Posted by Jonathan J. Miller -Monday, January 30, 2012, 8:42 AM
One of the last pieces of the 2009 Fannie Mae/Cuomo agreement, called HVCC, that essentially (but unintentionally) destroyed the bank appraisal industry is being worked out. A consumer hotline was created to handle complaints about real estate appraisals. These calls are being be directed to the appropriate state licensing board for action.
I’m all for giving people a way to fix a wrong, but there are a few things wrong with the hotline concept (all bark and no bite):
- The states have no additional money to manage their compliance/license departments. Usually a handful of people oversee a profession of thousands of licensees with constant turnover.
- Many states have syphoned off much of the licensing fees to other departments relegating many licensing departments as merely revenue sources.
- How does a state deal with an appraisal complaint effectively? Do they say your adjustments for view wasn’t high or low enough? You can see how challenging it is for them.
- How are the frivolous complaints weeded out? I understand many states have advisory committees from the industry to help process the paperwork but it is a conceptual nightmare.
Our firm has had a handful of complaints directed to the state over the years by individuals who didn’t get what they wanted from our services. Here are a few representative examples:
- A mortgage broker tried to use the appraisal of a property that we had appraised for both parties in a divorce and demanded we make changes to the report including change the client name so he could use it for a refinance by one of the parties (we are prevented by the licensing law to do this) and filed a complaint against us. He threatened us with a dozen phone calls to make the change he wanted and that he “knew people” of influence. The matter was dropped by the state once they received our response.
- A doctor who was buying out a partner of their joint practice looked to us to appraise the real estate. We did so. We found out later from our client that we had appraised the value at a similar amount as the other partner’s appraiser did (we didn’t know the other side got an appraisal or who did it). Our client filed a complaint because he claimed the “real” value was triple (of course!) The only justification in his mind (he provided no supporting sales data) was using a square footage estimate by a real estate broker saying the space was about 75 square feet larger than we measured (it was a few thousand sq ft) so we “must” have been conservative because that 75 square feet would have tipped the scale and tripled the value [sarcasm]. The matter was dropped by the state once we explained.
There are more examples like this but you get the idea – it is the cost of doing business today for an appraiser.
I see hotlines or complaint lines as they are currently handled as a way for erroneous complaints to occur and burden the profession with excessive costs. Yet I believe this is an important function but needs to be handled much more vigorously and intelligently to protect the public but there is no money to do so. Until state governments recognize that effective oversight preserves the integrity of the profession and ultimately keeps overall financing costs lower, then nothing will change. In fact, with the onslaught of the appraisal management company phenomenon of recent years, I’d say the prospect of improvement is nearly impossible.
Case in point, the hotline concept hasn’t kept the massive appraisal management company competency fraud from entering day to day conversations i.e. the common “the appraiser came from 3 hours away and had never been in our market before”.
In America, the accused are innocent until proven guilty but in the private sector, the small business bears the unending burden of cost for frivolous actions because government generally does not have the resources or understanding of how destructive it can be.
Posted by Jonathan J. Miller -Monday, October 24, 2011, 10:50 AM
The current HARP program is being enhanced by the GSEs led by their regulator FHFA to help more people to refinance to slow the rate of default and get people back into the economy:
The new program enhancements address several other key aspects of HARP including:
- Eliminating certain risk-based fees for borrowers who refinance into shorter-term mortgages and lowering fees for other borrowers;
- Removing the current 125 percent LTV ceiling for fixed-rate mortgages backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac;
* Waiving certain representations and warranties that lenders commit to in making loans owned or guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac;
- Eliminating the need for a new property appraisal where there is a reliable AVM (automated valuation model) estimate provided by the Enterprises; and
- Extending the end date for HARP until Dec. 31, 2013 for loans originally sold to the Enterprises on or before May 31, 2009.
HARP (Home Affordable Refinance Program) was created in 2009 to help borrowers take advantage of low mortgage rates even if they had no equity in their homes. It was not effective so the restrictions have been expanded.
