How to Prevent a Realtor-Appraiser Breakdown

July 31, 2010 at 3:36 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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It never ceases to amaze me that the various parties involved in a real estate transaction can have such little knowledge of what each other does and have the audacity to pull attitude with each other.  I can tell you stories of Realtors who refused to unlock a home for me because it was half an hour from their office. Or how about the loan officer who told me to trim my report size- not the file size but the number of pages- and when asked which part, they said “I don’t know, it’s just too much to read- remove like 8 pages”.  But today I’m not going to share war stories, but instead offer some constructive advice to my Realtor “friends”

The Home Valuation Code of Conduct (HVCC) was created to help eliminate pressure between appraisers and anyone who might try to influence them.  Yay!  But that’s like saying condoms protect you from pregnancy or venereal disease.  I can’t tell you how many times that in the heat of passion I’ve incorrectly tried to put on a… oh wait, where was I?  Ah yes, the HVCC creates more of a letter of the law vs. spirit of the law dilemma which has caused overreaction.  Should Realtors interact with appraisers?  If an appraisal’s value is below the contract price, should the Realtor try to fight it?  And if so, what is the right way to do it?  That’s what I’d like to help you with today.

When I want to inspect a home for purchase, I always call the listing agent- not to meet with them, but to ensure them that I am on task and to confirm accessibility to the home.  Plus, if it’s an FHA loan, I need to make sure that utilities are on.  And get ready for my taxicab confession- I do not own an electronic SUPRA key! 

Now you can criticize me for that little ditty, but when the industry slowed down a few years back, I simply couldn’t justify keeping it- 90% of the homes I appraised were either on combo box, were retrospective drive by assignments or by golly, the Realtor would be more than happy to meet me at the property to let me in.  My attitude was that Realtors involved in a transaction would be more than happy to help in the process.  And guess what- in two years I had a total of two Realtors actually give me attitude about me not having a SUPRA key.  I could have lied and said mine was broken, but I just say that I don’t have one.  In fact recently, I had an assignment where the Realtor just flat out said that she couldn’t drive the 15 minutes to the home- (I hadn’t even suggested an appointment time)- and she didn’t offer an alternate solution.  I could feel her “holier than thou” attitude through the phone, so when she asked why I didn’t have a SUPRA key, I was in a rare mood where I said “I’ve found that the better Realtors who care about their transaction will meet me at the property”.  Too bad that she wasn’t so dense to not get what I was saying, and when she said that the assignment would have to be reassigned, I was busy enough where I simply said “ok, have a nice day”.

But let’s move on to something else.  Should Realtors provide comparable sales for the appraiser?  Absolutely!  Print out a list, put your own notes on each one- not opinions but facts based on YOUR honest observations like “mold problem”, “similar upgrades”, etc.  But please, don’t lie.  Appraisers aren’t dumb.  But here is why you should do this.  Appraisers cover a region- for instance, I cover the Phoenix metropolitan area even though I’m based out of the Southeast Valley.  That’s a pretty big area to be an expert on.  I can honestly say that I have done a majority of neighborhoods in the region, but I don’t do them regularly.  The Realtor is supposed to be the local expert.  Also, as the local expert what about sales that were incorrectly input in MLS or were For Sale by Owner?  I’ve seen plenty of sales that don’t show up in a regular search because perhaps the Realtor misspelled the city name or the mapping software doesn’t plot it properly.  If the Realtor knows about relevant sales like this, they should be provided to the appraiser.  And put a note on the list that says “Hi George, I’m sure you already have data on all these comps, but I figured I could save you some paper and extra phone calls to Realtors”.  Worst case scenario- he throws them away.

WHAT ARE GOOD COMPS?

Now the key to understanding what “good” comps are is rooted in understanding the appraisal guidelines as set forth by Fannie Mae, HUD or specific lending institutions.  How old can comps be?  How far away can they be?  How much different can they be?  There are no definitive answers to any of these questions.  Sure you might have heard “one mile” or “six months”, but it all depends on the data available.  If the subject is a tract home built in 2000 and the Realtor thinks value should be based on 7 month old sales that are in a different neighborhood- but there are ten sales from a month ago in the subdivision, then that Realtor is in for a rude awakening.

