There Will Be An Appraiser Shortage When Pigs Can’t Swim

I learned something new this week, and it was something that would happen only when “pigs fly.” Apparently I hadn’t considered whether it was possible for pigs to swim – frankly, I never thought about pigs swimming at any time in my life until the internet told me. And it’s true.

I also never believed the false narrative perpetuated by appraisal management companies that there was an appraisal shortage. To all my readers who are real estate agents and brokers, do you ever wonder why many of the appraisers you meet at your sold listings are not from your market and don’t have an ounce of “local market knowledge?” The cause of that phenomenon is baked into Dodd-Frank. I was irate this week when HousingWire, a regular read for me, promoted a webinar that was reliant on two executives from AMCs to talk about the future of appraising. I sent a note to the editor, and sadly, he did not respond.

More on this below in Appraiserville.

From the “Beauty in Repetition” Department

These are recurring issues in housing that continue to fascinate me. I am a big fan of repetition to convey market insights, so this section is necessary to keep these story threads in front of my readers.

It never was Neverland – There was a recent news blitz about Michael Jackson’s “Neverland” estate return to the market with a huge price chop. The point is, the seemingly random $100 million asking price was never in sync with the housing market (translation: didn’t sell). I don’t know if the price chop is enough, but I know the housing market hasn’t fallen by 33%. I therefore boldly proclaimed that the era of aspirational pricing is over.

When that sinking feeling towers over you – You buy a luxury condo in San Francisco and are told later “that the building had sunk 16 inches into the earth and tilted over 15 inches at its tip and 2 inches at the base” you wonder about your safety and your investment. I’m obsessed with this story for both its tragedy and the concept of building a tall tower in an earthquake zone no matter how advanced the materials and engineering are.

Mansionization as a new derogatory housing term

Too much room for too few people

While McMansion is firmly embedded in our culture as a negative housing type in the aftermath of the housing bubble a decade ago.

The widespread disdain for the McMansion stems from perceptions that these houses look and feel inappropriate for a given neighborhood, are wasteful in terms of space (too much room for too few people) and resources (building materials, electricity, gas), project the pretentiousness (or lack of taste or refinement) of their owners, and a general discordance in architectural preferences.

The negativity for the word is bleeding into plain old “mansion” so it is merely a hop, skip and a jump to “Mansionization” which seems to be the process of converting an existing home into a McMansion-style property. In LA, the expansion of the McMansion problem is being tackled by lot coverage ratio – moving from 50% to 45%, but that was viewed as too lenient.

Mansionization—simply described as the process by which conspicuously enormous homes replace smaller residences that more smoothly blend with the neighborhood aesthetic—was first addressed by the city in a 2008 law called the Baseline Mansionization Ordinance.

High school physics taught me that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. One of the by-products of zoning restrictions like this and many others result in higher housing prices. Hatred of McMansions – as awful as they are – isn’t free.

The Height of Stupidity

That phrase is appropriate when you sneak extra height into a new mansion and then have to tear the second floor down. It shows you place a lot of faith in your neighbors to ignore your zoning interpretation. A Hamptons developer violated…

the “pyramid law,” which means there is no building 45 degrees from the edge of a property line, so a home doesn’t tower over neighboring homes.
In 2012, The Post reported that Cardel built a house from scratch for posh clients too close to the curb. So he had to tear the whole thing down and start again.

Apparently, the margins for Mansion development must be so huge that architects and lawyers aren’t needed. If you build a mansion a few feet outside the allowable area, you simply tear it down and start over.

‘Let Love Rule’ Celebrity Home Decorating

I’m probably dating myself, but I always loved Lenny Kravitz’ first big hit “Let Love Rule.” So it was a little confusing to learn Kravitz has a design firm outside of his music business. In the world of new development, so much of marketing is about an association with celebrity these days. In the housing bubble, projects would shout out the architect’s name in their advertising to such a degree that buyers, sellers, and brokers would be embarrassed to ask who the person was – fearful of the response “you don’t know who ______ is?” as if you were a moron. That’s not the case with Kravitz and given the trendy location of the project it’s probably helpful, before even considering whether his firm can do a good job with it.

One57 Primes the Pump With Corrected Pricing

When we talk about super luxury condos in Manhattan, One57 is top of mind. After years of slow sales, and no sales in the first half of 2016, they saw a surge in activity at the end of 2016. This bump was likely not related to improving market conditions but rather the introduction of their lower priced former rental units priced closer to current market conditions.

Upcoming Speaking Events

March 9, 2017 – Real Estate Board of New York: 19th Annual Residential Management Leadership Breakfast to honor outstanding leaders in residential property management: Jonathan J. Miller, CRE, CRP, of Miller Samuel Inc., will give the keynote address at the event to be held at the New York Hilton Midtown (2nd Floor, Sutton Ballroom, 1335 Avenue of the Americas). Tickets are available for purchase on

April 6, 2017The Miami Herald New Yorkers’ Guide to Miami: What second homeowners, investors need to know. Moderated by Jonathan Miller, President, CEO, Miller Samuel real estate consultancy, the panelists include Howard Lorber, Chairman, Douglas Elliman / Michael Stern, Chairman JDS development / Neisen Kasdin, Miami Managing Principal, Akerman at Sotheby’s, 1334 York Avenue, New York City. Tickets are available for purchase.


I like to take my bad news before my good news.

Bad News
A few items of note based on feedback and interactions with appraisers across the U.S. this week: There seems to be a growing number of AI members that are not paying their dues. I don’t know whether this means they are dropping out, but it has been described as a reaction to AI National’s recent behavior after years of neglect. I know that AI National has formed an exploratory committee to address their lack of commitment to their residential membership and that one of the members is not an appraiser. Given AI National’s aggressive behavior in Montana against the interests of their residential members, I am skeptical this committee is anything more than a tool to sooth the savage beast. Well earned cynicism is a tough thing to discard.

