Matrix Blog

Posts Tagged ‘local market knowledge’

Floored: Can/Should A Governing Body Set Minimum Sales Prices?

May 6, 2014 | 2:47 pm |

woodfloored

The concept of “setting a price floor” applies to gated communities, homeowner associations, planned unit developments – in fact any situation where a central governing body has direct influence over the sales price and/or buyer of your property. I believe the idea of “setting price floors” is surprisingly common in the outer boroughs of NYC, especially Queens.

Let me back up a second to provide context.

As the Manhattan market peaked in 2007/2008, we began to observe some co-op boards setting floors to prices in their buildings to “maintain value” for their shareholders. While a fiduciary responsibility, it is steeped in contradictions to free market principles. There was a great New York Times summary piece about this practice back in June 2007: “Should Co-op Boards Set ‘Floor Prices’?

About 15 months after the NYT article was written Lehman Brothers had collapsed and AIG, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were all bailed out. Manhattan sales prices had fallen about 30% from 2008 to 2009. During this period I observed an increase in the practice of setting price floors. A hypothetical scenario (the type I often observed first hand) for – let’s call it – “Apartment XXX” and the timeline might go something like this:

  • Sold in 8/2007 for $1,000,000
  • Listed in 8/2008 for $1,100,000
  • Zero activity until 1/2009, offered $700,000. Offer rejected by shareholder.
  • Offer made by new buyer in 2/2009, offered $705,000. Offer rejected by shareholder.
  • Offer made by new buyer in 3/2009, offered $700,000. Offer accepted by shareholder.
  • Board turndown – “price too low.”
  • Offer made by new buyer in 4/2009, offered $695,000. Offer rejected by shareholder.
  • Offer made by new buyer in 5/2009, offered $710,000. Offer accepted by shareholder.
  • Board turndown – “price too low.”
  • Taken off market by shareholder.

A co-op board CAN’T dictate sales prices
It is clear from the steady stream of new offers in my hypothetical that the market had reset to a significantly lower level during the year. If that was the case (it was), then the board was actually doing a disservice to their shareholders by making their apartments essentially unsaleable. A buyer isn’t going to pay what the seller or the board wants the price to be. Econ 101. Housing market prices change over time, hopefully rising more than falling in the long run. The brokerage community also has a fiduciary responsibility to get the highest price for their seller under market conditions at that time. Although the board is trying to protect their shareholders (and themselves as shareholders), they have in effect, temporarily nullified the market in their building. The brokerage community is less likely to bring offers to sellers because they assume the board will reject the price even though the property had been properly exposed and vetted in the marketplace.

A co-op board CAN protect their shareholder against price outliers
One of the misnomers of the “setting a price floor” discussion is the fact that appraisal quality for lenders has been decimated since the financial crisis as banks now fully rely on appraisal management company ie “AMC” appraisers and most have no “local market knowledge.” An out of market appraiser will likely be more influenced by outliers than a local appraiser because the out of market appraiser is data starved and has no experience in the nuances of that market. It is clearly prudent for a board to be vigilant about outliers as reflected in the video. I’ve consulted on transactions for boards that don’t represent market value – ie the heir or executor lives on the other side of the country, doesn’t care about the market value and simply wants to dump the unit, make some money and move on. The out of market appraiser will probably use that sale as a “comp.”

“Protecting against outliers” is very different than “controlling prices” in a market.

In the outer boroughs especially in Queens, I believe the practice of setting a price floor has remained a widespread practice for years. Here’s a co-op attorney who is providing tips on how to “maintain values” on Habitat Magazine‘s web site. Concepts like setting up “sliding scales” to sell at 95% of the average of past sales may work in a stable market but worry me because the co-op won’t be able to respond to downturns and is in danger of choking off the market, potentially depressing prices even more.

This video also talks about apartments being different in condition and boards need to consider this because real estate appraisers don’t take into consideration whether or not an apartment was renovated.

No! This is absolutely an incorrect or the appraiser is not being asked to provide an opinion of market value – appraisers are supposed to take condition into consideration if they are being requested to provide an opinion of market value.

As I mentioned earlier, with the proliferation of AMCs, appraisers working for retail banks are generally being paid 50% of the market rate and can’t or won’t confirm condition of their comps. Higher up banking executives don’t yet equate appraisal fees with appraisal quality.

“Maintaining Value” in a co-op (or multi-unit housing entity with a governing body) Here are a few (non-legal) valuation thoughts on “maintaining” values in a co-op. I’ve personally always taken this to mean that the corporation is run efficiently for the benefit of the shareholders and when that happens, property values are “maintained” relative to the market. I also believe their values will ebb and flow with the world that surrounds the building – ie supply, demand, credit, interest rates, economy, employment, etc. These are outside factors tend to be things that the board has no control over. If the board takes actions to control “market forces” they can potentially damage shareholder value and they are potentially not fulfilling their fiduciary responsibilities.

Tags: , ,


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.

Tags: , , , ,


Broken Appraisal: Lack of Market Knowledge Overpowers Lack of Data

January 27, 2013 | 6:06 pm | nytlogo |

There was a really good appraisal story in the Sunday Real Estate Section this weekend by Lisa Prevost focusing on appraising high end properties whose theme is well-captured in the opening sentence:

As home sales pick up in the million-dollar-plus market, deals are being complicated by unexpectedly low appraisal values.

The higher the price strata of the market, the smaller the data set is to work with so the conventional wisdom seems to be that less data = more unreliable appraisals. However I believe the real problem is lack of market knowledge by more appraisers today as a result of May 2009′s Home Valuation Code of Conduct (HVCC) – the lack of data at the top of the market merely exposes a pervasive problem throughout the housing market.

To the New York Times’ credit, they are the only national media outlet that has been consistently covering the appraisal topic since the credit crunch began and I appreciate it since so few really understand our challenges as well as our our roles and relationship to the parties in the home buying and selling process. Appraising gets limited coverage in the national media aside from NAR’s constantly blaming of the appraisers as preventing a housing recovery (in their clumsy way of articulating the problem, they are more right than wrong).

Here’s the recent NYT coverage:

January 27, 2013 Appraising High-End Homes
January 11, 2013 Understanding the Home Appraisal Process
October 12, 2012 Scrutiny for Home Appraisers as the Market Struggles
June 14, 2012 When the Appraisal Sinks the Deal
May 8, 2012 Accuracy of Appraisals Is Spotty, Study Says
September 16, 2011 Decoding the Wide Variations in House Appraisals

The general theme and style of coverage comes about when Realtors start seeing an increase in deals blowing up that involve the appraisal. The Prevost article indicates that higher end sales are more at risk because the market at the top (think pyramid, not as in ponzi) is smaller and therefore the data set is smaller.

