As co-owner of an appraisal firm for 34 years, while based in Manhattan, we generally don’t drive to appraisal inspections. Our staff relies on public transportation to get around including buses, subways, and commuter rail. I’d been following the coronavirus in the news since early this year, and became quite alarmed by mid-February and soon suggested my staff work remotely. By the time the first Fed rate cut was made in response to the coronavirus on March 3, we adopted a screening process for appraisal inspections. When our team made an appointment for the inspection, we inquired about the health of the occupant, and then on the day of the inspection, the appraiser called again to confirm that conditions had not changed.
Soon after we learned that we could be carriers of the virus without knowing and infect someone vulnerable, we stop performing interior inspections.
My appraiser colleagues around the country have become very concerned, if not plain scared.
Here are two scenarios shared by appraiser colleagues in another part of the country. Imagine if the appraiser was a carrier?
Scenario 1 Conversation
Sounds good 10 am is better
Kids are home
With no school
If your sic with a cold or similar please reset appointment
Scenario 2 Recap
Borrower is elderly and on a respirator
Says the appraiser can walk through the house by himself
And reminds the appraiser to keep their distance
Appraisers should not be placed in harm’s way or be in a position to be forced to unintentionally harm another.
So let’s look at some industry actions of the past few days:
HEROESThese lenders have shown how much they respect the appraiser’s role in the mortgage process and their concern for the appraiser’s health and welfare as well as the borrower.
First Republic Bank
I submitted a temporary driveby appraisal solution to First Republic Bank, a large CA/NYC+ lender we have worked with since 1999. I feared for the safety of our appraisal staff and didn’t want to risk infecting others. Plus we were starting to get pushback from homeowners who are getting uncomfortable. They embedded this solution within days. I challenge any appraiser to name any other bank that is more professional, more appraiser-centric than they are. Here is the note they sent out to their panel.
We’ve been working for Citibank since 1986 and have enjoyed a great relationship. This policy treats appraisers as human beings. I’m not sure how closely this policy will be observed by the AMCs they engage to manage their appraisals orders (read-on).
ZEROES (AMCS, etc.)
To combat the COVID-19 outbreak in the appraisal industry, Appraisal Management Companies (third-party institutional middlemen that account for as much as 90% of residential assignments) have essentially provided a lethal magnanimous gesture by simply telling appraisers to wash their hands often and stay away from people that are sick and that they must go inside the property. While I anticipate that many AMCs would defend their position of placing appraisers in harm’s way because their bank clients require it, I say that indicates selective morality or incredible ignorance. They could push back and make a strong case for public safety.
We are in the early stages of a global pandemic that may infect 100 million Americans (1 out of 3, conservatively) with a 3% death rate (that’s 1 million people if you do the math). The appraiser population has an average age in the high-50s, and we have been told that the older populous is the most vulnerable.
In reality, these AMC policies show disdain not only to appraisers but to their own (bank client’s) borrowers by letting a fee appraiser, who is paid only for the assignments they accept, determine whether or not the appraisers themselves are carriers of this pandemic and whether they can assess the safety of the property they inspect. Here’s a key point.
NO ONE CAN TELL IF SOMEONE IS A CARRIER IF THEY HAVE NO SYMPTOMS.
The following AMCs opted to treat appraisers as a widget instead of a human being requiring them to physically inspect a property when they now know that it is not safe to do so. Today I was told that one federal agency lost 20% of their appraisers because they have refused to continue doing interior inspections. Different cities and states have different rates of infection. Because we don’t have full testing in place as a country, the number of infections might be significantly higher than we might anticipate. My particular location in Manhattan is highly problematic because of the reliance on public transportation – buses, subways, commuter rail, and just walking down a crowded street – no social-distancing here. And based on the comments the NYC Mayor made yesterday, it is possible that tomorrow could see NYC restricted to “shelter in place” like San Francisco.
If you’ll note in this pattern of negligent behavior, great efforts were made to plan for the safety of order staff, but no regard for the safety of the appraiser, who is providing the service – telling appraisers to wash their hands and practice social-distancing when they know that it is not enough. When you get right down to it, these companies sent similar silly instructions so they can check off a box to be compliant. Yet they must know that appraisers could be carriers, and occupants in the property could be carriers. This is not business as usual.
When we pushed back the appointment on a few of our AMC clients for safety concerns, they simply took away the assignment and rescheduled with another appraiser. No human contact to assess the risk. In good conscience, even if the new appraiser doesn’t have symptoms or doesn;t think the occupant does, that AMC or lender is placing the public at risk, going directly against CDC guidelines. This is what robots would do.
Here is a sampling of AMCs that provided COVID-19 instructions in the past few days shared by my appraisal colleagues – this is clear evidence that they see appraisers as widgets instead of human beings. To save you the trouble of reading all of these INSTRUCTIONS, here’s the translation: WASH YOUR HANDS A LOT