower who calls about a refi appraisal done for a bank client.
  • We often backstab our own colleagues when reviewing their work, not because the work was substandard, but because we see it as a way to get more business from the client or we assume thats what the client wants us to do.
  • The measure of our services (speed and “makin’ the number) was based on the desire for short term profits during the housing boom rather than long term gains. As a result, clients are moving to AVM’s and other alternatives because more and more we can’t be trusted as a profession. “What do you need the number to be?” With the credit crunch, do we really think the lender’s who need a real valuation are going to think we, as a profession, have changed our reliability overnight?
  • Government regulators and legislators do not understand what we do and how important it is for us to be free to independently assess collateral without pressure, which is now the exception not the rule.
  • Our industry guidelines such as USPAP and various associations are unwieldy, complicated and change frequently. Most importantly, theses guidelines and rules, although created with the best intentions, are disconnected from the real world making us appear less professional than the assumption of greater integrity. Less is more.
  • The consumer and the lending industry have lost the understanding as to why appraisers are here: to estimate the collateral, not make the deal.
  • We are afraid to charge the market rate for our services and instead let the client, rather than the market, dictate what the fee will be (not always the same) because we are not good at communicating the value of our services. We cave in to a lower fee at the first sign of rejection of work. There is always someone willing to charge less.

So back to the original topic of fees. These points are all negative but I don’t think I am too far off on most. If all of the above are true, what client in their right mind would want to pay us more than they did 15 years ago? What “value” does our profession of us bring to the table?

I suffer from fear and loathing of the appraisal industry’s future. For those of you (I suspect most who bother to read this blog) are doing a professional, credible job in your work. You believe there is some honor in the profession and its ok to do the right thing no matter what the personal or financial consequences.

For the rest of you, I hear there are openings as a dog groomer.

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[Sounding Bored] Old AMCO Down The Drain, Appraisers Can’t Feel Flush Yet

April 10, 2007 | 10:36 pm | Columns |

Sounding Bored is my semi-regular column on the state of the appraisal profession. This week, I feel lucky to be flush.

Over the past 6 months, we have been pretty open about our long running issue with AMCO for their unreasonable delays in paying our bills. After a lot of ranting, and a flurry of emails and involvement by one of our clients, we were finally paid for all but one (as of today’s mail) of our appraisals (our A/R was as high as $30K at one point.) In the interim we have declined all new assignments from AMCO, even when they offered to pay us in advance. I guess we were just uncomfortable with them as a client.

Here’s our saga.

Last week, there was finally some insight into their financial problems and some discussion as to payment of overdue appraisal fees for members of their panel. As evidenced by feedback from Soapbox readers, the amount of arrears for some was pretty significant, which is unfortunate. We were lucky I guess.

Valuation Review posted a pretty thorough discussion of the AMCO announcement made last week that the Cleveland-based firm is going to be sold to a new investor on May 1st and all outstanding appraisal invoices will be paid at that time.

I am scratching my head at this whole thing. I find it really amazing, (and a miracle) for those still waiting to get paid, that AMCO would be able to locate someone to salvage them and then still make it a priority to pay what is owed. If they didn’t do that, their value as an organization would probably approach zero.

I’ve got to think that other appraisal management firms could follow AMCO down this slippery slope with the drop in purchase volume and issues with subprime lending, will probably make banks think twice before going this route as credit continues to tighten.

If AMCO can make good on their stated intentions, they are worth another look. However, until they make good on their debts to the appraisal community, I won’t be accepting work (not that they would offer us any).

As appraisers, I think our industry is very weak at account collections. We feel we have to beg to be paid what we are owed and we are worried about pissing off the clients that still owe us money.

Its a trap. Someone once told me:

Work like you don’t need the money.

I think it needs to be modified to:

Work for clients who respect you so you don’t need to worry about getting the money you earned.


