Why Are Appraisals So Bad?, by Brett Reichel, Brettreichel.com

Ok – so….blinding flash of the obvious here….Appraisals are serious problems for real estate transactions right now. Lawrence Yuen, the Chief Economist from the National Association of Realtors said this week “Home sales are being constrained by the twin problems of unnecessarily tight credit and a measurable level of contract cancellations from some appraisals not supporting prices negotiated between buyers and sellers”.

Many of you have experienced first hand the effects of a low real estate appraisal. Maybe you were denied the ability to refinance to a lower interest rate or worse yet, maybe you had a sale blow up on a home you were trying to purchase. Or, if you are a Realtor or lender, you’ve had clients you can’t help due to a low appraisal.

The appraisers say, that they are just reading the market. To a degree, that’s true. Nearly no one’s house is worth what it used to be, and with the market making that move downward, clearly there are going to be lower appraisals (another blinding flash of the obvious).

Mortgage guys(used in a gender neutral way here) and Realtors will blame the Home Valuation Code of Conduct (the HVCC, which has been recently replaced by a new law with similar restrictions). It’s true the HVCC has created some issues.

Personally, I can live with an accurate appraisal, even if it doesn’t give me my desired outcome. That’s life, appraisals should be as accurate as possible, and lenders need a good report to base their analysis of the collateral on. But, we aren’t getting accurate appraisals. Why?

Here are a few reasons:

First – the HVCC created a monster by leading most lenders to decide to order their appraisals through appraisal management companies. Many appraisal management companies require cheap and quick appraisals. The biggest national appraisal management companies that the “big 4″ lenders require the market to use, order appraisals from wherever they can get the cheapest fee’s and the quickest turn-around times. Little consideration is given to the qualifications of the appraiser, other than appropriate licensing, certification, insurance, and bonding. Sometimes, this means an apprasier is coming from two or three hours away from the subject property!

Why is this an issue? Because all real estate is local. Identical houses just blocks apart, sometimes across the street, can have significant differences in value because of market perceptions. Differences in schools, addresses, and many other factors create value differences in markets. If you are from two hours away, you probably don’t know all these nuances. It’s easy to miss that a buyer will pay $25,000 more for a house within certain elementary school boundaries, and that the boundary can be in the middle of the street. If the appraiser isn’t extremely familiar with the market they shouldn’t do the appraisal there, or they should learn and quantify these differences really quickly and complete an accurate report.

Second – appraisers have a tendency to forget markets are driven by psychology. In the stock market, the “efficient market theory” has been proven to be inaccurate. Psychology affects an illiquid investment like real estate even more. Too many appraisers approach appraisal from a technical viewpoint that ignores market psychology. The reason we need good appraisers is to quantify these nuances that make differences in value that a computer can’t pick up on. That’s why lenders rely less and less on “Automated Value Models” run through computers, and instead rely on an expert in the local market.

Third – seasonality is an issue. Most markets have seasons where houses don’t sell as readily. Maybe it’s too much snow, maybe too much heat, maybe it’s the holidays, but really these seasons affect sales prices, and this too should be quantified and reflected in reports.

Fourth – lender meddling is another issue. FannieMae and FreddieMac (the agencies)force repurchases of loans on to the big lenders, who force them on smaller lenders. Repurchasing loans creates huge losses for lenders. The agencies use flimsy excuses, like claiming valid appraisals are invalid, to force these repurchases, and scare the other lenders to death. Thus lenders get more conservative and pressure appraisers to bring appraisals in lower through their underwriting practices. The agencies create additional pressure on the appraiser through the use of the Form 1004 MC, which was created to analyze market conditions, but is really an ill-conceived form that can lead to poor analysis of the market by both underwriters and appraisers.

Fifth, incompetence is all too common in the appraisal profession. A recent appraisal report done in a suburb of Seattle indicated that the appraiser depreciated the value of the house at 1/2% a month because median prices dropped in that Multiple Listing Service area by 6% over the last twelve months. On the surface this would appear to be an appropriate decision. But, median prices are not the best indicator of values. Appraisers and underwriters will not accept median prices to determine appreciation, why would they be appropriate in a declining market? In fact, many appraisal text books identify this practice as wrong. We see this poor reasoning time and time again in appraisal reports and it is invalid analysis.

What do we do about this? Apply pressure to get accurate appraisal reports! Your loan officer might not be able to do much, but maybe someone higher up can. Make sure your complaints are based on sound data, and not just your emotional involvement in the transaction. If you are in the real estate or lending industry, learn more about appraisals so that you can know what to look for and give your clients better advice. In any event, we need to continue calling attention to this ongoing problem.

Brett Reichel’s Blog http://brettreichel.com