5 things to consider about higher appraisal fees and longer turn-times

Appraisal fees have been going up and turn-times have been getting longer. Why is this happening? Why is it taking longer to get appraisals done? Is there really a shortage of appraisers? Let’s consider a few points below to help think through some of the bigger pieces to this conversation. I hope this will help you better explain the issue to your clients also. Any thoughts? I’d love to hear your take.


5 things to consider about higher fees and longer turn-times:

1) Appraiser “Speculators”: Did you know there are actually 45% less licensed appraisers in California today compared to 10 years ago? This sounds alarming, but is it a shortage? The number of appraisers climbed exponentially before 2007 because the market was good and it was fairly easy to become an appraiser in California at the time. This hefty increase was more about the market though rather than there actually being a need for more appraisers (key point). In fact, many of the appraisers who entered the field were more like speculators hoping for easy money –  but then the economy unraveled. We can’t therefore look at 20,000 appraisers as being a normal or healthy number of appraisers in California.


2) Rate of Decline Slowing: According to a phone conversation with the Bureau of Real Estate (BREA) last week, in 2009 the state was losing about 190 licensed appraisers each month, and that number is now 34 per month. It’s great news the decline has slowed, but it’s also going to be a big problem if we don’t see the decline stop at some point. The good news is last week BREA actually announced new rules that essentially make it easier to become an appraiser trainee. Now let’s hope lenders/AMCs will encourage trainees to be used in reports (this needs to happen). Of course one factor worth mentioning is we don’t really know how many of the nearly 11,000 appraisers are actually actively working. For reference, the average age of an appraiser in California is nearly 52 years old (73% male and 27% female).

3) Shortage: When talking with BREA on the phone, they said there is NOT an appraiser shortage. Their sense is there are enough appraisers to handle current appraisal volume, though they said certain markets definitely have a shortage (such as rural northern California), while other markets are still saturated with appraisers (they said Orange County and even Sacramento). This reminds us what Jonathan Miller says, that there is NOT an appraiser shortage, but a shortage of appraisers willing to work for low fees.

4) Not Getting All the Money: A loan officer I spoke with was frustrated that his Borrowers were paying $550 for conventional appraisals and $750 for jumbo appraisals – and still experiencing longer turn-times. When he told me the Appraisal Management Company (AMC) he uses though, that’s where the problem comes in. This AMC regularly pays appraisers $350, which means they’re pocketing 40% of the fee the Borrower thinks is going to the appraiser. A few days ago on Facebook there was an appraiser who had an offer from an AMC to appraise a property for $850, but the AMC was charging the Borrower $1,385. Let’s remember appraisers are supposed to be paid “customary and reasonable” fees under Dodd-Frank, but a reasonable fee is what the appraiser gets – NOT what the Borrower pays.

5) Markets Change: The market has been experiencing a correction after years of low-ball fees from AMCs. Maybe some of it is due to there being less appraisers, and we’ll feel that out over time, but before sounding the appraiser shortage alarm, we have to respect the reality that fee markets don’t remain the same forever. For instance, a local architect friend has been so busy lately that he’s been quoting much longer turn-times and “blow off” fees that clients wouldn’t possibly accept (but they are accepting them). We see a similar market change with contractors as they are incredibly busy right now and not taking the little jobs since the big jobs pay more. Keep in mind appraisers are juggling appraisals for purchases, refinances, and private situations. When things get busy, appraisers understandably gravitate toward clients who pay better. This means low-paying AMC clients get dropped and anything that is not a “piece of cake” valuation might struggle to be accepted unless the fee is reasonable. As a consequence this also means AMCs may have to shop for many extra days or weeks to find an appraiser to take on the assignment. It’s not easy to digest this, but we have to respect the way markets move and then change our expectations too. Otherwise we are left feeling entitled to the way things have been when the market is simply different now.

I hope this was helpful.

Recent Woodworking: By the way, from time to time I like to share some things I’ve built so you know I have a life outside of appraising. Yes, I’ve built a few skateboards recently with my oldest son. It’s like re-living the 80s for me.