Of course this provides no help to borrowers with jumbo (non-conformining mortgages) in high cost housing markets who have have the same issue. I find it wildly unfair that there continues to be a bias to high cost housing markets effectively keeping a large number of middle class borrowers out of this program.
One of the big problems with HARP as initially set up was that the lenders were resistant to participating because of “buyback risk” if original underwriting was flawed (it could be argued that nearly ALL underwriting was flawed during the boom).
More after the jump…
Posted by Jonathan J. Miller -Tuesday, June 28, 2011, 12:01 AM
actual AMC (car) factory
AMC Factory For a year and a half, our firm tangled with the bureaucracy of Landsafe, the poster child for the appraisal management company (AMC) industry. While not all AMC’s are bad, their relationship to the mortgage process is fundamentally flawed. The estimation of market value of mortgage collateral to enable lenders to make informed decisions has been commoditized to the point where most mortgage appraisals are generally not worth the paper they are written on. This series is from an appraiser’s perspective, about a profession left to die by the side of the road.
The Good Appraiser AMC Bait And Switch Technique
I believe that there are generally 1-3 good appraisal firms in most markets. A “best and all the rest” list. (Blowhard hyperbole warning: I consider our firm to be one of the “good” firms in our market.)
The proliferation of AMCs used by lenders has exploded since HVCC came to be in May 2009.
AMC’s continue to fight their poor reputation for quality – they generally only require state licensing, inconsistent reviews of sample reports, agreement to fees that are half market rate, 24-48 hour turn times
irregardless regardless of valuation difficulties, etc. In order to combat this AMCs use the following marketing technique:
Posted by Jonathan J. Miller -Tuesday, September 7, 2010, 10:01 PM
[click to hear presentation by Appraisal Institute President Leslie P. Sellers, MAI, SRA]
In a period with perhaps the most turmoil in the history of the appraisal profession including The Home Valuation Code of Conduct (HVCC), Appraisal Management Companies (AMC) and Financial Reform legislation, the Appraisal Institute is needed now more than ever on behalf of the appraisal industry.
Despite this need for its members, the Appraisal Institute [AI] has decided to leave the Appraisal Foundation [TAF]. The Appraisal Foundation was founded in 1987 by eight major appraisal organizations to help regulate the appraisal profession within the US.
More after the jump…
Posted by Jonathan J. Miller -Thursday, June 17, 2010, 10:07 PM
Joe Palumbo, SRA
Palumbo On USPAP is a column written by a long time appraisal colleague and friend who is currently the Director of Valuation at Weichert Relocation Resources and a user of appraisal services. He spent seven years at Washington Mutual Bank where he was a First Vice President. Mr. Palumbo holds an SRA designation, is AQB certified and he is a State Certified residential appraiser licensed in New Jersey. Joe is well-versed on the ever changing landscape of the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice [USPAP] and I am fortunate to have his contributions. View his earlier handiwork on Soapbox and his interview on The Housing Helix.
The Fool’s Gold of AMC Licensing
Since I landed in the world of Relocation some three and a half years ago, I really did not pay much attention to what was happening in the trenches of the lending world. That changed when the concept of licensing appraisal management companies came about. My interest became more of an occupational study since these laws are so “broad-brush” and vague. As the manager an in-house appraisal arm of Relocation Management Company I was shocked and disappointed that that these laws cast a net on just about anyone who manages selects and retains appraisers for third party use. Clearly this type of legislation was created out of a knee-jerk reaction to one of the many “crisis-type” issues that came AT the appraisal community in 2008 and 2009. I am specifically referring to the attention to the “appraisal process” brought about by the ill-informed attorney general Mr. Cuomo of NY and the infamous HVCC. I agree with the basic the tenets of the HVCC and the AMC laws I just do not think there will be a net tangible positive affect and that the “real issues” are being conquered. AMC laws and HVCC are not the PANECEA. I WISH THERE WERE a panacea because some calm is needed. Being the realist and institutionally tenured manager of the appraisal process I just know reality of what happens VS what is supposed to happen.