This may be true but I don’t think that is the cause of the problem but rather it exposes the problem for what it really is. I contend that the problem starts with the appraisal management company (AMC) industry and how it has driven the best appraisers out of business or pushed them into different valuation emphasis besides bank appraisals by splitting the appraisal fee with the appraiser (the mortgage applicant doesn’t realize that half their appraisal fee is going to a bureaucracy).

My firm does a much smaller share of bank appraisals than our historical norm these days but it is NIRVANA and we’re not likeley to return to our old model anytime soon.

Since the bank-hired AMC relies on appraisers who will work for half the market rate and therefore need to cut corners and do little analysis to survive, they generally don’t have local market knowledge often driving from 2 to 3 hours away.

Throw very little data into the equation as well as a very non-homogonous housing stock at the luxury end of the market and voila! there is an increased frequency of blown appraisal assignments.

There is always less data at the top of the market – the general lack of expertise in bank appraisals today via the AMC process is simply exposed for its lack of reliability. Unfortunately the appraisal disfunction affects many people’s financial lives unnecessarily such as buyers, sellers and real estate agents (and good appraisers not able to work for half the market rate and cut corners on quality).

The appraisal simply is not a commodity as it is treated by the banking industry. The appraisal is a professional service so by dumbing it down through the AMC process, they have succeeded in nearly destroying the ability to create a reliable valuation benchmark on the collateral for each mortgage in order to be able to make informed decisions on their risk exposure.

Tags: , , , , , ,


‘Defensibility’ of Property Values [Part II of Trilogy]

June 7, 2012 | 3:02 pm | irslogo |

A good friend of mine, Mark Stockton of Valuations Unlimited, LLC, has developed a powerful research tool to aid in valuation. Mark is a sharp unassuming guy who has sold technology to Wall Street before. Here is a simple overview. It addresses the significant elements of the technology. It’s not an AVM and better yet…it actually works! His technology develops the replacement cost, market analysis, land residual analysis, assessment analysis, sale price index and rental analysis and allows the user to weight the applicability of each approach.

Here’s the second installment of his property valuation trilogy. The first installment covered ‘Sustainability‘. This version is about “defensibility”. It was perfect timing since I just testified in court this morning as an expert witness to defend my appraisal report.


In Defense of Defensibility
By Mark L. Stockton
June 7, 2012

Can you imagine walking into an IRS audit without the slightest ability to defend the deductions you have taken to reduce your tax liability? Not on your life! If your tax return was to become the subject of an audit, you would walk into the meeting with the IRS auditor equipped with all of the support documentation required to substantiate every entry on the tax form. To do less would be to risk a ruling disallowing specific deductions and perhaps requiring you to pay some amount of tax plus penalty and interest.

The concept of defensibility is not new to any of us, nor is it confined to our tax filings. The theory has universal application for any service or product that relies to some degree on the appropriate selection of factual information, and the analytical abilities and/or opinions of one or more individuals. As this relates to the mortgage industry, a title policy must be defensible, or it is of no value. A credit report or an income statement must also be defensible in order to have any worth. It stands to reason that a real estate appraisal should be able to withstand the same scrutiny – but it generally will not.

Residential real estate appraisals are seldom defensible. Traditionally, lenders have audited appraisals for completeness (are all the boxes checked?) without giving any consideration to the reasonableness of the value conclusion. That changed – or was supposed to change – with the adoption of the Interagency Appraisal and Evaluation Guidelines in December of 2010.

Consider the following excerpt from the Guidelines:

XV. Reviewing Appraisals and Evaluations
This review also should ensure that an appraisal or evaluation contains sufficient information and analysis to support the decision to engage in the transaction. Through the review process, the institution should be able to assess the reasonableness of the appraisal or evaluation, including whether the valuation methods, assumptions, and data sources are appropriate and well-supported.

Interpret this anyway you wish; it is impossible for a lender to assess the reasonableness of the appraisal or evaluation without considering whether or not the value conclusion is reasonable. In order to accomplish that task, all of the items set forth in the provision above must be readily available and/or readily apparent to the lender.

  • There must be sufficient information to support a decision making process.
  • There must be sufficient analytics to support the value conclusion
  • The valuation methods used must be adequate and applied properly
  • Assumptions must be documented
  • Data sources must be adequate

Given the lack of support documentation that accompanies a residential appraisal report, it is impossible to determine whether any of these criteria have been adequately addressed. Under these circumstances, how can anyone be expected to make a determination about the reasonableness of a value conclusion as the Guidelines require, and as common sense and prudent business practice dictate?

The appraisal process today is an abbreviated version of that which was once mandated. Generally, a single approach to value is considered – the market comparison approach. This method depends on the successful execution of two procedures:

  1. The identification properties that have recently sold, that are reasonably similar to the Subject property in terms of location and property characteristics, and that best represent local market conditions (“comparable properties”)
  2. The determination of reasonable dollar adjustments to account for the locational and characteristic differences between each comparable property and the Subject.

We know from studies performed periodically by Fannie Mae and others that a significant percentage of the time – perhaps 40% – properties identified as comparables on appraisal reports are in fact not comparable. A valuation process that begins with such a flawed premise can seldom arrive at a reasonable, defensible value conclusion. We don’t know what properties comprised the set from which eventual comps were selected, nor do we know the precise criteria used to define “comparability”. Likewise, we do not know the analytical basis for the computation of the dollar adjustments.

What do we know?

  • There is insufficient information to support a decision making process
  • A single approach to value is insufficient to support a value conclusion
  • The valuation methods used are inadequate, even if applied properly
  • Assumptions are seldom documented
  • Data sources may not be adequate

The sum of our knowledge leads us to the following determination: The information supplied is inadequate to form an opinion about the reasonableness of a value conclusion, which cannot, therefore, be used in a prudent decision making process.

Unless and until the appraisal product becomes defensible, as defined in the Interagency Guidelines, lenders will be unable to comply, and appraisals will not be useful tools for lending or investing decisions.



Tags:


[The BBQ Interview] Rick Sharga of Carrington Mortgage Holdings – “Why is REO Volume Down?”

May 30, 2012 | 3:24 pm | nytlogo |

I was looking for guidance/insight on the issue of future REO volume because I had anticipated a faster pickup in REO volume once the state AG agreement was signed with the major servicers (ie being held back after robo signing scandal) but that is yet the case.

One of the most knowledgeable people in the business and a good friend (as well as an expert in the field of the BBQ) is Rick Sharga, Executive Vice President of Carrington Mortgage Holdings so I traded emails with him, compiled it and received a great overview of the topic:


Miller: Most pundits are looking at all the price metrics saying things are improving and inventory is low. To me it feels like there is an essential component not being factored in and that is foreclosure shadow. Am I overly concerned about it? I thought we were looking at several years of heavy volume. In fact S&P says 48 months of heavy REO volume.

