Business is booming for real estate appraisers right now. But the “shadow inventory” is looming. Do you have a backup plan?

If you’re a real estate appraiser, you’ve probably been busy for awhile now. Real estate agents are crazy busy. We appraisers have been swamped with purchase transactions as well as refinancing. Interest rates are on our side.

Remember the 1980s, when interest rates were sky-high? When 10 percent seemed like a great rate? Six percent for long-term mortgage money is really a great rate, historically speaking. I’m like you: I want 2.5 percent, but four or five, even six percent? We have been in fantasy land. I’m sure consumers are loving it. Appraisers are loving it. Real estate agents are loving it.

In terms of the market, Covid has done the opposite of what we expected. We thought nobody would want to sell their houses. We thought people wouldn’t want agents coming into their houses to show. We thought people would wait until this was all over to put their houses on the market.

To a degree, we thought wrong. Certainly some people probably didn’t want agents and lookie-loos traipsing through their houses during a pandemic. But here’s the thing: Scarcity equals value. And in the wake of Covid, people are changing their ideas about where and how they want to live. So there’s a lot of desire right now, and there’s a limited supply.

But what is lurking in the shadows?

I’m not trying to scare you, but if you haven’t heard of this term, Google it: Shadow Inventory.

What does that mean? In this context, it means delinquent loans. REO properties. Foreclosures on the horizon. Loans that were delinquent but there’s a reasonable expectation that they’ll become delinquent again. All of these make up what is known as “shadow inventory.” And this shadow inventory is on the rise.

It makes perfect sense. With Covid, a lot of folks haven’t been able to work, haven’t been able to make their mortgage payments. Renters are behind, landlords can’t kick them out, and that leaves property owners in a fix. Forbearance programs on government-backed loans have held off a wave of evictions and foreclosures, but when those programs end, an estimated 1.8 million mortgages will be in delinquency. And the delinquency rate for FHA mortgages has soared.

What’s gonna happen when those moratoriums lift?

The Real Deal: New York Real Estate News reports mortgage delinquency rates jumped to the highest in two decades. As we look at some of these numbers, it gets our attention.

I don’t know what will happen. Maybe big government will step in. But what if they don’t? Are we gearing up for a new housing crisis? At least banks aren’t making crazy loans anymore. Stated income. 125 percent loan-to-values. So it’s different now. But is it that much different?

Appraisers, you’re probably gonna be fine. If a lot of these houses go into foreclosure, you’re probably gonna have REO work to do, foreclosure work to do. But the shadow inventory is something to think about, and I encourage you to diversify your practice. If all your eggs are in one valuation basket — if you’re only doing refinances, if you’re only doing purchase transactions — what happens if (when) these rates start to go up?

“If you’re only doing refinancing and purchase transactions, you might want to diversify your practice.”

I hope it won’t be this year or next year. But at some point, these rates are going to go up. And if you’re only doing refinancing and purchase transactions, you might want to diversify your practice.

What skill set do you have that may help you in other areas? Maybe you get your home measurement credential. Take a class, take a second class, contact Hamp Thomas and take a written exam (it’s administered online right now), and you can become a home measurement specialist. There’s a whole book of business right there. Go to the brokerage firms and offer to measure houses. Offer to do a restricted appraisal report.

Look at the opportunities available to you. Maybe you take your appraiser hat off and provide consulting services. Maybe you become a real estate agent. Maybe you get into the tax appeal arena. There are so many ways to make money in this business.

One thing’s for sure: Most things change. If you don’t believe that, look in the mirror. Be ready and willing to adapt, or resist and be left behind — you get to decide.

In the meantime, Google “shadow inventory.” Do a little research. That inventory is growing. It’s gonna be interesting to see what happens.

We’ve been living in extremely interesting times for over a year now. Covid will hopefully go away soon, although perhaps not entirely. But the effects will linger, and the aftermath may also be … interesting. Be ready. Start increasing your knowledge base. Open your mind to opportunity.

