Appraisals Have a Problem, Bank on it
Since the inception of the Home Valuation Code of Conduct (HVCC) in May 2009, there has been much discussion, and misinformation, about the benefits and harm caused by the controversial agreement with the New York Attorney General’s office and the Federal Housing Finance Agency. This agreement, originally made with the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight, requires Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to only accept appraisals ordered from parties independent of the loan production process. Essentially, this means, anyone that may get paid by a successful closing of the loan cannot order the appraisal. In the past six months while the Realtor and mortgage broker associations point fingers at appraisal management companies for their use of incompetent appraisers who don’t understand the local markets, appraisers are complaining that banks are abdicating their regulatory requirements to obtain credible appraisals by forcing them to go through appraisal management companies at half of their normal fee. Banking regulations allow banks to utilize the services of third party providers like appraisal management companies, but ultimately hold the bank accountable for the quality of the appraisal. Unfortunately, the banking regulators have yet to express a concern that there is a problem with the current situation. I need to state that appraisal management companies can provide a valuable service to the lending industry by ordering appraisals, managing a panel of appraisers, performing quality reviews of the appraisals, etc. However, banks have been enticed by appraisal management companies to turn over their responsibility for ordering appraisals with arrangements that ultimately do not cost them anything. The arrangement works like this: The bank collects a fee for the appraisal from the borrower and orders an appraisal from the appraisal management company, which in turn assigns the appraisal to be done by an independent appraiser or appraisal company. During this process the appraisal fee paid by the borrower gets paid to the appraisal management company who retains approximately 40% to 50% and pays the appraiser the remainder. So for the $400 appraisal fee being charged to the borrower, the appraiser is actually being paid $160-$200 for the appraisal. Absent an appraisal management company, the reasonable and customary fee for the appraisers service would be $400, not the $160 to $200 currently being paid to appraisers. Rules within the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) have allowed this situation to occur, despite prohibitions against receiving unearned fees, kickbacks and the marking up of third party services, like appraisals. RESPA clearly states, “Payments in excess of the reasonable value of goods provided or services rendered are considered kickbacks.” Banks are allowed to collect a loan origination fee. This fee is intended to cover the costs of the bank related to underwriting and approving a loan. Ordering and reviewing an appraisal is certainly a part of that process. Understanding that banks ultimately have the regulatory requirement to obtain the appraisal for their lending functions, why is it that borrowers and appraisers are paying for these services that are outsourced to appraisal management companies? Does the borrower benefit from a bank hiring an appraisal management company? Does an appraiser benefit from a bank hiring an appraisal management company? The answer to those three questions is a very resounding no! Clearly the only one in the equation that benefits is the bank, so why shouldn’t the banks be required to pay for the outsourcing of the appraisal ordering and review process? It is here where I believe the solution for the appraisal industry exists. Since banks are the obvious benefactor from the appraisal management company services, the regulators should require that the banks, not the borrowers or appraisers, pay for the services received. This one small change in the current business model would allow appraisers to receive a reasonable fee for their services and in turn they should be held more accountable for the quality and credibility of the appraisals they perform. Appraisal fees would be competitive among appraisers in their local markets, much like the professional fees charged by accountants, attorneys, dentists and doctors. Appraisal management companies would suddenly be thrust into a more competitive situation where their services can be itemized and their quality and price be compared to those of competing providers. This will ultimately lead to lower fees and improved quality of services to the banks. The banks will then have a very quantifiable choice: Do they continue to outsource their obligations to an appraisal management company and pay for those services or do they create an internal structure to manage the appraisal ordering and review process? Either way, the banking regulators need to hold the banks more accountable at the end of the process. When all of the previously discussed elements are present, I believe the appraisal industry will be functioning the way it was intended. Appraisal independence will be enhanced and borrowers will be rewarded with greater quality and reliability in the appraisal process. This one small change may not have been enough to prevent the wide spread decline in housing values during the past three years. However, it is exactly the change that is needed, in addition to the HVCC, to stop the current finger pointing and address the poor quality and non-independent appraisals that have been and are still rampant in the industry. Tony Pistilli is a Certified Residential Appraiser and the vice-chair of the Real Estate Appraiser Advisory Board at the Minnesota Department of Commerce. Want more news and perspective on valuations and the HVCC? Check out HW Focus, included in the April edition of HousingWire magazine. The inaugural edition of this supplement is a comprehensive overview of the valuation industry.