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Posts Tagged ‘AMC’

[The Housing Helix Podcast] Tony Pistilli, Certified Residential Appraiser, Vice-Chair Minnesota Department of Commerce Real Estate Appraiser Advisory Board

April 29, 2010 | 3:00 am | Podcasts |

Last month I spoke to and interviewed Tony Pistilli, a certified real estate appraiser on the Minnesota Department of Commerce Real Estate Appraiser Advisory Board. He’s got a possible solution to the current appraiser – appraisal management company conflict. Its all about conforming to RESPA and preventing banks from shifting the burden to appraisers to pay for bank compliance.

Its the first logical solution I’ve heard. The banks are essentially making the appraiser pay for their RESPA compliance by taking it out of the appraiser’s fee, often 50% of the stated appraisal fee. The consumer is being mislead by the appraisal fee stated by the lender at time of mortgage application.

  • – Appraisers and borrowers are paying for services the banks receive, not the bank.
  • – Banks should pay for the services received from the AMC’s who manage the appraisal process.
  • – Appraiser’s fees should be market driven.
  • – Banks should be held accountable for the quality of the appraisal.

He’s been spreading the word through all the channels/usual suspects in the blogosphere. Here’s my original post, including his article:

[HVCC and AMCs Violate RESPA?] Here’s a possible solution

His views seemed to have been picked up by the Appraisal Institute, the largest appraisal trade organization in the US, in their letter to HUD looking for clarification on RESPA and the disclosure of fees paid by consumers. Here’s the FAQ on the new RESPA rule.

Check out the podcast

The Housing Helix Podcast Interview List

You can subscribe on iTunes or simply listen to the podcast on my other blog The Housing Helix.


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[Interview] Tony Pistilli, Certified Residential Appraiser, Vice-Chair Minnesota Department of Commerce Real Estate Appraiser Advisory Board

April 29, 2010 | 12:01 am | Podcasts |

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[HVCC and AMCs Violate RESPA?] Here’s a possible solution

March 16, 2010 | 12:01 am | |

I was provided an interesting solution to the AMC appraisal issue from Tony Pistilli, a certified residential appraiser who has been employed for over 25 years in the appraisal area, at governmental agencies, mortgage companies, banks and has been self employed.

He wants appraisers to get the word out. His solution is compelling.

Anyone who reads Matrix knows what I think of the Appraisal Management Company and the Home Valuation Code of Conduct (HVCC) problem in today’s mortgage lending world.

Here’s a summary of the his article before you read it:

  • Appraisers, Realtors, Brokers HATE the HVCC.
  • AMC’s and Banks LOVE the HVCC.
  • Regulators are disconnected from the problem just like they were when mortgage brokers controlled the ordering of appraisals during the credit boom.
  • Appraisers and borrowers are paying for services the banks receive.
  • Banks should pay for the services received from the AMC’s.
  • Appraiser’s fees should be market driven.
  • Banks should be held accountable for the quality of the appraisal.

AMC/HVCC appears to violate RESPA (Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act) since a large portion of the appraisal fee is actually going for something else coming off the market rate fee of the appraiser.

(RESPA) was created because various companies associated with the buying and selling of real estate, such as lenders, realtors, construction companies and title insurance companies were often engaging in providing undisclosed Kickbacks to each other, inflating the costs of real estate transactions and obscuring price competition by facilitating bait-and-switch tactics.

The Ultimate Solution for the Appraisal Industry

by Tony Pistilli, Certified Residential Appraiser and Vice-Chair, Minnesota Department of Commerce, Real Estate Appraiser Advisory Board, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Since the inception of the Home Valuation Code of Conduct (HVCC) in May 2009, there has been much discussion, and misinformation, about the benefits and harm caused by the controversial agreement with the New York Attorney Generals office and the Federal Housing Finance Agency. This agreement, originally made with the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight, requires Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to only accept appraisals ordered from parties independent to the loan production process. Essentially, this means, anyone that may get paid by a successful closing of the loan cannot order the appraisal.

In the past 6 months while the Realtors© and Mortgage Brokers associations point fingers at appraisal management companies for their use of incompetent appraisers who don’t understand the local markets, appraisers are complaining that banks are abdicating their regulatory requirements to obtain credible appraisals by forcing them to go through appraisal management companies at half of their normal fee.