Sharga: I break REO into two distinct phases: activity and inventory. Both have been falling. Inventory levels have been falling largely because of an unexpected drop-off in activity levels. That drop-off has slowed down the pipeline of new REO inventory, and the market has gradually been whittling away at the existing inventory. We seem to have reached a plateau of about 500,000 REO sales a year, and the question of how long it will take to clear the market is a good one. I don’t think we’ve peaked yet in terms of inventory (LPS believes that REO inventory levels will peak in 2015, and they may be right, based on how many seriously delinquent loans there are, and how long it takes to execute a foreclosure).


Miller: But why is volume down?

Sharga: The activity levels being down is a bit of a surprise, but in hindsight probably shouldn’t be. There are several factors at play here. First, from a positive perspective, we’re seeing dramatic increases in short sales. That’s a good trend for everybody – lenders lose less, buyers get a good deal, borrowers take less of a credit hit, properties don’t deteriorate as much and prices don’t drop as far. Every short sale essentially means one less REO, so they’re definitely a factor to consider.

Second, we’re (finally) starting to see some sales of non-performing loans (NPLs) by the major lenders; we’ve purchased two portfolios worth between $150-250 million in the last few months. Those sales at the very least delay REO actions while the notes are being transferred. Then, in cases such as ours where our mortgage servicing unit starts contacting the delinquent borrowers, a lot of loans are modified and taken out of foreclosure. Those that can’t be modified are typically offered the option of a short sale. So foreclosure actions actually are reduced by NPL sales.

Third, the long-awaited AG settlement has had a bit of an unintended consequence in this area. While we anticipated – and have seen – the return of foreclosure processing in some of the judicial states where the engines had seized up during the AG negotiations, we’ve also seen an unexpected drop in activity in the non-judicial states. Part of this is due to the terms of the settlement. The five largest servicers have agreed to write off about $20 billion in principal balance on their delinquent loans. A high percentage of these loans are in the Southwest, in non-judicial states like CA and NV. These states also had some of the largest price declines from peak to trough. The servicers have financial incentives to meet their $20 billion amount as quickly as possible (one servicer, for example, is believed to have a “dollar for dollar” incentive on anything it writes down this year). So, the quickest way to meet the write down requirement is to target delinquent loans in the Western non-judicial states. “Dual tracking” is now illegal. Therefore, it makes sense for the servicers to halt foreclosure actions on these properties and see if the borrowers qualify for the write downs. How big is this? BofA announced that it had already made offers to 200,000 borrowers. The huge drop off in REO activity in these states won’t be offset by increases in the judicial states; even though they’re starting to execute foreclosures again, it will take time to unclog the system in those states and get through the processes.

Finally, some of this is localized (Nevada has some new laws that make it difficult to execute a foreclosure without the original mortgage note); and some of it is due to pending Federal programs (HAMP Tier 2 is scheduled to launch next month, which will require servicers to see which of their previously un-modified loans will qualify for the latest government program).


Miller: What about that shadow inventory we’ve all been hearing about, and the several million seriously delinquent loans not yet in foreclosure?

Sharga: It probably means that fewer of them will make it through to REO status, and that the ones that do will get there in a very measured, controlled manner. This makes the LPS scenario believable: all those delinquent loans gradually working their way through the foreclosure process over the next 2-3 years but not creating a flood of REO inventory; peaking sometime in 2015, and falling pretty dramatically after that.


Miller: This is very helpful, thanks. Another important topic of the day is BBQing. Any sage advice for a novice?

Sharga: Always remember my “never fails,” three step grilling mantra:
1. Buy the best food you can find
2. Use 100% hardwood chunk coal
3. Stay out of the way and try your best not to screw anything up

Tags: , ,


[Vortex] DUMBO: A Tale of Two Views

April 23, 2010 | 10:46 am | furmancenterlogo |

Guest Columnist:
Anonymous DUMBO Resident

Periodically I receive insight from people that have spent a lot of time analyzing specific market trends or attributes. In this case, here’s a fascinating analysis about the views in DUMBO by one of its residents. – Jonathan Miller


A Tale of Two Views
April 2010
Anonymous

Introduction
DUMBO. Down Under The Manhattan Bridge Overpass – arguably one of the most hyped neighborhoods of the aughts. I thought I would take a stab at analyzing some of the real estate in the area. It’s always interesting when market reports and news stories quote a price per square foot or median price for an entire neighborhood. I believe that these numbers are not very useful because even within a neighborhood as small as DUMBO, there are still micro markets that exist based on apartment features. Though DUMBO is a cultural and business center, is safe, family friendly, and has access to shops/restaurants/parks/transportation, the main attraction to real estate in the area is for the world class views. There are really two markets cohabitating in the DUBMO market - one for apartments with “wow factor” views, and one for apartments that do not contain them. The existence of two separate markets will be empirically proved and explored in this paper.

The goals for this analysis are 4 fold:
1) Visually display the existence of the two separate markets in DUMBO
2) Quantify $/PSF value for apartments with “wow factor” views vs those that don’t
3) Assess the effectiveness of an actual DUMBO appraisal
4) Discuss the pricing of apartments currently on the market

Data and Definitions
The area is actually incredibly small with only a few buildings and I chose to look at the two flagships – 1 Main Street (The Clocktower) and 30 Main Street (The Sweeney Building). Both buildings are well established door men condos with views. Other buildings in the area do have views – but I chose not to look at others such as 100 Jay and 85 Adams are new construction, and 70 Washington runs the risk of views being obstructed by the Dock Street development. From 2003-present there were 195 sales in these 2 buildings representing approximately 240 million dollars in value, a large enough sample size for this analysis. The penthouse sale at 1 Main, Cabanas at 30 Main, and one outlier at 30 Main (apt 7G on 9/14/9) were excluded from the analysis

The views I define as “wow factor” contain large windows that have full unobstructed views of the East River + Manhattan Bridge or East River + Brooklyn Bridge + Downtown Manhattan. More specifically these are: 1 Main – Any B, C, D line apartment or an A, J, K, L apartment above floor 4. 30 Main – G, H, A, B apartments above floor 5

All sale price information was taken from ACRIS and square footage sizes were taken from the condo offering plans. It’s important to note that the sale dates represent CLOSING dates – meaning that there can be some noise in the data depending on how long each apartment was in contract. 40 of the sales contain contract date data available from StreetEasy, where the average days between contract and close at 73 days.

Visual Display
The blue line in the graph below represents the average value price per square foot paid quarter by quarter for apartments that have spectacular views. The red line represents the PSF sale price those that do not. Along the X axis is time and the Y axis is dollars paid per square foot ($/PSF).

