Category Archives: For Consumers

Why “Just Any” Residential Appraiser Will Not Do

This blog is a re-post of a recent blog by our own Woody Fincham, SRA.  It was originally posted on the Appraisal institute’s Opinions of Value blog located here.

Why “Just Any” Residential Appraiser Will Not Do

The following is a guest blog post by Woody Fincham, SRA, principal, F&M Associates, Inc.

With so many appraisers vying for low-fee appraisal management company and lender-related work, many AMC-centered appraisers are starting to compete for non-lender work.

Residential_Appraisal_Report

Most consumers don’t understand the need for experienced and designated appraisers outside of lender use work. It’s the appraiser’s responsibility – and in his or her best interest – to remind non-lender clients that hiring a designated appraiser is worth their time … and, most importantly, their money.

Attorneys, financial experts, homeowners and other non-lender consumers and users of residential appraisal services should tread very carefully when selecting appraisers. There are two distinct groups of appraisers in residential valuation: appraisers who perform primarily mortgage related work and those who work with non-lender clients.  It pays to be able to discern between the two groups.

What is the difference? 

Non-lender residential valuation is a market niche, often best suited for experienced appraisers who think outside the box. These assignments include appraisal reports performed for situations such as wealth-management, divorce and other litigation related needs. Often, intended users need to find the most qualified and experienced appraisers. Well-vetted experts are most applicable when testimony is a possibility or when looking at unique properties. Selecting an appraiser limited to only experience with lender related work could result in less than optimal results.

Take attorneys, for example. They need someone who can write reports well enough to be seamless and defensible, but also handle cross-examination in a trial or the craziness that can be a pre-trial deposition. It takes a good professional to write the report, but an even better one to be effective on the stand or to help with pre-trial preparation.

Often, during the interview process in pre-trial or in court testimony, the appraiser must be able to communicate complex valuation theory to a jury or a judge who may have no understanding of such things. In other words, the appraiser must become an effective teacher in addition to being a good report writer.

Many residential appraisers who work primarily with lenders − especially since the housing crisis emerged in 2007 − are required to stay confined within a limited scope of work. Lenders often require appraisers to utilize comparable sales within a very narrow window of time, a small geographic area, and to not exceed lending guidelines when adjusting comparables sales.

This can be problematic when dealing with situations that often, or may, end up in court. The cost for an attorney to reorder a better report, or to pay a well-qualified appraiser to assist in pre-trial analysis, can get expensive quickly. Even worse would be finding that across the courtroom, the opponent hired the appraiser he or she should have hired.

What is the Takeaway for Consumers?

  • Be willing to ask an appraiser why they are a better choice than the other appraisers you are considering.
  • Ask for a resume and check references.
  • Take the time necessary to make sure the appraiser is well qualified, beyond just the minimum qualifications.
  • Look strongly at professional designations such as the MAI, SRPA and SRA designations.
  • If you are looking for pre-trial consulting that involves the review of another appraiser’s report, the new Appraisal Institute Review Designations are a great place to retain talent:
    • AI-RRS for residential reviews, and
    • AI-GRS for non-residential reviews.
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Valuation from Both the Fee and Assessment Side of Things, Part 1

By Woody Fincham, SRA

This was originally posted over at Appraisal Buzz

 

This is the first part of a series that will briefly compare and contrast real estate assessment and standard fee practice. There are lots of similarities as well as differences between the two disciplines. There are both superior and inferior aspects to both sides, with both sides producing appraisers and analysts that are unique to their respective sides. Having worked both sides at staff and management levels, I can see how a combination of both disciplines could very well produce valuation professionals that are, to borrow one of my favorite band’s lyrics, “Some Kind of Monster”. Of course, I mean monster in a good sense. In my opinion, there are key items that both sides could benefit from learning from the other.
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Often, I will be with a group of fee appraisers and hear some negative comments about assessment values or about the staff appraisers that work for a city or county. Having cut my teeth in fee work, many of my colleagues will confide stories of this or that about how “wrong” assessment is as a rule. Sometimes I think they are just trying to get a rise from me. I also get similar comments from assessment appraisers and head assessors saying things about fee appraisers such as “I can’t believe that appraiser…” I always listen, sometimes I try to explain where one side or the other may be coming from, and sometimes I just smile and say, “How about that”.

Of course, both sides of the fence have good points and both offer tremendous merit to valuation as a whole. I think because both sides work within their own respective universes without understanding how similar they really are and have minimal to no understanding why there are differences. More specifically, there are good reasons why things are different. Appraisers and assessors would be better suited to have a conceptual understanding of the differences between the two sides. After all, both groups are working towards the same end: market value.

What is the difference between assessment valuation and fee appraisal valuation? When I start doing research, I often start with very basic steps. Most often, I pull out my dictionary or a related textbook so let us try that here using the Appraisal Institute’s The Dictionary of Real Estate Appraisal, 5th edition:

Appraisal:
1. The act or process of developing an opinion of value.
2. An opinion of value. (USPAP, 2010-2011 ed.) (Appraisal Institute )

Fee appraiser:
An appraiser who is paid a fee for the appraisal assignments he or she performs
(Appraisal Institute ).