We’ll talk about the near and far future at the ACTS Conference on April 14-16 in Bay St. Louis, MS. We’ll celebrate the past ten years of the NAA and discuss the future of our profession. Please join us! We’d love to have you.

Appraisers try to accommodate their client’s interests. There is nothing wrong with this per se.  Appraisers commonly write, “at the client’s instruction…” or “per the client’s request…”, then the appraiser describes what the client instructed or what the client requested, as well as what the appraiser did to comply with the instruction or request.

This language, however, implies the appraiser is trying to do the appraisal, or write the appraisal report, in a manner that pleases the client, a potential USPAP violation. By definition, a real estate appraiser must be independent, impartial, and objective. Such accommodating language not only calls into question whether the appraiser has complied with these three qualifications but also smacks of advocacy.

Omit the offending language.  For example, appraisers commonly omit the analyses of the Cost approach. However, certain clients may request the inclusion of these analyses as part of the appraiser’s value conclusion. Instead of saying, “at the client’s request, the appraiser has included the protocols of the cost approach…”, please consider saying, “the appraiser included the protocols of the cost approach as both applicable and necessary to the formation of a credible value conclusion”, never mentioning the client’s request.

Sometime back a Realtor acquaintance called to ask how much to adjust for a swimming pool. The question implied that we appraisers have access to some kind of secret “book” in which we maintain the dollar amounts of our various adjustments. Would that this were true! I explained to the Realtor© we had to extract our adjustments from market data. The parting comment was something along the lines of, “Well, that would take too long!” And our conversation ended. So, let’s talk about that.

It’s not particularly difficult to calculate a swimming pool adjustment. This can be done by paired-sales analysis or by regression analysis. While I prefer regression analysis, both produce perfectly acceptable results. The results are acceptable not because one or the other is “right” or “correct”. Rather, they are acceptable because the adjustment comes from the market, which must be the source of all of an appraiser’s adjustments. So let’s consider a hypothetical paired-sales analysis to extract a swimming pool adjustment from the market.

Take 10 sales more-or-less comparable with the subject that have swimming pools, and then compare those with 10 sales more-or-less comparable with the subject that do not have swimming pools. You’ll probably end up with 10 indications of the contributory value of a swimming pool. Next, arrange the differences from low to high. Take a look at this range. If there are one or two numbers that are obviously outliers, delete them. Now consider this range to determine if there is a central tendency. For example, is there a contributory value indication that repeats itself? This would be a modal value. Is there a range of contributory values that repeats itself? If so, somewhere within this range is the likely contributory value of the swimming pool.

Look at the average and median differences as well. Frankly, you probably want to avoid the average contributory value because of the inherent differences there are in swimming pools. An average weights all of the numbers in the array the same. Since the market likely does not do this, it’s best to avoid it. The median value represents the absolute middle of the range, but is not affected by extremes or outliers.

You started out with a rather wide range of contributory values, but via the above analyses you have likely narrowed it. This narrowing process is exactly what you’re looking for from paired-sales analysis.

Suppose that your analyses indicated a reasonable range from $10,000-$15,000. Out of this range you are going to choose your adjustment (even though a range is far more indicative of the market’s thinking). Also suppose that the swimming pool at your subject is relatively “plain vanilla”. For this reason, you would probably go with the low end of the range, say $10,000. On the other hand, were your subject swimming pool rather ornate, large, and/or came with an overly large patio and pool deck area, you would probably go with the higher end of the range (although, that would be your judgment call).

The point here is that you did not “guess” at the contributory value of that pool, etc. You did not try to cost out a pool as if new and then apply a depreciation factor. You did not apply a “rule-of-thumb” to determine your adjustment. Rather, you went to the market and, via analyses of the available sales within a market comparable to that of the subject, teased out of it a reasonable approximation of the contributory value of the swimming pool.

