Matrix Blog

Appraising

Money Mag Shows Us How To ‘Think Like an Appraiser’

July 23, 2012 | 3:18 pm | | Public |

The August 2012 issue of Money Magazine on the newsstands now has a nice article penned by Ali Rogers called “Think Like an Appraiser.”

It’s not available online yet but the magazine is always a good read. Although Money Magazine has named me “Best Online Real Estate Expert,” I swear I have offline expertise too.

Ok before you go on with snarky comments about the last appraiser that screwed up your deal, I’ve heard it all before, much of it spoken here on this blog. The article is more about the concept of “contributory value” – how certain modest improvements help provide additional value of your home. In theory, an appraiser is going to walk through your home at time of sale just like your buyer would and place a certain value on things you may have done to improve the property. First impressions are important in building a sense of value for the property.

I’d like to expound on the contract “data” point in the article to provide context (not something I commented on for the article). Appraisers absolutely consider contract data in addition to closed data (and listing data). We can place them in the report but normally are not the sole basis of determining value.

What often happens is that we are told about a home that is under contract nearby but we don’t know the sales price. We will call the listing agent of that “contract” and try to get a sense of the interior condition and the actual price (99% of the time we are NOT successful getting the price) but we sometimes we might get feedback like “sold at list” or “sold very close to ask” etc. This can be a helpful gauge on value but not the key factor in the report presentation, especially since there is a higher probability in today’s market than in year’s past that homes under contract don’t always close.

These bits of info from a little detective work are among the subjective elements to valuation that help “tell the story” of the transaction. It’s not about dropping raw data on a spreadsheet and taking an average.

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Why “Pull From Air” (P.F.A.) Is An Appraisal Term, Pig v. Sheep Explained

July 23, 2012 | 11:41 am | | Public |

This weekend I was quoted in the New York Times article “Shooting for the Moon” by Alexei Barrioneuvo which explored some of the crazy prices being asked at the top of the market. Appraisers come across list prices every day that have no rhyme or reason to them.

In providing this quote, I sort of felt like I was in the movie “Babe” which I saw with my kids years ago (admittedly, I liked that movie) sharing that “secret word” that Babe used to get the sheep to talk to him.

I explained the PFA phenomenon as follows:

Within the appraisal industry there is a term for listings based on loose associations to reality, he said: “P.F.A.,” or “Pulled From Air.” As Mr. Miller explains it, “Take the highest sale you can find and apply some methodology in a very subjective way to talk yourself up to this bigger number.”

At the high end of the market, sometimes this approach is successful, but in reality, it is more often successful in new development than re-sales because of the concentrated marketing effort in place and that it is “new” with no benchmark bias already established.

Another name for it (and I just made this up) could be “unprecedented pricing” or UP. Buildings like 15 CPW and One57 in Manhattan and One Hyde Park in London had no real comparable benchmarks and became their own market.


Shooting for the Moon [NYT Real Estate]
Babe (1995) [IMDB]

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[a la mode] I Find Myself in an Ad for Appraisal Software

July 9, 2012 | 11:45 am | |

A few months ago one of the largest appraisal software vendors out there, a la mode, reached out to me to appear in their advertisements as a neutral real-world user. a la mode claims that half the appraisers in the United States use their products. The ad is currently placed as the starting image on their home page. This is the first iteration with more to come in print and on the web.

Celebrating 26 years as a technology leader, a la mode develops desktop, mobile, and Web tools for the real estate and mortgage industries. a la mode’s mission-critical products are used by hundreds of thousands of appraisers, agents, inspectors, and lending professionals to complete the nation’s real estate transactions. a la mode’s state-of-the-art offices are located in Salt Lake City, Oklahoma City, and Washington, DC.

My firm has been using alamode software since 2007 when we stopped developing our own (after 20 years of doing so) and their solution works very well for us.

Over the past decade the appraisal industry has changed rapidly and it got to the point where there were too many form changes, technology requirements and time spent working on it to justify developing our own software anymore.

After all, as my sister (who is also one of my partners) pointed out to me, Miller Samuel is an appraisal firm, not a software company.

