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Posts Tagged ‘Jonathan Miller’

[Sounding Bored] The RAC Report 4Q 2006

February 15, 2007 | 11:15 am | Columns |

Sounding Bored is my semi-regular column on the state of the appraisal profession. This week I present RAC’s newest report.

I have been a member of Relocation Appraisals & Consultants (RAC) for about ten years. Its considered the cream of the relocation appraisal industry crop and their focus is to bring professionalism to relocation assignments for third party companies who manage employee moves around the world. Some of the best appraisers in the country are members of this organization.

The Manhattan real estate market is dominated by co-ops and many corporations are afraid of them so relocation volume here is pretty light. Its ironic because the foreclosure rate for co-ops is less than condos and co-op boards, for all the bad stories than have been said about them, actually filter out marginally qualified purchasers (because lenders have very low underwriting criteria these days) and discourage investors (flippers).

Even with low relocation volume as a firm, we have been rated by various relocation companies as being one of the most accurate. The last report we received a few years ago indicated we were averaged ±3% of the final sales price as compared to our estimate. The next closest appraiser (who was not a member of RAC) averaged ±10%.

One of the neat by-products of getting so many good appraisers together from around the country is an endless source of information and insight from these individuals. Leaders of the organization have been involuable to me for my professional growth as an appraiser. A few names include Chip Wagner (IL), Jeff Otteau (NJ), Butch Hicks (VA), Brad Charnas (OH), Rick Foos, (CA), Jay Delich (AZ), Colleen Welch (FL), Marie Robbins-Marine (CO), Bob Headrick (IL), Howard Babcock (MI), Suzanne Bloyed (OK), Thomas Allen (OK) and Ron Box (TX) to only name a few. There are many others in the organization that I admire and have learned from.

The price of membership, even if relocation work does not dominate your practice, is well worth it (if you are accepted). They are only interested in seasoned appraisers with references and have membership criteria outlined on their web site [pdf].

But I digress…

One of the by products of cooperation has been the RAC Report which is a market by market depiction of areas covered by members that has been standardized to included absorption, prices and volume by price strata. There is a wide array of markets covered (Manhattan doesn’t fit well into the criteria standard in addition to our lack of an MLS). Data on various New York City markets can be culled from my family of market reports available on my web site.


The redesign of the RAC report and site was spearheaded by Lee Burns, a very good appraiser and member of RAC based in Houston, Texas. The report allows the reader to peruse most of the major US markets to get a better understanding of where the risk lies in the market strata the house they are managing in inventory is likely to be.

These are the markets covered:

Akron Metro Area
Atlanta Northeast Metro Area
Boston Metro Area
Canton Metro Area
Chicago Metro Area
Cincinnati
Cleveland Metro Area
Columbus Metro Area
Corona California
Dallas Metro Area
Denver Metro Area
Detroit Metro Area
Greater Pittsburgh
Houston Metro Area
Las Vegas Metro Area
Los Angeles South Bay Metro Area
Los Angeles Southeast Metro Area
Los Angeles Westside to Central (CLAW)
Madison, WI Metro Area
New Jersey-Montclair Line
New Jersey-Summit/Chatham/Madison
Orange County, California
Phoenix Metro Area
San Antonio Metro Area
San Diego Metro Area
St. Louis Metro Area
Tampa Bay Area
Tucson Metro Area
Tulsa Metro Area
Washington, D.C. Metro Area (Suburban VA and MD included)
Wichita Metro Area

I plan on sharing the results every quarter as the reports are released.

4th Quarter 2006 RAC Report



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[Sounding Bored] AMCO Opts To Partially Pay Some Very Old Debts

February 14, 2007 | 11:25 pm | Columns |

Sounding Bored is my semi-regular column on the state of the appraisal profession. I am still hung up on this AMCO thing, but I think I am getting close to the end of the final chapter.

Two weeks ago after I posted my last discussion about AMCO, I started to get nervious about our non-payment of $15,000+ in outstanding appraisal fees, the majority of them are more than 6 months overdue.

I had been promised by AMCO that a check was written for $10,000, but no check ever arrived. Thinking that they were not likely to ever pay us, I decided to involve my former client in my efforts since I wasn’t really sure if they understood that most of their appraisers were cut off from work once they moved their business to AMCO. Since I wasn’t getting satisfaction of my debt, I felt I had nothing to lose.