Assessment:
1. The official valuation of property for ad valorem taxation (Appraisal Institute ).

Assessor:
1. The head of an assessment agency; sometimes used collectively to refer to all administrators of the assessment function. (IAAO)
2. One who discovers, lists, and values real property for ad valorem taxation (Appraisal Institute ).

Just looking at the definitions, one can infer that both fee appraisers and assessors are essentially doing the same thing: developing value. The stated difference really is the purpose of the value and the implied is for whom the valuation is performed. With fee reports, the appraiser is valuing for whoever hires him or her. With assessment, the purpose is to value for ad valorem taxation, and generally this is done for a local governmental entity, but can also be for state governments and in some parts of the world the national level of government. Since local code or state law usually requires assessment, laws and precedent can limit the methodology or manner used for valuation.

The most obvious difference one will note is that with fee appraisal, a single property is valued at a time using standardized practices and technique. With assessment, a group of properties is valued at a time, using standardized practices and techniques. In both cases, the professionals performing the valuation follow technique and practices as established by the valuation profession. Most reading this blog already have a well-informed understanding of single-property appraisal; fewer will have a professional understanding of exactly how assessment of groups of properties or, mass appraisal works.

Mass appraisal:
the process of valuing a universe of properties as of a given date using standard methodology, employing common data, and allowing for statistical testing. (USPAP, 2010-2011 ed.) Often associated with real estate tax assessment valuation (Appraisal Institute ).

Well that wraps up this installment, but I will be following this up soon with the next part. I encourage everyone to take the time to comment and ask any assessment related questions that you may have. Whatever side of the valuation fence you may be familiar with, I welcome your input and inquiry.

Works Cited
Appraisal Institute . The Dictionary of Real Estate Appraisal, 5th ed. Chicago : Appraisal Institute, 2010.

 

Non-Lender Valuation: Consumers Should Tread Carefully

By Woody Fincham, SRA

This post was originally posted to the Appraisal Buzz

Competition, in a free market, is a fierce catalyst: one that can effectively sort out the bad apples from the bunch. Capitalism works, it is simple when left unfettered and when all parties are ethical in their approach to business. It works until politicians, however well meaning they try to be, step in with a”solution”. Through the Dodd-Frank reform and the Andrew Cuomo created Home Valuation Code of Conduct that predates Dodd-Frank, congress effectively went anti-small business again. I liken this profession’s recent undermining by congress to how they saw to sort out the small-family farmers by paving the way for companies like Monsanto and ConAgra.

Competition is fierce in the valuation profession these days. For competition to work, it does require a level playing field. Presently, in residential valuation, there is no such thing as a level playing field. There are still lots of mortgage-use reports to do, but these reports are being filtered through appraisal management companies (AMCs). The AMC model chooses the cheapest appraisers competency is a distant second to cost, and like most things, you get what you pay for.

The quality of appraisal reports ordered thorough AMCs is getting bad enough that members of the Appraisal Foundation (TAF) have been quoted recently in the media with some interesting points. In a recent Chicago Tribune, John Brenan, director of appraisal issues, is quoted as stating:

“First, there is no additional revenue to fund AMCs, so the fee that an appraiser would earn is now divided between the AMC and the appraiser. Appraisers are making less money, and they have a new middleman they wind up working through. They’re looking to engage the cheapest and fastest appraisers. So, we’re seeing appraisals done across the country where the appraiser does not have what is, in fact, required under standards we write for geographic competency” (Glink & Tamkin, 2013).

By Mr. Brenan’s comments, it is obvious that enough emphasis was not placed on the things that matter. Instead of requiring the banks to pay for the alteration, a market was enhanced for non-appraisal entities to make money. Instead of enhancing the appraisal process, they provided a market that actually counters retaining well-qualified appraisers. It is a pretty big deal when an organization like TAF is drawing attention to the deficiencies found in the appraisal profession. One should give pause when history has proven repeatedly what happens when the collateral of mortgages is not properly vetted. The recent mortgage bust was partially created by issues with appraisals.

I would also supplement that most of the problems fell squarely on the big banks and how they retained and utilized appraisal services. Instead of requiring lenders to do the correct thing with retaining qualified appraisers, AMCs were given preference as a means to outsource the responsibility or at least the appearance of responsibility. The lenders got the advantage of AMCs seeking out minimally qualified appraisers that follow narrow scope of works (SOWs). Rather than hiring appraisers that are both competent and confident, they hire those that are prone to following without question. They effectively dictate to a large section of these appraisers how to do their job.