But what about when the appraisal is already completed and the value is “killed”.  Well first of all, a Realtor needs to take on the attitude that the appraisal is now evidence that the home might be overpriced.  Perhaps the best course of action would be to try to negotiate a lower contract price- after all, you can now confidently say “an appraiser expert has proven that the home is overpriced, so you’ll never sell it for that much.” 

However, if the deal is potentially lost, then of course the Realtor might be upset but how should it be handled?  First and foremost, one must know what they are talking about so if you can see a copy of the appraisal, then look at the sales used and the property details.  Did the appraiser forget anything that significantly adds to value?  Maybe they forgot to mention the in-ground swimming pool, or maybe they didn’t notice the upgraded padding.  Now of course the pool is a glaring thing but let’s talk real quick about “upgrades”.  We’ve all seen the articles that tell you what home improvements add the most value to a home and guess what- most of them, don’t add dollar for dollar value.  So sunscreens, extended garages, updated carpet padding, 2 inch blinds, etc. don’t really matter in the grand scheme of things.  When Realtors tell their clients to make business decisions instead of emotional decisions, oftentimes they are just as guilty of thinking too much of their own listing.

Next, look at the comparable sales used.  Are they really similar properties?  Are they recent sales?  If you have three “better” sales but they’re older sales, or further away, or newer homes, then you’re fighting a losing battle.  Now put yourself in the shoes of an underwriter who sits in a cube in some high rise in Chicago.  When that decision maker looks at the data (whether it’s the appraiser’s or the Realtor’s), what will make more sense to them?  Remember, this isn’t 2005 anymore.  Some lenders are actually looking to make good business decisions instead of simply rubber stamping loans.

So if you really feel that the appraiser did something wrong, or ignored more appropriate comparables, how do you proceed?  I’ll tell you right now, that we appraisers are a proud race and we don’t like to be told that we are wrong, so you need to present this information in a loving, caring manner – I’m totally serious.  Write a letter- thank the appraiser for all his hard work, and mention that it was a pleasure meeting him.  Pat his back for his integrity and quality and admit that what you’re asking is not normal.  And then present your comparable sales.  Ask him if he wouldn’t mind helping you be a better Realtor so that you can do better on your next transaction.  Literally ask him to explain why he didn’t consider your “better” sales.  Maybe you’ll paint him into corner and he’ll understand that he screwed up- and that you know it.  But don’t get all accusatory.  Make it clear that you are not trying to influence value but that you want to make sure he has the necessary data.  You might even want to ask him what he’d recommend you do at this point- “should I request a second appraisal?”.  Thank him for his consideration and respect his response, and CC the loan officer as well…  What you’re doing is planting seeds of doubt in the appraiser’s head. 

Now remember, I’M an appraiser!!!  So why am I trying to teach you how to get your way with an appraiser?  Well that’s a perception issue.  I’m not trying to teach you to influence, I’m trying to explain how you can tactfully and ethically present your case and perhaps get an appraiser to reconsider his value.  There’s nothing wrong with that as long as your argument is based on fact.  But guess what?  He probably won’t do anything… but he might if you present a strong case.  If he ignores your letter, then you really have no recourse.  If you really do know that the appraiser was completely negligent or that he lied about something, then of course you can file a complaint with the state appraiser board.  But unless the complaint is about fraud, it’ll get dismissed.  Remember, above all else an appraisal is an opinion of value and it should be rooted in factual data, and if the appraiser presented his data clearly and accurately, you can’t dispute an opinion- you can only dispute facts.

Visit our website at www.advantageappraisalsllc.com, and if that doesn’t roll off the tongue, just try www.appraiserdude.com. Or now you can follow us on Twitter at @appraiserdude.  Give me a call at 480-544-1217 if you have any questions. I look forward to working with you.

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