I sent several emails to AMCO, copying my client, demanding payment of my debt. I explained the over six month thing, the lack of returned calles from accounts payable and the $10,000 check that never came.

Low and behold, I got an email from AMCO saying a check was being paid to us for $13,000 and they even provided a check number as proof. I was pretty skeptical until I got an email from my original client saying that they had interceded and forced the issue. They also informed me that they would be taking control of the appraisal process and we would start getting work again.

Wake me up: am I dreaming?

On the same day, we got an order from AMCO on behalf of this client. We had not received an order since November 14th. Coincidence?

We said we would only agree to do the appraisal if we were paid the $2,225 balanced owed, since all of it was over 90 days. They refused saying we were no different than other vendors but asked us if we would accept this new assignment if they sent us the payment for the new assignment via FedEx that night. We still declined the assignment since we had vowed not to work for them until we were paid in full. Even after that point, I don’t think its worth the risk.

The feedback this particular lender who interceded for us, indicated that several other national lenders have grown tired of the appraisal management company concept considering the poor quality of work being completed and the weakening real estate environment.

I hope its not too late, but I must admit, I am pretty happy about that new development.

AMCO Gets Credit Line Renewed, Appraisers Hope Checks Are In The Mail

Is AMCO In Financial Trouble Or Managing The Float?


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[Sounding Bored] Appraisers Are NOT Enablers

February 12, 2007 | 10:24 am | Columns |

Sounding Bored is my semi-regular column on the state of the appraisal profession. This week I refuse to paint and therefore am not enabled.

Like or not, when there is mortgage fraud involved, appraisers are somehow involved [Dayton Daily News]. The appraisal profession, whether appraisers like it or not, is the connection between the property and the mortgage fraud being conducted.

A lot of appraisers, including myself, have pointed fingers at many in the lending business, but not enough of a critical eye on ourselves. On one hand, the lending process has encouraged self-dealing and exagerating through financial incentive, but on the other hand, many in our profession don’t have the backbone to say no and work to switch their client base or specialty, otherwise it wouldn’t be so widespread.

Lender pressure and wholesale lending irregularities didn’t happen overnight. The appraisal industry has always been underreprepresented because it is too fragmented and emphasis has always been placed on the commercial sector, because the dollars (value) are so much bigger.

The loss of our professional identity happened at about the same pace as the paint fading on a house (assuming it doesn’t have aluminum siding). Form-fillers are merely coloring an asset to meet the needs of the parties involved (no offense to house painters).

Whenever you read about someone arrested or indicted for mortgage fraud, there is always an appraiser involved.

But let get one thing straight: using the professional label of an “appraiser” for those walking down the “perp” walk is clearly inaccurate, because they didn’t appraise the property.

Those individuals are merely painters in appraiser’s clothing.


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[Sounding Bored] AMCO Gets Credit Line Renewed, Appraisers Hope Checks Are In The Mail

January 24, 2007 | 11:37 pm | Columns |

Sounding Bored is my semi-regular column on the state of the appraisal profession. This week I will find out whether I can buy winter coats for my kids since AMCO was able to borrow $2M.

Last week in my post Is AMCO In Financial Trouble Or Managing The Float? about how AMCO was in massive arrears to my firm and I was getting nervous because their reason for the 7 month delay seemed to be because they were having problems with their credit line and had to delay payment. In this day in age of easy credit and the fact that AMCO is a large national firm that tries to position themselves as appraiser-orientated (I think they are the best of the AMC bunch – not that this is very complimentary), is particularly alarming.

Today, Patrick C. O’Brien, their Chief Operating Officer, issued a press release that they finally obtained their credit line. Now I can hope to get paid my $15,000+ in outstanding appraisal fees, the majority of them are more than 6 months overdue.

The day after my original post last week, I got a follow up email from AMCO indicating I would be cut a check for $10,000 of my old invoices on Monday. Should I bank on the idea that this will actually happen after 6 months of what now in hindsight, seemed to be stonewalling? Pardon me if I am a bit upset about this.

Here’s the press release sent to me today. I am at a loss as to why this is worthy of a press release or that it should even be announced.

