It may be trite, but truth tends to get repeated…

The acting of appraising, is one that is complex but simple, commonplace and quite rare. We as appraisers should take a moment to remember that our profession was borne out of a time mistrust and calamity. Actually it has been said, that the appraisal profession is the second oldest profession in the world… that is to say, somebody had to put a price on it… but I digress.

So often we can get sucked into the practice of trying to balance the guidelines, the time restrictions, the unreasonable client demands and (a little thing I like to call) life, that we can forget that ours is a noble profession. We are the ones that people turn to when they are seeking accuracy and reliability. They want to know that value they are placing on an item is one that others would also agree with or tend to accept.

The reasons for this need vary greatly, but the basic foundational premise is that we all need someone who we can trust to make sure our thoughts on a matter are reasonable or accurate.

Of course, you can put this in the context of real estate and mortgage lending, and greed and profit, and people pushing the limits just to close a deal and once you do place your mindset into their realm, then you run the danger of being sucked into the vortex of endless attempts to satisfy unreasonable demands using antiquated methods and approaches that were designed years ago by men who understood the need to place objectivity into the world of money. They wanted to make sure that the process of lending money was backed by solid reasoning unimpeded by greed or corruption. At least that is the “truth” I choose to believe. It helps me sleep at night to believe there are still a few good men and women out there who are not only interested in lining their pockets at whatever cost necessary.

To all who continue to treat appraisal as a profession, I tip my hat.

See you around the water cooler!

UncleZev

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Thanks FHFA, for the clarification?

Pre UAD

The subject is a one-story, brick veneer residence, found to be average quality for a site-built home built in 1973. The condition was rated as average, with no deferred maintenance noted and no need for any immediate repairs.

UAD Compliant

C3; No updates in the prior 5 years; no need for repairs noted.
See you around the water cooler!
UncleZev

Signed or Unsigned that is the Question

There is an interesting discussion taking place on some of the forums over the last 9 days with regard to USPAP 2012-2013. Whether or not the additional certifications require a signature. Before weighing in on an esoteric discussion, I would like to remind everyone that the first and foremost intent of USPAP is clarity. To provide an opinion in a manner that is clear, easy to understand, and professionally derived. Therefore, as long as you pay attention to the particulars of USPAP and provide your reports in a manner that is clear, easy to understand, and professionally derived you should be able to withstand the scrutiny of a peer review and or the state board.

Often times it seems as though or reaction to situations are driven by an inane desire to avoid litigation which is easily understood given the very nature of this litigious society; nonetheless, I maintain that our basic responsibility as objective professionals is to provide an opinion of value that is shaped by the foundational concepts of real estate appraisal. Over time the provision of this opinion has evolved from index cards with a Polaroid on the back to computerize forms with maps that are automatically generated with digital photos, and aerial views. Still the appraisal report of today is less clear, in many ways, that the reports of old. Why is that?

Back in the early 1980’s my father announced to me that the appraisal industry was “going to hell” because the industry was filling up with women and children. Of course that was tongue-in-cheek, because my mom and I both worked as a appraisers in his office at that time. The longer I stay in this business I understand the sentiment, of my playful father. I do believe the the ruination of the appraisal industry was allowing clients, specifically lenders, to control the content and form that an appraisal report must take. What I mean to say is that allow, USPAP has grown to provide a basic definition and structure, the revelations of USPAP were not new or earth shaking in any manner. Any old school appraiser who was “worth their salt” already provided appraisal reports that exceeded the expectations and requirements of USPAP. The foundational idea of provide a report that is clear, concise, and supported by sound reasoning was hardly a new way to think of the appraisal report.