For starters let me say that the relocation world has no direct OTS-like government oversight or appraisal requirements for the appraisals which are NOT intended for lending. The relocation industry is self- policing and we rely on what is set up by state licensing and our own quality control. Let me also say that while my department may perform some of the same functions that an AMC does, we do not TAKE ANY of the appraisers fee. We do select maintain, review AND USE appraisers as well as arbitrate valuation disputes. Also for the record I am not anti-appraisal management company.
Here is the issue: As pointed out by the OTS, last year FIRREA laws of 1989 already contain much of the language that the AMC Laws cite. States have also set up Appraisal Boards who are supposed to monitor fraud egregious issues and such. The problem with FIRREA and the State Boards is simple: money, resources and time. So along come laws that state it is unlawful to coerce an appraiser, unlawful not to pay them, unlawful to tell them which appraiser to use, unlawful to have people who select and review who are not “trained in real estate”, and so forth and so on. So the new laws are just restating the same of what we already had but we still lack an efficient mechanism to enforce. If the AMC laws are governed and enforced by the state boards who are short on cash and time then what makes AMC laws different? Currently 18 states have such laws on their books.
On top of the AMC laws many states are requiring AMC’s to be “registered”. This process is costly and requires plenty of paperwork. KUDOS to the Governor of Virginia, who signed his states law basically making it illegal to engage in the “appraisal nonsense” described above, but NOT requiring a registration process or fee. Also noted as being proactive is Arizona, which requires licensing and registration for AMC’s but which has a single line exemption for the relocation industry simply because: “we are not the problem” (the law reads the exemption for appraisals prepared for the purpose of employee relocation) .
Recently I was contacted by a state board attorney whose state passed AMC legislation in 2009; she stated “this law was not intended for your business model….because you use the appraisal with the client, whereas an AMC does not use…. it they get it…Q C it and pass it on”. It is great to see some realistic thinking for a change. The AMC- appraiser relationship is much like the HMO doctor relationship: mutual need mandated by external forces peppered with some mistrust. Don’t get me wrong there is a lot of merit to the underlying premise of HVCC and such I just do not think it is going to result in a changed world for the appraisal community. What the appraisers do not like about the AMC’s are the request for fast appraisals, some at a lower fee than they have seen in years, requests coming with numerous assignment conditions many of which are not realistic and unacceptable (3 comps within 3 months and 1 mile) the occasional “can you hit the number request” before the analysis gets done (comps checks)…among many others.
Many of the pressures ON AMC’s…yes I said ON AMC’S, are a result of what has transpired in the world: Increased competition, web-based valuation tools, fingertip internet real estate research, fraud, secondary market issues, and MISUNDERSTANDING of the appraisal process in general. I wonder what planet the “investors” live on that have guidelines they will not purchase loans in declining markets? I also believe that a lender than asks an appraiser to “remove a negative time adjustments” should be reported to the LVCC hot line” . Oh… that’s right there is none? Call your department of banking they say. Good luck. I had an appraiser the other day who did not read or adhere to the engagement letter I sent tell me “we have an AMC law here and you have to pay me regardless or you are breaking the law”. I stated, “great, I will take my chances since you signed the engagement letter but yet failed to meet the (simple) requirements stated in the letter, which is why I have called you three times ”. We’re not talking about value here we are talking about basic development and reporting issues that were not clear to me as user and client. Is this what the AMC laws are for?
