What you need to know about Fannie Mae’s Collateral Underwriter

Have you heard of Fannie Mae’s Collateral Underwriter yet? It’s coming in a matter of days on January 26, and it’s been called an “appraisal time bomb” by some, while others say it’s no biggie. Today I want to give you the scoop on what it is as well as some of the potential impact it might have.

Fannie Mae is watching appraisers closely - by sacramento appraisal blog - image purchased and used with permission

What is Collateral Underwriter?

Collateral Underwriter (CU) is a property appraisal review tool created by Fannie Mae to help mortgage lenders manage risk.

What will Collateral  Underwriter do?

  • CU performs an automated risk assessment on appraisals geared toward Fannie Mae and returns a risk score, flags, and messages to the submitting lender. CU will provide a risk score for the appraisal of 1-5 (1 being the lowest risk and 5 being the highest).
  • CU will analyze comparable sales selected by the appraiser and recommend alternatives.
  • CU will compare adjustments the appraiser has given with what other appraisers have done in the same area (Fannie Mae has been mining data from over 12 million appraisals since 2011, so they definitely have some data at their disposal).
  • CU will use census block groups to analyze market trends.
  • CU will review specific information in each appraisal such as the sales price, lot size, bathroom count, bedroom count, age, location, size of the basement, condition, quality of construction, view, and GLA (gross living area). In 2011 Fannie Mae mandated appraisers to begin using UAD codes in their reports to describe all of these elements. You may have read a report and thought, “Why the heck is the appraiser saying the property is in ‘C4’ condition? What does that even mean?” Well, that is a Fannie Mae UAD code to describe a specific condition, and now that Fannie Maw has over 12 million appraisals in their system with these codes, it has allowed Fannie Mae to give birth to the CU review tool.

Fannie Mae Collateral Underwriter - Data Mining Image Purchased and Used with Permission - by Sacramento Appraisal Blog

5 things to know about Fannie Mae’s Collateral Underwriter:

  1. Fannie loans only: CU is only used for loans geared toward Fannie Mae, and not for divorce appraisals or any other private appraisals. CU is also not used on 2-4 unit properties or “drive-by” appraisals.
  2. Not FHA/VA: CU is not used for FHA and VA loans (I’d be shocked if they didn’t adopt it later though).
  3. Commentary: The CU tool does not read any of the commentary by the appraiser, which can be key to understanding comp selection, adjustments, and the final value.
  4. Neighborhood boundaries: CU uses census block groups for data analysis instead of specific neighborhood boundaries that may be readily understood in the market. Pulling data from the right neighborhood can make a HUGE difference in a valuation, don’t you think?
  5. Adjustments & comps: Fannie Mae has heaps of data to compare to any new appraisals that come into the system. Not only do they know about sales in the neighborhood, but they also know which comps other appraisers have used, and even value adjustments given by other appraisers. CU knows if an appraiser says a comp is in good condition (C3) in one report, but then says it is in fair condition (C5) in a different report. CU will pay special attention to comp selection, adjustments, and the final reconciliation of value.

Fannie Mae Collateral Underwriter - by Sacramento Appraisal Blog

Potential Impact of Fannie Mae’s Collateral Underwriter:

  1. Unknown: The truth is we don’t really know how CU will impact the market. It could be a game-changer for the mortgage industry and appraisal profession, or it could feel like the same old same old.
  2. Slower loan process: As CU is implemented, expect a learning curve, and thereby a slower loan processing time. It’s going to take some time for lenders, appraisers, and underwriters to work out the bugs.
  3. More conservative appraisals: One of the unintended consequences of CU may be more conservative appraisals.
  4. Headaches for appraisers: The fear among appraisers is that lender clients will now come back to say, “CU has identified 20 other comps in this census block. Why did the you not use these?” Hopefully that will not happen (assuming the appraiser did a good job of course), but increased scrutiny will be bound to cause appraisers to spend more time responding to CU.
  5. Higher cost for consumers: If CU does end up putting more work on appraisers, it may lead to higher appraisal fees. After all, more work requires more time (which is money).

Advice to the Real Estate Community:

  1. Real Estate Agents: Make sure your clients know how strict the underwriting process has become for appraisals. I’m not saying you need to sit down with your clients and watch Fannie Mae’s CU tutorial (that’s probably a quick way to lose clients). All I’m saying is this is one more reason to price properties correctly since the appraisal is going to be even more scrutinized now. Also, if you accept an offer that is clearly out sync with neighborhood values, the lender is going to have a ton of data at their disposal about neighborhood values – even if the appraiser happens to “hit the number” somehow.
  2. Appraisers: Many appraisers are gravely concerned about CU, though many lenders have been reaching out to say, “Hey, we’ve already been scrutinizing you, so don’t worry about this.” Only time will tell how this will impact business and the industry. All we can do is choose the best available comparables and make reasonable market-supported adjustments. There will be a learning curve to know how to avoid red flags so to speak, but explaining why we made adjustments and supporting those adjustments will be a big theme this year for lender work. The bottom line is appraisers will need to add more commentary in their reports. If you are making the same adjustments in every single report regardless of the location of the property, it’s time to stop that because adjustments vary depending on the neighborhood. If you are struggling to support adjustments, it may be a good year to find a mentor as well as take some quality continuing education. If you do not know how to graph sales, make that a top goal this year. On the other hand, if you are an experienced appraiser, find ways to be a mentor to other appraisers by answering their questions – whether on forums or in person. As I said in 10 things appraisers can do to improve the appraisal industry, “Too many appraisers think they are right about everything, but at the end of the day being right doesn’t help anyone grow. Find ways to share your knowledge and build others up.” Lastly, if it ends up costing you more time to do your work, it may be time to consider raising your rates.

