Appraisal Nightmare

March 14, 2011 at 7:07 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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So I got an appraisal request a few months back. I don’t recall the exact date, but let’s just say that it got lost in the shuffle. I’m writing about it because the client called to check on the status about 10 days later, at which point my reaction was “ummmmm”. This is totally out of character for me as despite my “organized chaos” system, I never misplace a file in process.

Here’s a little background on this particular order. It was for an older home on the west side of town- so like 55 miles away. That’s way out of my preferred coverage area, but back in 2006 I appraised that same house for the same borrower and out of state small bank. Back then it was worth a decent amount. Large lot, nice home, horse property, well kept. Turned out that the borrower was going to cash out some of his equity to start a business- back then.

When I got the call to reappraise the home now, I instinctively accepted the work- not because I mind the drive, but because I had established a rapport with the contact at the bank- despite the fact that I never received any other business from them. Also, my business has changed since 2006. Back then I was doing triple the volume of work for a fee split. So when I’d drive across town to do an appraisal, I’d have at least 1 or maybe up to 3 others that I could knock out the same day. Today I only do full fee work and since there is no split, I actually turn down most work that is outside of a “convenient” coverage area. However, with this case, I accepted the assignment…

So when I got the call from the client, I went to look up the prior order so that I could print out the prior sketch. This is great for “redos” as you really don’t have to remeasure the property or re-enter a lot of the basic information like the neighborhood description, legal information, address, construction materials, etc.. I just bring a copy of that sketch and make notes about any changes since the last time. First problem was that sometime over the prior 4 years, I changed computers and I had to retrieve the old file. I had the work file of the property of course, but I really needed that electronic copy of the appraisal. I then pulled comparables based on the basic property characteristics and considering where the market is today, that was like pulling teeth as volume of sales has gone way down. So i got some good sales and made the trek out to the home…

When I got there I was in shock at what I saw. The house had been modified, and when I say modified, I mean the floorplan had changed. So I had to remeasure the home from scratch. No problem- I’ve got my trusty Disto laser tape measure. But of course, instead of being 1,600 square feet, now the house was 2,700 square feet. So now the comparables I brought with me are bad. I always pull comparables based on the property characteristics before I visit the home- BASED ON WHAT I THOUGHT WAS THE HOME! As a small shop, I make hay while the sun’s shining and in this case, I had no trusty internet access and no way to pull different comps. I have subsequently purchased a Droid, so that won’t happen again. I called an AMC that I’ve worked with for years so that maybe they could help- no joy as they were all out of the office. Meanwhile I’m thinking “I do not want to drive back out here! I do not want to drive back out here!”

Finally, I called up my old mentor in California- heck he’s an appraiser so he walks the walk. I have to give him the MLS website URL from memory, give him an over the phone lesson on how our MLS works and then give him what I think are good search criteria. It took half an hour but by gosh, we did it. He was able to provide me with 4 closed sales and a few pendings and actives that would help me out. I drove those homes, snapped my photos and headed on back- to the East side.

Now some apprasiers would simply leave and then pull data on their own later. Then they’d copy photos from the MLS and use those for their reports. And some better apprasiers would do that and then go back out and take photos of the comps. But I’m too lazy to make that second trip. And I’m an appraiser who recognizes that you need to physically see each sale in order to compare it to the subject. I’m not trying to brag too much here- just show how a little knowhow can make up for not being as prepared as you think you are.

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

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.

What’s the Typical Appraisal Workload Nowadays?

October 1, 2009 at 5:27 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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As times change, lines of appraisal work shift.  Back in 2003-2004, my work was about 47% rate and term refinances, 47% purchases, 6% “other” which included review work, estate settlement, bankruptcy, divorce, and hard money (like the guy who needed to refinance so that he could raise enough money to post bail for his son)

When I moved to Phoenix in 2005, the chunk of purchases jumped up to about 60% and then starting around 3rd quarter of 2007, that ratio shifted to a lot fewer purchases and actually volume so low that I can now admit was too small to gague statistics.

