Plastic Covers Don’t Hide The Housing Market

I saw this picture on Twitter (NSFW) this week and it brought back many memories. No, not from visiting my relatives’ homes in my youth, but from my six-month stint as a real estate agent in Chicagoland before I became an appraiser in New York City. I was driving to see a listing on the weekly broker tour day, listening to Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing” on the FM radio, thinking how glad I was to be out of the hospital administration world, just having quit my job. I walked into the home to see all the yellow furniture covered in plastic. The picture also reminded me of a college friend’s home with blue plastic-covered furniture in the “shrine” called the “living room” that was carefully carpet-raked to expose any invasions by their children.


I suppose this photo is a deep metaphor for real estate transparency in some way but I leave that to you. I’m a bit under the weather today and am not at my creative best.

But I digress…

The Manhattan Market Dollars Skewed to Top of the Market

There is a cool graphic from the New York Times Calculator column by Michael Kolomatsky in this Sunday’s print edition of the Real Estate section that illustrates Manhattan’s dependence on high-end real estate. Using the data from a chart I began right after 9/11 and we continue to update, he illustrates this point:

Almost half the money spent by New York City home buyers in the first quarter of 2019 went toward the most expensive properties. That wasn’t always the case.


Billionaires Row Continues to be Challenged

It’s been no secret that super luxury Manhattan sales have been the hardest hit segment of the market since 2014. The slowdown is related to the oversupply of new development created from the vast amounts of capital looking for a home since the financial crisis. Perhaps the most famous representation of the super-luxury market has been “Billionaires Row” centered on 57th Street in the heart of Manhattan’s central business district in Midtown Manhattan. The introduction of supertalls to the skyline has provided never before expansive views to the buyers.

I was asked by the New York Post to provide a snapshot of this submarket. Since contract data is not public record and is easily manipulated, I estimated the state of the key buildings as best I could, using ACRIS for closed sales, Streeteasy contract tags, and feedback from market experts in and around the brokerage community. The result was really no surprise to anyone in the real estate business but because it was concentrated in one place, the story went viral.

Now its time for me to confess. I read the online NY Post article just as I leaving for the airport to speak at an event in Florida. After I arrived at the gate, there was a newsstand with a fresh copy of the NY Post so I bought it to read it on the plane. But I bought it because of the cover story and never gave a thought to the “Billionaires Row” story. After I read the Anthony Weiner story I spotted the ‘Billionaires Row’ Story and saw that it included a table not in the online version. Took a picture of the table and included it above.

NPR Interviews Author of Moneyland

Last year I was interviewed for (and might be included!) in the new book “Moneyland” by author Oliver Bullough. My copy is coming next Tuesday but the topic of kleptocracy fascinates me and I have learned over the past five years that it is far more widespread than people realize.

Oliver was recently interviewed by Terry Gross on NPR.

Journalist Oliver Bullough runs kleptocracy tours in London, in which he points out mansions bought by corrupt foreign leaders and oligarchs. Moneyland describes their secretive transnational world.


Getting Graphic


Len Kiefer‘s Chart Handiwork

Appraiserville

(For earlier appraisal industry commentary, visit my old clunky REIC site.)

Analogy: AMCs Are Like Starbucks

There was a great podcast last month from Planet Money and the story sounded familiar.

AMCs are adding more and more services that are NOT appraisals. Automated valuation models, loads of hybrid products and yet, the cost of this service is higher than a traditional appraisal. The NPR show on Starbucks seemed like the perfect analogy.

The cost of coffee beans is going down. So why is a cup of coffee becoming more expensive? We break down what it costs to serve you a cup of coffee in the morning.

BREAKING The New York State AMC Law Is Now In Effect

I wrote this blog post on Saturday, so in case you missed it…

Back on April 19th, I wrote about the New York AMC law in my Housing Notes newsletter. After years of AMCs chipping away at the public trust, the New York AMC law was designed to protect the consumer.

