Self Evident Reports

Over the span of the last several decades, many residential appraisers were brought into this profession to meet the demand for residential mortgage lending reports. The problem with this has become clear as many were trained with one mindset, residential lending appraisals. They became “self-proclaimed experts” at filing out forms and meeting client expectations. All in the name of doing a good job and making a living.

I hold all residential appraisers responsible for this sad state of affairs. Had more of the professional appraisers taken on one or two trainees and mentored them into producing credible reports then perhaps we could have held back the tidal waves of greed. Although even as I type this, I am already arguing with myself. The mechanism that was purposefully put in place to allow the aggressive lending decisions did and would have demolished and standard that was placed before it. However, if these standards had been in place and hammered into the industry all along, then we might have been able to avoid the debacle that continues to loom above us now.

“What am I babbling about?”, one might ask. An appraisal report is supposed to be one that is rendered in a way that is free of bias, (i.e. one that is produced independently, impartially and objectively). Enter the form filler. Once the form fill mentality came on board, professional appraisers were swept to the side. The industry took hold of the form filler and provided “three comparable sales” that made the deal. The other 40 that indicated contra-results simply “were not indicative of the subject’s value”. The cost approach was simply discarded because was deemed less than relevant, or too subjective. The income approach was also done away with because this approach was deemed irrelevant. The form filler played their part in creating a false market, because once one appraisal got through everybody else wanted on board.

How could have stopped it? Simple. The truth of the matter was that nobody wanted to hear the appraisers that were telling the truth because there were those people who helped create a false report. Once enough people began to believe these reports the lies spread like wild-fire. After all if enough people say it is so, then who am I to argue.

A marketplace becomes valuable because of the perceptions of the marketplace. Why is it that one neighborhood becomes more valuable than an adjacent one? Why one side of the tracks is “better” than the other? It is perception. Of course the reality is that there are factors that actually do contribute to market perceptions beyond subjective whims of the public, this is why fads come and go. The heat of the moment begins to fade when the purchaser is faced with the fact that they paid three times more than the cost to reproduce the same product, or they paid four times more than they can rent the property for in an open and competitive marketplace.

The founders of real estate appraisal, understood that there were three approaches to value. Granted these approaches are all driven by the same basic influence (i.e. the marketplace); but the approaches to value reflected the motivations of three distinct ways of looking at the value of the same property. When we faithfully apply these approaches to value it keeps us in check and enables us to support our proper level of objectivity. Obviously, there are property types where these approaches are not always applicable; however, this is the exception and never should have become the rule.

According to the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP) all appraisals must be presented in a way that is not misleading. The opinions and conclusions within the report should be supported by the factual data that is discovered during the appraisal process, furthermore this data should be either presented in the report, or at least referenced within the report, to allow the intended user an adequate understanding. Conclusions and opinions that are formulated should in fact become self-evident as the intended user reads  the report. In fact if the reader is not able to draw the same conclusions as the appraiser, then the report has not been presented in a way that is useful. I am not an attorney, but if a report does not give an intended user adequate information to understand the conclusions and opinions that are provided, then it seems to me that the report has been presented outside of the requirements of USPAP and the appraiser could be liable for providing an incomplete report.

Appraisers, wake up! For those of you who have always subscribed to the philosophy that the market dictates value and each applicable approach is carefully evaluated for its merits in the presentation of value according the intended use, I salute you. For the rest of you, who were misled into believing there is only one approach to value, and that a report is good if it conforms to Fannie Mae and UAD and client requirements… I submit that an appraisal report is only good if it has been conducted in a manner that not only meets the letter of the law, but also meet the spirit of the law as well. The law (USPAP) was written so that real estate appraisers understood that certain steps must be taken by every appraiser, which included all factors that influence value and all approaches that measure it. We should use as many approaches to value as are applicable so that we have a check and balance for ourselves. In this way we cannot be as easily misled by circumstances of “odd sales” but can gain a full understanding of the influences that drive the market.

Case in point. In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, builders were putting up homes as fast as they could pull permits. Appraisers that were asked to value these homes were carefully “coached” to use the builder sales, because they had conducted the “proper market research” and analysis and the resale market could not possibly reflect a proper alternative. Of course, this fact is not necessarily in correct. A new home does engender a certain appeal; however, this appeal must be demonstrated in the marketplace and not just by the one builder who has a financial interest in their own sales.

I will not even touch condominiums in this discussion, for those of you who have completed these appraisals (or reviews on these appraisals) you already know my frustration on this topic. For those of you who have not completed these, wait for a future rant on this subject.