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[Commercial Grade] It’s A Two-Way Street

March 9, 2007 | 11:04 am |

Commercial Grade is a weekly post by John Cicero, MAI who provides commentary on issues affecting real estate appraisers, with specific focus on commercial valuation. This week, after a winter slumber, John looks at client traffic patterns and explains why sharing information is not a one way street.

Disclosure: John is a partner of mine in our commercial real estate valuation concern Miller Cicero, LLC and he is, on Thursdays on Fridays, one of the smartest guys I know. …Jonathan Miller



I am on the list of approved appraisers for a major national bank. I’ve submitted dozens and dozens of bids over the past year, and was not awarded even one assignment. It is this lender’s written policy that they must select the lowest fee and, as I’ve said on my Soapbox before, I never aspired to be the lowest feeonly the best appraiser. (However, in the interest in developing a relationship, I have in my opinion submitted quite aggressive fee proposals)

What, then, to do about the frequent phone calls that I get from this bank’s loan officers who are looking for market data for their underwriting? This has been a real dilemma for me. My regular clients know that I will do back-flips for them when they need somethingbut I am not sure how to respond to these particular requests.

I presume that I get these calls because they know I have good market data. My firm keeps abreast of the condo market and, with our Miller Samuel affiliation, probably have the best condo database in the City. Sodo I continue to send out this data to the underwriters, who will then turn around and hire another appraiser? Do I trip over myself, gushing that I’d be happy to supply them with valuable market data in the hopes that maybejust maybethis time they’ll pick me from the field of appraisers that they’ve sent bid requests to? Do I tell them I have just what they need but I am not going to help them, and risk being taken off the list.

Or do I just get their email address and send them a link to this Soapbox post?

For a while I’ve explained to the callers that I am happy to help them, but they need to remember that it’s a two-way street. But nothing has changed and I am still grappling with an appropriate response.

I would appreciate any feedback and advice from Soapbox readers.


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[Sounding Bored] AMCO Opts To Partially Pay Some Very Old Debts

February 14, 2007 | 11:25 pm | Columns |

Sounding Bored is my semi-regular column on the state of the appraisal profession. I am still hung up on this AMCO thing, but I think I am getting close to the end of the final chapter.

Two weeks ago after I posted my last discussion about AMCO, I started to get nervious about our non-payment of $15,000+ in outstanding appraisal fees, the majority of them are more than 6 months overdue.

I had been promised by AMCO that a check was written for $10,000, but no check ever arrived. Thinking that they were not likely to ever pay us, I decided to involve my former client in my efforts since I wasn’t really sure if they understood that most of their appraisers were cut off from work once they moved their business to AMCO. Since I wasn’t getting satisfaction of my debt, I felt I had nothing to lose.

I sent several emails to AMCO, copying my client, demanding payment of my debt. I explained the over six month thing, the lack of returned calles from accounts payable and the $10,000 check that never came.

Low and behold, I got an email from AMCO saying a check was being paid to us for $13,000 and they even provided a check number as proof. I was pretty skeptical until I got an email from my original client saying that they had interceded and forced the issue. They also informed me that they would be taking control of the appraisal process and we would start getting work again.

Wake me up: am I dreaming?

On the same day, we got an order from AMCO on behalf of this client. We had not received an order since November 14th. Coincidence?

We said we would only agree to do the appraisal if we were paid the $2,225 balanced owed, since all of it was over 90 days. They refused saying we were no different than other vendors but asked us if we would accept this new assignment if they sent us the payment for the new assignment via FedEx that night. We still declined the assignment since we had vowed not to work for them until we were paid in full. Even after that point, I don’t think its worth the risk.

The feedback this particular lender who interceded for us, indicated that several other national lenders have grown tired of the appraisal management company concept considering the poor quality of work being completed and the weakening real estate environment.

I hope its not too late, but I must admit, I am pretty happy about that new development.

AMCO Gets Credit Line Renewed, Appraisers Hope Checks Are In The Mail

Is AMCO In Financial Trouble Or Managing The Float?