So noted.



a la mode home page [a la mode]

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9 Feet Under: Some Thoughts About Valuing Basements and Cellars

June 22, 2012 | 2:16 pm | |

I’m not sure what’s in the water these days but I am receiving a growing number of emails and calls about the valuation of basement space from real estate agents so I thought I collect my thoughts and cobble together a post to point people to.

First, a few definitions for the sake of clarity and in order of depth:

At Grade Ground level
English Basement Brownstones in New York City (and perhaps elsewhere) where the first floor is partially below grade on the street side of the building and opens at grade in the rear.
Basement The area underneath a building that is partly or fully below grade.
Cellar Usually the lowest part of a building. Located below an English Basement
Sub-Cellar Rare but when exists it becomes the lowest part of a building. Located below a cellar.

The valuation of below grade space, whether its a co-op, condo or house uses the same principals we use when appraising outdoor space. I see it as an amenity “add on” because not all properties have them.

When appraising, we attempt to establish the value of the above grade space on a per square foot basis. The below grade space, ie a basement or cellar, can be viewed as a portion or percentage of the value of the above grade space – “cents on the dollar”. In other words, the value of basement area is proportional to the value of the residence that sits above it. It’s worth more in a home that is of high value than a home with a lower relative value.

“Technically” Below Grade, The “English Basement”
Many of the old brownstone floorplans in NYC public record refer to the first level as the “basement” and the floor below it as the “cellar.” That is because many brownstones were constructed with a stoop from the street to the “parlor” (2nd) floor which was the entertaining space with the highest ceiling height and most decorative detail. The first floor is usually a few steps down from the sidewalk yet it opens at grade to the rear and contains the kitchen and has the same finishes and ceiling height as the upper floors of the building. Market participants see English Basements as equivalent to the above grade space and therefore it should be included in the square footage. Here’s a recent Q & A:

Question is it legal to count basement space as part of the sq. footage when selling a town home? This particular house has a 9-ft ceilinged finished basement but no windows. My buyer wants to know for resale purposes.

Answer For suburban homes, a traditional basement is below grade and would not be included in overall square footage even if it is finished and has rooms. In NYC brownstones, the same rule applies EXCEPT a basement could be included if it is a few steps below grade in the front and opens at grade in the rear (aka “English Basement”) AND the space has the same finishes, ceiling height as the floor above and includes a key room like a kitchen. If the space isn’t considered the equivalent to living area on the floor above it is NOT included in total sq ft but adjusted for separately. In the case of a brownstone with an “English Basement”, the space below is referred to as a “cellar” and is never included in the sq ft.

Condos and Co-ops With Basements
Many ground floor loft and non-loft apartments and tenement walk-ups have direct access to the building basement. I can’t tell you how many wrought iron circular stairways I walked (aka squeezed) down while appraising ground floor co-op walk-ups with below grade space during the 1980s co-op conversion boom. It was a great way for developers/sponsors to maximize the value of underutilized space, calling them “recreation rooms” even thought they are used as bedrooms. Here’s a recent Q & A:

Question I’m the sellers broker for a ground floor duplex loft space. We are currently in contract and we marketed the space as a one bed because the lower level is used as just that. The lower level is beneath ground without windows. The appraiser tells me that the C of O for the space calls for the lower level as a recreation space not a bedroom. Should this have a significant impact on the value of the apartment. Can’t is be viewed as loft space, period. Thank you for any insights you may have.

Answer Technically, the below grade area shouldn’t be called a “bedroom” and the sqft should not be included in the total sqft in an appraisal. However it contributes value and is handled as a separate line adjustment in the appraisal. The value of the space is usually something less than the ppsf of the ground floor if there was no basement. That applies to room count as well. The logic follows that if this space was a 1st and 2nd floor duplex instead of ground floor + basement, it would be worth more, everything else being equal. I’m not sure about “significant impact” but it makes it worth less than a fully above grade similar sized space. If the selling price is consistent with that relationship of competing properties, then there should be no problem with purchase price. The appraiser problem is really what you are referring to. Unfortunately, there is nothing you can do at this point since they have already inspected the property and are impossible to contact. Hopefully it will work out.