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AMCO Completes $2 Million Credit Facility

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For Immediate Release (1/24/07)

CLEVELAND, OHIO — AMCO, a national valuations service provider to the lending and relocation industries, today announced that it has completed a $2 Million Credit facility with New York based Access Capital.

“This was an important step for this organization to solidify itself for the long-term with both our client and vendor partners, as AMCO’s leading position in valuation quality is further enhanced by this financial partnership”, said Chief Operating Officer Patrick C. O’Brien. “Adding a strong and committed financial partner like Access Capital will provide AMCO the capital to continue our growth and strategic initiatives.”


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[Sounding Bored] Behind The 8 Ball: Weaker Market Requiring Stronger Appraisals

January 22, 2007 | 12:01 am | Columns |

[Sounding Bored is my semi-regular column on the state of the appraisal profession. This week I get woozy from getting beat up so much.]

Last month I was speaking in front of the loan officers of a local mortgage brokerage firm that we do some work for. We are not considered a favorite choice because of our reputation is less about the playing ball then it is about estimating a reasonable market value. We get very light, but regular volume of work from them and they are pleasant enough to deal with, but they clearly favor a competitor by giving them heavy volume because their orientation towards better “service.”

I remember a specific question by one of the mortgage reps posed to me at the meeting that sort of threw me for its brashness. It went something like:

Jonathan, assuming that there is a range of gray in valuation, how high in the range would you be willing to go to make the deal for us?

Although this is probably always in the back of every mortgage broker’s mind when ordering an appraisal, the audacity of being so blunt and open, made the room go quiet.

I didn’t have an answer, other than:

I understand what you are saying, but we can only provide what we feel to be a reasonable estimate of market value, supported by facts.

I ran into this loan officer a few weeks later at a holiday party and he chuckled as he recapped the situation and replied that he knew I gave the only proper ethical answer I could and he enjoyed seeing me try to answer it.

Apparently he didn’t understand how the question made him look in front of his peers. At the end of the day, I don’t need (or want) more work from someone like that and I resent the fact that our profession is placed in this position every day …play ball or die.

The irony here is that the profession is even more important now for assessing collateral as the market weakens. Perhaps there is a remote possibility that lenders will start to have a more critical eye in their need to understand what the real value of a property is. They just need to ask why appraisal reviews nearly always turn up inflated first appraisals [SCS] that were done for wholesale lenders (mortgage brokers).


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[Sounding Bored] Is AMCO In Financial Trouble Or Managing The Float?

January 17, 2007 | 9:09 am | Columns |

Sounding Bored is my semi-regular column on the state of the appraisal profession. This week I break out in a cold sweat as AMCO delays paying their bills.

As a matter of ethics, our firm avoids working for appraisal management companies, because as a rule, they encourage poor quality by demanding below market fees and unrealistic turn times. As a results, AMC’s in many markets can attract individuals who do no real research and serve only to make the number for their clients.

The one appraisal management company we had worked for on a regular basis is AMCO because one of our long time clients, US Trust Company, moved their appraisal ordering process to AMCO because upper management wanted to save internal administration costs and benefit from one stop shopping. They likely saw the appraisal as a commodity, like a flood certification. (Note: Be careful what you wish for.)

AMCO tout themselves as The Nation’s Leading Independent Valuation Management Solutions Company and their rep was that they pay a fair fee in a reasonable period of time.

AMCO was told by UST to use us for our market because we had a 16 year relationship. They did for a while but slowly moved the work to their army of form-fillers. We continued to work for them because they accepted our normal fee and turn time requirements. We were mainly hired for complex, high end assignments. We figured it was a matter of time befefore we would no longer receive work from them, so we kept at it until that day came.

A little over a year ago, we noticed they were becoming eratic in paying their bills. They would pay some, but not all of them. Payment times expanded. We have invoices we have been calling on regularly since June and July. We would be directed to their accounts payable department who NEVER returned our calls. I repeat: NEVER.

They owe us over $15,000.

Yesterday we got the following email from one of their reps:

I apologize for the delay in payment. AMCO was expecting to have the funds from a line of credit in December but did not receive them and so that pushed back our payment. We are now expecting to have the funds in the next 2 weeks.

