Fee Simplistic is a regular post by Martin Tessler, whom after 30 years of commercial fee appraiser-related experience, gets to the bottom of real issues by seeing the both the trees and the forest. He has never been accused of being a man of few words and his commentary can’t be inspired on a specific day of the week.

…Jonathan Miller

My inclination in most of my Fee Simplistic blogs is to resort to satire in targeting the inconsistencies, foibles and malpractices that have proliferated in real estate lending including appraising. The recent demise of IndyMac Bancorp Inc., however, forces me to turn serious and throw the forum open to soliciting views and opinions on a particular appraisal incident that was only a minor blip in the bank’s implosion but looms large in appraisal management and, most of all, integrity for those of us who still hold to it.

Prior to the bank’s takeover by the FDIC it had been calling on borrowers to make up the difference if a gap existed between market value and the loan-to-value ratio established at inception. A particular incident involved a lawsuit filed by a builder in Los Angeles County Superior Court in April claiming that IndyMac did not act in good faith when it tried to call in a loan where personal guarantees were involved in a 900 acre Joshua Ranch tract in the Antelope Valley north of LA. The background was as follows:

* In May 2007 the property was valued at $82 million by the bank, and
* In December 2007 the property value was appraised at $17 million-an 80% decline- with the appraisal estimating that an 18 year absorption period would be needed to sell 539 houses on the tract
* The builder claimed that IndyMac just wanted out of the loan because of their precarious position and thus wanted the borrower to pay off the difference between the $17 million appraised value and the $27 million loan balance.

Ignoring the bank/builder argument on loan payoff what struck me was the severity of the free-fall in appraised value over a 7 month period assuming the appraisal was arms-length and FIRREA compliant with no lender influence or pressure. It, however, and raised the following questions:

1. Did the bank use the same appraiser in December as in May? If not, did the last appraisal employ any assumptions that were substantially different than the earlier appraisal?
2. Assuming the same appraiser, did the market tank that severely in 7 months or did the first appraisal miss the market dynamics as the sub-prime and loan delinquency downturn was already underway prior to May; did the bank review the earlier appraisal to note any discrepancies between the previous and current market conditions or any major changes in assumptions that would have generated such a major decline in value?
3. Assuming the same firm again for both appraisals did they indicate where and why the market had changed in such drastic fashion from their previous appraisal? It has been a long standing policy in assignments that I have directed that reference be made to any previous appraisal completed within a year prior to the valuation date.
4. If a new appraiser was selected, was it because the original appraiser could “not hit the number” that IndyMac needed to declare a call on the loan?
5. Did IndyMac’s appraisal group compare any of the facts or assumptions between the two reports to support the drastic change in value or were ethical considerations thrown to the wind not to mention FIRREA and USPAP?

One Comment

  1. Edd Gillespie September 23, 2008 at 10:14 am

    I am not in a position to answer any of the questions you ask with specifics. Not one. I have however, come to a conclusion that either maintains my sanity or my insanity. Either way, I’m happy with it.

    I have concluded that mortgage lenders, residential or otherwise, want appraisals that rubber stamp their preconceptions. I am not well equipped to ferret out those lenders that are ethical and honest from those that are not since none of them admit they want the appraisers to fudge.

    Therefore, I have employed what may be a sledge hammer to kill what may be a fly, but it is the best I can do from my neck of the woods. It doesn’t look like a fly to me, but more like an alien dragon operating like a black hole. No more mortgage appraisal work for untested clients, period.

    Hope you get answers to your questions and please share them with us if you get them.

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