Butch Hicks is an appraisal veteran that hails from Northern Virginia . I first met him when he was the President of RAC (Relocation Appraisers & Consultants)  and was struck by how he got straight to the point, and peppered it with a southern drawl. He is a leader in the appraisal industry and has an affinity for crunching housing market data like I do. In his first post for his Hicks on Sticks column in Soapbox, Butch deals with the ethics and practicality of doing comp checks (which in their pure form, completely violates USPAP). I am thrilled to have him contribute to Soapbox. …Jonathan Miller
“Bill Hicks my friend (if he was a friend, he would have called me Butch), how are you doing? My name is Slick E. Lender and I’m with AllQualify Mortgage. We have just begun an expensive ad campaign in Virginia and anticipate a lot of appraisal work for you as a result and I’d like to establish a relationship with you as the sole appraiser for our use there.”
And so begins yet another phone request for a comp check.
“Ok,” I respond, “what comp do you want me to check?” This, my ‘old’ response, usually resulted in a pained and questioning “huh” from the other end of the phone line. “You asked for a comp check,” I reply, “so which one do you wish me to check?”
These requests for comp checks, whether made by phone or fax, have increased dramatically with the advent of the internet, the slowing of the realty market and rising interest rates that have all but chocked off the refinancing deals of the recent past. Like all appraisers, I assume, I take a different attitude toward such requests from my regular clients as opposed to those like Slick E. but of late my patience has worn a bit thin on all of them.
I’m not going into a discussion here of how providing comp checks in order to lasso an appraisal request might place the appraiser in jeopardy as regards USPAP; I assume all appraisers are aware of such, though the evidence might indicate otherwise (on numerous occasions, I’ve been told by requestors that I’m the first to ever have bought that issue up). Also, I must admit, it’s a little difficult to get terribly angry with those making such requests because I recognize that a primary reason they are doing so is because so many of my fellow ‘professionals’ easily accommodate them.
Worse, to some degree, are those faxed requests that eat up otherwise clean paper. I’ve begun a collection of the worst offenders (another subject for later), you know, the ones with the Appraisal in Appraisal Request crossed out and replaced with a handwritten “Comp”. Lenders, having now caught on the fact that some appraisers (like myself) do not provide comp requests, have now resorted to blast faxing such to every appraiser in a given market. Experience tells them, I suppose, that someone will bite and the chase for ‘the number’ is on.
There was a time when I would respond for such requests by simply sending all sales in a subject neighborhood to the requestor and letting them decide at that point whether or not to proceed with a formal appraisal request. It’s not that difficult to do with my current MLS system but it does take a little time. Time is money however and for that reason I eventually halted even that process. But, what the heck, I’m in the appraisal business and I earn a living by collecting a fee for such, so my new view is to take advantage of a technology that is in some fashion, competing with me.
Zillow.com is now my friend . Since appearing on the scene, I have taken to measuring its performance against mine on actual sale cases. How, you may ask, do I do that? Simple! Since I do a lot of relocation work, I have something to measure my own performance against. By capturing Zillows value, along with my own on every relocation assignment and tracking the history of the subject as it goes to settlement, I have concluded that in most cases, the Zillow value is in excess of my value estimate and the eventual sales price (in fact, of late, the Zillow value is generally higher than even the subjects initial list price).
Back to earning the fee part earlier noted (not to mention saving myself the aggravation), I have devised a new tactic. Now, when I get that call from Slick, I simply point him to the Zillow website. If, after obtaining a ‘value’ there, he wishes to proceed, fine, I can accept the assignment with no problem and a very clear conscience.
Coming in ‘low’ is not a problem; the value is what it is. I don’t worry about irate phone calls from anyone (borrower or lender) any longer; experienced appraisers learn to develop a thick skin.
Experienced appraisers also learn which battles to fight and ones involving comp checks are no longer a priority of mine.