So what was the catalyst  began the fiasco that now know and “love” to be form appraising? I personally believe it was a phenomenon that occurred during the decades that followed WWII. No one reading this blog will likely remember those days except for the stories our families told us, or what we have read. But at that point in our history America was at its strongest financially. We had a very large majority of our population returning home and rebuilding their lives. Demand and expectations of profits began to rise and escalate with each passing generation. Very soon the generations that did not work to create anything, began to wonder why can’t we make more than “the old man”. Respect for the elderly diminished, the “youngsters” of the sixties, seventies, and eighties raised their children through proxy because most of them were working and creating “bigger and better ways” to become wealthy. This hunger for more, eventually created the circumstances that lead to our biggest real estates booms and busts. The mortgage industry was born out of these times; however, due to the demands by consumers there was very little training or education required for this newly formed “experts” and rules and regulations were developed as the need arose.

We have not changed very much, we still react to issues that we have created. While it is of course most important to take evasive actions during a crisis, there really needs to be more and more understanding by those who dictate our futures with the piles and piles of “stuff” that is created in response to epic portions of greed, corruption, abuse and mistakes.

Due to the melt down of our financial sectors, many of us are looking around, doing a lot of soul searching and trying to figure out “what the hell happened?”.

My suggestion? I say it is time for each and every professional who is objective, to stay focused on providing the services we have spent our lives learning to provide. Breathe and remember that many of those in power today, believe that the 1980’s was a life time ago. There is absolutely nothing wrong with youth, and age alone does not create wisdom. But we all should develop a sense of respect and appreciation for each and every individual with whom we interact. The process of real estate appraisal is not complicated. The reporting of an appraisal should also be “easy”, but in the process of communicating we often find ourselves in the role of consultant or teacher. Because the majority of our clients are checking boxes and filling out forms and if everything fits in the box you must be a good appraiser. If everything does not, you must be bad.

We really need to “preach” the basics and provide reports that take the time to explain why we have taken the approach, why we have used the comparables we choose, or why we excluded a particular data set. I know I can already hear, I do not have time to teach. I do not make enough money to educate my clients. But my response to this I also “steal” from my father (who I am sure borrowed it from someone else). “Education always costs… but ignorance costs more.”

Back to the original question, Do additional certifications within a residential appraisal require a signature? There is case to be made on both sides of the debate, to reconcile this and move on to the next assignment. Simply make room for the certifications on page 3 of the form (above the cost approach). All the information on this six page form is covered by the signature.

See you around the water cooler.

UncleZev

Customary and Reasonable?

What if the custom has become beyond a point of reason. The change that appraisers have been asked to make is their new operating budget because their fees for one assignment is about the same amount you collect in one machine at a laundromat in the middle of the week.

Customary and Reasonable? For whom?? The consumer, unfortunately has certainly grow accustomed to paying higher appraisal fees, the management companies are certainly having no issue in taking half of the fee. Lenders certainly have not issue in charging the borrowers for the increased appraisal fees.

Yet appraisers continue to work for low fees, why? How is this reasonable? At what point was this considered customary?

I will admit that appraisers have done this to themselves. The refused to starve, refused to leave the business and refused to keep the fees in a level that would have been reasonable for their time and expertise. One you get one appraiser to lower their fees it does not take much time at all for the overall populace of appraisers to lower their fees to try to compete.

Today, the custom is no longer reasonable. The idea that appraisers bid for jobs in a matter of minutes, and the one with their finger on the chat feature of their smart phone gets the privilege of working at fees that are figuring at just above $15 per hour.

Each and every residential appraiser needs to really look into establishing a base of rental homes, where they have a passive income outside of appraisal. Then raise your fees. I remember when professionals billed their time based upon the complexity of the activity that they were asked to perform. For complex tasks the fee was higher, less time-consuming tasks rated a lower fee.

This will never change, until appraisers wise up and make the change. Create a passive income stream, hire a manager to keep that passive income active and profitable. Then appraise, because for the proud few it is in the blood, we will not ever retire, we will remeasure, rewrite and will never relent. Is anybody buying this????? Yeah, me either.