Banking regulations allow banks to utilize the services of third party providers like appraisal management companies, but ultimately hold the bank accountable for the quality of the appraisal. Unfortunately, the banking regulators have yet to express a concern that there is a problem with the current situation.

I need to state that appraisal management companies can provide a valuable service to the lending industry by ordering appraisals, managing a panel of appraisers, performing quality reviews of the appraisals, etc. However, banks have been enticed by appraisal management companies to turn over their responsibility for ordering appraisals with arrangements that ultimately do not cost them anything.

The arrangement works like this, the bank collects a fee for the appraisal from the borrower; orders an appraisal from the appraisal management company who in turn assigns the appraisal to be done by an independent appraiser or appraisal company. During this process the appraisal fee paid by the borrower gets paid to the appraisal management company who retains approximately 40% to 50% and pays the appraiser the remainder. So for the $400 appraisal fee being charged to the borrower, the appraiser is actually being paid $160-$200 for the appraisal. Absent an appraisal management company the reasonable and customary fee for the appraisers service would be $400, not the $160 to $200 currently being paid to appraisers.

Rules within the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) have allowed this situation to occur, despite prohibitions against receiving unearned fees, kickbacks and the marking up of third party services, like appraisals. RESPA clearly states, “Payments in excess of the reasonable value of goods provided or services rendered are considered kickbacks”.

Banks are allowed to collect a loan origination fee. This fee is intended to cover the costs of the bank related to underwriting and approving a loan. Ordering and reviewing an appraisal is certainly a part of that process. Understanding that banks ultimately have the regulatory requirement to obtain the appraisal for their lending functions, why is it that borrowers and appraisers are paying for these services that are outsourced to appraisal management companies? Does the borrower benefit from a bank hiring an appraisal management company? Does an appraiser benefit from a bank hiring an appraisal management company? The answer to those two questions is a very resounding, no! Clearly the only one in the equation that benefits is the bank, so why shouldn’t the banks be required to pay for the outsourcing of the appraisal ordering and review process?

It is here where I believe the solution for the appraisal industry exists. Since banks are the obvious benefactor from the appraisal management company services, the regulators should require that the banks, not the borrowers or appraisers, pay for the services received. This one small change in the current business model would allow appraisers to receive a reasonable fee for their services and in turn they should be held more accountable for the quality and credibility of the appraisals they perform. Appraisal fees would be competitive among appraisers in their local markets, much like the professional fees charged by accountants, attorneys, dentists and doctors. Appraisal management companies would suddenly be thrust into a more competitive situation where their services can be itemized and their quality and price be compared to those of competing providers. This will ultimately lead to lower fees and improved quality of services to the banks. The banks will then have a very quantifiable choice, do they continue to outsource their obligations to an appraisal management company and pay for those services or do they create an internal structure to manage the appraisal ordering and review process? Either way, the banking regulators need to hold the banks more accountable at the end of the process.

When all of the previously discussed elements are present, I believe the appraisal industry will be functioning the way it was intended. Appraisal independence will be enhanced and borrowers will be rewarded with greater quality and reliability in the appraisal process. This is exactly the change that is needed, in addition to the HVCC, to stop the current finger pointing and address the poor quality and non-independent appraisals that have been and are still rampant in the industry.


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[Idiotic Mortgage Lending System] How to not get scr*w*d by an (AMC) appraiser

March 15, 2010 | 4:37 pm |

Here’s the result of an email interview I conducted with Brick Underground expressing my dissatisfaction with Appraisal Management Company (AMC) appraisers these days and corresponding situation that a real estate agent was going through.

The real world appraisal situation – the name of the appraiser and related organization was omitted to protect the guilty. Here’s the sequence – READ THE DETAILS CLOSELY (sorry for the all caps but I really am yelling):

  • Appraiser who works for an Appraisal Management Company on behalf of a national lender performs an appraisal of a walk-up apartment.
  • Contract price in appraisal was $414k when the contract price was $460k
  • The appraised value was close to the incorrect contract price.
  • The wrong apartment was appraised. The correct apartment is larger than the one appraised.
  • The inspection/effective date was listed as January 27, 2010 when the property was actually inspected on February 3, 2010.
  • No comparables from the subject neighborhood were used.
  • The appraiser reversed the floor level adjustments suggesting that the lower floor of a walk-up is less valuable than a higher floor (A built-in health club!).
  • The appraiser gave no credit for a private roof deck.

