I write a column for Elliman Magazine called “Market Update” that presents a chart and context around it. Its kind of like my nine-year column “Three Cents Worth” at the old Curbed but more grown-up and without the snark.
I write a column for Elliman Magazine called “Market Update” that presents a chart and context around it. Its kind of like my nine-year column “Three Cents Worth” at the old Curbed but more grown-up and without the snark.
I’m a big fan of Pat Kiernan, the star anchor for Spectrum News NY1. I especially like his “in the papers” spots and I’ve been on his morning show a few times. He interviewed me virtually to set the stage to describe NYC’s housing challenge.
Check it out!
I’m a regular listener to the Slate Money podcast so I was thrilled to be invited to participate.
This week, Felix Salmon, Emily Peck, and Elizabeth Spiers are joined by housing market analyst and real estate appraiser Jonathan Miller to answer all their burning real estate questions including what’s going on with mortgage rates, how do new luxury buildings affect prices, and why is rent so damn high?
For each issue of Elliman Magazine produced by Douglas Elliman, the same company that publishes most of our U.S. market research, I write a brief column and create a graphic to illustrate an important issue facing the luxury housing market. Of course, the graphic I create is then supercharged by their very talented graphics staff.
Listing inventory has essentially collapsed in most U.S. housing markets as unusually low rates against the backdrop of robust economic conditions have burned off supply to record lows. Evidence of this is seen in the proliferation of U.S. housings markets with a significant share of bidding wars. Since these are broad markets, various submarkets can see the market share at must higher levels. The proxy for market share is the share of transactions that close above the asking price at time of sale against total period sales.
In the current issue of Elliman Magazine: Spring/Summer 2022, my column “A Symptom of Chronic Inventory Lows: Bidding Wars Are Everywhere”
The Winter 2022 issue of Elliman Magazine was published this week and it is quite a beautiful publication. I created a chart for the publication which compares month listing inventory trends across a number of the markets we cover for Douglas Elliman.
Yes, big data usually infers ‘quantitative’ analysis, as in “relying on numbers.” The Zestimate legacy of profound inaccuracy finally reached a devastating conclusion with the collapse of Zillow Offers this week and the loss of hundreds of millions in shareholder equity. Zillow never figured out the qualitative part that enables the actual precision in the pricing of a home sale.
There is a lot of talk right now about how other iBuyers are continuing to buy and sell properties so the space is still viable – business as usual. But step back for a moment and think about this:
I feel pretty confident there will be further fallout over time, but the iBuyer space will settle into a small segment of the overall transaction universe. It has been wildly overhyped (at real estate brokers and real estate appraiser’s expense) as investors, burdened with high volumes of capital, desperate for upside in housing in this fintech boom.
The news came quickly and brutally (especially if you were a ZG investor):
I jumped on the bandwagon with this:
This just in: The “A” in “Zillow” stands for “Accuracy.” https://t.co/j5ukW1zzA9— Jonathan Miller (@jonathanmiller) November 3, 2021
And this was a perfect post:
so zillow let a robot buy up thousands of properties, outbidding real buyers and artificially inflating the market, and now will be laying off a full quarter of its workforce and selling off the properties to rental corps like BlackRock at vastly discounted prices. that right?— Insert Clever Name (@BethLynch2020) November 2, 2021
Now let’s digest this in the context of price accuracy:
While Zillow’s CEO Rich Barton essentially said early on that he didn’t want their iBuying efforts (Zillow Offers) to be seen as gaming the Zestimate like that dumb viral Tik Tok video inferred a month ago.
Yet it would seem unlikely that Zillow Offers used something completely separate and conceptually very different from their ‘Zestimate’ because it would be quite expensive and extremely difficult to keep a radical new valuation concept a complete secret. All we know at this point is whatever valuation methodology they used was a complete fail. And to go a step further their Zestimate valuation methodology has long been a complete failure in the accuracy department. But it hasn’t been a complete failure in the consumer credibility department at all. In fact, it’s been quite successful – after all, Zillow weened control of the U.S. consumer away from the real estate brokerage industry who had enjoyed 100 years of gatekeeper status.
This is why the real estate brokerage industry pays Zillow substantial fees to be featured on a search page in their “Pro” offering, using the source data provided to Zillow by them. Its quite diabolical.
So if we consider the Zestimate to be a proxy for the Zillow Offers valuation tool that failed, it gets worse….
The national median accuracy rate of the Zestimate is 2%.
Because they are using “median” and that term is largely ignored by consumers in the phrase “median accuracy rate” that 2% sounds pretty darn accurate. Yet there is no fine print here. The phrase literally means that 50% of the time the Zestimate is within 2% of actual value and 50% of the time it’s not.
And it gets worse…
The median accuracy rate is only within about 2% if the property being Zestimated is currently listed for sale. But if the property is not currently listed for sale, the median accuracy weakens to 7%.