I guess I have dealt with customary and reasonable for so very long, that it felt good to be uncustomary and unreasonable even if for a few short seconds within the safety of my blog…

See you around the water cooler!

UncleZev

I got two appraisals, “Why don’t they agree?”

This question has come up so many times in the recent few months, and of course it is not a new question, but I have decided to blog about it because in truth the question has merits. In a perfect world, where people all live in homogeneous neighborhoods with no adverse influences, no functional obsolescence, two cars in every garage and 2.5 kids, ok that might be pushing it, there may be instances where you can find two appraisers that if the saw the property at the same time on the same day they might agree on the value of a home.  – ok if you are wondering how you determine 2.5 kids, I once asked my dad this question. He explained that when you are working on the farm, one boy is a boy, two boys is half a boy, and three boys is no boy at all. So using this math I figure 2.5 kids must mean 2 girls, and 2 boys – but I digress.

Remember a real estate appraisal is an opinion of value. The opinion, by law, must be reasonable and based upon techniques and principles that are well accepted and known within the industry. But at the end of the day, it is simply an opinion. When data is abundant and there are several recent closed sales of homes that are identical, then the opinion of value should be shaped by the proximate, recent sale. As the degree of uncertainty increases as to how the recent sales actual compare to the subject this is where a matter of opinion can come into play.

Still, back in the day, relocation companies use to order three appraisals. They expected the three appraisers to come within 7-percent of each other and the closest two shaped the purchase price. Then when the relocation company sold the property they expected the appraisals to be within 2-percent of the final sale price. My point is that even though appraiser‘s rarely agree on everything, the market still should dictate the final opinion of value; therefore, the opinions should be relatively close together.

See you around the water Cooler!

UncleZev

 

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

 

A world bereft of humor

A world bereft of humor is like a woman without sex. It may be full of wonder, or mystery, or agony and pain, but what’s the point really?

I have decided to take my daily rants and in express them here for all to see, appreciate, or disagree. My wife, family and close friends will no doubt be so pleased that they do not have to continually deal with my inner monologue as it spills back to the blog rather than being freely shared with anyone, in my community who will still listen.

In my position as a review appraiser I speak to appraisers across the country and have recently had the unique opportunity to speak to several “second generation” appraisers like myself. This has been refreshing and left me with a sense of hope and a new-found appreciation for the profession. Of course, for those who know me, I will never really lose my sardonic or sarcastic  approach towards this profession, but it has been refreshing to have a bit of life brought back into my inner monologue.

For instance, I was recently asked to mediate several situations where the client, who will always and forever remain nameless in my rants, believed the report appraiser to be uncooperative and almost incompetent in their presentation of their reports. The appraiser on the other hand was never really privy to the lender‘s attitude but was forced to try to understand the continual barrage of questions that would be brought to them daily, in some instances.

At first blush, I received the request from my manager to mediate this with a degree of frustration to think “What has happened to professional trust?” and “Why, the incredibility rude word starting with the sixth letter of the alphabet, am I even still working for this company that would ask to me mediate in situations like these?” Then I had an epiphany, which for a good Jewish boy is a bit odd to start with, but it was indeed a sudden realization that over took my thinking without reasonable proof, thus I don’t know what else to call it, but I digress. I realized that my current boss was the very reason that I even entertained working for the company that I choose. This man is also a second generation appraiser who very much understands the whole equation. He had selected me to mediate this dispute because he was looking for me to be prompt, professional, and objective. Not allowing either side to debase their arguments with petty dogma that has found its way into the lending community with regard to real estate appraisers.

Of course there are certain levels of detail that would be inappropriate to be revealed in this particular forum, but suffice it to say, at the end of the day, both the lender and the appraisers found a mutual respect for one another and the appraisal reports were accepted and funded without further hassle to the report appraiser.

