Saturday, June 12, 2010

Appraisal Challenges: Straight from the Battlefield

The following was originally a reply to a blog on the Keeping Current Matters blog titled: The Appraisal: A True Evaluation of a Home's Worth?  Steve Harney and the KCM Crew thought so highly of my response, they posted it on his blog as a lead story and it had over 1,100 hits in 36 hours.

There are many challenges facing the real estate industry today, and one of the biggest is the abundance of foreclosures and short sales proliferating the marketplace in many areas of our country.

I have been a professional residential real estate appraiser for mre than 20 in the Chicago area, and I have never seen a marketplace like I have over the past 2-3 years.

The first issue is the Home Valuation Code of Conduct (HVCC), and the second issue is the marketplace itself. The HVCC has given the appraisal profession a major blow, and the most experienced of residential appraisers are leaving the industry. The intent and desire was to insulate appraisers from lender-pressure to direct values (push the numbers higher). The unintended result has allowed the additional layer of insulation (appraisal management companies) to seek appraisal services from appraisers willing to do the work for appraisal fees of 25% to 75% less than our fees before the HVCC was enacted in May 2009. In many cases, the quality appraisers have diversified away from the business, and this in turn is leading to less-experienced appraisers trying to survive in the most complex real estate market anyone has seen since our Great Depression. Geographic competency has become a major issue as out-of-area appraisers are going into areas they have never been to for the work.

The HVCC has caused me to completely diversify my appraisal business away from doing lending appraisals into better appraisal work where my clients truly do want to know the value of the property. (Relocation, attorneys, and other private parties for litigation, divorce, estates, trust, tax appeal, etc.)
The appraiser analyzes and interprets the market, and is an unbiased disinterested third party giving an opinion of “Market Value.” What the lender decides after receiving the appraisal report is one of the issues out there as well.

What the bank elects to do as far as making a loan is a completely different scenario. I have a relative who attempted to purchase a condominium in Florida this Spring with over 35% down, FICO scores in the high 700’s, an appraisal over $40,000 higher than the negotiated purchase price, yet two lenders (not one, but two) who approved the pre-qualification of the borrower would not make a loan on the property.
I know of another scenario where a close family friend attempted to refinance, the appraisal came back $25,000 higher than he needed to qualify, but the lender and their underwriter decided to do a desk-top review and lowered the value $50,000 below the appraised value.

My daily challenge is finding “good comparables” and in many cases, they don’t exist. The marketplace is proliferated with data of distressed sales. The definition of value in a foreclosure or short sale is going to be “Liquidation Value” – not “Market Value.” So it is indeed unfair to use comparables that sold at liquidation value in a property where market value is supposed to be estimated by the appraiser.

But what has happened, in some markets, the only homes selling are the distressed sales. This creates the new “norm.” The real estate principal of “Substitution” states that when several similar or commensurate commodities, goods, or services are available, the one with the lowest price will attract the greatest demand and widest distribution. This is the primary principle upon which the sales comparison approach is based. If competing properties are priced at $179,900, why would you pay $200,000? Food for thought.

Another concern is that as our real estate market bottoms out, and prices begin to appreciate or increase again which they are in some areas of the country, we are going to have a data pool of comparable properties supporting lower values. Really a catch-22 situation.


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