Faith in Humanity- Restored (for now)

July 3, 2009 at 6:19 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Get ready for a long story and rant.  But there’s a lesson to be learned…

Ever since moving to Arizona, I’ve worked with a particular Realtor who has fed me all his appraisal deals- I golfed with him, we went to each others kids’ birthday parties and I considered him a friend.  As a business owner, you have to make executive decisions on getting paid and although sometimes slow, I’d always get paid for the appraisals I did for him.  He had his go to loan officer whom I never got along with, but it was a relationship with the Realtor that precluded anything else.  The loan officer (she) would often call me in a huff- either to whine about the value I came in at or otherwise second guessing my work.  I have confidence in my work so I always found it annoying that after 3 years she never lightened up.

In May 2008, I got an appraisal request for a property purchase.  The order- as always, said “COD” but all orders in this arrangement say COD.  As a small business, I always err on the side of COD if I am at all leary of whether I’ll get paid or not.  I’ll bill orders through escrow only if I have an established professional relationship.

So I finish the appraisal, the deal looks like it will work handily based on value and I submit the report.  Well about three weeks later I get a call from the loan officer.  She tells me that she’s changed companies midstream and needs the appraisal changed to show the new client (who is the company that is actually doing the loan).  I ask her to send that request via email so that I can have a record of it and then she asks for me to show the invoice as Paid.  I tell her that I can’t do that since I haven’t received payment yet and she said, “well the deal is closing this week, so just change it to Bill Through Escrow and everything will be fine.  Again, my own personal accounting practices are just that- my own.  I feel confident that if I don’t get paid through escrow, my Realtor friend will cut me the check, so I oblige the loan officer.

Fast forward another three weeks.  I notice a few unpaid appraisals and shoot an email to the loan officer asking for status.  She says that the loan closed and that she already got paid and that I should have as well.  I ask her to look into it for me and instead of doing so, she sends me the phone number for the escrow company- so now it’s my job to check up on my payment (typically, a loan officer will look out for their Appraiser and do this for them).  I give in and call the escrow officer who very nicely says that everything’s been distributed.  She shows that the appraisal fee was paid to the mortgage company as part of a lump sum.  I ask for documentation and she happily sends me a copy as well as what is known as a Disbursement Recap which shows my fee which is supposed to go to my company.  Here’s where the situation turns bad.

I call the loan officer back who sais that she doesn’t know what happened, and like the escrow officer, she gives me the main phone number of the mortgage company- no contact, no introduction, just a worthless level of help.  I call the office and speak with the “branch manager” who says that she will look into it and get back to me later that day.  Fast forward another call like this with no call back and I ask for her boss.  I leave him a voice mail, follow it up with an email and get no reply.  So now I’m getting a little bit upset (ok, I got upset a few days prior).  In the meantime, I had called my Realtor friend, the loan officer and even the borrower.  The borrower gladly sent me a copy of his settlement statement which clearly shows that he was charged for an appraisal fee.  He even offered to go down to the mortgage company and “kick someones ass” on my behalf.  I tell him to lay low.

In all this time, the owner of the mortgage company never called me back but then I got an email from him- that’s right, a saveable and printable conversation where he basically accuses me of trying to steal from their company and he even threatens to blacklist me for even trying to collect my fee.  I know my own integrity, and after googling his name I see that he’s at the other end of the spectrum.  I research and then find that I should file a complaint with the Arizona Board of Financial Institutions.  I’m skeptical of government beuracracy but I reply that I will file a complaint unless he sends me payment.  He then replies with an offer to pay me half my fee!

So about August of 2008, I print out numerous emails, copies of everything (the appraisal, the order, HUD-1 statement, etc), and send it all to the Arizona Board of Financial Institutions.  Within a month, I get a letter back- apparently they quickly sent the complaint to the mortgage company who had to reply rather quickly.  The response was that I was trying to double bill for the appraisal.  By this time, my energy level for this situation has been more than completely depleted, but I reply via another certified letter.

Fast forward to October of 2008.  I’m measuring a house and get a phone call from someone at the Arizona Board of Financial Institutions.  The gentleman is not some robotic turd, but instead he aks me to explain the situation (I guess they want to get a feel for my legitimacy) and he says that he will personally put this one at the top of his pile (of over 100 cases).  I sarcastically joke about beauracracy and he agrees completely.  Then he explains that his already short staff will be cut in half in November, so he might not even have a job.  Great guy, but I’m not feeling very confident in any resolution.

So the holidays pass, a new year begins, I do my taxes and see that this is the only outstanding bill for all of 2008 but I’m so far past caring that it’s no big deal.  I probably spent 20 hours “working” on this to no avail.

But in April of 2009 a call comes in.  A pleasant lady who says she works for the mortgage company in question.  She says she’s calling because of the complaint and tells me that.  She then tells me that the “owner” isn’t the owner and that he no longer works there.  In fact nobody still works there that did a year prior.  She asks me to confirm the details of the loan and then tells me… “we have no record of that loan”.  Now I’m not upset, because I couldn’t care less about what sort of Nixonesque mass shreading might have taken place when the prior regime left, but I got a little ill just thinking about all the other Appraisers who might have been ripped off here, or all the homeowners who might have done business with this company, or the fact that this company’s practices is NOT an isolated situation.  Yet it’s the lowly Appraiser and other professionals and homeowners who get hosed.  How many people do not take action and simply accept that they’ve been ripped off?

So, after sending copies of the appraisal, order, HUD-1, loan number, escrow number and more, what arrived in my mailbox literally 365 days after the inspection?  That’s right, my fee.  Was it worth it?  Well monetarily it absolutely was not worth it.  But coming from a cynical person like myself, the exercize served the purpose of giving me just a little bit of confidence in government entities, the power of documentation, the power of persistence, the power of knowing when you’re right, the power of foregiveness.

Lesson learned?  Always collect COD!

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