But today, I can actually measure my work volume and it has shifted significantly.  I went back 90 days to itemize the work I’ve done and here’s the approximate rundown:

 

My Trailing 90 Days Volume Breakdown

What, were you expecting actual numbers? 

Anyway, keep in mind that of the refinances, a lot (I assume) ended up below what they “needed” to make their deal work, but at least now I don’t feel the lender pressure to hit some sort of value with the unspoken threat of losing future work.  How do I know this?  Let’s just say that if they bought the home in 2006 for $350k with a $320k first mortgage and now the home is worth $160k, I surmise that they didn’t pay down their mortgage by over $160k over those 3 years.

As you can see, I now do a lot of Review appraisals.  Back in the day, these would be reviews of recently completed appraisals.  I rarely get those now.  What these reviews are is typically foreclosed homes that were appraised in the 2005-2007 era back when values were very high.  Someone wants to know if that appraisal was inflated.  And for the sake of privacy, I’ll just leave it at that.  And of those that I review, I’d say 95% of them WERE inflated.  At first I was a little confused on the purpose of these assignments because I would assume that some of these Appraisers are now out of business with little or no possible recourse.  But in actuality, these are not for the purpose of hunting down bad Appraisers, but instead to determine the big picture of the original transaction.  These assignments are pretty low stress in that I never enter the home being appraised, but it’s pretty glum work as that’s a lot of assignments where I never step out of the car.  And as an aside, I often see the original appraisal from say 2006, which shows a beautiful home, and when I see it (from the street and perhaps a newer listing now that it’s foreclosed), it’s a completely thrashed home- complete with holes everywhere, nasty carpets, overgrown yards and green pools.

REO work is Real Estate Owned assignments.  These are an example of how appraisal volume has increased over recent years.  These assignments are essentially pre-listing reports requested by the bank that now owns a foreclosed home.  Take for example the bank based in South Dakota that now owns a foreclosed home in Arizona.  They don’t know the market out here.  They KNOW that these free online home valuation sites are a complete waste and completely unreliable.  So among other things, they order what is known as an REO appraisal.  Basically, they want to know the appraised value based on closed sales, but they are very interested in what it would take to make the property truly competitive with other homes for sale, so a very detailed list of things wrong with the home is required.  Also, the other available listings are paid very close attention to.  Basically, the bank wants to get rid of these non-performing assets so they want to know what it will take to get these homes sold in a relatively fast time.

Estate work is on the rise.   People are always dying and the estate needs assets valued.  But when you add in a bad economy, you unfortunately get a lot of personal issues that require appraisals.  Bankruptcy and divorce are prime reasons why homes are appraised, so that the parties know how to proceed.  It’s sad but reality.

So, let me paint an image of the volume of appraisal work that I’m seeing or that can affect a single property over a relatively short period.

  1. Family buys a home in early 2006- conventional appraisal
  2. Family refinances their home in late 2006 to take out money for improvements- FHA appraisal
  3. Family decides to sell home in 2008- listing appraisal (not required but often done)
  4. Family can’t sell home by late 2008 and lowers price to point to breakeven point, spouse loses job, couple decides to divorce- estate appraisal
  5. Owner negotiates with bank for a short sale- bank gets an offer below asking price in early 2009 and questions if it’s a good offer- REO appraisal
  6. Short offer falls through, home is foreclosed in March 2009, bank wants to relist it- REO appraisal
  7. Third party questions original refinance appraisal August 2009- Retrospective review appraisal
  8. New buyer comes in and buys home September 2009- FHA appraisal

That’s right, we’re talking 8 separate appraisals on the same home within a very short period, all for different reasons or for different parties.  That’s a lot of potential work for Appraisers nowadays.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t want anyone to get the idea that I’ve got more work than I can handle- after all, I just spent the past few hours writing this blog!  More on the socialization of the appraisal industry some other time.  Don’t even get me started on the 20 year veteran getting the same pay/volume as the newbie.  (I’m somewhere in between- just a squirrel trying to get a nut)

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.