You can see that over time there is a clear gap between the blue line and the red line (Aside from Q3 2004). This gap represents the higher value of apartments with spectacular views. Furthermore, since 2005 the red line remains fairly constant with a band around 700-800 $/PSF, while the blue line spikes and dips with the market.
It’s important to highlight again that the closing price data comes from ACRIS, which means that the dates are closing dates – NOT the dates each contract was signed.

More recent data – zoom on the chart from 2005-Present

Quantification
Here is the same data in table format. You can clearly see the # of sales, total dollar value of sales per quarter, and weighted $/PSF for each quarter. It’s also interesting to note that though there were 42 more sales of non spectacular view apartments the total $ value is only 6mm more. The final takeaway from the chart is that that the average weighted $PSF difference for the entire timeline is ~$268 PSF.

To extrapolate the $268 PSF into more real terms – we are saying that having two apartments of the same size, one with a view would cost $1,000,000 while one without would cost $732,000. The calculation methodology for PSF calculations were weighted by total square foot. For example, if a 3000 sq ft apartment sold for 1000 psf and a 1000 sq ft apartment sold for 2000 a foot, the avg for that quarter would be 1250. 4000 total sq ft sold – 3000/4000 = .75, 1000/4000 = .25, (.75 * 1000) + (.25 * 2000) = 1250.

Assuming a 20% down payment and 5.5% 30 year fixed mortgage the payments would also work out as follows:

View: $200,000 down, $800,000 mortgage, monthly payment of $4,542 No View: $146,400 down, $585,600 mortgage, monthly payment of $3,325

So we have a difference in monthly payment of $1,217 per million dollars of apartment value, and an annual amount of $14,604 per year.

So when you see a graphic like below that suggests the median price in DUMBO is $1.24 million, you know that value per square foot within that median price is drastically different depending on if the apartment has a spectacular view vs. not.


(Source: The Real Deal)

Appraisal
I got my hands on an actual appraisal for a unit that has a “wow factor” view – and looked at the comps. The first thought is to look at the comps themselves. Understandably, it is very difficult to find true comps considering real estate is such an illiquid asset, but I have highlighted in red the major issue as to why each particular comp loses validity – lets work from the bottom up. If you are buying at 1 Main or 30 Main, you are most likely not considering 360 Furman Street (1 Brooklyn Bridge Park). This is like comparing the Upper West Side and Hells Kitchen – though close in distance, they are just totally different neighborhoods that appeal to different clientele. The Next 3 – 30 Main/7C, 1 Main/5E, and 1 Main/2K – don’t have spectacular views. As we showed in the above chart, there is a significant difference in value when the view is not present and should not be compared. Lastly, though 1 Main/12K could be considered a comparable – I don’t see how it makes sense to compare a sale in 2010 to one that was signed before the Lehman collapse.

Appraisers take these differences into account and thus make adjustments to true up the values of the apartments. In this case, adjustments were made for date of sale, maintenance costs, floor, view, age of building, bathroom count, size in square feet, outdoor space, common roof deck, and garage. Here is a snippet of those adjustments:

If you refer back to my chart above you can see the total appraised PSF of each apartment as well ad the contribution to Total PSF for each adjustment. I’ve left the sign (+/-) off the view/floor and time adjustments, but you can assume that they are positive for the apartments that do not have “wow factor” views. You can see that the View/Floor and Time adjustments are no where near where they need to be compared to the empirical finding

In summary, this appraisal does not take into accounts the severity of difference in price that comes from the nuances of view or timing accurately. More proof that appraisers need in depth local knowledge of the properties they are assessing in order to be able to compare apples to apples.

Current Listings
There are currently 11 units for sale between 1 Main and 30 Main, more important than location, there are 4 with spectacular views and 7 without. The chart below shows those listings and is sorted by price per square foot – looks like the sellers are aware of the bifurcated market as well.

Below is the post Lehman/Financial collapse price per square foot for the area.

You can see that the average for the last 5 quarters comes out to approximately 1118 $/PSF for apartments with views and 766 $/PSF for apartments that lack. We also see that the there is a significant upward trend in the spectacular view apartments where 3 units sold in Q1 of 2010 at a size weighted average of 1224 $/PSF.

Per our earlier analysis with the appraisal – there are nuances to the way these apartments are priced. 1 Main/5D is priced at 1695 $/PSF due to extensive renovations. 1 Main/6GH is commanding a premium due to its size (3bed) as well as renovations.

View Apartments: Considering the current listings are either below 1118 $/PSF or very close to the latest quarter’s $/PSF (1224), the data suggests that all apartments with views aside from 5D are accurately priced.

Non View: We also see that all apartments that lack spectacular views aside from 30 Main/4F are overpriced as they are over the 766 $/PSF recent average and the data does not suggest any upward trend at the moment.

Conclusion
It’s important to disclose that this analysis is measuring the value of space within the DUMBO area, and assumes that buyers are solely looking at apartments within this area. It highlights how even within two buildings there are many nuances and generalizing apartments across neighborhoods is a very difficult and complex task.

Through analyzing historic closing sale information it is clearly visible that there are two separate markets in existence in DUMBO. Refining the data suggests that the price differential between the two markets is ~268 $/PSF. Even within the same building there are significant factors that create a drastic difference in value, and breaking down into monthly mortgage payments the price differential for apartments with views vs those that don’t works about to ~$14,600 annually for a $1 million apartment.

This analysis has also shown that appraising a property is an extremely difficult task that requires an immense amount of local knowledge and building/apartment features.

Lastly, the current listings in the markets for apartments with views are priced in line with historic $/PSF as well as recent trends. 30 Main/9A happens to be the writer’s personal favorite and the one I would bet sells next. The data suggests that apartments that do not have spectacular views appear to be overpriced.

DUMBO: A Tale of Two Views [Anonymous via Miller Samuel]


Tags: ,


[The Navigator] Strategic Planning Can Get Appraisers Under The TARP

October 20, 2008 | 10:13 am | irslogo |

Joseph P. Egan is a Massachusetts Certified General Real Estate Appraiser with over 25 years of professional valuation experience. The assignments performed by his firm, Joseph P. Egan & Associates, cover a broad range of commercial real estate properties as well as family and closely-held businesses in Cape Cod, Nantucket and Southeastern Massachusetts. This experience intersects with all major industries such as the automotive, food service, healthcare, lodging, marine, professional services, recreational, and retail sectors. Joe is a thoughtful and thorough writer who draws on this experience when delivering unique insight on issues that impact appraisers in today’s market. I am deeply grateful to have Joe’s to help us “navigate” this challenging environment for appraisers.
- Jonathan Miller



Earlier this month the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) became a done deal and the U.S. Treasury has since been diligently crafting a global strategy to implement the greatest government bailout or rescue since the 1930′s.

