Matrix Blog

Appraising

Broken Appraisal: Lack of Market Knowledge Overpowers Lack of Data

January 27, 2013 | 6:06 pm | |

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: , , , , , ,


Having Fits With Appraisal In Home Buying Process

January 13, 2013 | 9:27 pm | | Public |

The New York Times Real Estate goes gonzo this weekend with a nice write-up AND a large color artwork on perhaps the least understood part of the home buying process.

No not the radon test…

The appraisal. Can’t live with them, can’t live without them.

Here’s my stream of consciousness on the topics brought up in the article:

  • “Sale and “Comparable” are not interchangeable terms. Really.
  • There is no ratings category for (like totally) “super excellent.” The checkboxes provide good average fair poor with “good” at top end (but fear not, “super excellent” is marked “good” and like total adjusted for).
  • Not all amenity nuances that are important to you as a seller (ie chrome plated doorknobs), are important to the buyer.
  • Not all amenity nuances that are important to you as a seller, are measurable in the market given the limited precision that may exist.
  • Not all appraisers have actually been anywhere near your market before they were asked to appraise your home, so technically they shouldn’t be called appraisers. Since their clients don’t seem too concerned about this, something like “form-filler” seems more appropriate.
  • Most appraisers who work for appraisal management companies are not very good, but some actually are.
  • When an appraiser makes a time-adjustment for a rising market, understanding whether a bank will accept that adjustment or not is (should be) completely irrelevant and quite ridiculous (unless they are “form-fillers” and not actual appraisers). I have always believed that the appraiser’s role is to provide an opinion of the value and that occurs in either flat, rising or falling markets.
  • HVCC was a created with best intentions by former NY AG Cuomo by attempting to protect the appraiser from lender pressure, but it has literally destroyed the credibility of the appraisal profession by enabling the AMC Industry.
  • The 12% deal kill average of an AMC an arm’s length sale properly exposed to the market is absolutely an unacceptably high amount and a major red flag for appraiser cluelessness about local markets.
  • I’ve never heard of a major bank since the credit crunch began who would throw out the original appraisal found to have glaring errors that would severely impact the result. My quote on this nailed that sentiment with brutal precision, if I do say so:
“You have a better chance of winning Powerball than getting a lender to abandon the first appraisal.”



Understanding the Home Appraisal Process [NY Times]

Tags: , , , ,


Appraising for AMCs Can Be Like Delivering Pizza

December 27, 2012 | 10:00 am | Favorites |

I recently appraised a property that was well into the 8-digit value variety – not to sound cavalier but when you are in a market like Manhattan, it’s not uncommon.

What made this assignment different was that I was contacted to appraise this property because an appraisal management company (AMC) was not comfortable using their regular panel of appraisers that do nearly all of their volume (for half the market rate and 48 hours). Although I was leery to accept the request as an exception, I had history with an exec there, they were paying our quoted fee and accepting our turn time requirements so why not?

Here’s how it went:

Day 0 – I am interviewed by the AMC representative to see whether we are experienced in this property type. The AMC rep stresses they want to be “in the loop” at all times.
Day 1 – We are engaged by the AMC to provide the report – we place a call to the property rep.
Day 2 – Property rep calls back and say they want us to inspect 3 days from now. My office informs the AMC rep the appointment via email is set for Day 5. I get a call from the AMC rep asking if a I need any help and I say “no, not at this point since we haven’t seen the property yet.” They follow with “I’ll be calling you every day of this assignment to ensure you have what you need.” I politely ask why they need to call me over the next 3 days before the inspection. The AMC rep says “yes, in case you need help.” I respond that I won’t be doing anything further until I see the property. The AMC rep said something to the effect of “Ok, I’ll wait until you inspect.”
Day 3 – The AMC representative apparently emailed me (instead of calling) but I never received it (gotta love spam).
Day 4 – The AMC representative left me a voicemail on my mobile phone and office phone chiding me because I didn’t respond to the previous day’s email (technically the AMC rep didn’t call me) and they had been forthright in saying they would contact me every day to help me and they needed to speak to me every day. I got the voicemail on my mobile during a different inspection and emailed my office asking them to let the AMC rep know I am inspecting the property the next day.
Day 5 – The AMC rep called to see how we were doing with the assignment. My assistant reminded them we were inspecting the property toward the end of the day and that they had been kept up to date. Near the end of the day I inspected the property and my office let the AMC rep know via email we had inspected the property.
Day 6 – First thing in the morning and my first chance to sit down and work on the appraisal. My office sent them an email telling them I had what I needed and confirmed the delivery date. The AMC rep called my office that afternoon to see if there was anything we needed…

This is how nearly all interaction between AMC and appraisers go. The appraiser is bombarded with meaningless status requests as the AMC industry attempts to commoditize a professional occupation. I assume the AMC rep in my case had a checklist – akin to those dated checklists with initials you see on the back of doors in highway rest stop bathrooms assuring you the bathroom was cleaned each day of the week.