Real Life HVCC Misery

July 29, 2009 at 5:31 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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*I’ve noticed that I’ve been complaining a bit more than ususal.  I appologize for this, but when you write, you tend to write about what you’re riled up about- good or bad.  I promise to make the next post one that will make you smile… enjoy.

I got an order to do an appraisal last month.  It was one of my better clients- one whom I have worked with for over four years.  But since May 1st, they like everyone else have had to work through an Appraisal Management Company (AMC)- someone was buying a home- this was in Glendale, Arizona- a suburb of Phoenix.

As usual, I received a copy of the sales contract so I could analyze the details of the transaction.  This is done so that the Appraiser can see if there are any “sales concessions” within the deal.  Good examples of sales concessions are when the seller pays for a home warranty on behalf of the buyer, or if the seller contributes say 3% of the purchase price towards the buyer’s loan expenses.  So if a home is under contract for$200,000 and the seller is contributing 3% towards closing costs, then the buyer is technically only paying $194,000 even though the contract might show $200,000 and when it records it will show $200,000.  So it is very important to analyze the contract for this reason to determine the “real” purchase price.

The problem with purchase appraisals is that too often, the Appraiser sees the contract price and now has a “target” value that he might shoot for.  This is the subtle version of lender pressure- instead of the loan officer saying “I need the appraisal to come in at over$200k”, they let the contract do the talking.

So I appraise the home and unfortunately, despite the $200,000 contract price, the data of comparables only supported a value of around $180,000.  The whole point of the HVCC is to eliminate lender pressure right? Right?  So they can’t fault me for coming in at the true value right?  Right?

About a week later, I get an email via the AMC saying that the contract has been revised per my Appraisal and now the parties have agreed to a contract price of $180,000.  Sound great doesn’t it?  The email asked me to revise the contract section of the appraisal accordingly (perfectly legal) and the email also says that now the seller will not pay any of the buyer’s closing costs.  I look over the new addendum and sure enough it shows the new contract price and it’s dated and signed by both parties.  Cool.

But uncool is the fact that nowhere on the addendum does it mention that the seller isn’t paying closing costs.  The original contract shows that they are, and if they are not doing so anymore, then the contract needs to clearly state that.  So, I can’t revise the report without that information in writing.

As I mentioned, the email I received detailed what they needed, so I can just reply to that email and tell them that I need more info, but no… the AMC is set up to send these automated mail server “emails” that you can’t reply to.  And of course there’s no actual contact person or real email address or phone number to call. (don’t you hate when you reply to an email with a verbiose and well thought out letter and after you send it, it bounces back with a “ha ha!  fooled you.  this isn’t a person’s email address” message?)

So I log onto the AMC website- it looks very nice and there’s an option to send the lender/client a message- cool.  But then I see that the “messages” are simply radio check buttons.  You get to select one of about 20 canned messages like “borrower no show”, “delay of 24 hours, “no power”, etc.  I figure there must be an “other” selection with a text box but no.  I look for an appropriate canned message and the best available is “please send sales contract”.  That’d work… but I already have the sales contract as far as they are concerned.  I need a page of the contract which they haven’t sent.  How are they supposed to know what I mean?

So, unlike most guys, I give in to asking for directions.  I call the AMC and a very courteous person comes on the phone and he explains that I have to use one of those canned messages in order to comply with HVCC.  I explain to him the situation and the fact that this system will now only creat confusion and delays, and he courteously replies with “we are HVCC compliant, I understand the situation, but that’s how it works.”  There’s no use getting mad at this guy and I’m so used to being mad at situations and policies, that I keep my cool and let out a Charlie Brown sigh.

