Sunday, January 11, 2009

Home Valuation Code of Conduct

The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) has announced the "final" Revised Version of the Home Valuation Code of Conduct (HVCC).

The Code is based on an agreement between the Enterprises, the New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and FHFA to improve the reliability of home appraisals.

The "agreement" was originally between Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight and Cuomo. The New York Attorney General made a big splash is THIS ANNOUNCEMENT. The settlement was prompted by an investigation of mortgage and valuation fraud initiated by the New York Attorney General in response to allegations of shady dealings between an Appraisal Management Company, Washington Mutual and a group of appraisers doing contract work for the Appraisal Management Company.

"The integrity of our mortgage system depends on independent appraisers," said Cuomo. "Washington Mutual compromised the fairness of this system by illegally pressuring appraisers to provide inflated values. Every company that buys loans from Washington Mutual must be sure that the loans they purchased are not corrupted by this systemic fraud."

The lawsuit filed last week details a scheme in numerous e-mails showing First American and eAppraiseIT caved to pressure from Washington Mutual to use appraisers who provided inflated appraisals on homes.

E-mails also show that executives at First American and eAppraiseIT knew their behavior was illegal, but intentionally broke the law to secure future business with Washington Mutual. Between April 2006 and October 2007, eAppraiseIT provided over 250,000 appraisals for Washington Mutual.

Due to many problems with the original HVCC, the failure of WAMU, Fannie, Freddie and a myriad of other reasons, the agreement was revised after a comment period. However, it's far from perfect and, if implemented, will have a significant effect on your brokerage business and the relationships you have built.

Here's one take:

An Appraisal Upheaval

by Kenneth Harney

When you apply for a mortgage to buy or refinance a house, should you be concerned that your appraiser is being paid much less than the $300 to $600 you're charged, perhaps half?

Should you know who pockets the rest, or that cut-rate fees are too low to attract the most experienced appraisers?

Should you care that the appraiser might be pushed to come up with a number so quickly -- almost overnight in some cases -- that he or she doesn't have the time to do a proper inspection and accurate evaluation of comparable properties, pending sales contracts and local market trends?

This agreement is not good for consumers, real estate brokers or appraisers. Why?

  • Appraisal assignments will be funnelled through an Appraisal Management Company (AMC). Regardless of the definition and explanation at the link above, the reality is many AMCs have established a priority system that looks like this:
  • COST
  • The HUD-1, Closing Statement, will contain a charge for Appraisal Fee on Line #804. It will not indicate that the fee is the amount paid to an anonymous AMC and that only a fraction of that fee is paid to the appraiser. Doesn't RESPA require transparency by requiring that consumers receive disclosures at various times in the transaction and outlaws kickbacks that increase the cost of settlement services?
  • Not one state in the United States Regulates the activities of Appraisal Management Companies.

Here in Florida, a group of professional appraisal associations, appraisers and others is working to protect the public by initiating legislation to regulate the actions of Appraisal Management Companies. Watch this space for more information once the bill is filed. To protect your business and the relationships you have built with related professions, your support is necessary.


Laurel Little said...

Finally someone is willing to step up to the plate. I have been following the responses to the HVCC for months hoping someone (or group)in a position of strength and power to challenge Cuomo and the Feds. This is just Fannie & Freddie's way of derailing the investigation into their lending practices. Barney Frank and Chris Dodd are the ones who should be on the hot seat, not every appraiser and mortgage broker in the country! Let's not forget how the feds pressured Fannie & Freddie to lend money to people who couldn't qualify for these loans based on their credit scores alone. Why is that the fault of the appraiser? We followed procedure. We followed client instructions based on assignment conditions and market conditions at the time. Then told we needed to make time adjustments because the market was going up every day...or they would find someone who would. And they want to put these people in charge?