The result has been the crushing of appraisal quality because trained, experienced professionals are opting out of this madness because time = money. Cut the fees 50% and then waste another 30% of an appraiser’s time with this meaningless activity and you don’t end up with a more reliable valuation opinion.

In all sincerity, I take my hat off to those professional appraisers who need to work with AMCs out of necessity that are able to put up with being treated like a teenager on their first job.

It reminds me of the canned customer service interaction we are all forced to do when we interact with a company on the phone. The call ALWAYS ends with the canned “Is there anything else I can help you with?” Yet the relationship was already established and fine up until that point and the authentic nature of the conversation is suddenly over. I pause for a second and say “Yeah, I could go for a large pizza right now.”

Tags: , ,


When We Say “Gut Rehab” We Mean It

December 11, 2012 | 9:11 pm |

Here is a front and back view of a gut renovation on the Upper East Side of Manhattan observed by one of our appraisers. Offhand I don’t know what the building was or will be but other than the street facade, nothing else remains. It’s like new construction only completely different (the facade keeps it authentic as perceived by the local market).

Street View

Rear View

Not much left inside.

Tags:


Serious Jibber-Jabber: Lessons from Nate Silver to Filter Out Housing Noise

December 10, 2012 | 7:00 am | TV, Videos |

I really enjoyed this “Charlie Rose”-like interview by late night TV host Conan O’Brien and statistician Nate Silver on his “Serious Jibber-Jabber” series. I recently bought Nate’s book “The Signal and the Noise: Why Most Predictions Fail but Some Don’t” and it’s next on my reading list (actually I bought 2 copies because I forgot I had pre-ordered on Amazon for Kindle and ordered again from Apple iBooks, Doh!).

What I found intriguing about the discussion is how much effort it takes to filter out the noise and get the to meat of the issue as well as getting outside of your self-made insulated bubble to be able to make an informed decision – aka neutrality.

Real estate, like politics, is a spin laden industry whose health is very difficult to gauge if you rely on people and institutions who have a vested interest in the outcome. i.e. Wall Street, rating agencies, government, banks, real estate agents etc.

Some interesting points made:

  • During the bubble, for every $1 in mortgages, Wall Street was making $50 in side bets.
  • Many people during the housing boom saw it was a bubble but didn’t want to miss out. They would see the green arrows pointing up on CNBC screen and it became very hard to be contrarian and be left behind.

The current “happy housing news” that is all the rage seems to draw a parallel with the pundits who got the election outcome all wrong yet all were experienced in politics. The housing herd is disconnecting from what the data is showing.

Tags: , , ,


A La Mode Software Tells Our Appraisal Story

December 5, 2012 | 9:00 am | Favorites |


[click to open flyer]

This post is really meant for my appraiser readers because they’ll appreciate this:

A La Mode software has well over a 50% market share of residential appraisal software used today and I was flattered when they approached me, as a user of their product, to associate our brand with theirs. They sent this flyer out to appraisers across the US this week. Very cool.

Branding and marketing…Yes they are important to an appraiser’s success (in addition to being great at analysis!)

Tags: ,


Valuing the Light in Your Condo or Co-op

December 3, 2012 | 11:05 am | | Favorites |

Jhoanna Robledo over at New York Magazine squeezes light from my proverbial turnip and the result is a very cool graphic on one way to value light in an apartment in her piece “What’s the Price of Light?” The topic of view have been recently explored and floor level.

Light is perhaps the most subjective of the view-floor level-light trio but this is the logic our firm has used for years (based on the “paired sales” theory that isn’t very practical in an appraiser’s daily life) but I feel it’s a good starting point, and of course it depends on the nuances of each situation.

Tags: , ,


Divorce Valuations: Appraiserville Meets Splitsville

December 1, 2012 | 7:00 am | | Public |

In this week’s WSJ Mansion section there was a nice write up by Alyssa Abkowitz about the appraisal process during a divorce: Appraisers in Splitsville. Our firm does a lot of this type of consulting and we find working with attorneys much easier than dealing with retail banks.

I also find that it’s a small world – I know nearly all the appraisers in my market personally (only a handful are active in this segment). Most are professional and knowledgable but like any profession, there are a few hacks.

The challenge in the divorce appraisal business is the challenge of proper communication between the parties – the slightest miscue can snowball into a huge complicated mess billable by the hour. The key to valuation in this process is to filter out the personal element of it and just do the appraisal. When working for one party, the appraiser never gets the whole story and magically “you’re not always on the ‘right’ side so don’t concern yourself with the details beyond the valuation.” Professionals are the ones that do their job devoid of personal bias.

Tags: ,


Get Down With It: Falling Mortgage Rates Are Not Creating Housing Sales

November 27, 2012 | 11:16 am | | Charts |

Inspired by my analysis of yesterday’s WSJ article, I thought I’d explore the effectiveness of low mortgage rates in getting the housing market going. I matched year-to-date sales volume where a mortgage was used and mortgage rates broken out by conforming and jumbo mortgage volume.