I next call the lender directly whom I’ve worked with for years.  The processor I know is unable to help me.  Long story short, I eventually called the listing agent who promptly sent me the addendum.  Situation resolved.  When all was said and done, between the time they sent the revised request and when I sent it back to them- 3 hours.  No big deal.

But is it a big deal?  Well, it’s been three weeks since I finished that assignment.  The deal is closed, I’ve been paid, and here’s the funny part- I haven’t received another order from that lender since.  This is the lender I’ve worked with for four years averaging about 6 deals a month.  And you know who I can contact to find out why I haven’t received any orders since?  Neither do I.

If you’d like to share your own story of how the HVCC has affected you, let me know.  And if you feel that the HVCC must be stopped, I ask you to do two things- sign the petition at www.hvccpetition.com and contact your congressman about HR 3044 which would put a moratorium on the HVCC www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=h111-3044.

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

My Analysis on the HVCC

July 16, 2009 at 12:08 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Here’s the layman’s synopsis of the dreaded Home Valuation Code of Conduct and why it’s important to you- regardless of who you are.  I recently gave this presentation to a group of other local professionals, and now I’ve attempted to put it in some sort of written form.  Now that I’ve read it back, it’s downright boring!  But it is important and worth a few minutes of your time.

BACKGROUND

In the late 1980’s there was the great Savings and Loan collapse.  “Bad lending practices” is the 2 second synopsis.  And the US Goverment (taxpayers) bailed them out to the tune of $125 billionish.  In the wake of this, among other things, Appraisers were officially required to be licensed, follow universally accepted standard, etc.  In other words, rules and regulations were established.  Those rules included minimum education hours, minimum experience hours, testing standards, licensing procedures, background checks, etc.  Today, that means 2500 hours of experience, 120 hours of initial education, FBI check, nationally established test, a 4 year college degree, errors and omissions insurance, etc.

And every two years, Appraisers are required to repeat one specific class known as USPAP, which basically covers the methodology of appraising- including ETHICS.

Why so much to be an Appraiser?   Well after all, Appraisers are signing a legal document saying what the estimated value of a property is.  And that document is then used by decisionmakers on whether a loan should be given for a particular property.  Basically, the Appraiser is giving the diagnosis on a piece of property, and the bank then decides the course of action.

Every state has an Appraisal Board which consists of a group of professionals who enforce appraisal standards and licensing.  And when someone complains about an Appraiser for competence, ethics, or any other legitimate reason, that board investigates complaints against Appraisers.   The board reprimands Appraisers up to and including revocation of licenses and even pursuit of criminal charges to be carried out by the Attorney General or whomever else would pursue the matter (I’m not a lawyer).

All these things have been mandated or expanded since 1989 by what is known as FIRREA- you can google that on your own if you’d like.

Recent Housing Situation

So as we’ve all seen, over the past several years, the market has seen a significant decline, and by significant, I mean huge.  But rather than accept the fact that it’s normal for markets rise and fall, the tendency is to try and place blame. 

So whose fault was this big mess? 

  • Was it the homeowners- who saw prices going sky high and did whatever they could to buy a house, or two, or ten.  Or maybe they irresponsibly overleveraged themselves to get these homes.  Or maybe they even lied in order to get these loans.
  • Was it the Realtors, who took their clients to homes that were above their price range and “sold” them into going through with a purchase that they really didn’t feel comfortable with.
  • Was it the Appraiser’s fault for falsely estimating values because they were scared that they’d lose clients if they “killed” deals?  Or perhaps they were working in cahoots with lender in some sort of “straw buyer” scheme.
  • Was it the mortgage broker’s fault for putting borrowers in risky loans- or fudged the financials of the borrower to make them fit into a loan? 
  • Was it the lender’s fault for creating these risky loans in the first place- like stated income, no income no job, or negative amortization loans? 
  • Maybe it the politicians- who passed legislation and threatened to sue lenders if they didn’t provide more loans to unqualified borrowers simply for the sake of giving more minorities the chance to own a home.

