The ugly truth about appraisal fees

I had a bad experience with an AMC recently and I want to share it. This is not because I’m wanting to rant or be negative, but only to highlight some of the ugliness that happens behind closed doors when it comes to appraisal fees during loans. This is especially worth knowing about for any home owners and real estate agents for the sake of their clients. Any thoughts? I’d love to hear your take. 

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The Issue: I was asked to appraise something challenging, so I quoted a fee that was higher than a standard fee in Sacramento but still reasonable for the job because the house was funky. Anyway, I was comfortable with the fee and it was accepted by the AMC (Appraisal Management Company) that the lender hired to manage the appraisal ordering process. But then things got interesting because through the course of the transaction someone showed me an email from the loan officer where I learned the AMC was actually charging the buyer $345 higher than the fee I quoted. What the? That seemed excessive, but the real clincher for me was the email showed a chain of conversation with the AMC where they said I was the one who quoted the much higher fee. Not only was the AMC gouging the buyer in my opinion, but there was a blatant lie that I was the one dictating this fee that was 43% higher than the one I quoted.

Look, I’m not a complainer and I am a total optimist, but this is not okay on so many levels.

Why this matters:

1) Anger & The Real Fee: Let’s remember the appraisal fee charged to the buyer might be far different from what the appraiser actually gets. Thus before becoming angry at the appraiser for charging so much, try to find out what the appraiser is being paid (and what a market rate is for your area too). Is the appraiser actually getting that rush fee your buyer paid too? Keep in mind many AMCs tell appraisers not to discuss fees, so unfortunately it’s not likely you’re going to get an answer from the appraiser (maybe ask the loan officer to dig around). To complicate matters, it’s common for AMCs to tell appraisers NOT to attach an invoice to the appraisal report, so it’s not easy for anyone to find out how much the appraiser made from the fee the buyer paid unless there are disclosure rules from the state.

2) Appraisal Quality: In many cases AMCs are scraping so much off the top that the appraiser really isn’t making a reasonable market fee. It’s easy to gloss over this as insignificant, but it matters because over time if appraisers do not earn market rate fees it is going to weed out more experienced appraisers from doing loan work. Could this impact quality? I think so. By the way, if you didn’t know, an Appraisal Management Company is NOT used during a private valuation such as a divorce, pre-listing appraisal, estate planning, litigation, hard money loan, bankruptcy, etc… By the way, let me make it clear that not all AMCs are bad either.

3) Longer Turn-Times: At times it’s difficult for an AMC to find an appraiser because a property is so unique or it’s in a rural area. This can be frustrating for everyone else in the real estate transaction because it hands-down makes an escrow longer. Yet sometimes the problem isn’t the lack of an available appraiser, but rather the AMC broadcasting an absurdly low fee to countless appraisers for weeks. If the AMC would have simply started the process with a market rate fee and a realistic turn-time, maybe the order would actually be finished by now.

4) Lack of Transparency: California does not require disclosure on the HUD-1 of the fee paid to the appraiser vs the fee paid to the AMC. Since these fees are not separated, there isn’t any transparency as to what the appraiser and AMC are getting. I would think some buyers would be shocked to learn the appraiser didn’t get the full fee in the first place – not to mention a $345 AMC fee. Why would we not disclose these fees? Can’t we do better at being transparent?

I hope this was helpful or interesting. Any thoughts?

New Video: I made a video called “The market isn’t doing the same thing in every neighborhood.” It’s a quick look at three neighborhoods. Watch below (or here).

Questions: What stands out to you most about what I mentioned above? Anything else to add? Did I miss something? What is the best way to avoid working with bad AMCs?

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Tips for working with appraisers when they’re really busy

It’s been taking appraisers longer to get their reports done lately. Have you noticed? In many parts of the country appraisers have simply been flooded with work, so quick turn-times have suffered or vanished. In light of this I wanted to give some tips for working with appraisers during times like these. This is really geared toward appraisals for loans instead of private work (divorce, estate, litigation, etc…). Anything else you’d add? Feel free to comment below.

Working with appraisers - sacramento appraisal blog - image purchased and used with permission from 123rf

Tips for working with appraisers when they’re really busy:

  1. Turn-times: Sometimes agents say, “We really need the appraisal in three days because that’s when contingencies will be removed”. But the appraiser just got the order yesterday and the lender may be giving 7-10 days to complete the file. For whatever reason the appraisal was simply ordered way too late in the loan process (not the appraiser’s fault).
  2. Communication 101: If an appraiser emails you, I highly recommend emailing back. The appraiser may be trying to save time by avoiding a phone call. Or if an appraiser calls you, just call back (even if you don’t like to use the phone). These days it seems like good business etiquette to try to communicate with people in their preferred method. I know that sounds petty or even offensive, but it’s true. Obviously if an appraiser is asking a million questions via email, just email back and say, “I’d love to chat, but let’s make this a quick phone conversation instead.”
  3. Don’t call incessantly for status: It doesn’t help speed up an appraisal when everyone is asking for status updates. On a practical note, keep in mind appraisers don’t owe status updates to anyone but the client.
  4. Information up front: Take a few minutes to answer common questions and get this information to the appraiser (preferably during the inspection). I recommend using my Information Sheet. Sometimes agents wait to share information about the property until the value comes in too low. Why not be proactive instead about telling the story of the marketing of the property on the front end of the transaction? This just might save time in the transaction too by avoiding challenging a low appraisal.
  5. Offer a rush fee: If lenders or AMCs are concerned about turn-times, one of the best things to do is offer a reasonable fee to begin with AND also a rush fee. Right now many appraisers are still getting blasted with low-ball appraisal fees from Appraisal Management Companies. During such a busy season appraisers are frankly turning these orders down and gravitating toward working with clients who pay better fees and are easier to work with too. The truth is some AMCs are spending extra days or weeks searching for an appraiser who will take a lower fee (and then blaming appraisers for taking too long). Remember, a Borrower might fork out good money for an appraisal, but how much of the fee is the appraiser actually getting? If you find an AMC is scraping way too much off the top, maybe it’s time to do business with a lender or AMC who is actually paying the appraiser a reasonable fee. On a related note it seems like the market is experiencing an upward fee correction since appraisal fees have been undercut by AMCs for years.
  6. Longer escrows: It can be frustrating that turn-times change because we like to think they’re set in stone or always less than a week, but that’s what markets do. I find something similar has happened with contractors locally as many are absolutely swamped. In short, it might not be a good market to promise a 30-day escrow.
  7. Do repairs up front: If an appraiser is busy, the same appraiser may also need more time to go back out to the property to verify repairs were made. If you know there are obvious repairs, it might be a good idea to have the owner make them in advance so you can avoid a re-inspection. If you are concerned about repairs, reach out to a local appraiser or a loan officer before the property hits the market so you can maybe glean some wisdom.
  8. The little stuff: Some of the most common repairs are actually installation of smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms (in California). Even if the appraiser doesn’t care about these things since they have nothing to do with value, a lender may be asking the appraiser to verify they are there. As an FYI, it’s been law for 5 years in California for CO alarms to be in most residential properties, yet this is still one of the top repair issues.

I hope this was helpful.

Podcast with 2 Agents: By the way, last week I did a podcast with two local real estate agents (The Two Jakes). You can give it a listen below (or here) and check out iTunes or the Worley Real Estate website.

Questions: Anything else you’d add? Did I miss something? I’d love to hear your take and any stories you have to share.

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