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Government, Politics, Regulations & Policy

Sadly, The Appraisal Institute is now working against its local chapters

December 6, 2016 | 6:38 pm | | Investigative |

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I have a lot of good friends and colleagues who frequently give at least a passing thought to quitting the Appraisal Institute, the largest real estate appraisal industry trade group. At the national level, the association has lost the ability to work for its members and has instead, shifted into a political failure spiral by enacting policies that are against their chapters’ and members’ best interests.

I get these types of comments from members at get togethers who say things like…

“I am only paying my dues to retain my designation.”

“The chapters are the only relevant thing AI provides to help me.”

“The self-dealing politics at National sickens me.”

Their announcement of the new administrative policy on November 30, 2016 continues the trend:

As you might have heard by now, the Appraisal Institute Board of Directors recently took a significant step to enhance your chapter’s ability to focus its attention on providing member services by reducing your current administrative burden. This is great news for chapters.

Here’s the letter that was sent to chapter leaders:

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It reminds me of an old IRS joke: The IRS agent walks into your office with arms extended for a handshake and says:

“I’m from the IRS and I’m here to help you.”

It has been discouraging to watch the Appraisal Institute (National) erode into irrelevance while the appraisal industry is crying out for leadership at a seminal moment in our history. Dodd-Frank is about to be gutted and appraisal management companies have run out of appraisers willing to work for half pay. Instead they have morphed into a trade group that is unable to help its members. I challenge my readers to provide any evidence of such leadership since the financial crisis.

One of the only remaining redeeming features of the Appraisal Institute aside from their SRA and MAI designations has been the strength of local chapters. It’s where the rubber hits the road, where appraisers press the flesh at local meetings, take classes and listen and interact with guest speakers. The real value of AI membership remains at the chapter level.

At the Appraisal Institute headquarters in Chicago (National), they clearly recognize the power of the local chapters. For an organization that has been encumbered by procedural minutae, they developed the ability to enact policy without input or oversight. Here’s the current controversy over a non-vetted decree from National that involves money.

National has enacted a new policy that requires all money at the chapter level be administered by National. It’s a political power grab that will further alienate dues paying members. This is part of the growing pattern of AI’s lack of communication to their members.

The response

The very large New York Metro chapter responded in a letter from their board 2 days later – about being blind sided by the new policy. It’s an incredible read – a full-on indictment of the thinking of National. So many great appraisers in that chapter but how long will they put up with this? You can see how hard the local chapter is holding back it’s anger for such a policy. See link for pdf or the full text below. Bold emphasis provided by me.

AI Metropolitan New York Chapter Board Letter to AI National Board


December 2, 2016

Dear Members of the Appraisal Institute Board of Directors:

This letter is being submitted on behalf of the Board of the Metropolitan New York Chapter of the Appraisal Institute as a response to the National Board’s recent decision to implement a new Appraisal Institute Chapter Financial Management and Administration Policy. The Metro New York Board met this week and unanimously agreed to communicate our disapproval of the new policy and our astonishment that such a major change could be effectuated without any sort of prior notification or consultation with the Chapters and the Membership. Furthermore, to announce this decision as a fait accompli late on a Friday before a holiday week is alarming to our Chapter’s Directors.

The Metro New York Board finds it surprising and unacceptable that such a significant policy change in the governance of Chapter finances could be constructed without any transparency, input or dialogue with the Chapters and Membership. Simply being informed that national will take over our Chapter funds, albeit with assurances of our continued control of our finances, is outrageous paired with the admission that “Adjustments may have to be made to the policy as implementation progresses.” By creating this plan, effectively behind closed doors, you have not instilled any sort of confidence that the policy you are demanding we accept is acceptable to the Chapter. Given that the Appraisal Institute has a model for gaining feedback from the Membership – with the 45-day notice model provided for other significant actions impacting Members and Chapters – the Metro New York Board feels it is not at all appropriate for the national Board of Directors to unilaterally create this new policy in such an opaque manner. Given the potentially serious impacts of this new policy on the individual Chapters, we believe a more extended, perhaps 90-day notice would be minimally appropriate particularly given that this change was basically “sprung on” the Chapters on the advent of the holiday season that creates extra demands on all of us.