The answer- it was everyone’s fault and more.

But now that the mess is made, sure we see the news stories of heartache and trashed homes and bankruptcy and divorce.  But the people who we hear and see most now are the politicians who represent us and are able to promote legislation (or mandate it).  But let’s just say that I am cynical and although I believe that many politicians have noble intensions, oftentimes they are only posturing in order to let the masses think that they are doing their job.  The politicians have to look like they care right?

So here’s the deal.  A few years ago, Washington Mutual got in trouble for putting pressure on Appraisers to get deals done.  Turns out that WAMU owned their very own appraisal company subsidiary.  So if you got a loan through WAMU, your appraisal was essentially done by an employee of WAMU.  So ultimately their staff Appraisers were caught inflating values to make deals work- even if they weren’t wise decisions for the bank.  People complained and it was uncovered that the “objective” Appraisers were anything but- and that they were pressured into inflating values.  WAMU is now in the process of being bought by Chase so we know how that worked out for WAMU. 

So about this time, the attorney general of New York- a single person named Anthony Cuomo took it upon himself to dictate that mortgage companies are not allowed to directly contact the Appraiser, but instead use a “neutral” Appraisal Management Company (AMC) who then selects Appraisers at random.  You can read the actual code here if you’d like.  Appraiser independence, no pressure.  Yay!… But does it really provide Appraiser independence and does it really eliminate lender pressure? 

Once the code was announced, these AMCs appeared out of nowhere in droves.  Everyone wanted a piece of the action.  I mean where else can you start a business that mortgage companies have to use?  And did I mention that these AMCs are unregulated?  Did I mention that these AMC’s are unregulated? (yes I meant to repeat myself).  So starting May 1st of 2009, it is now required that for any transaction backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, safeguards must be in place to eliminate any whiff of guidance by the loan officer on the Appraiser.

So… how do these AMC’s make money?  Well, it used to be that the borrower would pay the Appraiser- around $350 for a typical home appraisal.  Good lenders would insist that borrowers pay the Appraiser directly- that way, even if the deal fell through, the Appraiser got paid for services rendered.  So if the Appraiser gets $350, then  how does the AMC make money?  Two choices- charge more for the appraisal so the Appraiser can still get paid the same amount, or find an Appraiser who will do the work for less than $350.  Oh wait, three choices- charge more for the appraisal AND find an Appraiser who will do the work for less than $350.  So it’s now common for borrowers to get charged $500 for an appraisal and the Appraiser gets paid $250, $200, or even less- depending on how much the AMC is willing to pay and how desperate the Appraiser is.  And since lenders must now use AMC’s, Appraiser must now work with AMC’s.  So in a given market- say Phoenix, a single AMC might have 30 Appraisers to choose from to do an assignment.  And one AMC in particular will simply email an opportunity to all local Appraisers and the one who quotes the best combination of cheap and fast, gets the work.  Or the “better” AMCs will broadcast an assignment and the first one to reply will get the work.  Sounds sort of like a feeding frenzy eh?

Now before you start saying that Appraiser’s are sharks, please remember the sharks aren’t filming the video, and the sharks aren’t providing the fish.  These sharks are hanging around waiting for food because they are starving to death.  Meanwhile the smart shark has been out on his own, doing his own fishing- but now he’s not allowed to do so and he has to join in with the others or starve to death.  Sounds a bit like socialism doesn’t it?  And who are the starving Appraisers who are doing the work for very little compensation?  It’s the freshest and greenest Appraisers who aren’t necessarily the best at what they do.  Why do high end cancer specialists and baseball players and singers get paid so much?  Because they have proven themselves and their work speaks for itself.   What if you wanted to see a concert and when you got there it wasn’t someone you’ve heard of, and it was rock when you are a country fan and they weren’t very good?  Not very good for the consumer is it?

