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Scapegoating the Appraisers

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We've been looking for someone to blame for the crash of the real estate market since the beginning. Maybe it was the homeowners borrowing more than they could afford. Maybe it was the subprime lenders selling those adjustable rate loans. Maybe it was the big investment bankers with their insatiable appetite for exotic mortgages. Or maybe it was the appraisers for inflating the values and allowing people to borrow more than their houses are worth.

I've heard this argument, that appraisers are to blame for people owing more than their house is worth, even from "respectable" news sources like Bloomberg. This is just ridiculous. Certainly there are bad actors in any profession and those individuals should be rooted out, but that's not why people owe more than their homes are worth.

The real estate market is like any other market, like the stock market for example. My stocks are worth a lot less now than they were six months ago. Does that mean that they weren't really worth that much when I bought them? I don't think so. Values go up and down, the difference here is that people are highly leveraged in their homes. If you took out a 100% loan on your home a year ago you now owe more than the house is worth, period. It doesn't matter what it was worth back then, it's going to be lower now because values are down.

If we all borrowed money to buy stocks we'd be in the same situation because of the stock market collapse. As it is we lament the money we've lost in our retirement accounts, but nobody looks to blame someone else for having paid too much. We accept that this is the way markets work and hope it recovers soon. We all need to take a deep breath and realize that the same is true of the housing market. Or should we go after our stock brokers for allowing us to pay too much for shares we bought a year ago?

If you got the house you want and a payment you can afford, who cares what the value is now? Most people aren't in default because of the value. They're in default because they can't afford their payments. Of course if values were still going up many of those people could have bailed themselves out by selling, but that still wouldn't have made it a good idea to take that loan in the first place.

For the most part those "inflated appraisals" were simply a reflection of the inflated home prices at the peak of the market. In addition, inflated appraisals aren't even the big issue when it comes to mortgage fraud. According to Fannie Mae's Fraud Update on loans done in 2006 and 2007, inflated values account for a whopping 5% of all mortgage fraud. Compare that to 30% for misrepresented income and 26% for doctored up liabilities and you see that appraisers are not the root of the problem after all.

Obviously there are appraisers committing fraud for their own gain, and those individuals should be punished. Appraiser's are licensed, and the licenses of bad appraisers should be revoked. The unethical will always find a way around whatever new rules we throw at them. The best solution here is to spend some time finding and removing the bad ones instead of coming down on the whole industry.

Sara Goodwin
Estimation Nation Corporation - Portland, OR
Portland, Oregon Appraiser

Bela - Thanks... you made my morning.

It is true, we do have state regulations.  Some are on top of it, some are years (and I do mean years) behind in researching faulty appraisers and transactions.  It is frustrating to be grouped in with the bad seeds, but I think all of us in Real Estate feel that way...

I hope it is OK to link this in one of my blogs.... (?) -

Feb 11, 2009 03:14 AM
Bela Toledo

Yes, it is certianly OK to link this in your blog.  I also agree about being grouped with the bad seeds.  Especially being a mortgage broker I see plenty of individuals in my line of work that the whole industry would be better off without.  Thanks for commenting!

Feb 11, 2009 05:25 AM