How Appraisers (Should) Handle It
As a rule, ie Fannie Mae guidelines (page 564), appraisers can’t include below grade space in the total square footage of a building (or the room count). In other words, the location, quality and configuration of the space is viewed by consumers as something less than above grade space in the same property.

Here’s Fannie Mae’s take (May 2012):

Basement Sleeze During Boom
During the housing boom when banks and mortgage brokers (well, really everyone) lost their minds, it was quite common for unethical appraisers, working in conjunction with mortgage brokers or lenders, to include basement space in the square footage because the space opened to grade in the rear of the house and was finished. A 2-story house that was 2,000 square feet when purchased, suddenly was 3,000 square feet when subsequently refinanced.

The Math (Market Derived)
Here a some possible ways (there are always exceptions and outliers) to approach the valuation of below grade space (in order of literal depth):

English Basement No adjustment – I’ve never observed an impact on a brownstone’s “English Basement” square footage – it is simply part of the gross building area of the brownstone.
Basement 50%-75% of the above grade ppsf – In our NYC experience, below grade space, whether it is within a brownstone, co-op or condo, their basement areas are often worth 50% to 75% of the above grade space on a per square foot basis. In a typical suburban detached house, the value is often worth less than that.
Cellar 50%-75% of the above grade ppsf – A NYC cellar (located below an “English Basement”) is handled same way an actual (i.e. suburban) basement is, something like 50% to 75% of the above grade space because it is basically the same thing.
Sub-Cellar 20%-35% of the above grade ppsf – A sub-cellar (usually located below the cellar located below an “English Basement”) is usually valued at 20% to 30% of the above grade space but this obviously depends on what the market data shows.

That’s all the dirt I can think of. Hope this helps clarify things.


[Terra Logic] Understanding The Value of Manhattan Apartment Outdoor Space [Matrix]
Fannie Mae Selling Gude “Appraisal Guidelines” [eFannieMae]

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

June 7, 2012 | 3:02 pm | |

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.



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[Vortex] Did We Get There? The Promise of Licensing Appraisers

May 22, 2012 | 11:32 am | |

Every so often, a Matrix reader submits something they feel very strongly about it and bravely enter the Vortex where I post it.

Guest Columnist: Cecil Simon

Cecil has been a New York general state certified appraiser since 1992. He takes a look at the intersection of professional education and licensing. He’s weighed in here before. Like me, Cecil was an appraiser before the licensing law in 1989 and in fact wrote Congress about this matter as early as 1986.

Admittedly this is super appraiser wonkiness, but it’s worth the read.

-Jonathan Miller



May 12, 2012

Did we get there? the promise of Licensing Appraisers.

How technically prepared are Certified General Appraisers? A recent editorial by Henry H. Harrison in his Real Estate Valuation Magazine, suggested the answer is not very well. In fact, Mr. Harrison even challenged readers to provide evidence that Certified General Appraisers did not make at least 80% of their living writing residential work.

I believe he is correct on the preparation issue, and incorrect on what Certified General Appraisers do in the industry. Most Certified General Appraisers have now become the workhorses for fee shops run by designated appraisers, working as independent contractors at low rates and without benefits. This was by design, and the education and experience requirements set by the Appraisal Qualifications Board in the early 1990s, later amended in 2008, bears me out.

It is now generally accepted that the requirements for General Certification set in 1991 were deplorable, although Harrison and other in his group did not think so when I first wrote to him in 1993. The 2008 fix with the addition of a course in Highest and Best Use and Market Analysis, and one in Report Writing was a plus, but the remaining content was just a split of two former lower level courses into some 120-140 hours. The final product was three hundred classroom hours, more than were required for the MAI in 1990, yet these were junior courses.

