Despite new rules, appraisers say pressure remains

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It’s been more than six weeks since new rules went into effect to clean up systemic abuses in the home appraisal business, but don’t ask an appraiser if things have changed. Many say there’s still no reputable oversight of their industry and they still have no way to report violations.

On May 1, the Home Valuation Code of Conduct made it a violation for lenders to pressure appraisers to “hit a number” — a practice that falsely increased home valuations, leading to bigger mortgages, bigger commissions for mortgage brokers, and a real estate bubble that nearly destroyed the U.S. economy.

The code — an agreement between the Federal Housing Finance Agency, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo — also called for an independent “institute” to monitor the rules and create a telephone and email hotline to receive appraiser complaints. That hasn’t happened.

“We are working on that,” said Alfred Pollard, general counsel at the Federal Housing Finance Agency. He did not give a date it will likely be operational or concrete details about the planning. “It’s being actively discussed,” he said.

In the meantime, Pollard suggests appraisers report suspected violations directly to banks and third-party appraisal management companies, which the agreement placed between lenders and appraisers as a buffer to stop pressure. “The first thing an appraiser should do is go up in the institution,” he said. “Ask to talk to the person’s boss.”

“Oh great,” responded Pamela Crowley, an appraisal industry watchdog who runs the Mortgage Fraud Watch List. “What is that going to do other than get the appraiser blacklisted?”

As the Center’s investigation, “The Appraisal Bubble,” showed, lenders and appraisal management companies used exclusion lists to punish appraisers who refused to deliver the numbers lenders needed to justify a loan. Appraisers say they still face pressure from some appraisal management companies, despite the Home Valuation Code of Conduct. And they don’t know where to turn for help.

“They tried to pressure me everywhere possible,” said Illinois appraiser Don Martin about a recent experience with a Florida appraisal management company. “They tried to pressure me to do it fast, to reduce our fee, to change the value.”

The man who runs that Florida company is himself a former appraiser whose license was revoked. Stay tuned for more on this. A new Center investigation, coming soon, looks into the background of ex-appraisers whose licenses were revoked for ethical or legal abuses but who continue to work in the real estate business.

CORRECTION: This article originally stated that appraiser Don Martin was from Ohio. He is from Illinois.

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