Despite the many unknowns of the $700 billion program, one underlying theme being increasingly acknowledged is that TARP related assets will stimulate demand for experienced workout related professionals. Given what we know, it appears the increase will largely concern asset collateralized by commercial real estate and new construction assets.

One piece of evidence of the growing demand are the widely published reports of the FDIC’s efforts to employ more workout professionals beginning with retirees possessing prior on the job experience gained in the prior S&L bailout. In the private sector, Anthony LoPinto of SelectLeaders a leading commercial real estate recruiter stated in a recent blog post that due to “a meltdown of the financial system” and the need to “contend with the large pools and billions of dollars of commercial real estate loans that will be maturing over the next 12 to 36 months”, demand for experienced workout and restructuring professionals is expected to increase. An anecdotal review of available job postings, hiring news, and general industry dialogue all seem to corroborate Mr. LoPinto’s front line perspective.

The positive news is advisory and valuation companies of all types will likely have opportunities to meet the growing need for workout services. Professionals and organizations with prior workout exposure may have a leg up and perhaps be most inclined to seize opportunities. Less experienced professionals seeking to diversify into the arena can still adopt strategic and focused measures to explore opportunities.

Regardless of your level of workout experience, before dipping into this inviting yet clouded pool, it may be best to develop a reasonable short list of what we currently perceive to be in store under TARP and highlight a few differences between the last time workout services was a growth industry. Armed with this perspective (which is being further refined at this moment) a range of possible workout opportunities likely to be offered in the marketplace can be brought into closer focus.

Fully recognizing that the range of differences is an evolving topic, as TARP unfolds the short list of current differences include:

  • The financial and systemic magnitude of the TARP program and the solution it hopes to provide are much larger and more global than the S&L bailout. From a structural perspective, the range and diversity of market participants, stake holders and service providers will be broader as well.
  • Using the establishment of FIRREA in 1989 as the starting point, the S&L bailout lasted into the mid 1990′s. The timeframe for the TARP program is unknown due to dependent variables such as the type of assets to be acquired, price levels achieved, the degree to which assets are performing, holding periods (some assets may be held to maturity), and the manner in which Treasury adjusts their terms over time. Continued bank mergers and failures along with the dysfunctional state of the commercial credit pipeline, thus triggering the degree to which banks will need to participate in the TARP program, all remain significant variables as well.
  • In the S&L bailout, the bulk of assets acquired by the RTC and resold comprised whole asset sales acquired from a neat profile of U.S. banks. A significantly higher percentage of the troubled assets to be acquired under TARP, however, are expected to comprise internationally held whole mortgages and other financial instruments of many blends, rather than primarily hard assets such as real property. In addition, the troubled assets will be divided among the yet to be named asset managers in two groups handling either whole loans or securities backed by a multitude of mortgages.
  • Based on available information, gaining adequate control of securitized assets, aptly assessing risk, and developing reliable pricing and buy/sell mechanisms, particularly for securitized assets, will be the major challenges.
  • Through the consistent introduction of “innovative debt” structures and greater reliance on private rather than institutional capital, a broader pallet of international stakeholders now exists. The consistent formation of new private venture funds keen on opportunities to acquire distressed assets at favorable terms is just one example of how this realm is already expanding. Another stakeholder may comprise tax payers like you and me under a plan being considered where Treasury financing would be provided in selected joint venture transactions. The equity partnerships are aimed at promoting assets sales while providing the opportunity for tax payers to be a stakeholder.
  • Qualifying banks deciding whether to retain or acquire collateralized assets not sold to Treasury will represent another type of potential workout client. Certainly, the relaxing of market to market requirements, changes on the treatment of distressed assets in whole mergers, along with restrictions on executive pay, equity participation, and recoupment could provide incentives for banks to strongly consider holding or acquiring assets, except for the most seriously impaired. As part of this decision making process, banks will require workout related guidance on assets collateralized by real property.
  • The range of sophisticated analytical tools and the level of readily accessible public and proprietary market data, software applications and information technology have significantly increased since the 1990′s. Consequently, on the regional or local level appraisers providing the most sought after workout services will be required to demonstrate the high value capabilities and specialized technical expertise not readily decipherable from third party data sources or based on remotely developed software models.
  • Participating appraisers must fully understand the needs and structure of this evolving process which over time will ultimately become a sophisticated and highly channeled niche market. Consequently, a new long-term commitment to being properly positioned on the right regional and national radar screens will be paramount. Getting there first, establishing your targeted expertise, and being “top of mind” is even better.
  • Due to the magnitude of the current rescue plan as we know it, efficiency and credible assignments results will even rank higher. Project management skills, accountability, the ability follow defined scope of work requirements, and the willingness to provide high touch follow up service will no doubt reign supreme.
  • Given the volume of assets to be managed and Treasury’s emphasis on the “paramount need for expeditious implementation”, asset managers and other workout clients will seek out service providers with the capacity to reliably complete multi-property or portfolio assignments in the most optimum manner possible.

With these observations in mind, in addition to appraisals, some ideas on the types of targeted workout related services to be requested will include:

  • Liquidation Value The ability to estimate reasonable and adequately supported liquidation values will be needed area of expertise. Assisting banks in the development of “fair value” estimates on ORE properties could perhaps be another related service to be requested. (See FDIC, FIL 62-2008, Guidance on Other Real Estate, issued July, 2008)
  • Development Consulting Professionals and organizations with a firm local and regional grasp on absorption rates, development costs, unit pricing, sales concessions, bulk sale analyses, etc. or the more encompassing market and feasibility studies, will be sought out. Depending on your geographic region, through properly developed scope of work scenarios this niche service sector can offer good opportunities for developing a solid niche and attracting ongoing and repeat assignments.
  • Market Analysis Providing market data and specialized analysis to a range of clients are examples of the type of work out related assignments likely to be requested. Possible scenarios include requests for supplemental market data and analysis to be considered by a client in connection with an existing appraisal they are currently reviewing. Individuals and organizations performing advisory or valuation services in a market area where you have superior expertise or better resources may comprise another client group. The need for up to date and reliable market data and trend analyses to be utilized in connection with a client’s internal portfolio review processes is another area where market analysis services will have a good fit in the workout arena. Since the ability to assess a borrower’s capacity to continue to pay on a performing loan will be front and center, one offshoot in this area could possibly involve assignments supporting the underwriting and risk assessment processes with greater precision. Recognizing that the original mortgage was created at both a different time and underwriting scenario, such clients may require more on the ground intelligence addressing critical topics such as the state of the immediate market area and the competitive environment.
  • Property or Subject Specialization Professional advisory and firms with specialized areas of expertise will be sought out to provide reliable solutions concerning unique properties and problems. And based on what we already know about lax underwriting and loose credit standards, there will be many unique properties and problems. In a workout environment, prudent asset managers realize they cannot know every market or every property type and are inclined to turn to specialists for answers. The byproduct — timely and sound decision making is what they need most. One obvious example of specialized subjects involves the broad category of distressed properties with the possibility of further segmentation. Additional examples may include specialization by property type (e.g., gas stations, net leased restaurants, lodging properties, recreational properties, food processing plants, interval ownership resorts, etc.), by region or perhaps based on very specialized knowledge within a closely aligned field (e.g., geology, agriculture, environmental engineering, etc.).