FIRREA had a specific mandate. That mandate required that the education and experience required for General Certification be such, that a person with those qualifications would be able to appraise any property without regard to value in a Federal related transaction. That is a high standard, which was well known to the Chairman and members of the Board from 1991 to 2004, yet they did otherwise. The reasons often given in support of the lower standards were the use of the term minimal education required, that States could add to the basic core, and that Certification requirements were intended as a beginning. But the mandate certainly does not imply that.

Basic appraisal education requires only six courses, seven if you add the new Quantitative Analysis course, which is a plus. The seven courses are Appraisal Principles and Procedures, Highest and Best Use and Market Analysis, Land Valuation and the Cost Approach, Direct Sales Comparison Approach, Income Approach, Quantitative Analysis, and Case Study and Report Writing. These names can be applied to Residential and General [Vortex] Did we get there? the promise of Licensing Appraisers.

Certification courses with different content, and all that is currently listed by the Appraisal Institute as Level 1 and 2 and required for their MAI designation can be covered in those seven courses. Hours can be assigned based on the content to be covered.

The seven basic courses plus four years of experience, and the State Exam, is more than adequate to lay the groundwork for Certification as well as any designation. It should be noted that the six courses used prior to 1990 for the MAI, and the four used for the SREA (101, 102, 201, 202), were all taught in less than three hundred hours. These courses produced some of the best educators and practitioners currently working in the industry, including Mr. Harrison. Even Universities that grant Undergraduate and Graduate Degrees in Real Estate offer only one or two courses in Valuation.

I took the trouble to review the education requirements for all of the original members of the Foundation that deal specifically with Real Property interest. The Appraisal Institute of Canada arguably has the best program, and the Appraisal Institute is the only one with Advanced Courses. Some startling facts also come to mind. The education requirements for the MAI designation have increased from 267 hours in 1990 to 482 in 2008, an increase of 215 hours, all without any change in the theory and methodology of valuing real property. The only industry change during that period was the use of software that makes database searches and data analysis easier. In fact, one group, The American Society of Appraisers could not even remember when they last hosted a basic course.

I believe that The Appraisal Institute is the best professional association representing appraisers and the leader in the industry, but its continued creation of advanced courses in order to create the illusion that its members and candidates are better prepared than Certified Appraisers is a farce. The same seven courses could easily serve as the core education requirements for candidates as well as General Certification. Additional requirements for designations can be added. The MAI designation is a highly recognized brand, and could be granted based on work experience and peer review. Downgrading the education requirements for Certification is a dumb idea, and it is clear that The Appraisal Subcommittee fell down on its mandate to monitor and review the practices and activities of the Foundation.

There are a few good textbooks out there on Appraising Real Property, and I place The Appraisal of Real Estate, published by the Appraisal Institute at the top of that heap. Now I would hope that any State that puts its imprimatur on the qualifications of any individual to call that person a Certified General Appraiser, expects that they have covered the content of that text from cover to cover. That was the intent of FIRREA. But it appears that by separating the content into General and Advanced sections, both the Appraisal Institute and the Appraisal Qualifications Board that it has controlled since 1989 seems not to think so. This difference in education is the centerpiece of Harrison’s thesis.

The Qualifications Board should simply set the education requirement as successful completion of a course in the seven areas and forget hours, and if a rigorous State exam is made part of the process, then The Appraisal Institute will be sure to include much of what it now calls advanced content in those seven courses.

On the issue of college education, professional associations may find this a plus, and hopefully the appraiser has written enough college papers to be able to write properly, but degrees in most disciplines will not make you a better market analyst.

The answer to my original question is yes and no. We now have a mechanism to punish bad apples, although better enforcement is needed, but the standards for education, experience and testing did not.

C M. Simon.

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A Twitter Shout-out from Valuation Review on their 10th Anniversary

May 21, 2012 | 3:30 pm | | Public |

Here’s the Editor’s page in a recent copy of Valuation Review, an essential publication for real estate appraisers by October Research. I’ve been subscribing since nearly the beginning when it was called something else. Always relevant good reading for an industry besieged by bad information.

And more importantly, take notice of my twitter shout-out . Fun!