The bottom line here is that a professional real estate appraiser must always strive to have independence from the source of data and the participants within a transaction. This is why we can not simply take sales from the REALTOR involved in the sale, or simply take builder sales, or simply take HUD1 closing statements as evidence of sale.

The appraiser must approach every assignment with objectivity, looking at every single appraisal problem from the perspective of the prospective buyer and seller. After all the definition of value, for mortgage related transactions “Market value is the most probable price which a property should bring in a competitive and open market under all conditions requisite to a fair sale, the buyer and seller, each acting prudently, knowledgeably and assuming the price is not affected by undue stimulus. Implicit in this definition is the consummation of a sale as of a specified date and the passing of title from seller to buyer under conditions whereby: (1) buyer and seller are typically motivated; (2) both parties are well-informed or well advised, and each acting in what he considers his own best interest; (3) a reasonable time is allowed for exposure in the open market; (4) payment is made in terms of cash in U.S. dollars or in terms of financial arrangements comparable thereto; and (5) the price represents the normal consideration for the property sold unaffected by special or creative financing or sales concessions granted by anyone”. Perhaps for a future rant I will dissect this definition even further, but for now suffice it to say the appraiser bears the sole responsibility to ensure the definition has been met not only in the development of the opinion of value, but also in the selection of the comparable sales that are presented for comparison.

Lastly, the appraiser must keep up an impartial mindset throughout the entire process. The only real interest the appraiser is allowed to have is wanting to be paid for their efforts. To meet this requirement is actually extremely simple. The appraiser should be paid in advance and be criminally liable for theft if they do not provide a professional appraisal in a timely fashion. If this were the case, some appraisers would drop out of the profession, but most of us would no longer feel the threat of will I be paid and would be able to concentrate on the task at hand… i.e. providing a credible self-evident report.

See you around the water cooler!
Uncle Zev

Advertisements

Back to Basics – part 2 -The Cost Approach – An approach to value, without worth, really?

The foundations of appraisal were based upon three independent approaches to value. A system, when developed correctly, presents a check and balance within the report. The idea being that when an appraiser takes the time to develop each report, the data will show three independent motivations and three separate value conclusions. Nonetheless, the conclusions will support one another because the underlying principle for each approach is the principal of substitution.

For the purposes of valuation or real estate appraisal, the principle of substitution is defined by practical application. Simply the idea that a prospective purchaser will pay no more for a property than the cost of acquisition of an equally desirable substitute  having equal utility and acquired within an equal amount of time. This principle  is accurately assumed to be the underlying principle of the direct sales comparison; however, it should be recognized that the principal of substitution is also the underlying principal for the cost approach was well.

The cost approach, when completed in a serious and professional way, is not only crucial to the appraisal of residential real estate, but also crucial for an underwriter to properly understand other factors that influence the value of the subject. Additional principles that are in play within each real estate market, but few people take the time to identify  these factors or understand their effects. A few of these principals will be listed below, in an attempt to help the average user of an appraisal gain a deeper appreciation for the thought process that goes into each appraisal report.

The Principals of Anticipation, Balance, Change, Conformity, Contribution, Progression, and of course Substitution are the basic tools of analysis that go into the professional analysis of each report.

Anticipation is the underlying fountain of the Income Approach to Value, but it also reflects the motivations of prospective purchasers of residential properties and has a foundational effect within the Direct Sales Comparison Approach as well. The income approach is of course a reflection of the present worth of anticipated income. The Direct Sales Comparison (or Market Approach) reflects what competing purchasers are willing to pay for the anticipated benefits that are attributed to a particular property, or characteristic, like quality, appeal, or location. These motivations are carefully considered when understanding a property and how it relates to its market.

Balance recognizes that the value of a property reaches its greatest potential when the four agents of production achieve the state of equilibrium. The four agents, being labor, management, capital, and land. When these agents are out of balance (in residential properties) you see a loss of value due to an over or under-improvement to the land. This principal comes into play when determining the proper highest and best use and remaining economic life. All three approaches to value are affected by the Principal of Balance.

Change is inevitable – except from a vending machine.  ~Robert C. Gallagher, but I digress. Change is continual therefore an appraisal is only reliable as of the date of value. The very next day, a plant could open in the town that would employe 1,000 workers increasing the purchasing power of the community and creating a demand for immediate housing, or the opposite could happen as well. Nothing ever remains the same in this world, this is a principle that affects all things not just real estate appraisal. It is this principle that lenders today are very concerned about as they are wanting appraisers to decipher the market conditions and decide which stage of change the marketplace is in (i.e. growth, stability, or decline).