The preceding review of the major aspects of the TARP program and brief list of likely workout services serve as only a brief back drop to the anticipated growing need for professional workout services. Certainly, many other key observations are worth noting and no doubt these waters will become clearer in coming weeks. Nevertheless, the preliminary list serves its purpose of being a vehicle to inspire interested professionals to begin to strategically consider the key questions surrounding the future for workout assignments, essentially the who, what, where, when, how, and why of it all. Naturally, for those among us already experiencing a steady increase in workout related assignments sharing your valued observations would be a true reflection of professionalism as we join together and prepare to meet the serious challenges before us in the coming financial and economic environment.


Tags: , , , , ,


[Sounding Bored] Valuation Review Interview: “Tightened Appraisal Guidelines”

October 5, 2008 | 10:18 pm | Columns |

Sounding Bored is my semi-regular column on the state of the appraisal profession. Valuation Review gets me to spill the beans on the Brave New World our profession has entered. Believe it or not, I am optimistic.

Here’s my interview with Matt Smith, managing director of Valuation Review, one of the best real estate appraisal publications out there, IMHO:

As Valuation Review has reported, lenders have grown much more conservative in underwriting, and appraisers are feeling it in the form of growing demands for more in-depth market analysis and the inclusion of more recent comps in reports (see “Conditions, stips reach fever pitch for appraisers“).

“I hope it continues forever. It should never have gone away,” said Jonathan Miller, president and CEO of appraisal firm Miller Samuel. “The appraisal profession from 2004 to 2006 which was when the bar for underwriting dropped to the floor became an army of form fillers. The people who were competent either did not fare well during the housing boom or were effectively shut out of their trade. It’s a shame. That will take a while to rebuild.”

He estimated that the appraisal industry has fallen from “80 percent competent to just the opposite.” Miller recently shared his thoughts on how the GSE conservatorship and Wall St. crisis might mean for appraisers.

The most important factor, he said, is the housing market won’t get better until credit is fixed.

“The GSE takeover, in the long run, is a good thing for two reasons. One is they no longer serve two masters — the taxpayer and the shareholder. So they may be able to work out some of the foreclosure volume,” Miller said. “There may be more empathy.”

Also, no one knew how much of their balance sheet contained overstated assets.

“Until all the dirty laundry comes out, you’re not going to see much of a resolution of credit,” Miller said. “There’s no trust in the market whatsoever.”

What’s it all mean?

As the industry purges itself of unscrupulous practices and “professionals,” mortgage lenders might place a new premium on skilled, experienced appraisers at least temporarily.

“I’m skeptical that lending institutions are going to find the new religion tasteful for an extended period of time because it means lower revenue,” Miller said.

In addition, many of the executives and leaders who pushed for reckless behavior are still in place. There’s also another wildcard appraisers must face: The Home Valuation Code of Conduct.

Miller offered no guesses at a possible outcome for the HVCC, but said, “The biggest concern I have in all this and I can tell because I’m being heavily marketed to by them is the proliferation of appraisal management companies.”

Representatives from the mortgage broker industry have reported that with new rules preventing them from ordering an appraisal directly, 60 percent of their members will go under, according to Miller.

“Yes, because that is part of the systemic problem with valuations,” he said. “Lenders have essentially severed their relationships with local appraisers. They’ve gone national (with AMCs). You’re moving from an appraisal product that is biased to make the deal to one of incompetence. Generally, the appraisers willing to work for appraisal management companies are those willing to work for half or less than the market rate and therefore cut corners and turn the product around in 24 hours. The reviews I’ve done for banks suggest those reports generally aren’t worth the paper they’re written on. So how are we better?”

There has been no great solution for making sure appraisers are protected but viable, he said. Real improvements to the system would have to incentivize quality and trust.

“That won’t be accomplished by just making a new laws or regulations saying you can’t pressure appraisers. That’s been the tact in the past, and that really does nothing,” Miller said.

Rather, there has to be incentive on the demand side so that loan products aren’t purchased and securitized until they meet rigorous new standards. The larger trend in the appraisal community is that the intellectual knowledge base is leaving mortgage business for other types of valuation work.

“At some point, you decide whether you’re going to sell your soul or not. I don’t want to sound too cynical, but once you make the business decision to say, ‘I’m going to push the number,’ it’s over. You’re going to be doing that the rest of your career, because that’s what your reputation will be,” Miller said.

His own business has evolved in recent years from 50 percent mortgage-based to just 20 percent or work coming from mortgage companies.

“People that take the long-term view will probably leave the mortgage business as an appraiser and certainly are doing little work with mortgage brokers,” he added.

Tags: , ,


[Sounding Bored] Fighting The High Value, Getting Fired Over The Right Value

July 16, 2008 | 12:15 am | Columns |

Sounding Bored is my semi-regular column on the state of the appraisal profession.

The following IndyMac story was forwarded to me by a Soapbox reader. It was originally posted by appraiser Vernon Martin on AppraisersForum.com I don’t usually repost but the story detail is amazing – read here or on the appraisersforum.com – either way, it’s worth the read.

Written by Vernon Martin:

I worked at IndyMac as their chief commercial appraiser from October 2001 to the end of March 2002.

I first became acquainted with IndyMac through OTS appraisal examiner Darryl Washington, MAI. Darryl used to examine my appraisal department each year when at Home Savings of America, which was acquired by WAMU in 1998. During the summer of 2001, I had a chance encounter with him at a jazz concert. I asked him what he had been up to, and he told me that he had just completed the first examination of IndyMac Bank, which had just received its savings and loan charter only a year before. He said, “Vern, they could use a guy like you.”

Several weeks later I saw the chief commercial appraiser position for IndyMac Bank posted on Monster.com. I responded with a cover letter that started with “Darryl Washington of the OTS suggested that I contact you.” Apparently, that was the right way to start the letter. IMB’s chief credit officer called me soon, asking “do you know Darryl Washington?’ I said “Yes, he examined my department annually at Home Savings.” His next question was “Do you know how to deal with him?” I assured the chief credit officer that I was used to dealing with the OTS and Darryl and that I could get IMB into compliance with OTS appraisal regulations.