[click to expand]

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[Vortex] ‘Sustainability’ of Property Values [Part I of Trilogy]

May 21, 2012 | 12:08 pm | |

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! At least it worked when I tested it on my house in CT (a 200 year old 3 story Salt Box) and on a number of my friends’ and relatives’ properties in various parts of the US.

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.

He’s got several very interested parties at this point. As Mark has told me: “We certainly need to make decision makers aware that there is at least one solution available that can help them make better decisions and monitor their investments over time.”

He’s entered the vortex on Matrix (he wrote a guest post). It’s about a different kind of “sustainability”. A good read.


Sustainability of Property Values
By Mark L. Stockton
May 16, 2012

There has been a lot of discussion in recent months about the need to reengineer the appraisal process. There is no denying the fact that the process as it currently exists is antiquated and inadequate. Methodology is purely subjective; there is a lack of adequate analytics.

These deficiencies can be corrected. Comprehensive analytics are available to those who would demand them. Much of the subjectivity can be replaced by objective processes that will support reasonable value conclusions. However, fixing the means by which value conclusions are developed addresses only part of the problem. Those conclusions must be examined for sustainability in order to be used to make prudent lending and investing decisions.

A friend recently lost her home. She purchased it new in May of 2002 for $234,500, and at the time the price was reasonable when compared to the other 1,000+ newly constructed homes in the immediate area. I have not seen the appraisal that was done at purchase, but I imagine the value conclusion was reasonable in light of the fact that there were so many similar homes in the subdivision that were selling at the same time. There is little doubt that the appraised value was extremely close to the contract price of $234,500.

I cannot deny that the appraised value of the property in May of 2002 was – and should have been – approximately $234,500. What I can say with authority is that the appraised value at the time of purchase was unsustainable.

There are meaningful relationships in real estate markets just as there are in other markets (stocks, commodities, etc.) that must be monitored to support prudent lending and investing decisions. For example, we know there is a relationship between rents and sale prices that should be considered. From a lender’s perspective, if a buyer should have difficulty paying the mortgage, it would be comforting to know the home would bring in enough income in the form of rents to pay its own way.

There is another important relationship that has been long overlooked, and that helps us understand the sustainability of property values. It is the relationship between the market value of a home and its depreciated replacement cost (RCNLD). There is an old (often forgotten) adage that no prudent buyer would pay substantially more for a home than the cost to rebuild it on a similar site. This concept was once recognized by the appraisal industry and acknowledged in the cost approach to value. There was a time, not long ago, when appraisers had to provide commentary to support any cost approach in which the site value represented an excessive portion of the overall value. It was recognized at the time that a large disparity between the value of the improvements (depreciated replacement value) and the value conclusion (the market estimate derived from the cost approach) could be indicative of an unsustainable market value. History has, in fact, shown us that when the gap between RCNLD and sale price in traditional housing markets grows beyond 120%, market values are approaching unsustainable levels. When that ratio reaches 130%, we can be certain that a correction in home prices is imminent.

When my friend purchased her house in 2002, the ratio between RCNLD and home prices (Market Experience Ratio©, or MER©) in the immediate area was 135%. Her home and the neighboring homes were being built and sold at the high point of what would become known as the housing bubble. For those of us who watch relationships closely and have developed a means of monitoring them on both a broad scale and granular basis, this was obvious. Each time this occurs, as it has on several occasions in the past 30 years, market prices respond by declining to a level that more closely approximates depreciated replacement cost. The current MER for homes in the area of my friend’s house is 106%. The ratio is still declining slowly, but prices have reached reasonably sustainable levels.

Here’s the bad news. My friend was able to secure a 100% loan in 2002, with payments structured to start off small and increase over time as her income and her equity grew. Ecstatic at the prospect of being able to own a brand new home with no down payment, she was unaware of danger that lay ahead. So too was her lender, apparently. She can be forgiven; she was not, and is not, what is sometimes referred to as a “sophisticated investor”. How can an average consumer be expected to understand market dynamics and complex financial dealings? Isn’t that why they rely on professionals?