Conformity states that maximum value is generally realized when there is a reasonable degree of neighborhood homogeneity. That is to say social and economic characteristics should be harmonious, deed restrictions and/or land uses compatible and property types reflective of these factors. Generally speaking the elements of conformity are not planned, but are borne out by the market forces that shape a community over time. Successful neighborhoods that thrive and enjoy stable or increasing values are communities that have developed amenities that are supportive of the overall needs and expectations of that community.

Contribution reflects the market reaction to a physical improvement of a property, not its cost. The best and well-known example is a swimming pool that today can easily cost $50,000 to $85,000 for a pool with a heater, and filtration system, and spa, and water fall, and all the “accoutrements” relevant to the enjoyment of a swimming pool. But the market generally resists the real cost of such improvements. The amount the market is actually willing to pay is known as the contribution value, of course the loss of value (or buyers resistance) should be shown as functional depreciation, but that is for a different discussion.

Progression, this principle is a politically correct way to discuss the basis for external depreciation and reflects the marketplace today with many REO properties on the market. This principal teaches that when properties of similar quality are adjacent or associated within a particular market area, the inferior properties will benefit from the association of the superior properties. That is to say you have an equal number of inferior and superior homes, the prices of the superior homes can benefit the inferior homes. The inverse is also true. The prices of the superior homes will regress due to this association.

When these principles are understood, employed and correctly analyzed the appraiser is then able to give insight not only to “the three best comparables” but why the market behaves in the way that it does and an appraiser can then anticipate future expectations making certain assumptions about performance based upon previous trends and reactions.

Unfortunately, this material was not sexy, or alluring, but I hope that those underwriters, operations managers, lenders, regulators or even appraisers who may not have had the best training will find some benefit in the information that I have provided above. It is critical for all to you know, understand and acknowledge. Nothing I have presented in this blog, is an original thought and I take no credit for the thoughts or analysis.

I have drawn from several years of study and instruction to give this summary of some of the foundational basics of appraisal to enable the users of our reports a brief insight and hopefully, new-found appreciation of the thought and time involved in the production of a real estate appraisal.

See you around the water cooler!

UncleZev

 

Market Resistance

Appraisers are often asked to develop their opinion with regard to the value of a home, or piece of property that has some feature, characteristic or location that is atypical or even adverse. When this occurs they knee-jerk reaction of many of my colleagues is to show the physical, functional or external obsolescence and adjust for the difference in the market grid with a sentence or two added to the addendum.

For example, swimming pools. An in-ground swimming pool can cost between $35,000 and $50,000 installed. Of course there are pools that can range upwards to $150,000 with islands, waterfalls and the like. But for the purposes of this blog, I am speaking generally of a common pool that is kidney-shaped, generally a concrete prefabricated item that when installed is expensive to say the least. Nonetheless, buy a home install a swimming pool for $45,000, wait 3 months and try to sell that home for its purchase price plus $45,000. This academic discussion assumes the market has remained completely stable with no changes up or down. The market will not accept this other wise $200,000 home and simply add the cost of the pool. This loss in value is what appraisers refer to as obsolescence. This is a well-known fact in the industry, but how many actually take the time to prove their point. Pools of course are an easy example, because the appraiser can simply provide comparable sales of similar age, size, location, with a pool to demonstrate the market reaction to the pool. But, what if the development that the property is located in does not have any sales with swimming pools. Then if the appraiser proceeds to a neighboring development to find homes with swimming pools, have they completed a subdivision analysis to demonstrate there is no location adjustment between developments? Generally speaking this is often not the case.

With the advent of technology the ability to import MLS data into a spreadsheet for analysis there really is no longer an excuse in the majority of appraisals not to have tabular analysis of items like: location, swimming pools, garage count, bedroom or bathroom count. These adjustments have been made for the last several generations by appraisers using a “rule of thumb” based upon bench market pairings when, the appraisal should have been based upon the development of paired sales for each individual assignment.

My challenge to appraisers is to sharpen up and utilize the tools in front of you. My challenge to underwriters and/or reviewers is to develop market pairs as appraisers provide them, or to ask appraisers for the paired analysis that was used to develop their adjustments. Condition adjustments will be a topic of a future post and is not germane to this particular discussion.

See you around the water cooler!