And the key detail…

  • The AMC fought hard saying that the appraisal was correct. In fact, despite these amazingly negligent errors they “refused a new appraisal saying despite errors below, the value stands.”

In other words, the appraiser did not know the market or how to appraise a walk-up, was guided by the contract price which was actually wrong. When told the price was wrong and a smaller apartment was appraised, the AMC stood by the appraisal.

I didn’t appraise the property and have no idea whether the apartment was worth the sales price. I’m just using the information provided.

The only solution for the buyer is to roll the dice and go to another bank. The bank loses because a professional evaluation was not performed. The bank likely doesn’t even know that this happened. A buyer and seller lose because the appraiser was incompetent. The broker may lose a fairly earned commission because of a form filler who has no business being called an appraiser.

This is not appraising – it is idiotic form filling managed by people who should not be in the mortgage lending business.

So you can see how my interview on Brick Underground covering this topic was so terse – I was being told the above situation at the same time. Here is the link again:

How to not get scrwd by an appraiser [Brick Underground]

As I’ve said many times before, the current appraisal system with Appraisal Management Companies is an accident waiting to happen while we pretend that everything is OK.


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[New Mortgage Program] Getting Paid To Sell Short

March 8, 2010 | 10:40 am | |

The Obama administration has come up with a radically aggressive plan to reduce foreclosure activity which has remained alarmingly high. The key ingredient is to encourage lenders/services to allow more short sales – selling the home for less than the amount of the mortgage without going after the debtor for the shortfall. Mortgage modification plans have not been successful to date.

The New York Times page 1 story today Program Will Pay Homeowners to Sell at a Loss does a masterful job in presenting the program and summarizing the problems of the issue to date, I just wish the title wasn’t so simplistic.

Perhaps I am missing the point, but I feel like this solution has focused on the wrong side of the mortgage default equation. Are servicers going to forgive $200,000 in principal to get $1,000? Are homeowners going to move forward because they get $1,500 (more than the servicer) in relocation fees?

The flood of short sale requests are already overloading many bank’s ability to handle the administration of this crisis – hard to see them able to manage the process any more efficiently.

However, the only way out of this crisis is a solution with principal foregiveness in the equation or people will simply walk away and perhaps the servicer/lender ends up being hurt more. No easy answer I suppose.

Real estate agents will determine property value

One mechanical aspect of this process which demonstrates the administration’s and government in general’s disconnect in the need for neutral analysis of value. Real estate agents, who are paid to sell property, determine the “reserve” price above which the lender/servicer must adhere to.

Under the new federal program, a lender will use real estate agents to determine the value of a home and thus the minimum to accept. This figure will not be shared with the owner, but if an offer comes in that is equal to or higher than this amount, the lender must take it.

Mr. Paul, the Phoenix agent, was skeptical. “In a perfect world, this would work,” he said. “But because estimates of value are inherently subjective, it won’t. The banks don’t want to sell at a discount.”

How about a neutral party in the process? A qualified appraiser? (not the yahoos doing AMC work in high volume). I would assume the agents selecting the number are not allowed to sell the property (huge assumption on my part) but why not have someone who can’t ever sell the property, whose full time job it is to estimate market value, be assigned that task?

The devil is in the details.


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[Surety Bonds] Some States Are Cracking Down On Appraisal Management Companies

February 21, 2010 | 5:30 pm | |

Since appraisal management companies are now responsible for the super majority of appraisals being ordered through lenders for mortgage purposes due to HVCC and AMCs are not a regulate institutions, the consumer is exposed more than ever to the potential for low quality appraisals, continuing to undermine the public trust in the appraisal profession. I suspect trend this has the potential to push errors and omissions insurance rates higher and provide more exposure to the mortgage lending system.

