Housing Fraud is Back – Real Estate Industry Intentionally Inflating Home Appraisals

Submitted by Mike Krieger via Liberty Blitzkrieg blog,

Almost 40% of appraisers surveyed from Sept. 15 through Nov. 7 reported experiencing pressure to inflate values, according to Allterra Group LLC, a for-profit appraiser-advocacy firm based in Salisbury, Md. That figure was 37% in the survey for the previous year.

 

“If you thought what was happening before was an embarrassment, wait until the second time around,” said Joan Trice, Allterra’s chief executive and founder of the Collateral Risk Network, which represents appraisers employed by lenders and other companies and has been meeting with regulators to discuss concerns about appraisers being pressured into inflating values.

 

– From the Wall Street Journal article: Dodgy Home Appraisals Make a Comeback

When in doubt, just make shit up.

That seems to be the mantra of the U.S. real estate industry. A place where home values must always rise no matter what. After all, there’s nothing better for an economy than pricing out average citizens from their means of shelter.

As the WSJ reports, inflated home appraisals have become such a concern that the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency is looking into it. Which means precisely nothing will be done to stop it. After all, it is official government policy to encourage risky loans to keep housing bubble 2.0 inflated. Recall: Mel Watt, Federal Housing Finance Agency Head, is Pushing Banks to Make Extremely Risky Home Loans.

The WSJ reports:

Home appraisers are inflating the values of some properties they assess, often at the behest of loan officers and real-estate agents, in what industry executives say is a return to practices seen before the financial crisis.

 

An estimated one in seven appraisals conducted from 2011 through early 2014 inflated home values by 20% or more, according to data provided to The Wall Street Journal by Digital Risk Analytics, a subsidiary of Digital Risk LLC. The mortgage-analysis and consulting firm based in Maitland, Fla., was hired by some of the 20 largest lenders to review their loan files.

 

The firm reviewed more than 200,000 mortgages, parsing the homes’ appraised values and other information, including the properties’ sizes and similar homes sold in the areas at the times. The review was conducted using the firm’s software and staff appraisers.

 

Bankers, appraisers and federal officials in interviews said inflated appraisals are becoming more widespread as the recovery in the housing market cools. While home prices are increasing generally, their appreciation is slowing, and sales have been weak despite low interest rates. The dollar amount of new mortgages issued this year is expected to be down 39% from last year, at about $1.12 trillion, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

 

That has put increasing pressure on loan officers, who depend on originating new mortgages for their income, as well as real-estate agents, who live on sales commissions. That in turn is raising the heat on appraisers, whose valuations can make or break a sale. Banks generally won’t agree to a mortgage if the purchase price or the refinancing amount is higher than the appraised value.

 

Almost 40% of appraisers surveyed from Sept. 15 through Nov. 7 reported experiencing pressure to inflate values, according to Allterra Group LLC, a for-profit appraiser-advocacy firm based in Salisbury, Md. That figure was 37% in the survey for the previous year.

 

“If you thought what was happening before was an embarrassment, wait until the second time around,” said Joan Trice, Allterra’s chief executive and founder of the Collateral Risk Network, which represents appraisers employed by lenders and other companies and has been meeting with regulators to discuss concerns about appraisers being pressured into inflating values.

 

Digital Risk found that some appraised values were off the mark based on discrepancies that appeared unintentional, though, “at other times, the appraiser’s selection of [comparable properties]…is very hard to justify,” said Thomas Showalter, chief analytics officer at Digital Risk. The firm saw cases where values for decades-old homes were determined based on sales prices for newly constructed ones, and homes blocks from shorelines were compared with waterfront properties, he said.

 

Brandon Boudreau, chief operating officer at Metro-West Appraisal Co. LLC, a national firm based in Detroit, says he and his appraisers often feel pressured by aggressive real-estate agents.

Much of the pressure, appraisers say, is being applied by companies hired by banks to assign appraisal work, known as appraisal-management companies, or AMCs. A much larger share of appraisals have been filtered through these companies since the introduction of new financial rules and other requirements that seek to prohibit appraiser coercion.

 

Tom Allen, who says he has been an appraiser for 44 years, recalled appraising a house in April for about $450,000 for a loan application with J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. About a week later, Mr. Allen, 68 years old, says he received a request from the appraisal-management company to use two different properties as comparables that had recently sold for around $525,000 and $540,000. Mr. Allen says he refused because the homes were larger, in a more expensive neighborhood and built about 10 years after the property in question. Since then, Mr. Allen says he mostly accepts appraisal requests for homes that have several similar nearby sales.

 

A J.P. Morgan spokesman declined to comment.

Of course they did.

Freddie Mac has found cases of appraisers submitting a suspiciously high number of reports in one day, as well as reports for properties in places where they aren’t certified or licensed to operate, according to a spokesman. It has also received tips from employees at lenders and other insiders warning of inflated valuations, he said.

Is there any price in this economy that isn’t completely rigged?

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