All unpaid invoices thru October will be paid at the end of January. November invoices in February and December invoices in March.

Thank you again for your patience and understanding.

Of course, if the appraisal is a day late, we get yelled at by someone fresh out of high school who doesn’t understand what an appraisal is (ok, so I am exaggerating a little bit, but it makes me feel better).

Here’s an excerpt from my response yesterday:

…Taking 7-8 months to pay bills by a large national coporation is not reasonable and we are seriously concerned that you are having financial troubles or simply managing the float for a greater return. We would not have charged the same fees if it was going to take more than 6 months to get paid on a substantial amount of work.

Are payments prioritized by those who have the most outstanding or simply by their age? One of the advantages and reasons we agreed to work with your firm, as an AMC, was your sterling reputation for being fair about payment which now that seems to be an outdated characterization…

Is anyone else having this problem with AMCO? Do we have any recourse before I hire a lawyer?


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[Sounding Bored] Copyright This: Appraisal Form Report Content Really Is Protected

November 13, 2006 | 12:01 am | Columns |

Sounding Bored is my semi-regular column on the state of the appraisal profession. This week I address the issue of copyrights and how my written expression includes the objective data, not just commentary.

FNC posted piece on their forum by their Chief Legal Officer Neil Olson addressing the copyright issue of appraisal content in his article: Appraisal Report Data: Not Intellectual Property, Not Protected By Copyright.

Appraisers need to place a copyright on their reports and file them for protection with the US Copyright office. I’ve had issues in the past with appraisers copying my content word for word along with the the look and feel of the form report addenda we use and have threatened to sue them to make them stop. One of the copiers was involved in a mortgage fraud scheme and was eventually indicted so it looks like it won’t be a problem going forward with this individual.

Copyright comes from the US constitution, which says “the Congress shall have power . . . to promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.” The courts have found that copyright requires originality, which stems from expression, selection and arrangement.

The idea presented in the article is that narratives are expressive presentations and therefore can be more readily copyprotected. Form appraisals are not because the physical details of a property are not facts do not owe their origin to an act of authorship. They are facts. The comments in the form are not.

Here’s the flaw with this logic.

The physical characteristics of a property presented are not necessarily fact but rather require personal expression, selection and arrangement.

In other words, the square footage of a house may be in public record but what if its wrong? The appraiser changes it based on his expertise. Say he/she elects to recalculate the sq ft because it doesn’t include a new extension. I contend that no two appraisers would measure the exact same square footage result of the extension. The result is therefore not fact, rather its an expert generated opinion based on training and experience. Therefore this information, even if they are a number and not comments, are a written expression.

So I think the argument here is flawed.

AVM’s are here to stay and will evolve and eventually become reasonably accurate. I really don’t need to hear that appraisers will be involved in their implementation (other than provide free content for them). AVM’s have already replaced a human appraiser in many respects. We are being replaced, not because AVM’s are more accurate. Its because its easier not to use us if the client doesn’t have incentive to care about an accurate value.

As an appraiser, have you done an appraisal for a home equity loan lately? At this point, I believe AVM’s are nearly always inaccurate but since the results are not tested against reality by clients and they are a heck of a lot cheaper and faster, they have become a popular way to meet regulatory requirements – ie. paper in the file. FNC has some of the sharpest statistical minds working for them and have probably made the best case for data automation out there, just don’t tell me my opinion is confined to text.

Copyright Jonathan J. Miller 2006. All world wide rights reserved.


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[Sounding Bored] Flawed Structure In Appraisal Industry Results In Flawed OFHEO Data

November 13, 2006 | 12:01 am | Columns |

Sounding Bored is my semi-regular column on the state of the appraisal profession. Its been a while since I ranted about the stucture of the appraisal industry but this time it affects the accuracy of the OFHEO data which is the standard housing market stat.

One of the problems in the lending industry today is the lack of protection for the appraiser from pressure. A recent attempt at this last year fell short as one of the sponsors of the bill was indicted.

The structure in the lending environment overwhelmingly favors form-fillers. These are the appraisers who crank out high volume, low research reports that make the number so everyone is happy. Do the report fast and make the number so you can continue to get more work. This is not just a problem with mortgage brokers, but national lending institutions are among the worst abusers of the appraisal profession. Its systematic to the point that their employees on the front lines don’t see it happening. Its weeded out many of the good appraisers and replaced them with form-fillers.