I firmly believe that 5-7 years from now we will be looking back to today’s AMC trend and will be saying: “if we only did something about it.”

Admittedly I know very little about surety bonds and this is no sales pitch or a solution to the AMC problem. I am more interested in understanding ways to protect the consumer against negligence and instill confidence in the appraisal process. To require AMCs to pay for surety bonds in order to operate in a state sounds like it provides an easier way for consumers to go after AMCs for negligence. Feedback or suggestions welcome.

According to Wikipedia, a surety bond is a contract among at least three parties:

  • The obligee – the party who is the recipient of an obligation,
  • The principal – the primary party who will be performing the contractual obligation,
  • The surety – who assures the obligee that the principal can perform the task

I was contacted by Jay Buerck of SuretyBonds.com who wrote provided the following post on surety bonds and appraisal management companies. He indicated that 6 states brought about new AMC legislation last year and it is expected to grow in the coming years. His article is simply trying to make everyone aware of this fact.

States nationwide are introducing tougher oversight and regulation of appraisal management companies. The push is part of a growing effort to bring more consumer protection and transparency to the home-purchasing process.

In all, six states: Arkansas, California, Nevada, Louisiana, Utah and New Mexico ó ushered in new AMC legislation in 2009. Industry officials expect another 15 to 20 states to consider adopting similar measures this year.

Appraisal management companies are becoming increasingly important because of sweeping changes to regulations for home valuations nationwide. The stricter regulations are geared toward boosting consumer safety and stabilizing the housing market.

“There is a significant belief out there that mortgage fraud played a significant role in the meltdown in the housing market, and any unregulated entity that is out there presents the possibility for mortgage fraud to creep back into the system,” Scott DiBiasio, manager of state and industry affairs for the Washington, D.C.-based Appraisal Institute, a global association of real estate appraisers, told Insurance Journal this winter. “I think legislators recognized that this was a gaping loophole that needed to be corrected.”

Taking consumer protection a step further, Arkansas became the first state to add a surety bond requirement to its appraisal management statutes. The new legislation requires that AMCs post a $20,000 surety bond with the stateís real estate appraiser board.

Surety bonds are essentially three-party agreements that ensure businesses or people follow all applicable laws and contracts. A surety bond also provides consumers and tax payers who are harmed by the business with an avenue of financial recourse.

Most of the new AMC legislation requires companies to make sure their appraisals are in line with the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice. Theyíre also responsible for ensuring they use certified and licensed appraisers only.

There are also some financial disclosure and transparency requirements in some states.

“We need to have and the public deserves to know who owns, operates and manages these appraisal management companies,” DiBiasio said. “I think the $20,000 surety bond is really there to provide some minimal protection to consumers.”


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Appraisers and Foreclosure Sales Bring Havoc to Housing Markets

January 29, 2010 | 12:30 am | | Articles |

I authored the following article for RealtyTrac which appeared on the cover of their November 2009 subscriber newsletter called Foreclosure News Report. It features a column for guest experts called “My Take.”

When Rick Sharga invited to write the article, he provided the previous issue which featured a great article by Karl Case of the Case Shiller Index and I was sold.

I hope you enjoy it.



Appraisers and Foreclosure Sales Bring Havoc to Housing Markets
By Jonathan Miller
President/CEO of Miller Samuel Inc.
11-2009

In many ways, the quality of appraisals has fallen as precipitously as many US housing markets over the past year. Just as the need for reliable asset valuation for mortgage lending and disposition has become critical (fewer data points and more distressed assets) the appraisal profession seems less equipped to handle it and users of their services seem more disconnected than ever.

The appraisal watershed moment was May 1, 2009, when the controversial agreement between Fannie Mae and New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, known as the Home Valuation Code of Conduct, became effective and the long neglected and misunderstood appraisal profession finally moved to the front burner. Adopted by federal housing agencies, HVCC, or lovingly referred to by the appraiserati as “Havoc” and has created just that.

During the 2003 to 2007 credit boom, a measure of the disconnect between risk and reward became evident by the proliferation of mortgage brokers in the residential lending process. Wholesale lending boomed over this period, becoming two thirds of the source of loan business for residential mortgage origination. Mortgage brokers were able to select the appraisers for the mortgages that they sent to banks.

