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Posts Tagged ‘Coronavirus’

Real estate appraisers are an essential business and here to protect the public trust

March 24, 2020 | 8:00 pm | Milestones |

I hope all my readers (and everyone else) are staying safe and healthy during this crisis – now let’s get to business.


With New York State on lockdown, real estate brokers/agents can’t sell real estate right now because they are not considered an essential business (yet they are in nearby Connecticut!) This declaration determines whether you can or cannot remain in business during a crisis like this.

Are real estate appraisers considered an essential business in New York? Yes. They are in New York State and they are stated as such in the federal Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999. But the fact that real estate appraisers are an “essential business” is not consistent in the federal language, especially now when many states are, or will be going on lockdown.

My good friend and appraiser/regulator Pete Fontana and I wrote a letter nicknamed: Fontana/Miller Essential Letter of March 24, 2020. This letter combines the scattered references to address this issue in very specific terms using key language in the public record that illustrates the fact that appraisers are an “essential business” now and going forward.

This letter is the first to address this important issue. It was just sent to Congress, state officials, trade groups, agencies, and other groups related to our industry today and went viral industrywide. The feedback from these groups has been immediate and overwhelmingly encouraging and positive.

Please share the Fontana/Miller Essential Letter of March 24, 2020 with your colleagues in the industry, trade groups, state governments, on forums, and with anyone or in any place you think is relevant to our industry.

Real estate appraisers are an essential business in our country, always have been.

Stay safe!

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Some Financial Institutions Care About The Safety Of Appraisers, While Most Do Not

March 18, 2020 | 10:08 pm | Investigative |


[Johns Hopkins University]

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:

HEROES

These 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.


Citibank
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

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Flattening The Curve And Seeing The Shift From Greed To Fear

March 18, 2020 | 5:45 pm | Milestones |


[NPR]

Well, it has been an odd couple of weeks brought to you by the global pandemic known as COVID-19 or the Coronavirus. We’ve been self-quarantined in our house for 1.5 weeks with many more weeks to go. I might have to refer to this pandemic as “Cabin Fever” although there are many people that don’t have the benefit of working at home, including one of my sons, who is a police officer.

With falling mortgage rates of the past year or so, many in the real estate community thought:

“oh my goodness, refi’s and housing sales are going to boom with these low rates, and any Fed rate cuts will offset the damage of a plunging stock market and the economic damage of a pandemic.”

But please remember this:

Falling mortgage rates are not a gift.

Rates are cut to stimulate the economy, to offset something terrible that has happened.

Rates have been falling for the past year as the Federal Reserve likely increased rates in the recent past to be able to have something to cut when the inevitable recession arrives. Because of the damage to the U.S. economy from the trade war, the Fed has been forced to act earlier to keep the economy from dropping into a recession.

Since March began, the Federal Reserve brought the federal funds rate down to zero in the first half of March with two massive cuts. With the first cut of 0.5% on March 3, consumers became fully aware that something significant was wrong, and it was associated with the Coronavirus (and oil prices). And surprising to many, national 30-year mortgage rates rose.

Mortgage lenders continue to enjoy the large spread instead of lowering mortgage rates substantially because of layoff decisions made over the past year as refi volume cooled. Most banks cannot take full advantage of the rate cut opportunity because they do not have the capacity.

Since the 2020 DJIA peak of February 12, 2020, of 29,551.42, the market has fallen 28.13% to 21,237.88 as of the late afternoon, an insanely large decline.

However, all of these housing-related workers such as appraisers and agents, are starting to see that market conditions do not include the gift that it will be “business as usual.” They and their colleagues are becoming fearful of their own personal safety and the safety of their families.

In light of this slowdown, some real estate agents have suggested that market times be modified to cast a better light on listings that will languish due to the virus. This type of action is precisely what should not be done. In a global pandemic or worldwide catastrophic event, housing market stats will be internally adjusted by consumers to factor the event into the equation. Cherry-picking stat solutions will breed distrust between agents and consumers.

Open houses as a marketing tool fell 38% in Manhattan which is quite astounding but shows how quickly “personal safety” is becoming front and center with both agents and market participants. The outbreak is clearly expanding.


But now, those real estate agents are seeing home sellers and home buyers change their minds about letting strangers walk through their homes all day, and the “nexus between fear and greed” has shifted to fear.

Therefore the spring market will likely be underwhelming in NYC if downright bad and pushed forward into the future with a possible release of pent-up demand at some unknown future date. Perhaps the same will apply to many regions across the U.S. this spring.

Now wash your hands.

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