Beyond our uneasiness with the lack of transparency and how this new policy was implemented, the Metro New York Board finds the policy itself to be unacceptable. We believe that turning over our funds to national would limit and impact the autonomy of our Chapter and potentially diminish our stature in the local real estate community. The Metro New York Chapter is one of the most active Chapters and has been diligent in providing necessary education opportunities for our members and candidates, organizing enriching events for our members and the broader New York City real estate community, and fostering a supportive framework to help candidates work towards their designations. Importantly, this last goal contributes to the health of the organization nationally. Many of these programs are supported by our members through a historically successful Chapter sponsorship program. We believe our success in these endeavors illustrates that we are proficient in managing our own funds, maintaining reserves, and knowing how to do what needs to be done on a local basis. Certainly stripping the Chapter of its funds, particularly under terms that may be subject to change, will undermine the Chapter membership’s confidence that our efforts to maintain the economic health of the Chapter constitute time well spent. Furthermore, several Chapter sponsors who have consistently supported Chapter endeavors have expressed concern about this change in policy and that it may impact their willingness to continue such sponsorships in the future considering the substantial loss of Chapter autonomy as a result of the new policy changes.

While we look forward to hearing more details regarding the new policy from National on Tuesday’s call, the Metropolitan New York Chapter Board strongly urges the National Board to reconsider implementing this new policy.

Appraisal Institute, New York Metro Chapter
John A. Katinos, MAI, President
On behalf of the Metro New York Chapter Board of Directors


I heard a rumor that AI wants to do away with chapters and I’ve also been told that is not true – but with the opaqueness of National, I don’t know what to believe. And I keep hearing rumors about AI spending millions to expand their footprint across the globe but haven’t seen any measurable success let alone share the status of this effort with members. Is esoteric global expansion worth raising dues in a compensation compressed environment? Is the membership even aware of this effort and the millions supposedly lost?

Most of my peers nationwide have expressed frustration with an organization mired in self-serving politics. And it only seems to be getting worse.

My moment of zen was their self inflicted and childish exit of the Appraisal Foundation a few years ago. I eventually left AI and moved on to two other organizations that provide what appraisers are looking for. Remember that most of us are “lone wolves” and belong to organizations to get other perspectives. I can’t tell you how many SRAs and MAIs I know are talking about leaving the organization.

And did you ever wonder why there are so many statewide appraisal coalitions popping up? It’s largely because of inaction by National or their opposition to issues important to appraisers.

Incidentally, this new policy parallels the changes made by the Chinese government a while back. They moved the majority of the tax income stream from the provinces to the national government. This forced the provinces to go hat in hand to the national government to beg for an allotment of income each year. Sound familiar?

Lots of graft ensued for the provinces to get their “share” of revenue. In fact one of the reasons there are as many as 40 ghost cities in China right now is because the provinces were incentivized to generate GDP. What better way to do that then to build cities for several hundred thousand residents that would never come.

The moral of the story: central planning is never efficient. Through the loophole that National installed allowing them to modify this policy at anytime in the future is a recipe for disastrous self-dealing.

This is the appraisal industry’s moment to have some impact on our future. There are many challenges in front of us. The Appraisal Institute on a national level is now officially obsolete.

Enough with the self-dealing. We don’t make enough money collectively to fund their boondoggle. We need leadership, not politics.

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Housing and the Election Aftermath

November 9, 2016 | 9:56 pm | | Milestones |

With any significant unexpected and historic event, the initial impact to housing can be seen in the form of a “pause” until buyers have enough time to process it. I first wrote about my “milestone” theory more than a decade ago. There was a New York Times cover story a month after Lehman collapsed in 2008 that used our data to mark such a milestone. A “pause” can be measured in days or months and market reaction can ultimately go against conventional wisdom.

Back in August of 2011, after S&P downgraded U.S. debt ratings, it was thought to be catastrophic to the U.S. economy yet the world’s investors flooded into U.S. treasuries for safety, pushing interest rates to the floor, ultimately giving a boost to housing.

I may not know much, but I do believe this: potential changes in government social policies should be kept separate from potential changes in economic policies, otherwise it is impossible to take action on anything in your life. This probably includes making decisions about whether to buy or sell a home. This U.S. election campaign has been brutal and at this point we don’t know how much of what was said about social policy will be enacted. This uncertainty may keep some buyers on the sidelines longer than others, but otherwise I’m not sure any of that matters to the housing market. On the margin, I am hearing that a few buyers have placed their purchases on hold. This is a normal reaction after a significant historic event but eventually many of those participants wade back into the pool when they are more comfortable.

Stock futures were down significantly overnight but the financial markets moved higher after initially falling. With a quickly rebounding stock market, I’m don’t think home buyers will take very long to decide whether to rejoin the housing market.

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In addition, the odds of a December interest rate increase by the Federal Reserve dropped sharply despite yesterday’s view of a rate hike as nearly a sure thing. The president elect’s economic platform, which was not widely discussed during the campaign, proposes a large tax cut and investment in infrastructure which are either favorable or neutral to the housing market.

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Before the election, the housing market was generally softest at the top over the 18 U.S. markets we cover. I believe inventory will continue to be more readily available at the higher end than for other segments. In New York, the slow down in sales was assumed to caused by the pull back of foreign buyers. However this decline was equally matched by domestic buyers over the same period, so the foreign buyer decline has been a false narrative. The sales share of international buyers has remained stable for for nearly 3 years. I am speaking at the The Real Deal conference in Shanghai next week and will look to understand sentiment towards further U.S. real estate investment.

