New Appraisal Rules Bad for Consumers and Recovery

June 9, 2009

By Brian Short, CMC, CRMS, GMA

Beginning on May 1st of this year (2009) any home buyer or homeowner getting a new mortgage on their house will be up-charged $150-$250 for their appraisal and generally charged an additional $968 to close their new loan!  You mean, you never heard about this?  You thought the government was doing all it could to stimulate the struggling housing industry?  Guess again!

A year ago, one attorney general in New York, with a famous last name,

NY AG Andrew Cuomo

NY AG Andrew Cuomo

Cuomo,  struck a deal with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to keep them out of a potentially very ugly and very public law suit because of blind eyes they had been turning to a now bankrupt bank, Washington Mutual. 

You see, WaMu (as they are known in the banking world) had a side business they were operating where they started an Appraisal Management Firm where they required their loans to include an appraisal only from those “independent” appraisers who would join their firm and work for 3/4 of what most professional-level appraisers would work. 

Keep in mind, this did not lower the cost to the consumer.  Their appraisals still cost the same.  It was simply another income stream for the bank and a way to control who did their appraisals.  These appraisers soon learned who “buttered their bread” and were very careful to give the federally chartered bank the value they needed to get their loan closed.  Sounds fishy, huh?  YOU BET IT DOES!

Now enters the young Cuomo, called Andrew, with his eyes on bigger political prizes.  He uncovers this corruption and sues WaMu, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac – who all seemed to know that WaMu was doing this.  (Countrywide/Bank of America STILL own their Appraisal Management firm – Landsafe!)  To head off this embarrassing high-profile lawsuit they struck an “out-of-court” settlement which goes far beyond the jurisdiction of the state attorney general.

He asked for, and received, assurances that no Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac loans would ever be accepted by federally chartered banks who required that their appraisals were done by their own appraisal management firms?  Right?  Wrong!!  Wrong!!  Wrong!!

This new agreement which went into effect on May 1st exempted ALL FEDERALLY CHARTERED BANKS!  The new agreement, crafted in Albany, NY was never approved by Congress or any state legislature. It was drawn up in some back-room to avoid a trial against a corrupt bank doing corrupt business with a corrupt Appraisal Management firm they owned – most likely known about by both corrupt Government Sponsored Entities (GSE’s) Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae!  And to top it off, ALL FEDERALLY CHARTERED BANKS are exempt!  This new “back-room agreement” only affects mortgage brokers and bankers who are generally supervised or chartered by state banking regulators.

WaMu is NoMoIf that was not enough, it now requires all appraisals to be ordered through APPRAISAL MANAGEMENT FIRMS!!!  This very same corrupt system that WaMu used to artificially inflate their appraisal values to ensure that their loans would close – making sure that no independent third parties were involved in the process of assigning values to the properties under consideration!  What?!?!? 

I thought it was the corrupt Appraisal Management Firm model of business that had proven itself to be untrustworthy in the New York back-room in that courthouse in Albany?  Why is it that Mr. Cuomo would wrongly insist that ALL APPRAISALS now be ordered and up-charged by centralized corporate middle-men who do not know local property values, local building standards, and local business practices.  This new layer of New York mandated bureaucracy is required all across the country without a single vote or hearing from industry insiders on how it would negatively affect the struggling mortgage and Real Estate industries. 

These “middle-men” are unregulated by any federal or state agency but have been given the task of arranging for 70-80% of all mortgages being closed in the country and up-charging the cost of that appraisal by $150-$250 per order and passing that cost on to the unassuming buyer or homeowner.  Those $300 appraisals are now costing $400 – $500 for someone outside the state to assign the work to someone with whom they have a working agreement who may or may not live in the area, ever work in the area, or have ever researched the housing market in the area of where the appraisal needs to be done. 

What is their qualification for getting to do this appraisal for this Appraisal Management Firm?  They have promised to work cheap and fast!  Is that who you want to do your appraisal?  Cheap and fast?!?  Who benefits from this arrangement?  The host of newly formed unregulated and unsupervised Appraisal Management Firms are making out like bandits!  Everyone else in the transaction is supervised by a state or federal agency or governing board – Realtors, Mortgage Professionals, Home Inspectors, Insurance Agents, Surveyors, Builders, Title Agents, Appraisers – they’re all tested, licensed, and regulated.  Who tests, licenses or regulates the Appraisal Management Firms?  Why should they be making any money in this transaction?  What are they professionals at doing?  Looking at the next name on a list of random appraisers who have agreed to work for what they will pay them – even if they are not local professionals themselves.

It is reported that this new layer of middle-men have added another 5-10 days on the already very slow loan underwriting timetable causing delays in loan closings which cost the borrower an additional $500-$1,000 to extend the rate lock so they still receive the rate they agreed to receive at the time of the loan application.  Some have estimated that this new over-reaching agreement will cost Americans $2.8 BILLION EVERY YEAR and cause weeks of delays in closing Real Estate mortgages!

Let me make sure I get this right – the consumer is paying anywhere from $650- $1,250 to get an inferior appraisal done which takes longer to get back simply because a nationally chartered bank had an Appraisal Management Firm in their “back pocket” and they were so corrupt that they are no longer in business.  That was the punishment put on all American borrowers by one attorney general in one state up in the northeast because he had dirt on some crooks at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac?  This can’t be good! 