Questions: Which points stand out to you the most? What else would you add? Did I miss something?

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Fees, turn-times, & eliminating appraisers

Blah, blah, blah. That’s what people tend to hear when we start talking about issues facing the appraisal industry. But here’s the deal. What happens to appraisers can absolutely impact the public AND the entire real estate industry. Let’s take a minute to consider some current trends. Any thoughts?

27066568 - black hands shadow control a businessman action

Some important appraisal issues going on right now:

  1. Turn-times & 30-day escrows: Many Appraisal Management Companies (AMCs) order an appraisal and expect the appraiser to turn around the finished product in seven days or less. It seems like the better AMCs give appraisers more time whereas the worst ones expect reports in only 3 or 4 days. Here’s the thing though. Appraisers in Sacramento and many parts of the country have been turning down an avalanche of work every single day because AMCs are asking for unrealistic turn times for today’s market. Just the other day a colleague told me he literally turned down 19 appraisal orders in one day alone because he couldn’t meet the deadlines. It seems like seven days has been the benchmark of a reasonable turn-time, but that’s not doable right now for many appraisers. Remember, turn-times are not written in stone and they should change according to the market. Moreover, if nobody accepts the appraisal report because the due date is too fast, it will eventually get to someone who may not be an ideal candidate to appraise the property. Thus a quick turn-time rule ends up catering to whoever is going to get it done faster (and maybe cheaper). On a related note, appraisers being so busy can cause escrows to slow down, which means it can be far more difficult to close in only 30 days. Keep in mind though appraisals are often one of the very last things ordered during the loan process, and that’s surely part of the problem in closing escrows more quickly.
  2. True Cost of Low Fees by Ryan Lundquist - Working RE MagazineIncreasing fees: For years many appraisers have dealt with below-market rate fees from lenders because of Appraisal Management Companies skimming off the top. Well, lately fees have been increasing, and you’ve probably noticed that if you work in real estate. The increase is a byproduct of appraisers being very busy, the fee market changing after years of being stale, a shortage of appraisers willing to work for low-paying AMCs, and many appraisers having left the business over the past 10 years. A few years ago AMCs were in control and appraisers were desperate to get approved to be on their panels, but these days AMCs are desperate to get appraisers to work for them. For more thoughts on fees, check out Jonathan Miller’s Housing Notes from a few weeks ago (scroll to the bottom of the post for some really sharp commentary that influenced some of my thoughts above). Also, I wrote an article for Working RE magazine recently called The True Cost of Low Fees, and it helps show just how much of a financial impact there is when fees are below market rate.
  3. Letting trainees inspect: If you didn’t know, before becoming a full-fledged appraiser you have to train under a supervisory appraiser. In California, a trainee actually has to do 2000 hours of work under a supervisor (and have a 4-year degree if the trainee wants to eventually get a certified appraiser’s license). Anyway, many lenders have actually not allowed trainees to sign appraisal reports or inspect properties alone without a supervisor. On top of already lower fees from AMCs, this has created a real lack of incentive for existing appraisers to train the future generation of appraisers. It’s understandable that lenders require a certified appraiser to do the bulk of the report and inspect the property, but if trainees are not allowed into the mix under the supervision of a trainer, there is going to eventually be a big shortage of appraisers. This will only cause longer turn-times and higher fees. Seriously, this is a huge deal and it would be wise for real estate organizations to get behind this point to advocate for appraisers and pressure lenders to relax their short-sighted regulations.
  4. Replacing appraisers: There have been a number of recent articles about lenders eliminating appraisals or even potentially allowing real estate agents to do BPOs in lieu of appraisals. For those who don’t like appraisers, this may sound like welcome news, though the truth is any new valuation system would inherit all the problems we have in today’s system. It’s easy to think the grass would be greener and consumers would save money on expensive appraisals, but we’ll still have issues with turn-times, fees, valuation disputes, pressure to “hit the number”, skill level, interpreting the market, choosing comps, making adjustments, etc…. To me this issue reminds me of people who say we need to just get rid of all politicians. As much as that sounds appealing (particularly for some candidates right now), it wouldn’t solve the problem because we’d still need new leaders to take their place. Maybe that’s not the perfect comparison, but do you catch my drift?

