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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The “New” Rules of Rapid Refinancing

May 23, 2009

By Brian Short, CMC, CRMS, GMA

Many of us who have “survived” in the mortgage business are very busy these days with folks who desire to refinance their homes.  With rates in the range from low 5% to high 4%  for a 30 year fixed for many borrowers, this is an ideal time to consider refinancing to lock in an historically low long-term interest rate on your house.  Maze

However, the rules have changed for many borrowers.  The days of no documentation, high loan-to-value, cash-out, debt consolidation mortgages have come to an end. 

Does that mean it is impossible to accomplish any of these goals in a relatively painless refinance process – absolutely not!  Just take heed of the new “Rules for Rapid Refinancing”:

1.  Get your documentation organized and copied for your mortgage professional.   Employed workers and self-employed business owners will all need to prove their income and their assets to qualify for a new low interest loan.  I remind my customers that they should keep the following documents for the following length of time – just to be safe.

     a. Pay Stubs – Keep these all year until you receive your W-2 and have completed your tax return for the year.

     b. Bank Statements – Keep these 5 years.  The IRS can audit you for the past 5 years.  It your responsibility to prove your case if you would be audited.

     c. Tax Returns and W-2’s – Keep these until you die.  Let your kids throw these away for you and be amazed at how little (or how much!) you made when they were kids.  You never know when you will be asked to document income, deductions, businesses, rental houses, etc.  File a copy away in a cabinet (and scan a copy to your hard-drive in case you need to e-mail a copy for your kid’s college financial aid application, etc.) each year.

2.  You will not be able to pull cash out of your house for more than 85% of appraised value.  If you owe more than 85% of your current appraised value then you will not be able to get any cash to consolidate debt, pay off other obligations or even make improvements to your house.  Trying to get cash out of your rental house will be nearly impossible unless you owe very little on the rental house.  Getting cash out of Real Estate is not something Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (or FHA or VA) are too interested in doing in this economy.

Does this mean that you can’t refinance your house?  Absolutely not!  You can still lock in a lower rate, shorter term (go from a 30 yr to a 15 yr), longer term (go from a 15 yr to a 30 yr), switch from an adjustable rate to a fixed rate, or combine your 1st and 2nd mortgages into one mortgage payment with a lower payment or a payment which includes principle reduction.

3.  Use this time to focus on getting out of debt and limiting your purchases of “things” to those items you can pay for with cash.  Running up credit card debt and buying vehicles (cars, boats, motorcycles, RV’s, etc), furniture, appliances or TV’s with credit is generally not the way to get or keep your finances under control. 

4. Pay cash.  Use cash.  Save some cash.  Keep some financial margin in your life buy having some cash in the bank to carry for 3-6 months in case your job, your health, your spouse – fail to meet your expectations.  Having a good payment history on your current obligations will get you in the door if you need or want to refinance your house.

5. Anticipate the future – as much as possible.  One of my Dad’s famous sayings is: “No one will loan money to a poor man!”  Once you lose your job, get sick or hurt or get behind on your payments, you’re stuck.  Especially in this current market – the squeaky clean borrowers are getting good loans.  Don’t wait to lock in on historically low fixed interest rates if you don’t have one and could qualify.  Waiting might put you into one of those categories of people who can’t qualify for one.

Is this a great market for quick and painless refinancing – absolutely!  However, there are some new rules.  Some of you are saying, “these are not NEW rules!”   “These are the rules we all used to live by.”  I agree that these rules may be new to this current generation of borrowers but are really time-tested rules for ensuring financial success – even when much seems to be crashing in on those all around us.  Whether these rules are new or old stand-bys they are in place for now.  Knowing them and playing by them will make you a winner – even in this economy!  Now, let’s play!


Rates for 30-year mortgages fall for second week in a row

November 14, 2008
30 Yr Mortgage Interest RatesThe Associated Press
Published: November 14th, 2008

WASHINGTON – Mortgage rates dropped for a second straight week, reflecting the impact the weakening economy is having on financial markets.Mortgage giant Freddie Mac reported Thursday that rates on 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages averaged 6.14 percent this week, down from 6.20 percent last week. It marked a sharp decline since rates hit a high of 6.46 percent two weeks ago.