And what happens if the appraisal is bad and the lender isn’t happy?  Who can they take it out on?  Sure the Appraiser’s name is on the report.  It’s the Appraiser’s errors and ommissions insurance and license and phone number on the report.  But with a dead deal, what’s the simplest solution for the lender?  Go to a different AMC who will provide appraisals that make value.  So the “pressure” was perhaps on the Appraiser from the lender, but now the pressure is on the AMC who now puts pressure on the Appraiser- another layer of beauracracy.  So if an Appraiser comes in at a value that isn’t good enough, he might stop getting orders from the AMC- again, the unregulated AMC.

Who is benefitting from the HVCC?  It’s not the Appraiser.  It’s not the borrower.  In actuality it’s the lender and the AMCs that are benefitting most.  The lender can now charge a strange fee of say $500 that covers the appraisal.  The lender can pay the AMC $350, who then pays the Appraiser $200.  And even if the appraisal kills the deal, the lender makes $150.  So instead of the Appraiser charging a simple $350, two other entities make money out of the same transaction.  Now I know that this scenario is very simplistic, but it’s a perfect example of how some are taking advantage of the HVCC.

This rant has gone on pretty long so if you’ve even made it this far, I thank you and I will try to wrap it up.  I’ll actually give real examples later down the road.

What Can Be Done by YOU

Don’t get me wrong, clients come and go, so I still appreciate referrals of mortgage professionals, management companies, lawyers, Realtors and even homeowners.  But my request for you today is to take action against this legislation.  And here’s why it’s not a futile attempt.

  1. The appraisal industry has the weakest lobbying group in DC.  So it was easy for the HVCC to get crammed into action.
  2. The National Association of Realtors (NAR) has one of the biggest lobbying groups in DC and while they let this go into effect, the impact has been enormous in just two months.  Realtors and mortgage brokers are seeing their deals getting killed by inexperienced Appraisers and borrowers are seeing very high Appraisal fees and even second Appraisal fees for deals that go nowhere.
  3. So the president of the NAR is finally taking action against the HVCC and has met with Anthony Cuomo.
  4. Go to this website and watch the video which is very well done and explains much of what I have done in this blog.  (and sorry if you read it first and are now saying “you mean I could have watched the movie instead of reading this poorly written crap?!)
  5. Sign the petition on that same website.  Last I checked it had 52,000 signatures so far.
  6. Share that website with everyone you know.
  7. There is a bill in the US House of Representatives right now- HR 3044.  It already has 19 cosponsors.  Please contact your congressman and voice your support for this bill.  Hopefully he or she will want to cosponsor the bill.

Visit our website at www.advantageappraisalsllc.com, and if that doesn’t roll off the tongue, just try www.appraiserdude.com. Give me a call at 480-544-1217 if you have any questions. I look forward to working with you. Now serving the San Tan Valley community.

What’s a Room?

April 10, 2009 at 6:55 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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I’m not going to bore you with explaining what a room is like you’re 5 years old- Harry Potter had a room under the stairs- and perhaps Appraisers watching the movie gasped with this inaccuracy.  If you’re in real estate, you want to know what counts as a room and what doesn’t.  So in a nutshell here we go:

You’ve got a home with 4 bedrooms, 2 bathroom with a washroom, living room with adjacent dining room, kitchen, nook, family room, den, laundry room upstairs, master walk in closet, retreat and a loft.

Anyone want to guess how many rooms you have?  It could be as high as 17- but it’s not.

Here’s the breakdown.  4 bedrooms, living room, kitchen, family room, den and loft- that’s 9 rooms.

Bedrooms, living room, kitchen and family room are obvious, den should be pretty obvious too.

The den is typically bedroom sized so that counts.  The loft is typically bedroom sized so that counts.  But if it’s like a big computer station area, then that’s NOT a room.  Can you put up a wall and a door and make the loft a room?  Then it’s a room.