The appraisal industry gets a black eye because those form-fillers actually get called appraisers. An appraiser I am familiar with proudly markets himself as personally performing 20,000 appraisals over the past 15 years. Its supposed to infer experience and success. Its amazing to me because it infers just the opposite. Allowing for 2 weeks of vacation, thats 5.3 appraisals start to finish every day completed by one person. That includes research, making appointments, inspection, travel time, speaking with clients, billing and a host of other clerical issues. How reliable can the report be for collateral assessment?

The answer: not at all.

With all these cowboys (no offense to real cowboys) running around cranking out reports, they tend to miss the mark on value. The OFHEO data, which includes appraiser market value estimates on refi’s (incredible) shows how the appraiser’s have missed the mark in the past few years )hat tip to Calculated Risk).

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[Sounding Bored] An Apple A Day Keeps The Appraiser Away

October 10, 2006 | 12:01 am | Columns |

Sounding Bored is my semi-regular column on the state of the appraisal profession. This week I vent a little on clients who are all about the money – in other words, the disconnect between the true appraiser function and managing client expectations. The problem is, some people can be in denial about being unethical. They don’t usually say, “Gee whiz, I’d love you to help me take advantage of my real estate partner.”

On occasion, we perform appraisal services for firms who, for some reason or another, decide they don’t wish to pay for our services. We get this on occasion when we don’t “make their number.” Their irrational creativity is quite amazing, but unfortunately, it is also quite selfish and unfair.

I think that sometimes we get so busy trying to generate business, that we leave out the part about getting paid for it.

We recently performed an appraisal for a doctor trying to buy out his partner, for an investor trying to flip an apartment and a broker who was trying to sell her apartment to someone in the same building where her apartment was. In all of these cases, we had been paid our fee before releasing their reports.

A barrage of phone calls and emails followed from each of the 3 clients without a shread of evidence to contradict the results of the reports. Why? Because the values were reasonable but the reports were not favorable to their effort to take advantage of the opposing parties in their transactions. They didn’t see us as providing an independent value, they saw us as a facilitator for their deal.

Recently we fired one of our long time clients. We had a long standing relationship with a particular New York area mortgage broker whom I had considered reputable and we had recommended to our clients on a regular basis. But then something happened. They got bigger and more successful and must have decided that paying their bills was not a priority. They only have a part time bookkeeper despite their growing size and used this as an excuse to be slow or miss payments.

Over the past several years, an appraisal here and there would not be paid for. When we complained, they would pay more current bills and not the old ones. The amount outstanding grew to be quite large, I am embarrassed to say: “Dangling the carrot worked with us.” We sent a bill every month and every month something would slip through the cracks.

This summer we put our foot down and after much resistance, they paid about 75% of the outstanding fees owed. However, they waited until all outstanding jobs with their company were delivered. Enclosed with the check they used the most childish amateur threats to us not to go public with this situation. Like a teacher to a child.

Hint: They owe us the fee for services rendered and yet are telling us to keep quiet about it.

They even had the chutzpah to try to order appraisal updates at a later date on work we had completed several months ago. We of course declined.

A few years ago, a real estate appraisal competitor of mine had a collection problem with this same mortgage broker. They warned me and I did not listen. My competitor ended up filing a complaint with the New York Department of State to get paid. Looks like I will be doing that shortly.

Apparently success does that to some people. They see themselves as above payment of their debts. Too bad, the employees that work for this particular company are actually very nice people and several even called us after we severed the relationship lamenting that they missed working with our firm.

The owner, who has a lot in common with me in terms of age, family, business, was someone who became disconnected from the reality of paying for services he ordered.

Care to guess who this New York area mortgage broker is?


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[Sounding Bored] Ney Irony: Political Corruption Downs Appraiser White Night

September 20, 2006 | 6:58 am | Columns |

Sounding Bored is my semi-regular column on the state of the appraisal profession. This week I say “I told you so” when the author of what was hailed as critical appraisal protection legislation resigned under a cloud of ethics problems.