The bill summary was:

Relates to the registration of real estate appraisal management companies or an individual or business entity that provides appraisal management services to creditors or to secondary mortgage market participants including affiliates by the department of state.

Yesterday Appraisersblogs ran it as a standalone post and I got a lot of feedback. To be clear, the bill was signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo at the end of last year and became effective 120 days later which is today.


Here is the NYS “AMC Law” as a PDF or in plain text on the landing page of the law.


The NY State Coalition of Appraisers (NYCAP), led by my friend and appraiser Becky Jones who along with other unnamed heroes worked hard to help make this possible, wants you to know that this law was not a last-second, fly by night effort as being characterized by The Real Estate Valuation Advocacy Association (REVAA) – the trade group that represents the bulk of the AMC industry in the U.S. – inferring this law was flimsy and easily overturnable.

No, it isn’t. Its been a long road and achieved unanimous consensus during the process.

When the draft of the bill was approved by the NYS Board of Real Estate Appraisal, Carol DiSanto who is the Vice Chair, walked it across the street to The New York State Association of REALTORS (NYSAR). In effect, REALTORS of New York State were made fully aware as the “draft” became part of NYSAR record at their next business meeting. Becky Jones sat on the Legislative steering committee at NYSAR and informed them about the bill. They had no objections to the bill before submission to the state legislature.

A similar proposal was introduced by the New York Department of State in 2015. Senate Bill S9080 was introduced two years ago during the 2017-2018 legislative session, signed into law on December 27, 2018 and became effective today. The voting was unanimous in favor by the rules committee of both houses and the body of both houses.

Here are the vote tallies (the same in both the NYS Senate and Assembly):

And here was the timeline:

A couple of AMCs we work with for some private banking groups sent emails to us yesterday:

Some thoughts

  • If you’re not an appraiser, then you want to read this. It is a 2011 take that still holds up on the AMC industry from American Banker’s Bankthink column (I’ve written a column there before on another subject): Appraisal Management Companies Create More Problems Than They Solve

  • When the realization sunk in that this was a new law, not a proposed bill, attendees began to text me from the joint committee meeting of The Appraisal Foundation. I got the play by play when the news was shared. It sent shockwaves through the AMC-types because, in my view, it effectively destroyed their ability to hide how much they are gouging the consumer and how little the appraiser gets from the actual “appraisal fee” (typically less than half). Seriously, the value-add provided by AMCs to the appraisal process in the delivery of actual appraisals might be 5%, but no chance in hell it is 75%. This is why we need consumer protection in the mortgage business.

  • I’ve been told by several colleagues that they’ve heard one of the main AMC concerns is whether New York interpreted the original law correctly to arrive at this form of law regarding AMCs. From my perspective, it’s like not buying a house because one of the gutters is missing a few screws to hold it in place. The criticism seems like a weird attempt at fogging since this law is protective of USPAP and the public trust, something that has been forgotten in the attempt to “modernize” the appraisal industry. But I’m no lawyer so I’ll look for clarification on their logic. But consider this:

  • REVAA’s biggest concern about the law was specifically the disclosure to the consumer as to what part of the fee goes to the appraiser. Not only does the appraiser get to state the fee, but the AMC fee must also be disclosed. This was upsetting to REVAA director Mark Shiffman presumably because the consumer would finally see that most appraisers get half or less than half of the appraisal fee the consumer thinks they are paying for the appraiser. REVAA has fought hard to hide this from the consumer, pushing back on prior attempts to disclose the breakdown, and finally, New York State has effectively brought to light this predatory practice. Transparency is good for the consumer and for the appraiser. Should a consumer be aware that the check they wrote at the time of mortgage application specifically for an “Appraisal Fee” be used to pay the appraiser less than half of it with the remainder to a wildly inefficient third-party institutional middleman they know nothing about?

  • The NYC AMC law will likely damage the evaluation platform that the Appraisal Institute has been advocating so intensely in state legislatures without disclosure to their own members yet diminishes the meaning of an appraisal certification to the consumer. It is interesting to see that AI National hasn’t taken a position on this new groundbreaking law, like yesterday. They’ve been progressive in their quick denouncement of other important issues, like appraisal waivers, so the lack of denouncement against AMCs is curious.