I hope this was interesting or even helpful.

Questions: Which points stand out to you the most? Agents, are you seeing any of these trends in your escrows? Loan officers, what are you experiencing? Appraisers, anything you’d add?

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Thoughts on real estate agents influencing the appraised value

I wish every agent would be proactive about talking with appraisers, yet not everyone is on board with that. In fact, someone recently told me he thinks using my appraiser information sheet is a violation of Dodd-Frank. So I’d like to unpack two thoughts when it comes to influencing appraisers, and then give a helpful statement that might be useful for agents when sharing information with appraisers. I’d love to hear your take in the comments.

providing comps to the appraiser - sacramento appraisal blog

Two Things About Influencing Appraisers:

  1. Providing Data: As an appraiser I want as much information about the property as possible. I want to hear how the market responded to the home. How many offers were there? What price levels? What type of feedback was given from buyers and other agents? What recent upgrades have been made? The answers to these questions can be helpful since my end goal is to figure out how the subject property fits into the context of the market. Sometimes these insider details really can help paint context, so I need to be in tune with the details. I definitely prefer agents to share any sales, listings and data that were used to price the property too if possible because I want to understand the mindset of the agent or seller. Yet I am not a lawyer, so I cannot tell anyone for sure that providing sales is okay in the eyes of Dodd-Frank. I recommend each agent and brokerage to figure that out. However, on a practical level as an appraiser I know I want to get as much information as possible about the property, so I am in the habit of asking many questions. This is one of the reasons why I developed an appraiser information sheet so agents can be proactive about answering questions appraisers tend to ask.
  2. Hiding Stuff: Sometimes I hear the real estate community say, “It’s not okay to give appraisers comps because it’s an attempt to influence the value.” I get that because trying to pressure or coerce for a certain value is off-limits. That’s so 2005, right? Yet is giving appraisers “comps” the only way influence can happen? What about all the documents that are hidden on purpose from the appraiser? Pest reports, agent visual disclosures, contract addendums, repairs negotiated between the seller and buyer not mentioned on purpose in the contract, documents uploaded to MLS during the listing but then removed before the appraisal is ordered, etc… I’m not pointing fingers or sitting on a moral high horse by any means, but only saying influencing an appraiser can show up in many different ways. Sometimes it’s about what is said, but can it also be about what is not said or disclosed? Thus the conversation about influence seems to be about more than just giving an appraiser “comps”.

Agents need to take Dodd-Frank very seriously because it is professional and ethical to give appraisers space to be an unbiased neutral party in the transaction. Bottom line. Yet in my mind it is also professional for agents to serve their clients well and be proactive and prepared to answer questions appraisers tend to ask. Bottom line. Thus if you use my info sheet or something like it, I recommend using a statement like the following to explain why you are providing this type of information to the appraiser during the appraisal inspection.

A Statement I Recommend Agents to Use:

“Appraisers normally ask me questions like this, so I answered them for you to be proactive and professional. Would you like this information?”


I hope this was helpful.

Action Steps: 

  1. Consider using the statement I mentioned above to help clarify and describe your actions as being proactive about answering questions rather than trying to steer a value. If an appraiser doesn’t want to take your information, respect that decision and move on.
  2. Feel free to use the “information sheet” I developed. If you think any portion of it could potentially improperly pressure an appraiser, then edit or change that portion. You be the judge.

A Quick Year in Review to Use: Here is a quick year in review graphic for the Sacramento housing market. Feel free to use it unaltered on your blog, on Facebook, Twitter, etc… I always appreciate a link back.

year in review - sacramento real estate market - 2015

Questions: Agents, what do you tend to hear in your office about what is okay and not okay to share with appraisers? Appraisers, in what ways are you being pressured right now to “hit the number”?

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