Despite the fact that there are reputable mortgage brokers, this relationship is a fundamental flaw in the lending process since the mortgage broker is only paid when and if the loan closes. The same lack of separation existed and still exists between rating agencies and investment banks that aggressively sought out AAA ratings for their mortgage securitization products. Rating agencies acceded to their client’s wishes in the name of generating more revenue.

As evidence of the systemic defect, appraisers who were magically able to appraise a property high enough to make the deal work despite the market value of that locale, thrived in this environment. Lenders were in “don’t ask, don’t tell” mode and they could package and sell off those mortgages to investors who didn’t seem to care about the value of the mortgage collateral either. Banks closed their appraisal review departments nationwide which had served to buffer appraisers from the bank sales functions because appraisal departments were viewed as cost centers.

The residential appraisal profession evolved into an army of “form-fillers” and “deal-enablers” as the insular protection of appraisal professionals was removed. Appraisers were subjected to enormous direct and indirect pressure from bank loan officers and mortgage brokers for results. “No play, no pay” became the silent engine driving large volumes of business to the newly empowered valuation force. The modern residential appraiser became known as the “ten-percenter” because many appraisals reported values of ten percent more than the sales price or borrower’s estimated value. They did this to give the lender more flexibility and were rewarded with more business.

HVCC now prevents mortgage brokers from ordering appraisals for mortgages where the lender plans on selling them to Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac which is a decidedly positive move towards protecting the neutrality of the appraiser. Most benefits of removing the mortgage broker from the appraisal process are lost because HVCC has enabled an unregulated institution known as appraisal management companies to push large volumes of appraisals on those who bid the lowest and turn around the reports the quickest. Stories about of out of market appraisers doing 10-12 assignments in 24 hours are increasingly common. How much market analysis is physical possible with that sort of volume?

After severing relationships with local appraisers by closing in-house appraisal departments and becoming dependent on mortgage brokers for the appraisal, banks have turned to AMC’s for the majority of their appraisal order volume for mortgage lending.

Appraisal management companies are the middlemen in the process, collecting the same or higher fee for an appraisal assignment and finding appraisers who will work for wages as low as half the prevailing market rate who need to complete assignments in one-fifth the typical turnaround time. You can see how this leads to the reduction in reliability.

The appraisal profession therefore remains an important component in the systemic breakdown of the mortgage lending process and is part of the reason why we are seeing 300,000 foreclosures per month.

The National Association of Realtors and The National Association of Home Builders were among the first organizations to notice the growing problem of “low appraisals”. The dramatic deterioration in appraisal quality swung the valuation bias from high to low. The low valuation bias does not refer to declining housing market conditions. Despite mortgage lending being an important part of their business, many banks aren’t thrilled to provide mortgages in declining housing markets with rising unemployment and looming losses in commercial real estate, auto loans, credit cards and others. Low valuations have essentially been encouraged by rewarding those very appraisers with more assignments. Think of the low bias in valuation as informal risk management. The caliber and condition of the appraisal environment had deteriorated so rapidly to the point where it may now be slowing the recovery of the housing market.

One of the criticisms of appraisers today is that they are using comparable sales commonly referred to as “comps” that include foreclosure sales. Are these sales an arm’s length transaction between a fully informed buyer and seller is problematic at best. While this is a valid concern, the problem often pertains to the actual or perceived condition of the foreclosure sales and their respective marketing times.

Often foreclosure properties are inferior in condition to non-foreclosure properties because of the financial distress of the prior owner. The property was likely in disrepair leading up to foreclosure and may contain hidden defects. Banks are managing the properties that they hold but only as a minimum by keeping them from deteriorating in condition.

In many cases, foreclosure sales are marketed more quickly than competing sales. The lender is not interested in being a landlord and wants to recoup the mortgage amount as soon as possible. Often referred to as quicksale value, foreclosure listings can be priced to sell faster than normal marketing times, typically in 60 to 90 days.

The idea that foreclosure sales are priced lower than non-foreclosure properties is usually confused with the disparity in condition and marketing times and those reasons therefore are thought to invalidate them for use as comps by appraisers.