Many tract homes have the dining “room” adjacent to the living room with the hanging light being the item that makes it look like a dining room.  But picture this- can you put up a wall between the living room and that dining “room” and have both feel like their own room?  In many cases, it would look and feel ridiculous.  Here’s three examples (and yes, you can click on each to see a bigger version of it)- the first is NOT a dining room, the second is probably a dining room and the third is definitely a dining room – hence- a room.

Not a dining roomProbably a RoomDefinately a Room

Bathrooms don’t count as rooms- but from as an aside from an appraiser you have 2 1/2 bathrooms.  If that half bath had a standing shower but no bathtub- what many call a 3/4 bath, then it would be considered a full third bathroom- Appraiser’s typically don’t go by quarters- we round up to the nearest half.

A nook is not a room- it’s sort of like an annex- same goes with the master retreat.  Both of these are similar rationale as dining room.  But if you have a giant master retreat, then it could be considered a room.

Laundry room is not a room- period.

Closets- no matter how big- are not rooms.

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

Sincerely,

George

What’s in a Foreclosed Home?

October 20, 2008 at 3:46 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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That’s a weird question. i’d like to think that a Foreclosed home has the same stuff as a non-foreclosed home. You know, doors, windows, toilets, carpeting, kitchen, lights. Well in most of the ones I’ve appraised, everything’s there. And everything is in decent shape- no different than any other house that’s sold. But we live in an age with a lot of foreclosed homes that are so because of the screw financial situation we’re experiencing. And with that comes a lot of anger. And with anger has come some very vengeful and destructive behavior that’s downright shameful.

Over the past 5 years or so, the housing market has been booming- particularly in places like Phoenix- where I appraise. The ridiculous rise in home prices wa fueled by cheap money, relatively inexpensive homes and the mindset that homes were ATMs. Couple those factors with the phenomenon of multiple investment homes for oftentimes out of state owners, and the “demand” was more a demand for investments- not the need for
owner occupied homes.As an appraiser, I can do a little research and have done so for an example. I live in a master planned community of about 1700 homes- surrounding a golf course, with a community pool, clubhouse, parks, school, etc. On my street alone of 34 homes- built in 2005, we have “investment” homes which are owned by people who don’t live there, and “owner” homes which are owned by the occupants.  I can break it down to the following:
  • 9 bought as owner occupied and still owned and occupied by those original owners
  • 2 investment homes subsequently sold to owners who still live there
  • 13 investment homes that are still investment homes
  • 1 investment home that was sold to an owner that was then foreclosed and was bought by another investor
  • 1 investor home that was sold to an owner that was then foreclosed and was bought by another owner
  • 4 investment homes subsequently sold to other investors.
  • 1 investment home sold to an owner which is currently in foreclosure
  • 3 that I categorize as unknown since tax records show that the mailing address is the same as the physical address.
I won’t even go into analysis of their mortgage amounts compared to market values. It’s quite depressing. So the point of my breakdown hopefully demonstrates exactly what the situation is in many neighborhoods- not just mine.But getting back to the topic at hand, as you can see, there are a lot of investment homes out there and a majority of those homes are used as rental properties. Now I don’t want to knock on renters as a group- after all, we’ve had a few great renter neighbors who were good people, took care of their rental and cleaned up when they left so they could get their security deposit back. But there are a LOT of renters who really don’t care that much.When renters pay their rent on time that’s great for the owner, but what happens when the rental income doesn’t cover the mortgage? And what if the mortgage payment is increasing each month because they got an adjustable mortgage- and the rent amount is the same? Well, you get an owner who stops making his mortgage payments, and unbeknownst to the renter, the house goes into foreclosure and then all of a sudden the tenant gets evicted because the bank now owns the home- the tenant who has been faithfully paying his rent each month. Sucks for him doesn’t it?