For the Zestimate to move from 7% to 2%, they are reliant on the broker expertise involved to price the property and get it on the market.
Said another way, in order to get the median accuracy rate from 7% to 2%, they need the brokerage community to price the property to get that touted accuracy rate.
To summarize this point:
The brokerage industry gives all their data to Zillow because Zillow marketed to and won the consumer.
The brokerage industry pays Zillow to market them on the Zillow platform because they gave Zillow all their data.
Zillow became a brokerage firm and therefore a direct competitor to the brokerage industry, something they promised early on would never happen.
Zillow uses the brokerage industry to inaccurately price properties, placing them in an adversarial position with the consumer who wants to sell their home.
Yeah, I get it.
One of the problems with my normally preferred year-over-year comparisons with metrics to diffuse seasonal impact is that the year-ago period happened to be the pandemic lockdown.
I went through the region using our market report series for Douglas Elliman, comparing the same period two years ago to capture the pre-COV ID market and prices. and sales are up with the exception of Manhattan and North Fork. Listing inventory is up slightly within the city boroughs and plunged in the suburbs.
To all members of the Appraisal Institute:
Before I start, I wanted to share what the Appraisal Institute’s MAI designation is referred to by many of its members. I learned these two from an MAI instructor years ago (pre-merger) who told our class (as if to motivate us?) that MAI stands for:
MORE ANNUAL INCOME
MADE AS INSTRUCTED
MORE AMORIN INFLUENCE
Over the last five years, I have frequently been writing about the corruption and self-dealing of the largest appraisal trade group in the U.S., whose membership has fallen by a third over the past decade. Since 1997, the leadership has been largely comprised of the same people moving in and out of leadership positions, enjoying lucrative teaching contracts, enjoying compensation as much as double the market rate, expense reimbursements not consistent with corporate and competing organizations, lots of first-class plane flights to Europe, Asia, and other locations with their spouses, all paid for by the hard-working membership who is not clear about what is happening in Chicago headquarters because they are not told.
There is currently another sham petition process underway to prevent Steven Stiloski, the thoroughly vetted choice of the NNC (the second year in a row this sham petition process was utilized), from becoming Vice President. Steven is representing the choice of the membership. Sandra Adomatis, who by entering the election, no matter what her intentions were, can not be blind to the political poison of this sham petition process and becomes an FOJ by default, no matter how qualified she or her backers say she is.
Remember that the sham petition process places the thoroughly vetted NNC candidate on EQUAL FOOTING with someone Jim Amorin puts into the sham petition process or even someone that self-nominates. Incredible.
Smartly, CEO Jim Amorin chose to limit the exposure to the membership by placing it at the end of the membership newsletter in June (I wrote about this several weeks ago in an earlier version of Appraiserville). And I’ve been told it also appeared in a membership email from the president on June 25th.
So I thought I’d explain one of the things that FOJs (Friends of Jim Amorin) are trying to dismantle because of their eagerness to serve at the pleasure of the current CEO, Jim Amorin.
Let me define what an FOJ (Friends of Jim Amorin) on the Board of Directors is in case the membership is not familiar with this term I coined:
Remember that Jim Amorin makes over $500k, and using comps of CEOs at reasonably similar organizations, his salary is nearly double the market rate – and membership is forced to pay that. And consider his FOJ enablers like past president Jeff Sherman, who whined in a board meeting against suggestions that the organization begins to stop paying travel expenses of spouses (which is NOT done by corporate America, incidentally). Finally, remember that FOJs need the CEO to remain in power to get their perks and, basically, to hell with the membership.
Jody (Super-Duper) Bishop gets to select the incoming open positions (about 50) and invite the membership to look at those he selects. Because if Jim Amorin wins this sham petition process and Jody selects all FOJs, then the Appraisal Institute will have zero diversity in the future, and both Bishop’s and Schley’s legacies will be tarnished for the remainder of their professional careers.
Significant diversity initiatives are coming from the new presidential administration, and social mores are shifting too. Current president Rodman Schley has been driving the AI’s presence in the discussion, which keeps AI relevant. All that is for nothing if the sham petition process succeeds in keeping the NNC vetted selection from being duly placed in leadership.
The NNC (National Nominating Committee) is comprised of one member from each of the ten regions. The chairman of the NNC is the immediate past president but has a non-voting role. If there is a tie, the executive committee gets to be the tiebreaker with three votes (Super-Duper Bishop, Craig Steinley, and selection after the sham election process is decided).