Representative Bob Ney, Republican of Ohio, has agreed to plead guilty to federal criminal charges related to his dealings with the corrupt lobbyist Jack Abramoff, lawyers and others with knowledge of the investigation said Thursday.

The bill that he backed was supposed to protect appraisers from corruption of the appraisal ordering process and structure of the current lending industry plead guilty. This irony could be viewed as humorous if it were not for the fact that appraisers are still left twisting in the wind.

Responsible Lending Defeated By Irresponsible Lobbying As Congressman Ney Steps Down [Soapbox]
Trying To Sway Some Action On A Stalled HR 1295, Says A Lot [Soapbox]


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[Sounding Bored] Comparable Is Hard To Define

September 18, 2006 | 7:34 am | Columns |

Sounding Bored is my semi-regular column on the state of the appraisal profession. This week I get annoyed with appraisers who decide to become diligent only when they are told.


In Kenneth R. Harney’s column Nation’s Housing his article addresses appraisers and the comparable sales they use in Valuation Gets Tough When Sales Slide [WaPo].

Traditionally, real estate appraisers focused heavily on sales of similar properties — “comparables” that closed in recent months — in making their valuations. But that doesn’t work well in markets that were super hot but are now stalled or falling.

One of the problems with appraisals during the housing boom has been the idea that very little research was done and this is evident in the quote above. The premise has been that you simply throw 3 “comps” on the grid and plus up for time and everyone was happy.

I am not sure what “tradition” this follows, but good appraisers never did this. They always look at contracts, listings and interaction with brokers, buyers and sellers in addition to using closed sales. This is what a residential appraiser should be doing. Its not something that should be undertaken simply because the market turned. Otherwise, how else would an appraiser see a changing market?

A sharp appraiser, like the one in this article is aware of tricks used that will cloud the data such as ghost listings and concessions.

My hope as an industry is that we someday appraise the same way during all markets, and not simply do as we are told.

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[Sounding Bored] Appraisal Fees Are Low But (Their) Values Are High

August 11, 2006 | 1:33 pm | Columns |

Sounding Bored is my semi-regular column on the state of the appraisal profession. This week I get annoyed about the cost/value relationship of our services.

Bankrate.com performed a national survey on closing costs and ranked them by state. In the article covering the survey. The title of the article is what grabbed my attention. I have always found it curious how little understanding there is about what the appraisal provides in the lending and home purchase process. It allows the lender to understand the value of the asset and assess the amount of risk they can take on the loan. It tells the buyer whether they are over paying (if they look at the appraisal at closing).

It seems to me that the nominal cost of the appraisal relative to the size of the deal would make it seem like a no-brainer. $300 to $500 to see if the $1,000,000 property is worth a $1,000,000 seems very cheap to me.

If prices have gone up 100% during the housing boom for example, why have appraisal fees gone down for generic retail lenders? Our licensing does not permit the appraisal fee to be contingent on the value, yet the appraisal is done to protect the lender (whether they want to hear the bad news or not). As appraisal services for national lenders are moved to appraisal management companies, appraisers have to cut corners a lot to be able to afford their fees. Case in point:

When eAppraise-it took over the WAMU appraisal function, along with Lender’s Service their quoted appraisal fees for co-op appraisals in New York were $240 yet WAMU paid $450 for a co-op report. Even at $450, it was basically a loss leader for most appraisers. The cost of living in NYC is one of the highest in the country, yet now the fee is cut in half?

Do you think the eAppraise-it co-op reports are going to be worth the paper they are written on? I highly doubt it. I haven’t heard of any local appraisers that will be working for them. I suspect e-Appraise-it is scrambling for appraisers in this market right now. Lender’s Service has done the same thing in years past. I have been called by them on a number of occasions simply trying to get appraisers here to work for them, basically for free.

Incidentally, WAMU never referred its appraiser panel to the appraisal management companies. On the surface, its very sleezy. Actually, its pretty sleezy on all levels. On second thought, they did us all a favor since I suspect that no one on their panels will work for these firms for half their previous rate.

You can argue about greater efficiencies through technology and public record all day long, but with those enhancements have come greater pressure for faster turn around times, allowing less time for consideration of the value. In other words, quality has left the building.

Lets be honest, then. Does anyone really care about the value of doing an appraisal?

You want how much for an appraisal? [Star Bulletin]


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