I know what you are thinking: Fincham your title says non-lender valuation, so why are you writing about Dodd-Frank and AMCs? Good question…

Non-lender valuation is the last bastion of market share that exists where appraisers can actually bill at a commensurate rate. These types of assignments will include appraisal reports performed for many situations such as wealth-management, divorce, and other litigation related needs. Oftentimes, intended users need to find the most qualified and experienced appraisers. Well-vetted experts are most applicable when testimony is needed. As litigation and divorce proceedings have evolved over the years appraisers are not needed as much for testimony; a report will satisfy the streamlined processes. In these situations, attorneys are not as involved with selecting appraisers as they were in the past.

Attorneys understood the need of retaining the best appraiser he or she could find. They needed someone that could write reports well enough to be seamless and defensible but also handle cross-examination in a trial or handle the craziness that can be a pre-trial deposition. It takes a good professional to write the report, but an even greater one to be effective on the stand or to help with pre-trial preparation. In the case of wealth management: to talk to an accountant and walk them through a report or analysis on the phone.

With less emphasis placed on the interview skills of the appraiser, many attorneys have relegated the retainer of an appraiser back to the client. Most consumers do not really understand what they need. The consumer makes a call, or does an internet search, to find an appraiser based on the only criteria that the do understand: cost. They also negate the importance of selecting the right professional in case they may need testimony later in time.

They can contact a well-qualified appraiser that understands the work involved with their situational needs, or they can contact an appraiser that does mostly government sponsored enterprise (GSE) work. Appraisers that do mostly lender-use work within a very confined box, and unless they have a background in non-lender work, will likely not have the problem solving skills needed for thinking outside of that box. AMCs often provide such detailed instructions to their roster appraisers, that the appraiser is boxed into a very narrow scope of work (SOW). These appraisers are experts at meeting the SOW established with the AMC. However, what happens when these narrow SOWs are removed? You introduce someone that specializes in filling out a form to a world full of variables and possibilities.

An appraiser is only as valuable as their experiences allow them to be. Part of this value is knowing and recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of the approaches to value. An even bigger part is thinking in the abstract and knowing that in trials and depositions, an attorney will exploit a weakness in a report. They will discredit an otherwise good appraiser if that appraiser is incapable of dealing with questioning effectively. Appraisers that concentrate solely on mortgage-use reports have no background to be effective in these types of situations.

So How Does Dodd-Frank Tie In?

Therein lies my problem with the AMC bred and conditioned appraisers. The fees have been beaten down so low for mortgage work that the appraisers that only do AMC related work are now trying to compete in the more lucrative non-lender market. Here we have members of TAF acknowledging that the lender market is using less-than-optimal appraisers. That alone is enough to make a normal person pause and pay attention. This was Washington’s answer to a problem they did not understand, and by stepping in, they created waves that extend beyond their intended design. They destabilized the market for established and trusted professionals.

These same mortgage-use appraisers have discovered that non-lender work pays better: in some cases, much better. They capitalize on the naivety of the consumer base. In a sense, they are capitalizing on a competitive advantage, but only an artificial one that was created by the meddling of politicians. In a very real way, Dodd-Frank is now affecting the valuation profession outside of the mortgage business.

In that same Chicago Tribune article, David Bunton the president of TAF stated “Most appraisers not going to turn around a top quality appraisal in 24 hours, for half of the normal fee. So you get people who are less experienced, who have less business clientele, and they may end up driving 4 to 6 hours for $150. We’re concerned about quality” (Glink & Tamkin, 2013).

Mr. Bunton, we are all concerned over quality. Those of us that have refined our toolsets and experience are being passed over for appraisers that have been subsidized by a flawed mortgage market that is propped up by the AMC model. The weak links of that subset of appraisers are now matriculating into non-lender work. In a way, the biggest user of appraisal services, the mortgage companies have once again undermined the appraisal process. By law, appraisers are required to abide by USPAP to preserve the public trust. Until lenders and AMCs are required to follow it, it will remain nothing more than a very effective tool to make those that claim to be ethical blend in with those of us that actually are beholden to our professional integrity.

The bottom line for appraisers, attempt to educate your attorney clients and colleagues on the differences between what a true professional appraiser is and what a primary mortgage-use appraiser is. Reach out and network with your bar associations and other professional organizations. Distinguish yourselves from the group through education and networking opportunities.

The bottom line for consumers: be careful whom you attempt to retain. Be willing to ask an appraiser why they are a better pick than market of other appraisers. Be willing to check references and ask for a resume. Take your time and make sure this appraiser is well qualified and not just minimally qualified. The inverse to you using a well qualified can actually cost you more money. If you end up in a trial, the cost to have your attorney reorder a better report, or pay a well qualified appraiser to assist in pre-trial analysis. Even worse, you may find that across the courtroom, your opponent hired the appraiser you should have, and now your mortgage-use appraiser will be in contrast to a superior professional.

Works Cited

Glink, I., & Tamkin, S. (2013, December 26). How do you get a great appraisal? Try eliminating the AMC. Retrieved from Chicago Tribune real estate: http://www.chicagotribune.com/classified/realestate/sns-201312221330–tms–realestmctnig-a20131226-20131226,0,4405990.column