The lender, however, should have known better. What happened to real estate markets nationwide a few years thereafter was not an anomaly. It has happened often in the past, and it will happen again in the future. Every time investment dollars become more abundant and credit restrictions relax, you can bet this same scenario will play out in real estate markets across the country.

About a year ago, my friend lost her job. She was forced to confront the fact that she was unemployed and would have to compete with tens of thousands of other unemployed individuals for a position that would probably pay less than her old job – if she could find employment at all. The value of her home had declined by more than 12% in the decade since she had made her purchase. Instead of building equity, she was “under-water” on her mortgage. Recently, her home was foreclosed and she found herself in a position that is all too common today. While not homeless, she is facing bankruptcy and the attendant emotional and financial difficulties that are inevitable.

If the proper tools and analytics had been available to the lender in 2002, chances are things would have turned out better for all parties. It is reasonable to assume that the lender, recognizing the instability in the housing market, would have modified its lending practices and terms offered to borrowers would have become more restrictive. In fact, there is a high probability that the instability would have never reached such extremes; lenders might have acted promptly and prudently to insure that sustainability was protected, and their subsequent losses might have been significantly reduced.

My friend might not have qualified for a loan at all, and would have perhaps been forced to continue renting until she accumulated a suitable down payment. If and when she was ready to make a purchase, she might have had to settle for a “starter home” rather than opting to buy her dream house. These, by the way, are not bad things. Until recently, this was regarded as the appropriate path to home ownership in America.

So here’s the message. Prudent lending and investing must be based on more than just accurate appraised values. Values must be scrutinized for their sustainability as well. As my friend and her lender discovered, an accurate value for a home yesterday might vary substantially from an accurate value for the same home today. That does not make either value conclusion less accurate, but it does reveal that markets fluctuate and values must be viewed within the context of current market trends and long term sustainability.

If your valuation professional cannot provide you with both a reasonably accurate value conclusion, supported by industry standard analytics, and a reasonable measure of sustainability, you need a solution that does.



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[Interview] Robert Dorsey, Chief Data and Analytics Officer, FNC Co-Founder

November 18, 2010 | 11:03 pm | | Podcasts |

Read More

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[Interview] David C. Wilkes, Esq. CRE FRICS, Huff Wilkes & Cavallaro LLP, Chairman The Appraisal Foundation

September 15, 2010 | 10:13 am | | Podcasts |

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[Vortex] Palumbo on USPAP: The Fool’s Gold of AMC Licensing

June 17, 2010 | 10:07 pm | |

palumbo-on-uspap

Guest Columnist:
Joe Palumbo, SRA

Palumbo On USPAP is a column written by a long time appraisal colleague and friend who is currently the Director of Valuation at Weichert Relocation Resources and a user of appraisal services. He spent seven years at Washington Mutual Bank where he was a First Vice President. Mr. Palumbo holds an SRA designation, is AQB certified and he is a State Certified residential appraiser licensed in New Jersey. Joe is well-versed on the ever changing landscape of the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice [USPAP] and I am fortunate to have his contributions. View his earlier handiwork on Soapbox and his interview on The Housing Helix.
-Jonathan Miller

The Fool’s Gold of AMC Licensing

Since I landed in the world of Relocation some three and a half years ago, I really did not pay much attention to what was happening in the trenches of the lending world. That changed when the concept of licensing appraisal management companies came about. My interest became more of an occupational study since these laws are so “broad-brush” and vague. As the manager an in-house appraisal arm of Relocation Management Company I was shocked and disappointed that that these laws cast a net on just about anyone who manages selects and retains appraisers for third party use. Clearly this type of legislation was created out of a knee-jerk reaction to one of the many “crisis-type” issues that came AT the appraisal community in 2008 and 2009. I am specifically referring to the attention to the “appraisal process” brought about by the ill-informed attorney general Mr. Cuomo of NY and the infamous HVCC. I agree with the basic the tenets of the HVCC and the AMC laws I just do not think there will be a net tangible positive affect and that the “real issues” are being conquered. AMC laws and HVCC are not the PANECEA. I WISH THERE WERE a panacea because some calm is needed. Being the realist and institutionally tenured manager of the appraisal process I just know reality of what happens VS what is supposed to happen.

foolsgold

For starters let me say that the relocation world has no direct OTS-like government oversight or appraisal requirements for the appraisals which are NOT intended for lending. The relocation industry is self- policing and we rely on what is set up by state licensing and our own quality control. Let me also say that while my department may perform some of the same functions that an AMC does, we do not TAKE ANY of the appraisers fee. We do select maintain, review AND USE appraisers as well as arbitrate valuation disputes. Also for the record I am not anti-appraisal management company.

