Matrix Blog

Taxes, Insurance, Fees

Disaster Relief Aid After Hurricane Katrina

September 1, 2005 | 5:19 pm | |

This has turned out to be a larger disaster than anyone imagined. Here are some ideas on how you can help in the relief effort.

Relief Organizations

[American Red Cross through Apple iTunes]

I used Apple iTunes (100% goes to the Red Cross) but all are great organizations.



[American Red Cross]



[Salvation Army]



[North American Mission Board Disaster Relief Fund]



[FEMA]


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In Bad Form

August 25, 2005 | 9:15 am | |

For some reason, Fannie Mae was inspired to change ALL the appraisal forms they use, effective November 1, 2005.

This will be a painful conversion process for most appraisers and will generally be met with skepticism for a few reasons:

  • Cost – The new FNMA forms seem to be written to prevent other traditional uses such as appraisals for estate, trust, litigation, divorce and other purposes. The Appraisal Institute, in good faith and possible anticipating a revenue stream, has created AI Reportsâ„¢ Residential Summary Appraisal Report Form. The press release sounds interesting, but Letter Sized formatting for a professional versus legal look? Commercial appraisers generally write letter sized narratives and residential appraisers do not. Think of the thousands of appraisers out there all set up to use legal documents. Once again, the orientation of the AI remains for commercial appraisers. This new form is being developed by all the major software vendors.

Here’s a radical idea. Keep using the old FNMA 1004, 1073, 1075 and other appraisal forms for non-lending use. They are USPAP compliant and appraisers already have the software. I want to see how this shakes out before I consider using the AI form.

  • Liability – The new forms hard code pages and pages of liability pitched back to the appraisers. I call these the silent killers. The text is not that well written creating more confusion to the reader.

  • More data to present – The forms harp on days on market type stats for all of the comps and lots of other detail. In a perfect world, this is great stuff, but the reality is that many markets do not have this level of detail. The added time spent to collect this data warrants a fee increase, yet that likely won’t happen. As a result, we will all get used to inserting Not Available in many of the fields. Again, good intentions by FNMA to catch “flipping” but unrealistic implementation. Bad appraisers will remain bad.

  • More headaches for lenders using OCR software – Some national lenders fought the introduction of these forms, an unprecendented quantity at one time, because all their OCR scanning software and back office systems have to be re-designed to input this information.


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Liability of Appraisers Who Help Understate Tax Liability

August 2, 2005 | 8:24 am | |

On the Tax and Legal update section on ERC’s web site, there is reference to an IRS memorandum that discusses applying penalties to appraisers who knowingly manipulate appraisals to help an individual pay less tax. Examples of appraisals done for tax purposes include estate tax, gift tax, facade easements and charitable contributions.

the IRS Office of Chief Counsel [note: pdf] discussed the possible application of section 6701 of the Internal Revenue Code to appraisers. Section 6701 imposes a penalty on anyone who aids or participates in the preparation of any return or document and has reason to believe it will result in the understatement of someone else’s tax liability.

What’s wrong with being held accountable for the value estimate? Nothing, except…

…and here’s the caveat, the person requesting the appraisal should be on the hook as well. The tax attorney or accountant is often the person trying to influence the appraiser. My problem with this IRS memo, is that the appraiser is left twisting in the wind.

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Testimony Before the Subcommittee on Oversight

July 26, 2005 | 8:45 am | |

Committee on Ways & Means :: U.S. House of Representatives : Testimony

Someone from the research staff of the House Ways & Means committee actually called me on this issue as well and I volunteered to testify. I wanted to discuss the problem of the lack of independence of the appraiser but they wanted me to name names. They completely missed the point. Its not specific individuals, its the way the industry is set up. I got the distinct impression from my conversation that the committee already knew what they wanted to hear. They went wih an appraiser from Virginia, David Lennhoff, who didn’t name names either, but basically said that the 10% rule – of – thumb adjustment is not valid.

Most appraisers who do facade easement valuations are using 10% to 15% adjustments as a guideline which originates from the now infamous original Primoli Letter [pdf] , since replaced by a revised version from the IRS [pdf] that omits the 10% to 15% verbage. Since it could be interpreted that the IRS seems to be re-writing history, I suspect that is the motivation for the National Architectural Trust to document the changes in policy by the IRS on this matter [NAT].

The Problem: Most appraisers are simply performing a valuation and making this discount. The problem is that the disclosure of whether the seller has taken advantage of the deduction is not available to the public, in a practical manner. The inability to use empirical data (because it doesn’t exist) provides the classic catch-22. You need empirical evidence to appraise the first property in your market, but yet the IRS says you can’t appraise without using empirical data. However, there is no definition as to what constitues empirical evidence. Using court cases, sales data, equity stock trends, what conference wins the Superbowl (well, thats a stretch) might be interpreted as appropriate since they are all empirical evidence.

Our firm grew disaffected as homeowners caught on to the process and pressured appraisers to appraise the properties on the high side to get a bigger deduction. We refused to do that so we stopped getting this type of work. We were openly complaining that there was a problem, but from their perspective, they do not have the ability to police the appraisers.

Who is going to say the value is too high? No one. There is no review function or policing of these reports done for any facade easement organization. It falls in the lap of the IRS agent during an audit.

The loss in tax revenue due to inflated appraisals has got to be staggering to the Treasury. Many appraisals are inflated because there is no oversight and like the wholesale lending process (mortgage brokers), the benefactor picks the valuation expert. And once again, appraisers, including good appraisers who don’t play this game, will be blamed.

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