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Rather than the international buyer narrative, I attribute the New York sales slow down to the visceral view of new residential towers rising from empty lots. Construction lending nearly dried up at the beginning of the year so the pipeline will slow quite a bit over the next two years.

With world economies generally falling or remaining weaker than the U.S. economy and the continuation of near record low interest rates, I don’t see much impact from the U.S. election results after the short term jitters pass.

Of course, I was wrong about the election.

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Voice of Appraisal Podcast: E123 “Solving Problems with Jonathan Miller!”

October 7, 2016 | 10:30 am | |

Had a fun interview with Phil Crawford and his must listen weekly Voice of Appraisal talk show. I’ve set up a home button on my iPhone to grab each new interview. My only regret in life is not having Phil’s smooth silky radio voice. He provides a great service to the appraisal community.

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Podcast: My Port Authority of NY & NJ Interview on Regional Housing Market

September 24, 2015 | 12:16 pm | | Podcasts |

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A few days ago I was interviewed by Christopher Eshleman at the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey. He works for Alexander Heil who is the chief economist and publishes a lot of great regional economic insights. Although this is a new effort, this was their first podcast conducted outside of the institution so I am deeply appreciative of the opportunity to share my views.

Christopher is a sharp guy and kept the conversation interesting (I even inserted a Jerry Seinfeld joke). It’s about a half an hour.

Check it out.

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The Big Short: The Movie Coming this December

September 23, 2015 | 11:37 am | |

Coming to a theatre near you in December…

Aside from playing my favorite Led Zeppelin song “When the Levee Breaks” and being based on one of my favorite books about the housing bust/financial crisis “The Big Short” that was written by one of my favorite authors Michael Lewis (Blind Side, Flash Boys, Moneyball, Liar’s Poker, The New New Thing, etc.) that includes pretty much all my favorite actors – it’s a freakin’ incredible story.

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[Video] NYC Home Shuffle: Housing has been taken over by finance

July 6, 2015 | 12:52 pm | | TV, Videos |

A few months ago I was approached by film students Clàudia Prat & Eric French to speak to the housing market as part of a larger project called “What is Home?” series.

I’m a big fan of documentaries and this is worth watching.

Their effort was called: NYC Home Shuffle (5:51 minutes):

Part of a global trend, New York City’s homes become a commodity: an investment instead of a right. Yet a global movement responds.
By Clàudia Prat & Eric French
whatishome.nyc // May 2015

NYC Home Shuffle from Studio 20 on Vimeo.

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Bloomberg View Column: Rent Control vs. Keeping Landlords Happy

June 26, 2015 | 10:00 am | | Charts |

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Read my latest Bloomberg View column Rent Control vs. Keeping Landlords Happy.

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Here’s an excerpt…

The past few weeks have offered a window on the tensions between landlords and tenants in New York’s real estate market. Amid the political machinations in the city and the state’s capital, the New York State Assembly let rent controls lapse, temporarily placing more than 2 million tenants in housing limbo. A tentative deal has since been worked out to extend the regulations for four years but the details are not yet available…

[read more]


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Bloomberg View Column: Costly City Housing Is an Economic Drag

June 3, 2015 | 6:12 pm | | Charts |

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Read my latest Bloomberg View column Costly City Housing Is an Economic Drag.

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Here’s an excerpt…

It’s tough living in a big city — the people, the traffic, the noise. Oh, and did we mention the cost of housing? Contrary to conventional wisdom, high and rising housing costs in the U.S.’s biggest cities are not ideal for an economic recovery. Just the opposite: When housing costs take a big bite out of incomes, it diverts money that could be spent on local goods and services or invested in new businesses that stimulate growth…

[read more]


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Bloomberg View Column: Do First-Time Homebuyers Need Help?

December 31, 2014 | 5:59 pm | | Charts |

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Read my latest Bloomberg View column Do First-Time Homebuyers Need Help?.

Please join the conversation over at Bloomberg View. Here’s an excerpt…

To bring more first-time buyers into the housing market, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac recently said they would offer certain mortgage programs that require down payments of as little as 3 percent, down from 5 percent. Because first-time buyers already make up a large share of the housing market, the wisdom of this policy change should be open to question…

[read more]


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Bloomberg View Column: Credit Crunch Lives on in Housing

October 22, 2014 | 5:05 pm | | Charts |

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Read my latest Bloomberg View column Credit Crunch Lives on in Housing. Please join the conversation over at Bloomberg View. Here’s an excerpt…

Don’t be fooled by low mortgages rates, which once again are below 4 percent: Credit for buying a home or refinancing an existing mortgage has almost never been tougher to get.