  • This new law only applies to appraisals ordered through AMCs (which control an estimated 80% of U.S. mortgage appraisal volume) for properties in New York State. (note: this why the law is described as “AN ACT to amend the executive law, in relation to registration of real estate appraisal management companies by the department of state”) New York is one of the few “voluntary” licensing states. There is no mandatory licensing so agents and brokers can perform appraisals and BPOs all day long. This was a key point that REVAA was trying to convey to NYSAR (I hold the CRE designation and all CREs in New York are automatically members of NYSAR) a few weeks ago when REVAA was on a mission to stop the law going into effect. REVAA reached out to NYSAR to claim how bad the law was for their agents and brokers but NYSAR wasn’t buying it because they could still perform BPOs and evaluations for local banks – just not for AMCs. Becky Jones shared a story about this situation from one of the CE classes she teaches: I had an agent work the whole thing in her head out loud during the class and at the end…the agent deduced on her own that she will contact local banks for the BPO work and she was especially thrilled because she realized that she will probably get the listing and therefore an opportunity to make more income. She was so thrilled she “high-fived me during class.”

  • A concern shared with me by a friend and appraiser colleague in Virginia was that most of the large AMC platforms, such as CoreLogic, Appraisal Port and Xome, use a portal that strips the report and the appraiser’s invoice is one of the forms that does not get uploaded (because they don’t want the consumer (i.e. mortgage applicant) to see how much the actual cost goes to the person providing a value opinion of their home. If AMCs continue this practice in New York State and are caught, they will lose their ability to do business in the state. They can risk it, but the stakes are high. There is always a concern that oversight of this will be lost in the shuffle so it is imperative that appraisers keep the pressure on.

  • Another appraiser colleague and friend I know in Illinois said: “So if you are curious what is happening in Illinois, here’s how we must report our fees. When discussing this issue 10 years ago, we were of the opinion that the invoice could get lost, but pages in the appraisal report don’t get lost. That’s why it must be in the body of the report.” Here’s the Illinois AMC law.

And finally…

It is ironic that the New York Governor, who was the creator of HVCC when he was NYS Attorney General and was a board member of a former Ohio-based AMC owned by a friend that eventually collapsed, leaving many appraisers unpaid for their work, was the signer of this law. Despite the irony, his concern for the consumer is incredibly appreciated by the appraisal community who have been beaten up by the AMC industry since 2009 under the false narrative that they are embedded in the process to protect the system. In reality, AMCs gave the mortgage system an empty promise that left the consumer and the taxpayer exposed to excessive costs, bureaucracy and a systematic deletion of quality. Even worse, they stole the economic livelihood of the actual market valuation experts and replaced them with form-fillers.

It is nice to see a state pay more than lip service to consumers within the mortgage business.

OFT (One Final Thought)

Great piece on what happens when a factory closes down and was the dominant source of employment. Click on image for the story.


[NYT Magazine]

Brilliant Idea #1

If you need something rock solid in your life (particularly on Friday afternoons) and someone forwarded this to you, or you think you already subscribed, sign up here for these weekly Housing Notes. And be sure to share with a friend or colleague if you enjoy them because:

  • They’ll stop being a kleptocrat;
  • You’ll be a billionaire;
  • And I’ll get super tall.

Brilliant Idea #2

You’re obviously full of insights and ideas as a reader of Housing Notes. I appreciate every email I receive and it helps me craft the next week’s Housing Note.

See you next week.

Jonathan J. Miller, CRP, CRE, Member of RAC
President/CEO
Miller Samuel Inc.
Real Estate Appraisers & Consultants
Matrix Blog @jonathanmiller

Reads, Listens and Visuals I Enjoyed

My New Content, Research and Mentions

Appraisal Related Reads

Extra Curricular Reads