Good News
The other much more optimistic development is that Wells Fargo VMS has been aggressively calling appraisers around the country to get them on their panel. When the appraiser tells them they refuse to work for their AMC, the response has been along the lines of “we are no longer using AMCs” and “we are now going in a different direction” and “there was no ‘value add’ – if this is true, then it is good news for residential appraisers. Apparently, Costco Finance is doing the same thing. Also, my firm and some colleagues around the U.S. have been receiving calls from community banks and regional banks with the same messaging – that they are not using AMCs going forward. A few weeks ago, a big Wall Street bank with a mortgage division called me to get our firm on their panel for NYC work. They can’t stand the quality of the AMC work they are seeing anymore and are testing out the concept.

HousingWire Webinar Fog Alert

I like to read HousingWire and have met with the founder in my office in NYC. I was quite upset with their promotion of a webinar that was comprised of two AMC executives – one is the well-known Brian Coester, and the other is Alan Hummel, a former president of the Appraisal Institute who now works for an AMC. That’s a “tell” on AI National’s actual position on AMCs in my view. If you read the threatening letter to Tom Allen from 2004, Hummel was the guy Tom had to provide an apology to. On the plus side, there was a very insightful appraiser, Matt Simmons, who provided actual data to disprove the AMC false narrative of the appraisal shortage. Matt was formally a Florida regulator. He has a terrific power point that he used and generously shared with me – here is a key slide that makes the point that there are plenty of appraisers.

Here is a video of AMC owner Brian Coester doing a follow-up video to the webinar. I am giving him the benefit of the doubt here, but he is rambling about literally nothing.

Who is REVAA? Phil Crawford Explains

They are the AMC trade group. I will have more to share about them in the coming weeks but make sure you listen to Voice of Appraisal soon.

A day wasted working for an AMC

Part of the false narrative by AMCs is the time they waste trying to find a low fee appraiser.

Dave Towne wrote a great post last fall on AppraisersBlogs called “Appraisers Shortage? A Personal Story” that is well worth a read.

And Dave is a great resource for appraisers. He is a prolific writer and shares his content with his subscribers. Dave told me how to get on to his appraiser email list – I highly recommend it:

I ask that ‘new subscribers’ provide the state they are based in, and if they want, add the city/town name and business phone number, and send that info to my email … … with a comment to “subscribe to email.’

Updates from the Real Estate Industrial Complex

Over at my forum known as the Real Estate Industrial Complex where I have been chronicling the unfortunate anti-membership activities of AI National.

Appraisal Institute Membership Has Declined More Than 35% Since 2007

At the current trend, a 50% further membership reduction would occur within nine years.

In all the information being sent to me by AI members over the past several months and within my research, I noticed a pattern of significant decline in membership. Now, this is nothing new to most of you, but I’m not sure how much many members realize how quickly the numbers are dropping. Using AI National’s published information including annual reports, press releases and notices on their website, I cobbled together a decade of total membership numbers. You can see the 35.5% drop illustrated clearly below.

The above chart shows a clear linear pattern. If the same trend continues to occur – I anticipate a faster rate of decline in the coming years – it will take 9 years to fall another 50%. This drop is not unrealistic since AI National has worked hard to keep the status quo which is probably the reason their stealth culture has remained firmly in place.

I don’t know what the membership threshold needs to be before the AI National organization collapses – since institutional transparency has not been demonstrated during the “taking” debacle – but I’d characterize the membership decline as an organizational crisis. This future collapse needs to be addressed immediately and differently.

After reading most of AI National annual reports since 2010, it is clear that leadership has primarily focused on recruiting. For every big jump in designations that are realized in a given year, the following year sees a net membership loss as the rate of aging or disaffected members more than offsets new designations. Their math isn’t working.

I suspect top leadership is fully aware of this trend but doesn’t know how to reverse it, so they continue to ignore it, blaming the decline on forces beyond their control. To make matters worse, they have pulled back into their silo and have lost touch with their membership’s needs and mindset (consider the recent “taking” debacle.)

Upon reflection, this could explain leadership’s irrational behavior of late – perhaps panic. The manhandling of membership through the “taking” debacle to fully control chapter cash or pushing things that are detrimental to their members best interest. These include AMCs, promoting the false narrative of an appraisal shortage and pushing hard to get rid of The Appraisal Foundation to swoop in and save everyone with their set of standards.

What’s quite amazing about this situation is that back in 2006, AI National correctly forecast a 25% to 35% decline in appraiser population. However, I doubt they thought it would be reflective of their own membership. The text of an AI National press release was presented in Appraisal Today.

The Appraisal Institute has analyzed the Appraisal Subcommittee National Registry data since 2006 using a consistent methodology, and the long-term trend is clear: · The number of appraisers continues to decrease at a rate of about 3 percent per year; · The appraiser population could decrease 25 to 35 percent over the next 10 years due to age attrition and fewer new entrants. “In spite of a higher level of appraiser qualification overall, the lack of career prospects for trainees and few new people entering the profession are legitimate and serious issues, yet opportunities do exist to reach the next generation and employment options will, in fact, likely be enhanced in the coming years,” said Appraisal Institute President Richard L. Borges II, MAI, SRA.

Let’s hope AI National wakes up soon – I suspect it may be too late.

A Brilliant Idea

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See you next week.

Jonathan Miller, CRP, CRE
Miller Samuel Inc.
Real Estate Appraisers & Consultants

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