Well some of these upset tenants, and sometimes owner occupied residents all of a sudden lose their home, then it becomes a scene from The Jerk, where Steve Martin leaves his mansion with an armful of stuff. And how they leave varies depending on the type of person we’re talking about.

Neglect: The obvious is letting things go. Pools evaporate (after they turn green), weeds grow, black widows breed. Typically nothing intentional here. One extreme version is when a leak occurs and nobody knows about it til it’s too late. I had one of those recently where a toilet leak at the supply line seeped out into the bedroom and then you get what you see below- a virtual forest of mold:

Rapture: These are the sad ones. Toys in the backyard, clothes in the closet, food in the pantry, DVDs on the floor, pictures on the wall. Incidentally, I’ve always wondered what happens to all this stuff that is left behind. I recently did a house where some guys were putting in a pool pump and it was a company who does foreclosure home cleanup. According to them, they take that stuff to the Salvation Army as directed by the bank. So actually that’s reassuring. I’ve always wondered if these companies simply take whatever they want. (but I wouldn’t be surprised if some of that happens)

Messy: Everyone has different definitions of cleanliness. I’ve been in plenty of non-foreclosure homes that feel, look and smell like model homes. And I’ve been in plenty where I wished that I had a gas mask and some booties. so this is by no means a foreclosure phenomenom. But the most prominent thing I see is carpet that is covered with pet stains- and sometimes ones with actual pet droppings still there. You see that in a house, and you know you’ll see plenty on the outside as well. How about a shopping bag full of feces? Not sure what happened there “we’ll collect it, but we won’t put it in the trash can”

Removal: You buy a house, you add some stuff to it like ceiling fans. Well the foreclosure consensus is that those are yours to take. Technically those sort of thing are fixtures once attached just like over the range microwaves and garage door openers. But once they are gone then who’s to say they weren’t there in the first place? After all, garage door openers aren’t standard on many new homes. About 90% of the foreclosed homes I do have the exposed wires from where the ceiling fans were.

Destruction: Ahh, the good stuff. Some of it could be accidental, some of it could be intentional and in most cases I simply assume that it was due to a rushed exodus from the premises. We’re talking drywall holes, maybe a broken window or a stair rail that’s not mounted anymore. I’ll let you be the judge on the cause of these things.

But then there’s the obvious intentional destruction, and destruction doesn’t just mean damage. As you’ll see in the following photos, I’m talking about water heater taken, air conditioning system taken, kitchen cabinets, faucets and countertops taken. I’ve even seen examples of homes with graffitti inside the house.

So yes, these situations happen, and they happen in nice looking houses, in nice neighborhoods. It’s a shame.

Here’s the next question, which I’ll save for another article: Where does this stuff go?

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

Sincerely,

George

Introduction

October 20, 2008 at 3:39 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Hello,

My name is George Easton and I own a residential real estate appraisal company named Advantage Appraisals, LLC in the Phoenix metro area.

We cover all of Maricopa county as well as most of Pinal county for:

  • Reverse Mortgages
  • REO Assessments
  • FHA Loans
  • Divorce Settlement
  • Bankruptcy Valuation
  • Estate Planning
  • Proposed Construction
  • Million Dollar + Homes
  • Appraisal Review
  • Vacant Residential Land
  • Pre-Listing Analysis
  • Renovation-Return Consultation
  • and of course primary and secondary mortages

We were ranked in the Phoenix Business Journal Book of Lists- 2006, but not in 2007 since they decided that the new measure of success is the number of reported employees vs. quality or quantity of work. So I hate to admit it, but we’re what’s called a small shop.

We pride ourselves on excellent customer service, high quality work and fast turnaround. If you’re looking for a cheap appraiser, then you’ll probably have to look elsewhere. I’m not saying that we are expensive, but we don’t believe in undercutting our fees just to get business. You really do get what you pay for.

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

Sincerely,

George

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