Mortgage volume has been falling (off an artificial high I might add) since 2005, while rates have continued to fall to new record lows, yet transaction volume has not recovered. I contend that low rates can now do no more to help housing than they already have.

Even the NAR has run out of reasons and is now focusing on bad appraisals as holding the market back (I agree appraisal quality post Dodd-Frank is terrible and is impacting the market to a limited extent – and I secretly wish appraiser held that much sway over the market).

I’m no bear, but the uptick Case Shiller’s report today (remembering that Case Shiller reflects the housing market 5-7 months ago) still shows slowing momentum and all 2012 year-over-year comparisons in the various national reports are skewed higher from an anemic 2011.

Five years of falling mortgage rates have only served to provide stability in volume. The monetary and fiscal conversation ought to be on ways to incentivize banks to ease credit – falling rates only makes them more risk averse.

Of course a significant drop in unemployment would likely solve the tight credit problem fairly quickly.

Tags: , , , , , ,


Knight Frank Tall Towers Report Shows London With Similar Manhattan Height Premium

November 6, 2012 | 10:00 am | | Reports |

Knight Frank released their new report exploring the floor level premium in London’s high-rise residential developments with the coolest report name ever: Knight Frank Tall Towers Report 2012

While NYC has a taller residential housing stock than London but the premium per floor is similar. London shows a 1.5% increase in value per floor. My rule of thumb for Manhattan has been 1% to 1.5%, but closer to 1%. However we treat floor level as a different amenity than view and that’s probably the reason for the slightly larger adjustment in London. What’s particularly of interest is how much more the per floor cost of development is for higher floors:

Net to gross area ratios in tower schemes are lower, since the percentage of space taken up by the cores and service provision areas are comparatively high. This means that the effective revenue-generating 43% Uplift in construction costs per sq ft between the 10th and 50th floor.

I’ve explored the subject myself in New York Magazine and The Real Deal Magazine.



Tall Towers Report 2012 [Knight Frank]
Manhattan Values By Floor Level [Matrix/New York Magazine]
The cost of a view [The Real Deal]

Tags: , ,


[666 Park Avenue] Appraising Fictitious TV Celebrity Apartments

September 28, 2012 | 9:46 pm | Articles |


[click to expand]

In lieu of the new TV show 666 Park Avenue (the devil passed the board interview apparently), the Commercial Observer asked me for some thoughts on the value of some fictitious apartments and properties in some notable TV shows using what limited information was available back in the day and some strained logic (with a slew of hypotheticals and disclaimers) all in the name of fun.

Although the graphic incorrectly uses the building square footage total for no. 3, the graphics people at CO did an absolutely brilliant job with this – love it.

Here’s a cool web site I came across with theoretical floor plans for popular tv shows.



Lifestyles of the Rich and Fictitious [Commercial Observer]
Celebrity Floorplans [Deviant Art]
666 Park Avenue [Wikipedia]

Tags:


[Breaking News] CNN Gives Housing Followers Heart Attack, Case Shiller Up 1.2% YOY

September 25, 2012 | 12:01 pm |


[click to open report]

I like this index chart from the report (2nd chart presented in their report) better than the more commonly used % based chart (1st chart presented in their report) because it provides better context. The recent trend is clearly a small see-saw but still sliding in general. I’m not a fan of the CS index for its 5-7 month lag but since it’s some sort of gold standard for housing, it’s important to point out that this clearly shows housing remains tepid at best.

But more importantly…






Shortly after the S&P/Case Shiller report was released this morning at 9:00am, I got the following CNN Breaking News email at 9:15am:

Home prices in 20 major U.S. cities rise to highest level in nine years, according to a new report.

I just about had a heart attack, wondering how I could be so far off in my assessment of the housing market. However I opened the report and the numbers didn’t show that kind of gain.

At 10:21am I received a followup email from CNN Breaking News:

Correction: Home prices rose in July to their 2003 level, but remain lower than the peak in 2006. CNN’s previous alert erroneously stated that home prices had risen to the highest level in nine years.

Not to single CNN out since this has happened at ABC, Breitbart and Fox.

Speed comes at a price: Accuracy.

Similar phenomenon in the appraisal business. The absurd speed demanded by retail banks and AMCs of their appraisers even after the “lessons learned” in this credit crunch, attracts the wrong kind of appraiser. Speed still trumps accuracy.



Home Prices Increase Again in July 2012 [S&P/Case Shiller]

Tags: , ,

Get Weekly Insights and Research

Housing Notes by Jonathan Miller

Receive Jonathan Miller's 'Housing Notes' and get regular market insights, the market report series for Douglas Elliman Real Estate as well as interviews, columns, blog posts and other content.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter

#Housing analyst, #realestate, #appraiser, podcaster/blogger, non-economist, Miller Samuel CEO, family man, maker of snow and lobster fisherman (order varies)
NYC CT Hamptons DC Miami LA Aspen
millersamuel.com/housing-notes
Joined October 2007