I believe that many “old timers” like myself have to a very significant degree have lost sight of the actual reasons they choose this particular profession, or rather they found themselves “drafted” into the profession. The underlying reason is a drive to present a fair, balanced, opinion without favor or bias to any side of the transaction. Whether it is a legal, financial, or civil matter every transaction needs those who can separate themselves from each side and remain objective and present an impartial opinion that is based upon an analysis of the marketplace itself.

Lenders are not maniacal institutions that are hell-bent on the destruction of the “American Way”, for the most part. In turn real estate appraisers are not individuals who failed at every other attempt to make money so they settled for “pulling tape”, “crunching numbers”, and killing every possible deal so that lenders will not be saddled with collateral that the borrow can not afford.

The truth is that both, real estate appraisers and mortgage lenders, serve a much-needed role;  when they operate in a manner that is consistent with their design and function. When they do not operate in this way, it is at that time that mediators like myself and my boss are very much-needed to try to help each side “play fair”.

I want to encourage anyone still reading my blog, to “fight the good fight” there are literally millions of consumers who really do not understand the dynamics of what I have just said. It is for them “the public” that we continue to hold steadfast to our ethics and beliefs that have shaped the larger whole of the appraisal profession.

Hope to see you around the water cooler!

Uncle Zev

Highest and Best Use

In todays marketplace, I am left wondering exactly what the highest and best use of a residential real estate appraisal really is. It would seem that I have finally reached a point in my life where I have lost my Mojo for the profession.

Intellectually I can say that the use of the real estate appraisal is as valuable today as it was back when lenders were actually lending their own money and really cared about receiving an honest opinion of value.

At that loans were sought, but only in situations of need because someone needed to buy a home or a building for a very specific reason. Entire generations of people were content to stay out of debt and save for their dream home. In a large percentage of cases, lives would be spent saving money only to have to roll to the next generation. People who were finally able to buy their homes took pride in the actual unencumbered ownership.

If an appraisal was required for tax, insurance, mortgage, estate or “God forbid” divorce purposes there was not a tendency to pressure the outcome because people genuinely wanted to know the value of the home.

In contrast today, people do not save for anything. If they do not have cash they find a way to afford the payments for what they want from clothes, to toasters, to cars, to houses. We live in an instant and disposable society and if an honest appraisal is conducted that does not meet the whim of the consumer then, the appraiser is labeled as “bad” or barraged with reconsiderations until such time as they cave in or flip off the client.   Of course when the loan goes bad, the lender is not judged, the borrower is not prosecuted. The appraiser is labeled as “bad” and if they are lucky they only lose future work. If the make too many deals, the FBI gets involved.

Am I suggesting that America has made its own brand of criminal “the appraiser” and the prosecuting them for following the pressure that was imposed upon them? Actually, yes that is exactly what I am suggesting.

For the record, I have fired more clients than I can remember and because of my sense of honor and ethics my wife and children have been deprived some of the finer things in life so that I could hold my head up without shame when I look myself in the mirror each morning.

But as I pour over file after file after file, I can not help but ask myself what exactly did all of my folderol accomplish in fighting the good fight and standing firm for my sense of right and wrong?

Lenders simply found other appraisers to make the deals. When I changed my practice to fraud investigations, all I really did was find myself surrounded by literally tens of thousands of appraisal reports that presented appraisal opinions that were gladly accepted by the lenders until things got challenged and then the “bad” appraiser caused the bank to fail.

I would like to think that this just burn out talking, but it seems to me that for the purpose of mortgage lending the highest and best use of the appraisal is to line the bottom of the loan file until they need someone to blame.

See you around the water cooler!

UncleZev

“Measure it in Micrometers and Cut it with an Axe”

Having grown up in an appraisal family, as have so many of my peers, we can all smile when remembering the wisdom and humor that was discussed during family dinners, and “get togethers” of all kinds. I am tempted to write a book some day dedicated to all the one line quips that my father and mother, both appraisers, use to say. My parents were the single driving force that shaped me into the kind of appraiser I am today, so if you don’t like how I do things… Blame them! (smiling).