Foreclosure sales can be used as comps but the issue is really more about how those comps are adjusted for their differing amenities.

If two listings in the same neighborhood are essentially identical in physical characteristics like square footage, style, number of bedrooms, and one is a foreclosure property, then the foreclosure listing price will often set the market for that type of property. In many cases, the lower price that foreclosure sales establish are a function of difference in condition or the fact that the bank wishes to sell faster than market conditions will normally allow.

A foreclosure listing competes with non-foreclosure sales and can impact the values of surrounding homes. This becomes a powerful factor in influencing housing trends. If large portion of a neighborhood is comprised of recent closed foreclosure sales and active foreclosure listings, then guess what? That’s the market.

Throw in a form-filler mentality enabled by HVCC and differences such as condition, marketing time, market concentration and trends are often not considered in the appraisal, resulting in inaccurate valuations. As a market phenomenon, the lower caliber of appraisers has unfairly restricted the flow of sales activity, impeding the housing recovery nationwide.

In response to the HVCC backlash, the House Financial Services Committee added an amendment to the Consumer Financial Protection Agency Act HR 3126 on October 21st which among other things, wants all federal agencies to start accepting appraisals ordered through mortgage brokers in order to save the consumer money.

If this amendment is adopted by the US House of Representatives and US Senate and becomes law, its deja vu all over again. The Appraisal Institute, in their rightful obsession with getting rid of HVCC, has erred in viewing such an amendment as a victory for consumers. One of the reasons HVCC was established was in response to the problems created by the relationship between appraisers and mortgage brokers. Unfortunately, by solving one problem, it created other problems and returning to the ways of old is a giant step backwards.

We are in the midst of the greatest credit crunch since the Great Depression and yet few seem to understand the importance of neutral valuation of collateral so banks can make informed lending decisions. Appraisers need to be competent enough to make informed decisions about whether foreclosures sales are properly used comps. For the time being, many are not.


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[HVCC Watch] Amendment to CFPA of 2009 Snuck In – Return To Old Days?

October 27, 2009 | 4:10 pm |

Oops! Wrong HVCC (not Huron Valley Corvette Club).

We’re talking Home Valuation Code of Conduct and its quickly running its own course (sorry).

Last week, an amendment was added to the Consumer Financial Protection Act of 2009 that would effectively “Sunset” the Home Valuation Code of Conduct or “HVCC” (pronounced “Havoc”).

From Valuation Review magazine:

An amendment was added late Wednesday Oct. 21 to the Consumer Financial Protection Act of 2009 that would sunset the HVCC, allow appraisals to be ordered by mortgage brokers again and would make a new Negotiated Rulemaking Committee responsible for creating one set of appraisal independence requirements across all the federal agencies.

This amendment was championed by the National Association of Mortgage Brokers (NAMB) who were dead set against HVCC for very different reasons than the best appraisers in the industry are. Regardless, HVCC is a systemic accident waiting to happen.

Setting aside the weak production quality, this video is a great source of clarification about the misunderstands surrounding HVCC.

Mortgage brokers were targeted by HVCC as providing undue pressure on appraisers for overvaluation. Systemically, thats absolutely true – of course there are always exceptions. But you can’t rely on the honor system for a financial system structure – thats what where we just came from.

Mortgage brokers get paid when the transaction closes. Guess what kind of appraiser thrived in this kind of environment? Form-fillers.

However, removing mortgage brokers from the process enabled AMC’s which are even more problematic, providing low biased appraisals. Simplistic assessments of the removal of HVCC as a good thing for appraisers is short sighted.

How about the public getting a lending system that has a neutral appraisal environment so the parties getting paid don’t game the system? That means that appraisers shouldn’t be getting assignments from individuals whose commission depends on the outcome. If HVCC is removed and we revert to the prior way of doing business, its a missed opportunity to give consumers fair valuations.

To demonstrate how detached from reality Freddie Mac is, they seem to think HVCC has improved appraisal quality?

This is an opportunity to break free of the past and break free of HVCC and replace it with a better way.


