6/11/2009

What's In An Appraisal for All Parties?

You might think "HVCC" refers to a heating system, but no, it refers to property appraisals performed under the new Home Valuation Code of Conduct. This Code came about through the New York State General Attorney Andrew Cuomo's agreement with FNMA and Freddie Mac and the Federal Housing Finance Agency, those agencies that create the rules for loans that buyers need.

What it means for the buyer and the seller both is that conventional loans obtained for single family homes fall under this new appraisal code. (Not for FHA loans.) Appraisals have always been important: the lender did not want to loan on a property which did not match a true market value. Diligent Realtors have always advised sellers to price their properties realistically, and advised their buyers of a realistic selling price according to local market comparables, in essence, the property had to be sold twice, once to the buyer and again to the lender. The subprime market blurred this picture for quite a while, but sometimes the cure is just as bad as the problem.

To counter the effects of the subprime market, effective May 1, neither lenders nor their staff are allowed to select the appraiser, nor are they allowed to have "substantive" communication with the appraiser or the appraisal management company (AMC) which now is the new level of bureaucracy managing the assignment of appraisers. The new system may have started more problems than it ended.

Some assigned appraisers may not be familiar with an area--coming from a different county even--have no particular vested interest as to the outcome of the appraisal, consumers are being advised their appraisal will cost about $100-$150 more and they may have to lock in their rates for a longer period of time, which will also cost them more. If the consumer changes lenders, they must pay for an additional appraisal. The AMCs pay low fees, thus attracting only the inexperienced appraisers, some of whom are failing to adequately appraise a home. See The Wall Street Journal's article on this.

The AMCs are unregulated, and do nothing the reduce fraud (the reason they were established in the first place), and transactions are being cancelled in some instances, at a great cost and inconvenience to both the buyer and seller. One professional association estimates that HVCC will cost consumers 2.8 billion dollars a year in extra fees.

These issues make an already form-and-disclosure-intensive transaction even more challenging and difficult under increasingly stringent legal and professional standards, especially in California which has the reputation of being a very litigious state. But I'm sure professionals in Michigan, for instance, probably feel the same way.

Now is the time to know your market, and be prepared to address a possible appraisal gap as a "Plan B" to closing escrow, which could mean that if the difference is not too great between appraisal and contract price, that buyer and seller split the difference. Not great, but it could be an option to not meeting the closing date.

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