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[Sounding Bored] AMCO Gets Credit Line Renewed, Appraisers Hope Checks Are In The Mail

January 24, 2007 | 11:37 pm | Columns |

Sounding Bored is my semi-regular column on the state of the appraisal profession. This week I will find out whether I can buy winter coats for my kids since AMCO was able to borrow $2M.

Last week in my post Is AMCO In Financial Trouble Or Managing The Float? about how AMCO was in massive arrears to my firm and I was getting nervous because their reason for the 7 month delay seemed to be because they were having problems with their credit line and had to delay payment. In this day in age of easy credit and the fact that AMCO is a large national firm that tries to position themselves as appraiser-orientated (I think they are the best of the AMC bunch – not that this is very complimentary), is particularly alarming.

Today, Patrick C. O’Brien, their Chief Operating Officer, issued a press release that they finally obtained their credit line. Now I can hope to get paid my $15,000+ in outstanding appraisal fees, the majority of them are more than 6 months overdue.

The day after my original post last week, I got a follow up email from AMCO indicating I would be cut a check for $10,000 of my old invoices on Monday. Should I bank on the idea that this will actually happen after 6 months of what now in hindsight, seemed to be stonewalling? Pardon me if I am a bit upset about this.

Here’s the press release sent to me today. I am at a loss as to why this is worthy of a press release or that it should even be announced.

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AMCO Completes $2 Million Credit Facility

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For Immediate Release (1/24/07)

CLEVELAND, OHIO — AMCO, a national valuations service provider to the lending and relocation industries, today announced that it has completed a $2 Million Credit facility with New York based Access Capital.

“This was an important step for this organization to solidify itself for the long-term with both our client and vendor partners, as AMCO’s leading position in valuation quality is further enhanced by this financial partnership”, said Chief Operating Officer Patrick C. O’Brien. “Adding a strong and committed financial partner like Access Capital will provide AMCO the capital to continue our growth and strategic initiatives.”


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[Commercial Grade] Give It To Me Fast And Cheap

January 22, 2007 | 12:04 pm |

Commercial Grade is a weekly post by John Cicero, MAI who provides commentary on issues affecting real estate appraisers, with specific focus on commercial valuation. John quickly gets annoyed about clients trying to hire hime on the cheap.

Disclosure: John is a partner of mine in our commercial real estate valuation concern Miller Cicero, LLC and he is, on Thursdays on Mondays, one of the smartest guys I know. …Jonathan Miller


One of my clients, a major and very active national real estate lender, sends fax solicitations for “bids.” Most recently their bid request forms have been accompanied by the lender’s internal instructions to the appraisal department.

On top of the page, above some very general information about the property (which very often needs to be clarified before a reliable quote can be given) and borrower contact were these instructions:

Engage based on: ___________ Quickest turnaround ___________ Lowest price

I looked high and low but couldn’t find the check box for:

  • best quality
  • most proficient
  • most experienced with this property type, or
  • best database

In nearly each instance, both boxes were checked. The instructions to the appraisal department were crystal clear:

Get me an appraisal fast and cheap.

In some cases the property was straightforward; in other instances it was quite complex.

No doubt that loyal Commercial Grade readers will recall a recent post where I discussed the joy of seeing an account officer finally get it, the realization that preparing a good appraisal is not easy, but critical to the underwriting process.

It is clearly going to be a sisyphean task to get the entire lending community to come around.


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[Commercial Grade] The Perfect Moment To Get

December 15, 2006 | 7:49 am |

Commercial Grade is a weekly post by John Cicero, MAI who provides commentary on issues affecting real estate appraisers, with specific focus on commercial valuation. John gets that perfect moment, and now his life is complete, well kind of.

Disclosure: John is a partner of mine in our commercial real estate valuation concern Miller Cicero, LLC and he is, on Thursdays on Fridays, one of the smartest guys I know. …Jonathan Miller


A requirement in the Real Estate Valuation and Analysis class that I teach at NYU is to write a complete, self-contained appraisal as part of a group project. Three or four bright, motivated graduate students writing one appraisal of a small income property over a ten-week period from start to finish, with all three approaches to value. The purpose is to let the class apply the theory they learn in class to the real world. At the end of the semester, the groups present their reports to the class, explaining their methodology and conclusions. I stress the development of good market dataspeak to brokersverify the sales.