[read more]


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Bloomberg View Column: Rent Control’s Winners and Losers

October 21, 2014 | 3:31 pm | | Charts |

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Read my latest Bloomberg View column Rent Control’s Winners and Losers. Please join the conversation over at Bloomberg View. Here’s an excerpt…

Any renter in New York City has probably has felt the pain of coming up with the monthly payment. There are plenty of reasons for the city’s steep rents…

..So what would happen if rent control and its cousin, rent stabilization, disappeared overnight?

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Bad Actors: AMC Appraisal Perspective Through Rhetorical Misdirection

October 20, 2014 | 4:45 pm | | Public |

I was invited to speak at the Great Lakes Chapter of the Appraisal Institute last week and met a lot of great appraisers who cover the state of Michigan.

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I spoke about the housing market and the misinterpretation of residential housing metrics, inspired by this article and the following infographic from the Detroit Free Press.

Inkster +106.4% !!!!! a largely distressed market with what I was told only has a handful of rock bottom sales ie $10K in 2009 becomes to $30k in 2014 – a perfect example. Hot? Hardly.

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As much as I think I held their attention for the entire hour allotted, my presentation fell short of getting audience adrenaline pumping like the Jordan Petkovsky, the Chief Appraiser of a TSI Appraisal, a large national AMC and affiliated with Quicken Loans. I still wonder how beneficial this public relations could be by talking to the industry like a politician – as if residential appraisers were clueless to the “incredible benefit” that AMCs provide our industry.

Here are a few of the questions (paraphrased) posed to an audience comprised of heavily experienced residential and commercial appraisers:

Q: “I realize there is friction between AMCs and appraisers. What has to happen to solve this problem?”
A: Someone in audience: “Someone has to die” followed by a burst of laughter from the entire room.

Q: “We spend millions on powerful analytics. Wouldn’t it be great for appraisers to get their hands on this technology?” (repeated 2 more times slowly for effect).”
A: Someone answered: “You have to spend millions on technology because the appraisal quality is so poor you need to analyze the markets yourself.”

Q: “How do we attract new appraisers into the business?”
A: My answer “Until appraisers are fairly compensated when banks are made to be financially incentivized to require credible reports, nothing will change.”

Q: “How do you think banks feel about the reliability of appraisals today? They don’t feel the values are reliable.”
A: My answer “Because AMCs pay ±half the market rate, they can only mostly attract form-fillers (aka “corner-cutters”). They don’t represent the good appraisers in the appraisal industry.”

Q: “We focus a tremendous amount of effort on regulatory compliance on behalf of banks and boy are they demanding! We even have a full time position that handles the compliance issues.”
A: My comment – that’s a recurring mantra from the AMC industry as a scare tactic to keep banks from returning to in-house appraisal departments. Prior to 2006 boom and bust cycle and the explosion of mortgage brokers with an inherent conflict of interest as orderers of appraisals, the profession was pretty good at providing reliable value estimates. The unusually large demands by regulators (if this is really true and I have serious doubts) is because the AMC appraisal quality is generally poor. If bank appraisal quality was excellent, I don’t believe there would be a lot of regulatory inquiries besides periodic audits.

What I found troubling with his presentation – and I have to give him credit for walking into the lion’s den – is how the conversation was framed in such an AMC-centric, self-absorbed way. I keep hearing this story pushed by the AMC industry: The destruction of the modern appraisal industry was the fault of a few “bad actors” during the boom that used appraisal trainees to crank out their reports. That’s incredibly out of context and a few “bad actors” isn’t the only reason HVCC was created – which was clearly inferred.

Back during the boom, banks closed their in-house appraisal centers because they came to view them as “cost centers” since risk was eliminated through financial engineering – plus mortgage brokers accounted for 2/3 of the mortgage volume. Mortgage brokers only got paid when the loan closed, so guess what kind of appraisers were selected? Those who were more likely to hit the number – they were usually not selected on the basis of quality unless the bank mandated their use. Banks were forced to expand their reliance on AMCs after the financial crisis because the majority of their relationships with appraisers had been removed during the bubble – the mortgage brokerage industry imploded and banks weren’t interested in re-opening appraisal departments because they don’t generate short term revenue.

The speaker spent a lot of time talking like a politician – “we all have to work together to solve this problem” “appraisers have to invest in technology.” When asked whether his firm had an “AVM”, he responded almost too quickly with “No” and then added “but you should see our analytics!”

The residential appraisers in the audience were largely seething after the presentation based on the conversations I heard or joined with afterwords.

It’s really sad that appraisers don’t have a real voice in our future. We’ve never had the money to sway policy creation and we can’t prevent the re-write of history.

But we’re clearly not the “bad actor.”

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