Here is the issue: As pointed out by the OTS, last year FIRREA laws of 1989 already contain much of the language that the AMC Laws cite. States have also set up Appraisal Boards who are supposed to monitor fraud egregious issues and such. The problem with FIRREA and the State Boards is simple: money, resources and time. So along come laws that state it is unlawful to coerce an appraiser, unlawful not to pay them, unlawful to tell them which appraiser to use, unlawful to have people who select and review who are not “trained in real estate”, and so forth and so on. So the new laws are just restating the same of what we already had but we still lack an efficient mechanism to enforce. If the AMC laws are governed and enforced by the state boards who are short on cash and time then what makes AMC laws different? Currently 18 states have such laws on their books.

On top of the AMC laws many states are requiring AMC’s to be “registered”. This process is costly and requires plenty of paperwork. KUDOS to the Governor of Virginia, who signed his states law basically making it illegal to engage in the “appraisal nonsense” described above, but NOT requiring a registration process or fee. Also noted as being proactive is Arizona, which requires licensing and registration for AMC’s but which has a single line exemption for the relocation industry simply because: “we are not the problem” (the law reads the exemption for appraisals prepared for the purpose of employee relocation) .

Recently I was contacted by a state board attorney whose state passed AMC legislation in 2009; she stated “this law was not intended for your business model….because you use the appraisal with the client, whereas an AMC does not use…. it they get it…Q C it and pass it on”. It is great to see some realistic thinking for a change. The AMC- appraiser relationship is much like the HMO doctor relationship: mutual need mandated by external forces peppered with some mistrust. Don’t get me wrong there is a lot of merit to the underlying premise of HVCC and such I just do not think it is going to result in a changed world for the appraisal community. What the appraisers do not like about the AMC’s are the request for fast appraisals, some at a lower fee than they have seen in years, requests coming with numerous assignment conditions many of which are not realistic and unacceptable (3 comps within 3 months and 1 mile) the occasional “can you hit the number request” before the analysis gets done (comps checks)…among many others.

Many of the pressures ON AMC’s…yes I said ON AMC’S, are a result of what has transpired in the world: Increased competition, web-based valuation tools, fingertip internet real estate research, fraud, secondary market issues, and MISUNDERSTANDING of the appraisal process in general. I wonder what planet the “investors” live on that have guidelines they will not purchase loans in declining markets? I also believe that a lender than asks an appraiser to “remove a negative time adjustments” should be reported to the LVCC hot line” . Oh… that’s right there is none? Call your department of banking they say. Good luck. I had an appraiser the other day who did not read or adhere to the engagement letter I sent tell me “we have an AMC law here and you have to pay me regardless or you are breaking the law”. I stated, “great, I will take my chances since you signed the engagement letter but yet failed to meet the (simple) requirements stated in the letter, which is why I have called you three times ”. We’re not talking about value here we are talking about basic development and reporting issues that were not clear to me as user and client. Is this what the AMC laws are for?