 

The Approach to Value

Does anyone remember why the “men of old” developed the three foundational approaches to value in the first place? Today, an “appraisal” has become a recitation of the Direct Sales Comparison Approach. Few if any, complete the Income Approach and even less complete a Cost Approach.

These approaches to value were not merely an exercise in academic prowess, they were the fundamental tools that professional appraisers used to determine the market perceptions of the various forces that affect the value of a property. Yes, I am painfully aware that lenders stopped wanting to hear about the cost approach or the income approach. Also, I realize that the “appropriateness of a given approach will depend upon the nature of the appraisal problem and the quantity of available data to develop the approach” (as taught in many textbooks); however, for the majority of single family residential properties all three approaches are reasonable and relevant to develop. “But, what about the difficulty of determining the obsolescence of the property? Or the GRM?”, I have heard this question for 28 years. The answer is simple. All three approaches to value rely on the development, analysis and understanding of competing market data; nonetheless, each approach represents a differing mindset of the prospective purchaser.

There is the purchaser who wants to keep up with the “Joneses” and for them, the Direct Sales Comparison Approach is relevant because it should reflect the buying and selling decisions of the predominant homes in the market. The definition of market value that was handed to us by the federal regulators requests that the value should reflect the “most probable” price, not the highest possible price. Therefore, when an appraisal reports the highs and lows of the market and then compares recent, relevant sales to demonstrate the most probable price, this approach to value is the best indicator 99% of the time. But, what if for some reason the appraiser misses the mark during the research phase and excludes a portion of relevant data, thereby skewing the numbers by not talking about 30% of the homes that were REO sales or the like? Or, by only focusing on the REO market and not taking the time to accurately assess the motivations of the buyers and sellers within the marketplace.

The Cost Approach to value, when developed appropriately, enables the appraiser to recognize physical, functional and external influences that affect value. This approach generally will set the uppermost limits to value, thus when REO markets begin to sell well below cost to reconstruct, a very large red flag should be waved by the appraiser to discuss this depressed marketplace.

The Income Approach to value, when developed appropriately, enables the appraiser to recognize the investor market that considers the anticipation of future benefits of ownership. This approach generally should set the lower limits to value because the value of the property is limited to its ability to produce income. This approach will take into consideration the competing properties in terms of competing rents, vacancy and demand.

Of course the marketplace, driven by Fannie Mae, has dictated the information that an appraiser is expected to present in an appraisal report, but does not diminish the  professional appraiser’s responsibility to develop all relevant approaches to value as required by USPAP.

I will suggest even further, had we as an industry been tougher on ourselves and our colleagues to enforce the use of all three approaches to value, it would have been more difficult to ignore the signs that were in the market that the prices were being manipulated. Yes, an appraiser’s job is to report the market data, then analyze this data and form an opinion on these findings, but when two of the three approaches were taken out of the fray, our opinions were rendered less relevant.

“But wait”, I am hearing you say already, “USPAP always required the development of all three approaches to value, when appropriate. So how could it be that the majority of residential real estate appraisers still only complete the Direct Sales Comparison Approach?”. This is an excellent question, and one that I would love an answer to myself.

Rehab Properties

Recently I had conversations with a relatively new real estate investor who was mystified at how an appraiser could derive a market value for a property that had been gutted.

The conversation led me to realize there may be several people, including appraisers who could be misled into believing an appraisal of such a property should be the “value as repaired” minus the cost to repair.

The reality is of course, that cost to repair does play an important part of the process, but the appraiser must also take into account the market reaction to the property, the holding time, the narrow market segment and specialty nature of the prospective purchasers.

When an appraisal is made of a home that is in pristine condition the base of prospective purchasers is open to normal market participants that are interested in the school district, distance to employment, and the like.

But when a property is in need to rehab, the typical prospective purchaser is an investor who is considering holding time, required expertise need to complete the repairs, and any market stigma attached to the needed repairs (e.g. fire damage, or extensive settlement).

Therefore the cost to repair, the holding time and stigma must be taken into consideration when a rehab property is appraised. The absolute best way to reflect the market reaction to such a property is to find sales of other properties that required rehab, track the purchase price, the price of repair, and holding time, marketing time and final sales price (upon completion of the repairs).

Unfortunately, from having reviewed literally 1,000’s of REO Rehab appraisals, I can tell you very few appraisals actually show this type of research or analysis. A few appraisals will present other REO sales and try to address similar (as is) condition. But few actually address the process or the motivations of the prospective purchasers.