One of my students, an account officer in the real estate group of a major lending institution, came up to me in the beginning of class on the day of the presentations and said that I will never complain about the appraisal fee or ask for a two-week turnaround time againthat was so much work! Yes it is! And we usually do it alone, not in groups, and in 2 weeks!

Finally, an account officer got it!!…It was a perfect moment!

And it dawned on me that that’s the answer to the dilemma that we’re inthe appraisal lobbyists in Washington must get enacted into law a requirement that all bank lenders spend three months actually going into the field to do research and write an appraisal. Perhaps then, they will get it.

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[Fee Simplistic] Out Of Spread, Out Of Touch

August 23, 2006 | 12:01 am | irslogo |

Fee Simplistic is a regular post by Martin Tessler, whom after 30 years of commercial fee appraiser-related experience, gets to the bottom of real issues by seeing the both the trees and the forest. He has never been accused of being a man of few words and his commentary can’t be inspired on a specific day of the week. In this post, he faults fee spreads to the commoditization of appraisals and emphasizes he is not tipping his hat on his car preference. …Jonathan Miller


This being the dog days of summer I was carefully mulling over in my mind my next Fee Simplistic blog when my plans were altered by fellow Commercial Grade blogger John Cicero’s commentary about spreads in appraisal fees commensurate with the scope of work involved. As a retired bank appraiser who was responsible for not only hiring but, more importantly, understanding the collateral and scoping the assignment before retaining an appraiser my curiosity got the best of me and I inquired as to how a 300% spread in fees could occur. Was it possible that the various appraisers misunderstood the assignment, was the lender giving each appraiser the same report requirements or was I or John missing something? I found out that the winning “bid” or fee (for those who are indeed professionals) was awarded to an appraiser -now get this-who did it twice before over a 2 year period and hence the spread. As John would lament losing the assignment because of the ridiculous spread in fees my take on this (not that I do not agree with him) is that the lending side should be the designated culprit.

Why so? My previous role with the bank on the credit side would have caused me to inquire as to why 2 appraisals over 2 years by the same appraiser did not assuage the lending side. Was the problem with the borrower, the terms offered or with the appraisal itself? Looking at this from the credit side of appraising I would have been interested in the history as to why this borrower was still hunting for a loan. I most particularly would have been interested in the history of the 2 values by the same appraiser: did he get it right the first time, the second time and is it likely he will get right this time or was the problem in the borrower’s credit history or the terms of the loan?

Finally, I would have been also been interested in talking to the appraiser about how he saw the appraisal issues, assuming there were some, over the 2 year period. We know that falling cap rates would have produced a higher value (all other things being equal) but what was the appraiser’s thinking? Was this going to be a fast turn around because he appraised it twice before or were there new factors that had arisen in the market that he was not paying attention to because he knew the building and the resultant value range from his two previous assignments and was only interested in a quick turn around and his fee?

Unfortunately, the appraisal world today has become too commoditized where FIRREA and USPAP have fostered a lowest common denominator mentality. “Get it done, get it done fast, and get it done as cheap as possible” is the credo that has been created by the so-called “authorities”. I have always liked to think that professional fees whether for appraisers, dentists, physicians or accountants should be based on the value they bring for their service. Would you entrust your health or your tax return to a doctor or accountant who will do it for the lowest fee or are you willing to pay somewhat more for better or more competent service? Certainly, the shareholders of XYZ lending institution deserve the same consideration or has securitization of collateralized mortgages removed this concern? Of course someone will say, “what’s the difference if you drive a Honda Civic or a BMW-they’ll both get you to where you want to go”. Yes they will just as a store front drop -in-clinic will take care of your pain until it comes back again

Semper Fee Simplistic


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