Does anyone really think that the requirement of an AMC to fill out an application, pay a fee and require a few staff to take a 15-hour USPAP will stop the madness? Actually if the fees are an issue it could increase the cost of operating for the very folks that are presumable not paying a “fair rate”. Since the BIG 3 lenders (all using profitable AMC’s) have 60% of the market now via servicing or closing every US loan, I don’t see things changing until we see a UNIFIED industry, an industry that will unilaterally agree to push back on any conditions that are deemed to be unreasonable. It is very difficult to push back on three financial giants, but without a push, it will not happen. The other day a friend told me of a lender (his client) who is seeking to create a special list outside the AMC they use; their claim is poor service and product….betcha licensing that AMC would fix that! I also heard of a request coming from a AMC in a state that requires they be licensed and registered. The “caller” asked the appraiser if he could “hit the number”. He asked “isn’t that a violation of the HVCC and the AMC laws?”. The caller laughed…who is enforcing this stuff anyway..we do it all the time and we just send a text message to our appraisers telling them what they need”. There are approximately 97,000 appraisers in the US handling over 1 trillion dollars in mortgage money. Over 75% of the states require licensed appraisers for federally related transactions and 45% require for all appraisals. Imagine if ALL 97,000 decided to make change by just saying “no” on unreasonable compensation or assignment conditions. If we did not have state licensing there would be a clamor to get it. Remember what was stated twenty years ago? “State licensing will change everything” .

Maybe it didn’t because we didn’t MAKE it matter.

What we had already in FIRREA and state law is part of the mechanism to get us to the next level. The missing ingredient is unity. It does not mean abolishing the AMC’s or AMC laws either. Let’s look within and stop trying to reinvent the wheel with both the products and the process. We are miners of fool’s gold until we make real change happen from within, which while not easy is the only way for true meaningful change.


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[eAppraiseIT Lawsuit] Cuomo Can Proceed Action Over “Inflated”, “Bogus” Appraisals

June 10, 2010 | 10:04 am | |

Ahhh, 2007 seems like only yesterday when I wrote about NY AG Cuomo’s lawsuit against First American‘s appraisal unit, eAppraisIT

Please note: eAppraisIT’s tagline is “redefining value.”

“The attorney general claims that defendants engaged in fraudulent, deceptive and illegal business practices by allegedly permitting eAppraiseIT residential real estate appraisers to be influenced by nonparty Washington Mutual,” presiding justice Luis Gonzalez wrote in today’s unanimous decision. “We conclude that neither federal statutes, nor the regulations and guidelines implemented by the OTS, preclude the Attorney General of the State of New York from pursuing litigation.”

The institutions in my 2007 post have seen change:

  • WAMU…gone!
  • OTS…soon to be gone!
  • First American…renamed CoreLogic.
  • eAppraisIT…business as usual.

New York can proceed with a lawsuit accusing title insurer First American Corp of colluding with Washington Mutual Inc. to fraudulently inflate home values, a state appeals court unanimously ruled on Tuesday.

Attorney General Andrew Cuomo had accused First American and its eAppraiseIT unit in a November 2007 lawsuit of having “caved” to pressure from Washington Mutual to use a list of pre-approved appraisers who provided inflated appraisals, in an effort to win more business.

I have to confess I’m not too neutral here on this issue – a few years ago, I decided not to renew one of our FirstAmerican subscription resources (floorplans) since we had access to more cost effective resources. Despite the cancellation at the end of the contract period, FirstAmerican continued to bill us every month for a year despite dozens of calls by me, then proceeded to threaten us with collection and then ultimately sent us to collection. This was because I opted not to renew my subscription. They couldn’t get us out of their billing system. Scary. On top of that, they never sent the product (they always send the product and then bill you).

I finally resorted to screaming and yelling until I finally got it resolved. I’ve never experienced anything like that before.

Double Whammy
So its hard to believe an appraisal management company owned by FirstAmerican was above reproach but the courts will decide, not a disaffected (you should see the emails between Wamu and FirstAmerican presented in the Cuomo lawsuit. The link to the original lawsuit document is broken now but trust me, the emails were a doozy – here’s the Wamu 10k filing).

A False Premise and a Certain Irony
Here’s irony I can’t shake. Cuomo’s Home Valuation Code of Conduct agreement between Fannie Mae and his office change the landscape of bank appraisal work forever. What started out as good intentions to stop the conflict of interest between mortgage brokers and appraisers, ended up enabling the appraisal management company (AMC) institution which is what eAppraisIT is. The lawsuit shows that AMC are MORE exposed to bank pressure than individual appraisers are.


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