Helpful Links:
Fannie Mae’s Collateral Underwriter Home Page
Collateral Underwriter FAQ (pdf)
Collateral Underwriter Fact Sheet (pdf)
Into to Collateral Underwriter Recorded Tutorial
CU Risk Score, Flags, & Messages (Recorded Tutorial)

Questions: How do you think Fannie Mae’s Collateral Underwriter will impact the market and/or the appraisal profession? Anything else you’d add? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

If you liked this post, subscribe by email (or RSS). Thanks for being here.

10 things to double check after getting the appraisal report

You have an appraisal in your hands, but did the appraiser do a decent job or not? What should you look for to measure quality? Here are some of the bigger factors to consider as you read over the appraisal report, whether you’re a home owner, Realtor or loan officer.

  1. Neighborhood boundaries in the appraisal reportNeighborhood Boundaries: Are the neighborhood boundaries listed in the appraisal correct? It can make a big difference if the wrong comps are used from inferior or superior neighborhoods.
  2. Comp Selection: Are sales in the appraisal report competitive to the subject property? Are they a good representation of properties a buyer might consider purchasing instead of the subject property? That’s what a “comp” is after all. Using the wrong comps is a good recipe for value issues.
  3. Adjustments: Are dollar adjustments in the appraisal report reasonable and based on the way buyers see the market? Or do adjustments seem off-base? For example, sometimes I see a $10,000 adjustment for condition to account for the total difference between a bank-owned fixer and a renovated arms-length sale. That’s suspect in my book (because it’s so low).
  4. squate-footage-on-appraisalSquare Footage: Is square footage in the appraisal report relatively similar to official records or to what you know to be true of the property? There are many reasons why it could be different, but assuming Tax Records has the correct gross living area, it’s important to double-check in case the appraiser mismeasured the house. This happened to an investor client recently and the appraiser had to re-measure the house (which added $5,000 to the value).
  5. Missing Items: Is there something the appraiser left out that might contribute to value? I’m not talking about the appraiser not mentioning your custom switch plates or the new light fixture in the kitchen, but something more notable that really carries some weight (barn, outbuilding, bathroom, bedroom, pool, etc…).
  6. Location: Pay close attention to the location of comparable sales in the appraisal report. Are any comps located on busy streets, near commercial properties or other adverse locations? Were adverse locations of comparables noted in the appraisal report? A neighbor recently showed me an appraisal on her house and I pointed out a few instances where the appraiser didn’t note comps backing to a main street with heavy traffic flow. Ignoring adverse locations can essentially produce inaccurate appraisals.
  7. Distressed Sales: Were only distressed sales used in the appraisal report? Did these sales appear to sell at a discount? If these foreclosure sales (or short sales) did sell at a lower tier of the market, did the appraiser account for the discount? There is often a price difference between distressed sales and traditional sales.
  8. Trends: Are market trends in the appraisal report accurate? For example, if the market has been going up, but the appraiser says the market is going down, that could present some issues with the final value. If the appraiser does not understand what is unfolding in the market, that could lead to bogus adjustments in the appraisal report.
  9. YodaUpgrades: Were all improvements listed in the appraisal report and accounted for in the final value? The appraiser won’t make a dollar adjustment in the report for every single update, but the final value should consider improvements. Keep in mind of course that not all improvements contribute to value. For example, a 10-ft Yoda statue in the backyard probably won’t be a huge plus (even though you think it’s awesome).
  10. Making Sense: Does the final value make sense in light of the comps in the report, adjustments, the neighborhood real estate market and the entirety of the appraisal presentation? The appraiser should have presented a case for value and explained why the value was reconciled to a certain level in the report too. If it’s not clear, it would be good to seek an explanation.

Should you challenge the appraised value? A trained eye used to seeing appraisal reports can quickly unpack these items, but this list might seem overwhelming to a home owner not used to reading appraisals. Ultimately, after looking through the report, and you feel there are red flags that watered down your value, you ought to consider challenging the appraisal (use this format in case it helps). However, you should only put together a “reconsideration of value” if you feel the value in the appraisal report is truly off-base. Remember to focus on big-ticket items too – not just spelling errors.

What issues have you discovered when looking at appraisal reports? Any stories, insight or scenarios to share?

If you have any questions or Sacramento area real estate appraisal or property tax appeal needs, contact me by phone 916-595-3735, email, Twitter, subscribe to posts by email or “like” my page on Facebook

Thou shall know thy neighorhood boundaries

It’s so important to know exactly where one neighborhood ends and another begins. Misunderstanding neighborhood boundaries can have a dramatic impact on perceived property value. When dealing with a short sale situation, loan modification, property tax reduction, bankruptcy, or really any transaction, it could really backfire if the decision makers for your loan or legal documents do not take into account important market boundaries.

Let’s look at the map below as an example. The area traced in red is a portion of the Central Oak Park neighborhood in Sacramento, while the area traced in blue is known as Tahoe Park West.

Both of these areas are really separate neighborhoods despite being right next to each other (divided by Stockton Blvd). There is actually a huge difference in property value between these two areas as indicated on the trend graph below. The median price level throughout most of the past year in Tahoe Park West hovered around $150,000, while the median price level for Central Oak Park was closer to $60,000.

It’s easy to imagine how online valuation websites (like Zillow or Cyberhomes) or even inexperienced real estate professionals might make sincerely wrong value judgments by looking at all sales within a 1/4 mile radius or some other parameter that does not encapsulate the true neighborhood. That’s why it’s so important to work with professionals who really understand the local market.

How might misunderstanding neighborhood boundaries really do some damage?

If you have any real estate appraisal, consulting, or property tax appeal needs in the Greater Sacramento Region, contact me at 916.595.3735, by email, on our appraiser website or via Facebook.