Does anyone really think that the requirement of an AMC to fill out an application, pay a fee and require a few staff to take a 15-hour USPAP will stop the madness? Actually if the fees are an issue it could increase the cost of operating for the very folks that are presumable not paying a “fair rate”. Since the BIG 3 lenders (all using profitable AMC’s) have 60% of the market now via servicing or closing every US loan, I don’t see things changing until we see a UNIFIED industry, an industry that will unilaterally agree to push back on any conditions that are deemed to be unreasonable. It is very difficult to push back on three financial giants, but without a push, it will not happen. The other day a friend told me of a lender (his client) who is seeking to create a special list outside the AMC they use; their claim is poor service and product….betcha licensing that AMC would fix that! I also heard of a request coming from a AMC in a state that requires they be licensed and registered. The “caller” asked the appraiser if he could “hit the number”. He asked “isn’t that a violation of the HVCC and the AMC laws?”. The caller laughed…who is enforcing this stuff anyway..we do it all the time and we just send a text message to our appraisers telling them what they need”. There are approximately 97,000 appraisers in the US handling over 1 trillion dollars in mortgage money. Over 75% of the states require licensed appraisers for federally related transactions and 45% require for all appraisals. Imagine if ALL 97,000 decided to make change by just saying “no” on unreasonable compensation or assignment conditions. If we did not have state licensing there would be a clamor to get it. Remember what was stated twenty years ago? “State licensing will change everything” .
Maybe it didn’t because we didn’t MAKE it matter.
What we had already in FIRREA and state law is part of the mechanism to get us to the next level. The missing ingredient is unity. It does not mean abolishing the AMC’s or AMC laws either. Let’s look within and stop trying to reinvent the wheel with both the products and the process. We are miners of fool’s gold until we make real change happen from within, which while not easy is the only way for true meaningful change.
Posted by Jonathan J. Miller -Sunday, May 9, 2010, 11:02 PM
In today’s WSJ has an article that was on the front page of the online edition (not sure about the print version) called “How to Appraise Home Appraisers“
The core idea behind the article was that appraisers:
- had little data to work with these days
- make mistakes
- are in an environment where a low appraisal is more likely to kill a deal
- banks are seeing people appeal the value
- lenders may appeal value with the appraiser
- appraisers may have used foreclosure or short sales as comps
- appraisers may not be from the area so request a local expert
Ok, my response to all of this is [Doh!]
- had little data to work with these days [not true with robust sales activity in past 6 months]
- make mistakes [moi?]
- are in an environment where a low appraisal is more likely to kill a deal [why should that be any different now - should appraisers be more flexible now - seriously?]
- banks are seeing people appeal the value [didn't need to during the boom because values were higher through mortgage brokers]
- lenders may appeal value with the appraiser [that's rare - lenders aren't interesting in pushing values higher now as they did during boom]
- appraisers may have used foreclosure or short sales as comps [yes and why shouldn't they, especially in a market where they are common? as long as condition and terms are adjusted for.]
- appraisers may not be from the area so request a local expert [lenders are predominantly using appraisal management companies and national firms who DO NOT CARE about local expertise, only the fee and turn time.
This article reflects conditions of more than a year ago. Today with the advent of HVCC, the quality of appraisers has fallen precipitously due to the popularity of appraisal management companies. For the most part working for national retail banks as an appraiser is an abomination of the profession.
None of these checklist items have much to do with today's mortgage process that rewards lenders for hiring a middleman (AMC) who simply finds appraisers who are certified in a state and can turn work around in 24 hours and often are hours away from the property working for nominal fees.
Lenders are afraid to lend right now and the disconnect between upper management and the front lines is bigger than ever. Apparently there is great comfort by national lenders for a poor valuation product in exchange for homogenous nationwide conveyor belt style ordering with rapid turnaround and nearly non-existent oversight. The appraisal process within the mortgage process is a complete joke - it makes me want to scream.
Can we all be so blind and so dumb? Haven't we learned anything over the past 18 months? [Nope. Not a thing.]
To the media – please spare everyone the misleading portrayal of our industry as professionals willing to use their eraser on occasion when the banks ask us to reconsider. Thats a mischaracterization – we have no choice and no real voice in the mortgage lending process. I’d estimate that 20% of our profession is terrific. The remainder are not.
Garbage in [AMC's], garbage out [their appraisal quality].
Posted by Jonathan Miller -Thursday, April 29, 2010, 3:00 AM
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.
Posted by Jonathan Miller -Tuesday, 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.
Posted by Jonathan Miller -Sunday, 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 Ã³ 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 stateÃs 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. TheyÃre 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.”
Posted by Jonathan Miller -Friday, January 29, 2010, 12:30 AM
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.
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 AMCâ€™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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