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[Appraisal Contemplations] Change Made Easier By Crisis

Appraisal Contemplations is a column written by native Californian and a certified real estate appraiser, Aaron O. Thomas. He began appraising in Arizona and eventually ended up in San Diego where he owns and runs San Diego Appraisers [1]. His firm specializes in greater San Diego County area residential properties and his clients include mortgage brokers, CPAs, lawyers, businesses and homeowners. Aaron is very outspoken and passionate about real estate appraising. Colleagues on Appraisers Forum [2] have long known him as “Tucson Appraisals.” Good thing it’s too warm in San Diego to have the wool pulled over his eyes to the unethical business practice of the day: “comp checks [3].” Like me, he experienced a growing frustration in recent years with the form-filler mentality that many appraisers and users of appraisal services have embraced.
Jonathan Miller



There is a lot to be said about the growing pains and transitions that the housing industry is currently experiencing. Surely there is enough blame to go around. The borrowers exceeded their budgets, mortgage brokers coerced/pressured Appraisers for value to make the deal work (regardless of the moral implications), banks offered faulty sub-prime packages with minimal qualifications or safeguards and Appraisers promised/pushed values like a rocket to the moon. But through it all, there has been one main complaint from the honest Appraisers who saw the light…comp checks.

Comp checks were visible at the heart of all these problems. Even throughout the housing crisis, instead of the focus being placed on risk management, it was always placed on value, i.e. “making the deal work”; whereas common sense should have indicated an attitude of making sure certain assets are protected. Surely, there are a good sum of Appraisers that are bitter and worn down on the comp check issue because it seems like we speak out constantly and nothing happens.

But is that really true? I think not.

When the original HVCC was written it addressed pressure, but not comp checks. We rose to the occasion and made our voices heard and now there is specific verbiage about comp checks included. Not only were our voices heard, but they were taken seriously well after the initial comment period of the original draft. Is this not proof that our voices are indeed powerful? That if we but simply do our small part and write a letter or two each, that we can accomplish great things?

For several years it seemed like Appraisers were split on how to resolve the many flaws in the industry. For the most part, we could not agree on any course of action. However, it does appear that we could agree on sending an endless stream of letters to our leaders and the people in charge of drafting these rules that would ultimately regulate us. The HVCC is not perfect, but one thing is clear, we brought about some of the changes that we so desperately wanted.

I think the power that has been lent to our collective voices has been augmented by that of the housing crisis and it still is. So why not take advantage of this great advantage (augmentation) and push the envelope this next month. We can push our law makers to not only make rules, but make comp checks downright illegal.

Over the past several years there’s been arguments among Appraisers on whether comp checks were in compliance with or against USPAP. There was arguments whether it was right or wrong. Or if it’s a disservice to the client or an actual service to the client. All of those arguments in my opinion should be moot, for I must point out that the bigger picture here is that comp checks were and still are being used for mortgages, thus focusing on hitting values; instead, the focus should remain on honest opinions of value in order to protect the banks assets.

It is bad enough we have this constant threat from borrowers and mortgage brokers looming over our heads if we don’t hit value, so with that in mind; it might just be the perfect time to hit a home run with illegalizing comp checks.