Would you like to join the thousands of housing industry professionals in calling those who forced this on you and your neighbors without a single vote or hearing?  CLICK HERE to see who you can call and make your voice of protest heard.

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Divorce the House, too?!

November 12, 2008

bighouse1Earlier this week I spoke to a prospective borrower who wanted to refinance his house after an unusually long and drawn-out divorce which was finalized in July of this year.  He kept the house and she was awarded $25,000 in cash from the “equity” in the house which, I was told, appraised at more than $920,000 one year ago!  He “only” owed about $830,000 on his house, so “on paper” this looked like a pretty “fair” arrangement. 

The only problem with this “$25K-worth-of-equity-to-the-ex” scenario was that his house is now only reported to be worth about $780,000 on an online home valuation website, or about $50K less than what they collectively owe this house with 5 bathrooms which they bought 7 years ago for only $600,000.  His quandary was only further complicated by the fact that he has had a couple of recent business failures and had only just started another new business 3-4 months ago in a very fickle industry.  No wife, no income, no business and a house that is pulling him under financially – that he is stuck with!  This sounds like another country music song in the making!  Hold on….. I’ve got it!  “My Home is a Man-Wrecker!” (You heard it here first!)

Last month I attended a legislative work-session in Nashville with a couple of key state legislators capitoland leaders from the housing industry (mortgage brokers, mortgage bankers, home inspectors, appraisers, and Realtors) to meet with an Obama-Harvard-Law-School-classmate-yearbook-toting-attorney-turned-Realtor-from-Illinois who was asking for feedback from several of us in the state regarding this very dilemna – couples (especially women, I assume) being wrecked by their houses after their divorce was finalized.  (Yes!  She REALLY carried in her yearbook and she was on the same page as the new Prez!) 

obamaWe were told that too many “newly-single, fresh-starts” tried to hold on to a house which was beyond their means and were emotionally unable to swallow the idea of ditching the “loser” and also having to move, at the same time.  The desire to keep the kids in the same school, the dog in the same yard and the satellite dish on the same roof tended to outweigh the conventional wisdom that, in most cases, one less income (even with some child support coming in) can not usually keep up with the same sized house payment.  We heard that the problem is that the remaining spouse is usually given 2-3 years to refinance or sell the house and maybe split some equity or to hand over the 401K to the departing spouse in trade for the equity to be realized by the remaining spouse at some time in the future.  (Sounds like a great deal, huh?!)

Whoa!  How ’bout that for a series of gut-wrenching assumptions in world which has turned topsy-turvey during the last 2 1/2 years!  House appreciation, job security, stock market stability, and credit profile integrity.   All of these can be uncontrollable variables which will either make it possible or impossible to ever get the departing spouse off of the mortgage – regardless of whether he or she “quit claims” (takes their name off of the house title work) their ownership interest to the remaining spouse.  This is a formula for certain financial ruin.  Why was it when a young couple stood before “God and in-laws” and promisedwedding-vows1 “til death do us part” that we thought they meant each other rather than the half-million-dollar house they think they should hold on to even when the judge orders them to split it all and move on.  (Surely, he didn’t REALLY mean to get rid of the house!)

The Obama classmate was advocating new Tennessee laws to require divorcing couples to get “free” mortgage approvals, home inspections, appraisals, and title searches to protect the remaining spouse from future calamity because of unexpected deterioration of the house, liens against title, over inflated assumptions of value and the inability to qualify for a mortgage – any of which would ruin the hope of making the decision to keep the house a good one.  (That 401K or IRA is sounding better and better, even in this market!)

We didn’t all agree about which law would be best or even if new laws were necessary at this point.  We all agreed that this was a big risk and all that parties needed to be informed of the dangers of keeping a house after a divorce.  We just didn’t agree about what could be done and how much legislation should be piled on an already very litigious process where attorneys and judges are already deeply involved in the personal “affairs” (no pun intended!) of two disappointed adults who thought they could beat the odds and make it through the long haul – with their combined accumulated wealth intact to the end.

It seems to me that couples should usually get rid of the house – especially if there is still a mortgage on the property.  Cleaning up that kind of mess is never as easy as one might think and could often take longer than most second marriages last!  However, in this period of declining home values, limited credit options and an unstable employment market – buy and selling houses has almost come to a stand-still in some markets.  This will cause housing markets to be flooded with inventory and homes to stay on the market longer and longer – bringing down the sales prices of homes which “must sell” to make way for a final divorce decree and marital dissolution agreement.  Years of accumulated equity in the family home may be sacrificed and never regained if a home is sold – no matter what.  This causes the houses in the surrounding neighborhood to also depreciate in value and should remind all readers that a marriage failure does really hurt the WHOLE community in MANY ways.

sleeping_couple-231x192In my 10 years of working with home buyers from all walks of life I seldom see one who comes out any better after a divorce.  The truth is – we’re all a bunch of rascals and we all blow it, from time to time.  Maybe this slow-down in the housing market will give some angry couples the opportunity to “cool down” and think through the consequences of throwing a marriage away while they wait for their house to sell.  Maybe they’ll realize that for the sake of their kids, their parents, and their own integrity that they promised “for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health” – not to the house but that one on the other side of their “sleep number” mattress.