Analysts attributed the back-to-back decreases to financial markets growing more confident that the Federal Reserve will cut rates again at its final meeting of the year in December in an effort to combat a severe slowdown many economists fear could deepen into a prolonged recession.

“Long-term mortgage rates fell slightly this week as signs the overall economy is weakening brought interest rates down market-wide,” said Frank Nothaft, chief economist for Freddie Mac.

Thirty-year mortgage rates hit a high for the year of 6.63 percent in late July and then dropped to a seven-month low of 5.78 percent for the week ending Sept. 18.

Copyright 2008 Associated Press.

Bailing out the Auto Industry? I hear Starbucks is having trouble!

November 11, 2008

bucketThere seems to be a rush to bail out, yet, another industry.  Banks, Insurance companies, Fannie and Freddie and now, the “Big Three” auto makers.  How can this be “good” for our country and economy?

The mortgage industry applauded the bailout of the GSE’s (government sponsored enterprises) Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.  They were already quasi-government agencies with directors and CEOs appointed by Congress (for better or worse!).  Unlike the insurance industry, no other company – government run or private – does what they do.  Unlike the auto industry, no other company – domestic or foreign – keeps our banks fluid and the housing market flowing.  Without Fannie and Freddie the wholesale banks, which buy the mortgages originated by mortgage brokers, would have no more money to fund the new loans.  Fannie and Freddie were put in place by the federal government to keep the market fluid. 

The Federal Government determined, over fifty years ago, that fluidity in the housing market was the key to keeping Americans buying their homes.  This strategy has worked for our country for the past several decades and has given this generation unprecedented opportunity to own a house (or two) when our grandparents seldom owned property and certainly did not buy without a 25%-30% down-payment. 

Fannie and Freddie (whether there should still be two of them is a topic for another day!) have played a key role in the “ownership society” announced by President Bush nearly 8 years ago prior to this recent unprecedented growth in home ownership among all Americans – including minorities, women and young people.  No one else has done or could do for our economy what Fannie and Freddie have done in giving Americans ownership, equity, property and a vested interested in a community.

circuit-city2So, many are now saying, “let’s take all hurting industries to the Feds and let them bail them out, too!”  Insurance companies (AIG is back for a SECOND round?!?), Wall Street Banks, the Auto Industry…. Why stop there?  Circuit City just announced the closing of 155 stores and that they will ask for Chapter 11 protection from their creditors as they reorganize and attempt to restructure their debt.  We’re losing our Circuit City (only 4 months old!) in the city where I live. 

Other retail chains are hurting, as well.  Starbucks was in the news earlier this week for posting a worse than expected earnings report.  Starbucks recently forced the closing of a Saxby’s coffee shop in our starbucks-cup-21humble city when they built theirs one block away from the newly finished Saxby’s.  Is the over-priced coffee industry hurting and should the Feds step in a bail out the Grande’s, Latte’s and Espresso’s of the world because many teen-aged multi-pierced, messy-haired servers and “Espresso-Masters” will be displaced?  I tend to believe that, as John McCain took a beating for saying, the fundamentals of the US economy will work themselves out – in the insurance industry, the banking industry, the auto industry and, need I say,  the gourmet coffee industry.  We must let the free market do its work and not let the Feds try to convince us that they know how to run a business and to micro manage these selected industries and our economy.

Is the mortgage industry really that different?  YES.  When it comes to competition and product availability, the secondary market of the mortgage industry is very different.  Fannie and Freddie play a role that no other private or foreign company or agency play and that is why it is not inconsistent to support the limited propping up of Fannie and Freddie (already quasi-government agencies) and be opposed to the Federal government picking and choosing which private company or industry to bail out.  Unions have made the US auto industry what they are today – unresponsive to market changes, overpriced, less efficient, dependent on foreign fuel, and not environmentally friendly.  The US auto industry must change at their core or they deserve to fade into the history books along with their union-thug bed-fellows.