After 3 interviews, IMB wanted me to start right away, because the OTS was returning in November. I started on 10/15/01 and had a month to familiarize myself with their commercial lending practices until the OTS showed up.

At the end of my first week, there was an urgent need to field review an appraisal of a subdivision in the Sacramento area. I went up there on the weekend, but also took along some other recent appraisal reports from the Sacramento area. One of the other appraisal reports concerned me. A residential subdivision had been appraised as “80% complete”, but when I visited it, it had only been rough-graded, probably no more than 15% complete. When I returned to the office on Monday I asked who the construction inspector was for that region. I was told that there were two inspectors for the Sacramento area; one was CEO Mike Perry’s father and the other one was Mike Perry’s father-in-law. The loan officer on the deal was Mike Perry’s younger brother, Roger, who had recently been hired. His previous experience had been as a cop. Thereafter I heard of favoritism towards relatives of Mike Perry and “FOMs”, and the chief credit officer advised me to take special care of Mike Perry’s brother. (“FOM” was IndyMac jargon for “Friend of Mike”.)

I reported my Sacramento findings in a private memo to the chief credit officer, who then distributed it to the senior managers at the construction lending subsidiary known as the Construction Lending Corporation of America (CLCA). The senior credit officer from CLCA, the manager who most resembled Tony Soprano, was the one to call me. He asked “Are you sure you saw what you said you saw?” in a rather chilling manner. He said he had been on site with Roger Perry and had seen things differently. After that call, I asked the chief credit officer why CLCA’s senior credit officer would want me to recant my report. He told me that the senior credit officer received sales commissions for every loan made, which seemed to me like a blatant conflict of interest.

All appraisals were ordered by the loan officers from a list of approved appraisers maintained by LandAmerica. I was not allowed to order appraisals, but I recognized many names on the LandAmerica list as well known, reputable appraisers. What I began to observe, however, was that loan officers were learning which appraisers were more “flexible” than others. My areas of concern were extraordinary assumptions, lack of feasibility analysis, and false information given to appraisers.

As an example, I read an appraisal of a vacant, former Costco warehouse which had been purchased for $2 million several months before, but was appraised for $17 million based on a fabricated rent roll composed of tenants that had never signed a lease or a letter of intent. Only one tenant actually moved in. I told the loan officer that I could not accept the appraisal report, as it was hypothetical. He wanted me to approve it, any way, with the understanding that no funds would be disbursed until the prospective tenants could be verified. I told him that I wasn’t going to approve a hypothetical appraisal. The loan was funded, any way.

My only substantive encounter with CEO Mike Perry was in November 2001. I was summoned late to an impromptu meeting of senior executives in the board room. When I arrived, the meeting was already underway. The tone of the meeting was very different than senior executive meetings at other companies I had worked for. Mr. Perry, a man in his thirties, was spinning ideas and executives who were 10 or 20 years his senior were behaving like “yes men”, competing to agree with his ideas. There were lots of raised hands and enthusiastic participation. He seemed to be enjoying this, in an immature, megalomaniacal way.

Then he turned to me with an idea. He asked me if I, as the chief commercial appraiser, had the regulatory authority to change the discounted cash flow models in each subdivision appraisal, which might have the effect of changing appraised values. I said that I could possibly do it, but why? He smiled and said “Don’t housing prices always go up?” (Was he really too young to remember the early 1990s?)

I told him that it wasn’t a good idea, because we were already hiring competent appraisers who had more local knowledge than I had. Unless I could show that their analysis was flawed, it would be inappropriate for me to change the appraisals. That answer seemed to anger him. At the end of the meeting, the chief credit officer tried to introduce me to him, but he turned his back on me.

I later learned that Mike Perry was hired as CEO of IndyMac at the age of 30 when it was spun off by Countrywide. He had been an accountant at Countrywide and a protégé of Countrywide founders David Loeb and Angelo Mozilo.

When the OTS arrived mid-November, my review duties were handed over to LandAmerica. I was to spend full time responding to findings from OTS examiner Darryl Washington. In the ensuing month it became increasingly obvious that the main reason I was there was to refute OTS findings and serve as window dressing for an institution that scoffed at or was wholly ignorant of federal regulations. Many, if not most, of the senior executives had come over from Countrywide, which was an unregulated mortgage bank.

One of the craziest violations of OTS regulations was underwriting loans based on appraised values well above purchase prices. For example, a prominent Sacramento developer purchased a piece of land for $18 million, a price most reasonably supported by the comps, but it was appraised and underwritten at a value above $30 million, the rationale being that this developer added value to the property just by buying it. This does not satisfy the USPAP and federally accepted definition of market value, however. The appraisal firm was the same one used for the supposedly 80% complete subdivision.

I was present at several confrontational meetings between the OTS and FDIC examiners and CLCA executives. It seemed that IMB was intent on refuting every finding and using me towards that end. I was criticized for not arguing enough with the examiners.

After the examination was over, there was an unsolicited appraisal report waiting for me on my desk. A piece of land next to an airport had recently been purchased for $24,375,000 and was almost immediately appraised for more than $65 million based on the owner’s plans to build an airport parking lot. This was three months after September 11th, 2001 and average parking lot occupancy at this airport had declined from 73% to about the low fifties. The appraisal lacked a sales comparison approach and its feasibility analysis was based on pre-September 11th data. The feasibility analysis was done by the same consultant who caused the city of Los Angeles to lose millions on the parking garage at Hollywood and Highland. The appraisal was done by an unapproved appraiser who had previously caused my previous employer, Home Savings, to set up a $17 million loan loss reserve on a hotel he appraised for $450 million and the loan defaulted within a year. The report was delivered less than a week after it was ordered by the IMB loan officer, leading me to suspect that it had already been completed for someone else, most likely the borrower. I told CLCA executives that I could not accept the report and that I considered it to be biased. I tried to get the appraiser to change the report, but he immediately called the chief lending officer, who must have then instructed him to ignore my request.

Despite my stated objections to the appraisal report, the chief lending officer told the Loan Committee that I had ordered and approved the appraisal, and they funded a $30 million loan. Thereafter, there was sustained pressure on me to approve the report. I responded that I would have to write my own report, since the original appraiser would not make changes. This bought me time. Meanwhile, the airport, who had previously owned 80% of the parking spaces in the area, was suing the developer and erected a fence to keep people from walking from the parking lot to the terminals.

The chief lending officer also pressured me to accept another unsolicited appraisal of a Sacramento-area subdivision. This report was based on an “extraordinary assumption” that a road led to the subject property. When I went up to Sacramento to see the property, there was no road.