The NNC is one of the good governance things that happens in Chicago. This committee is Kryptonite to CEO Jim Amorin, and he has worked hard to weaken it but has failed so far. In the past, he has made the following attempts to weaken the NNC:
The beauty of the NNC structure is that members of the Board of Directors have to wait six years after they roll off the board before they can serve on the NNC. This has been problematic for Jim Amorin because he can’t get his FOJs onto the NNC easily (it takes too much time) to do what they do now on BOD and live a dishonest professional life of quid pro quo. Of course, in turn, for doing Jim’s bidding, they get lots of perks.
The practice of Jim doling out choice positions in return for an FOJ’s ethical soul – they’re not much different than a sociopath in my book – because FOJs have no moral compass and think that outsiders can’t see what they are doing. By definition, FOJs do not care about membership or the direction of the institution. It’s all about getting what they want because they are aligned with the person who does things to keep themselves in power at the membership’s expense. The CEO is very skilled at that.
And to the handful of FOJs that have reached out privately and given me crap about calling out this malpractice of the organization, don’t worry, I will always honor my agreement to keep your name out of this conversation as promised. I am a man of my word. But remember, every one of you is only doing it to preserve the benefits you get from keeping Jim Amorin in power. You have no moral ground beneath you in this debacle. FOJs have placed their self-interest above the membership and the future of the organization. And with that, many FOJs don’t seem to understand how the sausage is made, so they are even more vulnerable to manipulation by the CEO.
And this toxic hypocrisy has seeped into RNC (regional nominating committee) process too. Take Region V, for example. There was a bitterly close election on July 9th. The region selected an FOJ back in April to be in line to be considered for the NNC eventually. And then Jean Gannon, a non-FOJ, threw her hat in to compete with the FOJ candidate, much like the sham petition process I talked about. But this time, the shoe is on the opposite foot for FOJs. Because the Non-FOJ candidate was a threat to the FOJ candidate, two of the “Hateful 8” FOJs, Region V Chair Claire M. Aufrance, and Region V Vice Chair Heather Placer Mull, fought against the regional petition process because they said they believed in (paraphrased) “the sanctity of regional integrity.” LOL.
In other words, the leaders of Region V believed in the “integrity” of the regional nominating process but could care less about the national nominating process. Why? Because it was convenient (and essential) to their role as FOJs. Their hypocrisy should not be lost on you as it is clearly lost on them. They readily can push aside a non-FOJ candidate but then sign the sham petition process at the national level. These are two of the FOJs who play the game well – they do as they are told by the CEO and appear to be there purely as FOJs and not as leaders to move the organization forward.
The hypocrisy that Aufrance and Mull have shown begs the question: Is this the type of people that should be anywhere near a Board of Directors position or regional leadership?
Oh, and it gets worse.
Board of Directors member Trevor Hubbard has been working the room to get the Appraisal Institute to get rid of its residential members. No one I know has any idea why. I find his efforts consistent with the disrespect and lack of attention that residential membership has experienced since the Jim Amorin era began in 2007. After all, we’re still waiting for any feedback from the sham residential appraiser committee that Jim Amorin formed to help diffuse the anger of their 2016 money-grab to take all chapter funds.
Ironically, I’m told Trevor pushed Sandy, a residential appraiser candidate (even if she self-nominated) to offset the NNC vetted commercial appraiser candidate because her credentials checked the boxes that might not get the same pushback as a male commercial appraiser candidate. The hypocrisy here is that this Uber FOJ was so desperate to prevent the NNC vetted selection from being finalized that he had to use a residential appraiser to do it, despite his disdain for them – to get rid of them from the organization. This is Hubbard’s second time on the sham petition process rodeo. His actions show his extreme desperation to remain relevant in the Appraisal Institute. He was willing to be a hypocrite in the sham petition process to keep himself relevant and get rid of residential appraisers.
Trevor’s public anti-residential appraiser stance showed that he would happily do the bidding of Jim Amorin even if it meant using a residential appraiser to do it. There is a lot at stake here. Losing this sham petition process to Steve would jeopardize the position of all FOJs, including Trevor, whatever his beliefs about the residential versus the commercial future of the Appraisal Institute happen to be.
You can see why Trevor’s idea could have legs given the big fall-off in residential membership during the Amorin era and how much SRAs have been ignored and looked down on as second-class citizens. As of now, there are only about 3,000 SRAs out of the roughly 17,000 total members. Pathetic.
Bottom Line: The FOJ gravy train stops if Sandra (FOJ backed candidate) loses and Steve (NNC vetted choice) is confirmed – to FOJs, their actions indicate they care nothing about the dues-paying hard-working membership. The CEO gravy train is all FOJs care about.
Membership has to stop the FOJ gravy train by loudly speaking out against this sham petition process right now – loud and proud. Remember that Jim Amorin scrubbed the regional contact page of all phone numbers and emails for this very reason. He knows the scrubbing was done because he and the board reads every one of my posts about The Appraisal Institute. The AI tech people report to him directly and he has chosen not to return the contact information to the website, thus demonstrating the ethics of the operations leadership of AI is basically zero.