You are wondering by now why you are continuing to read this particular post, or perhaps even this blog. Actually I am wondering the same thing, but still I have this innate ability to stretch out a punch line until it is almost painful. So what does any of this have to do with the appraisal process? Or does this post have any point what-so-ever?? Great questions. Surprisingly, the answer is that this almost meaningless post has an incredible resemblance to so many appraisals that I have read and perhaps even written over the years, that the process of writing the post is worth the effort.

“What in the heck am I talking about?!” That is my point actually. So many reports are filled with fluff and irrelevant data just so that the appraiser can fill up white space and “impress” the user of the report. Actually, an impression is made, however, I am sorry to tell you that the impression is not one that is favorable.

My father used to say, when developing an appraisal you have to take the time to identify all the relevant information and data that relates to the subject and then measure this data very carefully, very precisely, then once all the analysis is complete, you back up off of the data and take your best guess. His actual words were “measure it in micrometers and cut it with an axe“. This approach should also be used in the presentation as well.

For any of my readers who have ever used an axe, you will appreciate this saying. The use of an axe is final, you don’t hack about or you will completely destroy what ever you are attempting to cut. You plan the strike, you take the proper stand, and you let the blade fall. When you are skilled with an axe you can fell a tree, or cut a very large log to firewood in a matter of moments. Still, the use of an axe is not as precise as one might expect from a “professional appraiser”. Nonetheless, I submit for your consideration, the market data that we often have is not precise, it is often not complete and confirmation or verification is second-hand at best. Therefore, when you read a report that has exact adjustments like $5367 or $3,332 it is clear that the report appraiser did not know how to turn on the rounding feature in the appraisal software. Unfortunately some intended users are not sophisticated enough to realize that these adjustments, although taken from the market, are “best guesses” and these users can be really upset if the “guess” is wrong. Trust me, you have no desire to find yourself in court in front of a judge and have the opposing attorney ask you “So {Insert Name Here}, please share with the court the deductive reasoning that was used to prove why this gross living area adjustment should be $5367 and not $5,500 or $5,000.”  When you take a stance of being so very exacting with your presentation, you place yourself up as being this “all-knowing appraisal guru” but the reality is that the presentation is weakened because anyone who has been in the business longer than a presidential term can tell you that market data is never that detailed and never that exact.

Take time to analyze the data and measure it as precisely as possible, but at the end of the analysis when you are reporting your final conclusions, let your opinion fall where it may. Remember a professional never strives for perfection, a professional strives for excellence.

See you around the water cooler!

Time Adjustments

A recent review has prompted this post. It has become painfully clear that many appraisers are still unable to justify time adjustments. It appears that many believe that the MC Addendum is the “perfect” tool to justify increasing or declining prices; however, the reality is that this form was never designed to be an economic forecast model. In order to prove trends, a solid sample is required to show the price changes. Trying to prove a trend with a hand full of sales is a lot like predicting the annual rainfall in Texas based upon the observed weather patterns in Dallas for only six weeks.

Some appraisers are using some pretty wild assumptions and, in my opinion, had better be really careful not to over-analyze the data. The danger is that someone might take them seriously and actually make a lending decision based upon the prediction that they are making; values declining or rising. Either way, if the client loses money based upon this “expert” opinion, this is a lawsuit waiting to happen.

It is every appraisers responsibility to know their individual marketplace and to report prices and the direction of prices as of the date of value; thus, to carry this out, the appraiser should be looking at market areas for a few years and establish an actual trend. Then, the data within the last 12 months can be narrowed to show the subject property. This is, of course, not the only way to show market patterns, but it is one of the safest ways, because then you allow the data to speak for itself. Any adjustments can then be developed using a trend or regression analysis that will give results that are a little more reliable than the Texas weather patterns.

Just a point to ponder. See you around the water cooler!