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[Case Shiller 20 City Index] July 2009 Down 13.3% Y-O-Y, Up 1.2% M-O-M

September 29, 2009 | 12:03 pm | |


[click to expand]

Here’s the summary:

The S&P/Case-Shiller 20-city home-price index, a closely watched gauge of U.S. home prices, rose 1.6% in July from June in the third straight monthly increase, but prices remain below year-earlier levels.

For the sixteenth straight month, no area in the 20-city index posted a year-over-year price gain. That put nationwide prices at levels seen in 2003.

“These figures continue to support an indication of stabilization in national real estate values,” said David M. Blitzer, chairman of the index committee at Standard & Poor’s. “But we do need to be cautious in coming months to assess whether the housing market will weather the expiration of the Federal First-Time Buyer’s Tax Credit in November, anticipated higher unemployment rates and a possible increase in foreclosures.”

Whether or not we see a renewal in tax credits, its hard to imagine a housing market recovery with another year of increasing foreclosures. Perhaps the worst is over, but I would think the best we can hope for in the near term is stability.


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[NY Times Real Estate Cover Story] New York Appraisals Get Shortchanged

September 26, 2009 | 3:24 pm | | Articles |

It is nice to see the appraisal process move front and center after being on the back burner for the past 7 years during the credit bubble. The appraisal process in mortgage lending is like politics and making sausage – its not pretty when you look at it up close (except for my photo, of course).

Vivian Toy pens a great article which talks about the disconnect between the ideals of the appraisal profession and what is being forced on the profession by the lending community and regulators in this weekend’s real estate section cover story called New York Appraisals Get Shortchanged.

And without a stockpile of comparable sales for reference, Mr. Miller said, “you have to really know the local market, so you can go beyond the raw sales data and use all the subjective factors you can to really tell the story about a property.”

Here’s a key issue affecting all mortgage lending nationwide: APPRAISAL MANAGEMENT COMPANIES (all caps for emphasis beyond using bold).

The potential pitfalls are not exclusive to New York. “The least qualified and least experienced people are doing appraisals across the country,” said Jim Amorin, the president of the Appraisal Institute, a national trade group that represents 26,000 appraisers. He estimated that appraisal management companies now handle about 90 percent of the appraisal market, up from about 30 percent before May 1.

Mr. Amorin said he had heard of appraisers in California who travel 150 to 200 miles to do an appraisal.

It’s hard to believe that they could still be in their geographically competent area, he said. And in Manhattan it would be even harder if you have someone coming in from the suburbs, since things can be vastly different from one side of the street to another.

When you commoditize the appraisal profession as appraisal management companies do, you really get poor quality at a higher cost. The costs are measured in risk exposure, lost revenue from killing transactions that shouldn’t be, and AMC fees are often higher (remember the appraiser only gets about half of the total appraisal fee).

The irony here is that many of the appraisers who were the source of overvaluation during the boom times – cranking out a high volume of reports, mainly for mortgage brokers – are now getting most of the work through appraisal management companies. They are undervaluing because they are unfamiliar with the markets they appraise in and think the lenders want them to be low (they probably do). Remember that in either the high or low scenario, its all about making their clients happy – in other words – insanity continues to be pervasive in mortgage lending…but now it is costing the consumer directly.

The New York Times ran an A1 (page one) story back in August called “In Appraisal Shift, Lenders Gain Power and Critics.” Which talked about how good appraisers are being forced out of business because of the Home Valuation Code of Conduct agreement between NY AG Andrew Cuomo and Fannie Mae. Banks have all the power now and they are showing that they don’t understand the problem at hand.


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[REALTOR Mag] The Trouble With the HVCC

August 24, 2009 | 11:53 pm |

I often disagree with NAR and have frequently pointed out their missed opportunity to earn the public trust despite their interests as a trade organization, but hey – they are coming from a different vantage point. However this time I agree with their view on the Home Valuation Code of Conduct (the position itself rather than how they get to it.)

There’s a good article on HVCC which tells the story from the appraiser’s perspective called: “The Trouble With the HVCC: How new rules meant to ensure the integrity of the appraisal process have infuriated appraisers and stymied sales from coast to coast.

I am quoted in the opening of the piece.

“You can’t make this up,” New York appraiser Jonathan Miller riffed in his entertaining blog, Matrix, back in June.