Remember that the complacency of AI membership in the past allowed FOJs to remain in power and get quite financially comfortable. Strong action by the membership today gets FOJs out of power and the organization on the road to recovery and back to relevancy.
The Appraisal Institute is in the hands of membership now – they need to choose the right path for the future of this once great organization. Please make this moment count – it’s your last chance to make yourself heard.
And here’s a quick shoutout to FOJ Jeff Harris who says my writing is garbage. What can I say? I’m an outsider. If you have an issue (I’m not stopping my efforts), feel free to let me know what I got wrong – happy to keep it in confidence if you wish. AI was once an important industry player and I’d love to see it return. The transgressions in recent years have been a distraction from the mission and it impacts appraisers outside the tent too. That’s what I take issue with.
I’m a Counselor of Real Estate (CRE) and wanted to share this….
Join The Counselors of Real Estate on June 23 for the unveiling of the 2021-22 Top Ten Issues Affecting Real Estate®. Now in its 10th year, this signature thought leadership initiative identifies the current and emerging issues expected to have the most significant impact on all sectors of real estate. The Top Ten is developed through broad discussion, polling, and debate among 1,000 Counselors of Real Estate® and is an invaluable resource to clients of Counselors worldwide and to the real estate industry at large.
Don’t miss the countdown on June 23. Register for free here.
I had a fun conversation with Faith Jessie, journalist and anchor at Newsday, Maura McDermott, the real estate writer at Newsday, and Monica Balsan at Daniel Gale Sotheby’s International Realty. My housing data came from our Elliman Report: Long Island Sales series I author for Douglas Elliman.
The interview was placed on Newsday’s home page, which was pretty cool.
Newsday is the largest news publication for Long Island, New York.
Over the past year, beginning with this NY Times piece: Black Homeowners Face Discrimination in Appraisals that initiated a rising progression of news stories covering discrimination in the appraisal of houses. And most recently, this CNN piece: When a Black homeowner concealed her race, her home’s appraisal value doubled.
So I looked at U.S. labor force data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics [BLS], which ranked the top 400 occupations by sex, race, and Hispanic or Latino ethnicity. I’ve been an appraiser for 35 years and it’s been very clear that there is nominal diversity in my profession. For users of the industry’s services who have constantly complained about “appraisal shortages” (translated: a shortage of appraisers willing to work for 50% to 75% below the market rate) – here is your opportunity for action to expand our ranks.
The appraisal industry is aging out because it is hard to bring in youth. It is one of the only professions that require new entrants to have a mentor for their first two years and often without making a living, financially. One of the key reasons for this is because most financial institutions won’t accept a “trainee” until they are licensed or certified with two years of experience. A “trainee” is a derogatory term applied to an appraiser that is not licensed yet. While the GSEs like Fannie and Freddie are fine with “trainees” signing reports prior to their two-year experience threshold, most banks are not. Existing appraisers are all for the difficult entry because supply and demand are in their favor. Few other professions have this two-year mentorship period before an entrant can make a living.
Accountants don’t require a two year mentorship program before they can make a living. Free market conditions should let those with more experience make more money, but not zero.
As a result, entry into the appraiser profession via a mentor system essentially requires appraisers to have relatives that will hire and train them. Given the beginnings of the housing industry as explained next, you can see the problem with this approach.
…and racial covenants. No wonder why there is essentially no diversity in the appraisal profession.
These BLS numbers for 400 occupations show an incredible lack of diversity within the appraisal profession. In fact, U.S. appraisers were ranked dead last for diversity in the list of 400 occupations tracked by BLS with white appraisers comprising 96.5% of the industry. Here are some appraiser ratios from BLS.
And here are the 20 least diverse occupations. The appraisal industry is even less diverse than farmers & ranchers.
While The Appraisal Foundation [TAF] was created and enabled by Congress to maintain appraisal standards (ASB) and minimum qualifications (AQB) for entry into the appraisal profession, it was also created to protect the public trust. The Appraisal Foundation’s attempt to address diversity has largely been in the form of “checking a box” to be able to say they are working on it. Yet the only actions they have taken were the result of recent public pressure by people like myself and others to call them out. The most glaring tone-deaf situations at TAF demonstrate how inappropriate it would be to allow TAF to lead any diversity efforts in the profession:
Since TAF has not been able to see the problem for more than three decades until outsiders pointed it out and they have continued to make decisions that demonstrate their disconnect, TAF leadership is essentially the starting point to resolve the lack of industry diversity problem. Top-down is how this gets fixed if the stakeholders in the industry actually want it fixed. We have no leadership on this issue within the industry and solving this problem has to be top-down or it won’t ever be resolved.
It’s time for Congress to step in.