Please understand that the best you can do is approximate the contributory value of the swimming pool. This is because individual buyers and sellers react to such an amenity differently. As a result, your adjustment of, say, $10,000 does not mean the market sees the contributory value of a pool to be merely $10,000. Via your analyses, you demonstrated that the market sees a range of contributory values. From that range you, the appraisal expert, concluded that an adjustment of $10,000 approximated the contributory value of the swimming pool at your subject.

In other words, you supported your conclusion. This is all a client can ask for. Your client may not agree with your conclusion. However, your client must agree that your adjustment is based on logic, reasoning, and market evidence. That’s really the best you can do.

So, the point here is, while you may not be able to prove exactly how much a swimming pool contributes to the market value of a specific property, you can show the range of that value. Then, from it, you choose an individual number, even though that range makes more sense in the market. It’s your opinion that the swimming pool at the subject contributed $10,000 to overall value. You base your opinion on market data, therefore your opinion is well-formed. As such, you have formed an independent, impartial, objective, and credible opinion of the contributory value of that particular amenity. That’s what appraisers do.

Complexities in appraisal work come up periodically, depending on the market you work in and the types of properties that are common to the area. I office in Colorado and have had the opportunity to appraise in rural and extremely remote areas. In the case of one particular market area, the trip one-way takes over two hours and is over 1,500 square miles; in this particular market, you’re lucky to have 30 sales over any two-year period – and that’s counting all residential properties, whether on a lot in town or a large-acreage parcel, a 90-year-old small house or a custom log house. You can bet there are complex assignments in this area. However, it doesn’t take a remote area to result in complex appraisal assignments.

Typically, complexities originate from two sources:

  1. Physical or locational characteristics of the subject property itself, and/or
  2. Limited sales or uniqueness in the area.

Complexities are a double-edged sword. If you only have two dozen sales in the entire area over a multi-year search period for selecting comps, and your subject is not located in a subdivision, you have to decide whether the glass is half-full or half-empty. Likely, there is no “model match” to your subject; however, you don’t have too many sales to sift through to choose which will give the best perspective in evaluating the subject’s value.

An appraiser doesn’t need to cover rural markets to experience similar dilemmas. All it might take is that 3,000 square foot GLA over-improved house in a subdivision of 1,500 square foot GLA houses, or the house with an indoor pool in the area with only starter houses, to appreciate that complex assignments area a test of our appraisal abilities.

But complexities are not an automatic reason to decline an assignment. Let’s be sure we’re prepared!

Many appraisers are worried that a so-called desktop appraisal will not be USPAP compliant if a third party to inspects and/or photographs the subject property.

USPAP does not make an issue of who inspects the property, nor who photographs it. USPAP does not require the appraiser to inspect the subject property. Nor does USPAP require the appraiser to photograph the subject property or the comparables. USPAP requires the appraiser to disclose the extent of the inspection of the subject property, which includes no inspection at all. Further, USPAP makes no mention of the need to include photographs of the subject as part of the formation of a credible value opinion. Both these requirements are a function of lender requirements, not USPAP.

Fannie Mae requires the appraiser to inspect the subject property, as well as to inspect the comparable property from at least the road in front of the it (assuming that’s possible). However, Fannie Mae has no requirements the appraiser take these photographs. In other words, a contractor the appraiser hires to take photographs could do this and the report would still be fully Fannie Mae, as well as USPAP, compliant.

An individual lender may require the appraiser to take the subject and comparable photographs him- or herself. If the appraiser agrees to this condition, then the appraiser has no choice but to do so. However, the key point here is that the appraiser personally taking the photographs of the subject and/or the comparables is a lender requirement, not a requirement of USPAP, and not necessarily a requirement of Fannie Mae.

Therefore, under certain conditions, an appraiser doing a desktop appraisal is perfectly USPAP compliant.  Providing photos is not significant appraisal assistance. The appraiser is under no ethical obligation to disclose the photographer’s name, nor the extent of his/her assistance.