The article was published over the weekend from the Washington Post Online about the new legislation proposed for the 18 month moratorium on HVCC. Enjoy.
Washington (DC) Post via World Wide Web 07/03/2009
Lowball Appraisals Spark Uproar By Kenneth R. Harney
Saturday, July 4, 2009
It’s by far the hottest controversy in real estate this summer, and it could directly affect the value of your house — probably negatively — by tens of thousands of dollars.
The issue involves lowballed appraisals and the new rules guiding appraisers in both price-depressed and rebounding markets. Consider these snapshots:
*In San Diego, Steve Doyle, division president for Brookfield Homes, is trying to close out the final 20 houses of a 120-unit single-family subdivision. Prices range from $340,000 to $350,000. But recently there’s been a major hitch: Appraisers assigned by banks are coming in with valuations of $60,000 or more under Doyle’s selling prices. The appraisers, who Doyle says are inexperienced, unfamiliar with local market trends or both, are using distressed sales — foreclosures and short sales of existing houses — as their “comparables.” Some of the distressed properties are in poor condition, and all of them offer fewer amenities, Doyle says.
*In Wilmington, N.C., a loan applicant with a house in excellent condition and an unblemished payment record sought to refinance into a 4.75 percent mortgage. She bought the property four years ago for $160,000 and made about $20,000 worth of improvements. Her loan application, according to Paul Skeens, president of Colonial Mortgage Group of Waldorf, was “a slam dunk — nothing to it.” The house was worth $180,000 to $200,000, according to a local realty estimate.
But when the bank sent in an appraiser with little local knowledge, he chose as comparables two short-sale properties that had both closed in the mid-$140,000 range and one inheritance sale around $155,000. The last property was “in horrible condition,” Skeens said. “I’d call it dog meat.” The deal-paralyzing appraised value that came in for the slam-dunk refi: $149,000.
*In the suburbs near Cleveland, Enzo Perfetto, manager of Enzoco Homes, builds custom houses on clients’ lots. Recently, he said, banks have begun assigning appraisers from far outside the area to value lots as part of mortgage packages on new homes. Some of the comparables they use are in foreclosure situations, and that depresses land valuations. A young couple who paid $75,000 for their lot recently had it valued at just $30,000 by an out-of-area appraiser who looked only at online data, according to Perfetto — discouraging the couple from proceeding.
“I think the pendulum is swinging way too far in the wrong direction on appraisals,” Perfetto said. Bank-assigned appraisers often “don’t know the local market and they’re going for low numbers to be ‘safe.’ ”
* * *
Complaints about lowballed appraisals — from builders, real estate agents, consumers and mortgage companies — have erupted since May 1, when government-backed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac put their new appraisal rules into effect nationwide. Critics charge that the new system fosters the use of appraisers willing to work for low fees — sometimes 50 percent below previous standards — and who are willing to conduct home appraisals far outside their typical areas of activity.
The Fannie-Freddie system — known as the Home Valuation Code of Conduct — is complicated by the fact that it is a byproduct of a legal settlement in 2008 between New York Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo and the two big mortgage investors.
Under the code, appraisers are now routinely assigned by appraisal management companies rather than local mortgage companies or loan officers. The management companies pocket as much as 40 percent to 50 percent of the appraisal fee paid by the consumer.
Frustration with the new system boiled over and made its way to Capitol Hill late last month. The National Association of Home Builders called for an immediate change in the rules governing the use of foreclosures, short sales and other distress transactions as comparables for appraisals on non-distressed homes, whether new or resale.
Two congressmen — Travis W. Childers (D-Miss.) and Gary G. Miller (R-Calif.) — have introduced legislation calling for an 18-month moratorium on the appraisal code. In identical letters to Cuomo and to James B. Lockhart III, the top regulator of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the National Association of Realtors also requested a moratorium and complained that the code is raising consumer costs, distorting property values and killing sales.
Asked for comment, Lockhart said through a spokesperson that his agency is “monitoring” the situation, and considers “the views of market participants important.”
Bottom line: Be aware of the issue. It affects your equity, even if you’re not currently buying or selling. And watch whether Congress fixes the problem.
Kenneth R. Harney’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. (c) 2009 The Washington Post Company