In January I went to Sparks, Nevada, to review an appraisal of the last phase of a condominium project. The first phase, with condos on the golf course, was a success, but the last phase was on the opposite side from the golf course and actually sloped below grade. The appraiser made an $8000 downward adjustment for each unit, and I questioned whether $8000 was adjusting enough. That provoked warnings from several executives, including the chief credit officer. The developer was buying the land from David Loeb, IndyMac’s Chairman of the Board (and co-founder of Countrywide), and I was warned that challenging this deal could get me fired. Soon after, the chief credit officer came to my office with a representative from human resources to announce that my initial 90-day probation would be extended for another 90 days, as CLCA executives had complained about my lack of cooperation with them. The HR rep had a look of horror on her face the whole time he delivered this message.

I finally finished my own airport parking lot appraisal report in late March, the same week that the Bush Administration laid off most of the OTS examiners. I don’t know which event precipitated my termination. My appraisal of the airport parking lot estimated the stabilized value at $37 million in year 2003 and the value upon completion as $31 million in 2002. These appraised values were considered insufficient to support the $30 million loan.

IMB gave me two weeks’ notice of my impending termination and offered me $25,000 severance pay if I turned over all documents and signed a non-disclosure agreement. I told them that state law required me to keep records of all of my appraisals and reviews, and that $25,000 was not enough. After a few days of seeing that I was not cooperating, I was summoned to a final meeting with the chief legal officer and “chief people officer”. A written statement indicated that I was being terminated for having a “communication problem”. I asked for examples of my communication problem, but none were presented. (I later recounted, during a deposition, that I was left alone with the chief legal officer for a few minutes of awkward silence. I then asked him, “Doesn’t it bother you that I am being fired for a communication problem without any evidence against me?” He said, “Not at all.” This cracked up my attorney.) After the meeting, I was escorted back to my office by a large security guard to collect my personal belongings, and then I was escorted out of the building, with my toothbrush in my left hand and my toothpaste in my right hand.

During these last days I contacted OTS about the abuses going on at IMB and said I had documentary evidence. They flew in to Burbank to meet me and they debriefed me for a couple of hours. They were upfront about how the flow of information had to be one way, from me to them, and not vice versa. I had to call my friends at IMB to find out how OTS was responding. The OTS paid a special visit to IMB and called for an internal audit to investigate my allegations. The first audit was considered a whitewash, and the OTS called for a re-audit. Interestingly enough, there was even a document produced that supposedly indicated my approval of the appraisal of the “80% complete subdivision”.

The second audit corroborated most of my allegations and the OTS called for certain personnel changes. The president and senior credit officer of CLCA were ousted; the chief lending officer had his loan approval privileges removed. Chairman of the Board David Loeb suddenly and coincidentally retired at the same time. He died 5 months later.

Interestingly enough, at about this same time, I read in the press of IMB receiving a “corporate governance” award from some organization, for having an impartial and effective board of directors. Meanwhile, CLCA executives selected my replacement, someone who they had already wanted since even before I started at IMB.

I had an excellent attorney. Besides suing for wrongful termination, he showed me that I could actually sue for discrimination. Many states, including California, have laws that prevent discrimination against employees who are upholding public policy, which was the very reason that got me fired. Other bank appraisers should take note of this. USPAP and OTS appraisal regulations are public policy.

In interrogatories sent to IndyMac during the litigation, they were once again asked to demonstrate evidence of my “communication problem”. The only evidence provided was a memo from me about a borrower “trying to deceive us” and a memo from a loan officer complaining that I actually called Union Pacific Railroad concerning one of his deals, a subdivision being built close to a railroad right-of-way. I was told by the loan officer that the track was no longer used, but Union Pacific disclosed to me that it was still being used once a day during the evening hours.

Interestingly enough, in the six months of unemployment and underemployment which followed my termination, I rented many videos, one of which was “The Insider”, the real-life story of Dr. Jeffrey Wygand, who blew the whistle on the tobacco industry to Sixty Minutes and was also fired, coincidentally, for having a “communication problem.”

Most of this information is already publicly disclosed in my lawsuit, filed 7/15/02 in Los Angeles Superior Court, Case Number BC277619, for anyone wanting further details. As for the results of that lawsuit, the only thing I can legally say is that “the matter has been resolved to the mutual satisfaction of both parties”.


Tags: , , , , , , , ,


Housing Political Aspirations Has No Ceiling (Or Dome)

March 26, 2008 | 12:55 pm | nytlogo | Public |

I have always had what I considered a jaded view of the electorate. Overall I think citizens tend to vote with their wallets.

So I continue to be amazed at the delayed response and awareness over the last year on a federal level to the housing market problem as it related to the economy. The Federal Reserve began to react in late summer, but it was at minimum, a year late. Here we are well into the presidential campaign, and only now, does housing begin to take a bigger role in policy declarations by the candidates.

A few weeks ago, the WSJ published an article and a series of charts that seemed to suggest the current administration, through laissez-faire, had enabled the current housing market downturn.

John McCain has only provided very general recommendations for housing but lacks specific solutions nor does he intend to provide them:

“I will not play election-year politics with the housing crisis,” he said, adding he would evaluate all proposals. ”I will not allow dogma to override commonsense.”

Of course that doesn’t address election-politics to applied to all other issues being discussed. Again, a disconnect on the federal level continues to apply to housing.

”I will consider any and all proposals based on their cost and benefits,” the certain GOP presidential nominee, who has acknowledged the economy is not his strong suit, told local business leaders south of Los Angeles.

Hillary Clinton addressed her approach to the problems only this week.

On Monday, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton proposed several remedies to the home mortgage problems, including aggressive federal intervention to ease the strain on homeowners.

Among her ideas is to create an Emergency Working Group on Foreclosures to deal with the growing foreclosure crisis. These would include Paul Volcker (former Fed Chair), Robert Rubin (former Treasury Secretary) and Alan Greenspan (former Fed Chair). All are distinguished individuals and sharp financial minds. I can’t help but note the irony of having Greenspan on the panel since he was at the helm during the housing market build up and argued that housing was not a problem.

Barack Obama has also proposed more involvement at the federal level with creation of a foreclosure prevention fund, although it is smaller than Clinton’s proposal.

Senator Obama’s proposed $10 billion foreclosure fund is a mere one-third the size of Senator Clinton’s, yet another failure on his part to acknowledge the size and scope of this crisis. When Senator Obama says that Senator Clinton’s plan will “reward people who are wealthy and don’t need it” he shows himself to be out of touch with average Americans. Senator Clinton’s plan only helps subprime borrowers, a population that is disproportionately low-income.”

The problem is, the credit markets won’t likely recover before the fall election and with the economy continuing to erode, housing will likely continue to erode.

So where are we?

In banking jargon, the analogy that housing would be “too big to fail” but I think in political jargon, it’s more appropriate to say the housing/credit market problems are “too big to see.

In other words, let’s not be pigs


Tags: , ,