Miller was recounting the frustration of a real estate salesperson who was trying to refinance her own New York apartment with her current lender. According to Miller’s telling, the out-of-town appraiser walked into the apartment, threw his hands in the air, and asked “How am I supposed to appraise this thing?”

My always insightful appraisal colleague Francois (Frank) K. Gregoire, IFA, RAA, with Gregoire & Gregoire Inc., of St. Petersburg, Florida has one of the best quotes in the piece:

The HVCC sets up AMCs as the guardians of appraiser independence, and isn’t it ironic that the investigation that prompted the rules centered on an AMC allegedly manipulating the system to please its customer?

He is referring to New York State Attorney General Cuomo’s lawsuit against eAppraisIT and it’s relationship with WaMu.


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[BankThink] Then Don’t Call It An Appraisal

August 24, 2009 | 11:24 pm | | Columns |

I stumbled on a really great blog on the American Banker site called BankThink and it’s worth checking back on a regular basis.

Webmaster/Journalist Emily Flitter asked me to contribute a guest column on the current state of appraising. I named it:

Then Don’t Call It An Appraisal.

I hope you enjoy it.

Here’s a local copy of the article:

The trillions in adverse financial exposure and lost economic opportunity were supposed to teach us, especially those of us connected with the banking system, something about risk. But a look at the latest trend in home appraisal practices shows that although the relationship between mortgage lenders and appraisers may look different on the surface, its nature remains troubled.

As a rule, appraisers are generally ignored until we make a mistake. We’re the back-of-the-house worker bees. During the housing boom (actually a credit boom with a housing boom as a symptom), an appraisal was relegated to a commodity status like a flood certification. Without much political clout or public awareness, we weren’t used to being in the spotlight. We’re finding it not at all flattering.

Mortgage brokers’ business swelled during the boom years and many participated in compromising as much as two thirds of the residential mortgage lending business at peak – they only got paid if they could close the deal. That took an appraisal. Guess what type of appraiser was hired en masse? The ones who provided the “right” value.

How did things work in the banking industry? During the boom, in-house appraisal review departments were closed in most US Banks because they were “cost” centers. Mergers and consolidation caused lenders to lose local relationships with appraisers.

After the September financial system tipping point, it seemed like we appraisers might get an opportunity to redeem ourselves. After all, we were part of the problem along with regulators, investment banks, commercial banks, ratings agencies, real estate brokers, mortgage brokers, mortgage bankers and consumers. One big happy party.

Regulators have set out new guidelines on appraisals for lenders. The Home Valuation Code of Conduct, pronounced “Havoc” is an agreement between New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and Fannie Mae that was intended to change everything.

Comp Checks, inquiries in which an appraiser was often asked to assure a floor value for a property without actually performing an appraisal, are over. Mortgage brokers can’t order appraisals anymore – otherwise the bank can’t sell the paper to Fannie Mae.

But not much else has changed. Lenders now call appraisal management companies who pay the appraiser half their wage (fees for AMCs are lower than appraisal fees paid 20 years ago) and require 24 – 48 hour turn times without exception.

The National Association of Realtors wants appraisers to use “good” comps and ignore foreclosure activity because we are “killing the recovery.”

Many of the ethical “appraisers” have been forced to seek new types of work or switch careers, as they have been replaced by an army of “form-fillers.”

After all of the financial system turmoil, not much has changed in the mortgage process as it relates to appraisers. A conversation with a loan consultant we had last week perhaps best exemplifies how detached from reality many in the lending community really are.

One of my staff appraisers recapped to me a direct conversation with a loan consultant at a large national bank. The consultant had contacted the appraiser to complain about the appraised value not being high enough on several occasions, even bringing the borrower in without advanced notice to the appraiser on one of the calls. This is a frequent conversation and it’s getting old.

When trying to get an understanding of the collateral, does the banking industry want to know what the value is from a neutral source or not? If not, don’t call it an appraisal because its not.

Jonathan Miller is a real estate appraisal consultant in New York. He is the co-founder of the residential appraiser Miller Samuel, and a managing principal of the commercial appraiser Miller Cicero.


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