American Guild of Appraisers Petitions Federal Reserve Board and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to Overturn Regulation that Threatens Viability of Professional Appraisal Practice
The American Guild of Appraisers (AGA), a national organization of real estate appraisers that is an affiliate of the AFL-CIO’s Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU), has petitioned the Federal Reserve Board (“Fed”) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to overturn a regulation adopted by the Fed that is contrary to the Dodd Frank Financial Reform law, threatens the viability of professional appraisal practice and undermines the legitimacy of real estate appraisals relied on by lenders in making residential mortgage loans.
In the aftermath of the national financial collapse brought on in part by badly underwritten subprime loans, Congress found that inadequate appraisals resulting from undue pressure on appraisers was a contributing factor. To address the problem, Congress enacted a series of appraisal reforms in the Dodd Frank law to ensure appraiser independence and accountability. A key component of the legislation is a requirement that appraisers be paid “reasonable and customary fees” for their work. Responding to evidence that appraisal management companies have been dominating the market and pressuring appraisers to accept assignments with unreasonable requirements and unreasonably low fees, the law specifically prohibits basing fees on the current practices of appraisal management companies.
Last year the Fed adopted a rule that allows appraisal management companies that control up to 80 percent of residential appraisals to pay appraisers a fraction of what a customary and reasonable fee would be as defined in the law, sometimes as much as 50 percent or more below the prevailing rates. As a result, industry experts report, the problems that Congress sought to address have been exacerbated. And the reliability of residential real estate appraisals is once again subject to question.
Peter Vidi, President of the American Guild of Appraisers explained, “Under the regulation we are seeking to overturn, the borrower doesn’t save a penny but the appraiser gets a fee that is as much as 50 percent less than prevailing rates. What the borrower doesn’t know is that perhaps less than half of the fee that they are required to pay is actually going to the appraiser who performs the appraisal. The rest goes to the appraisal management company. AMC’s are often owned or controlled by lenders that make big profits without the borrower’s knowledge that his fee is an additional profit center for the lender or the subsidiary management company at the expense of the borrower.”
Vidi and many other leaders in the appraisal profession believe that the practices of appraisal management companies are threatening the reliability of appraisals to the detriment of borrowers and taxpayers. Vidi noted, “In addition to paying low fees, appraisal management firms are pressuring appraisers to meet unreasonable deadlines and often condition work on an appraiser’s willingness to cooperate in ways that compromise the integrity of the appraisal process.”
Vidi continued, “Most licensed and certified appraisers are hard working, competent and honest, and under the current circumstances, many are choosing to leave the profession. Those who remain are having to take on too many assignments just to earn a living and are dependent on the appraisal management companies that control the business.”
The petition was filed on behalf of the American Guild of Appraisers by lawyers, Matt Schneider and Ben Lambiotte of the law firm, Garvey Schubert Barer. Schneider commented, “We believe that the Guild has a strong legal case that the Fed has violated the Dodd Frank law. We are hopeful that the Fed and the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which is specifically charged with protecting the interests of consumers in financial transactions will reexamine this rule and make the changes necessary to carry out the intent of the law.”
The petition also asserts that the Fed failed to comply with the law by not providing an opportunity for public comment on the proposed rule. In fact, after the rule was adopted, more than 1,400 comments were received by the Fed in response to the rule. Schneider claims that the Fed was obligated under the Administrative Procedure Act, to provide notice and opportunity for comment prior to adoption of the rule and that the Fed was further required to consider and address comments submitted as part of the rulemaking process.
Vidi noted that he has no illusions that getting this problem fixed will be easy. Vidi said, “For the appraisal management companies and their owners there is well over $100 million annually at stake. For the taxpayer who is left holding the bag when bad lending leads to defaults and for the borrower who often overpays for a home, this is a serious matter. For real estate appraisers, this one of several related issues that will determine the future of the appraisal profession.”
While expressing hope that the petition will be successful, Vidi acknowledged that if the Fed and the CFPB don’t’ do the right thing, litigation may be the only alternative. Vidi said, “Suing the Federal Reserve is not something that the appraisal industry would do lightly, but there may be no other option. This is far too important an issue to appraisers and consumers to simply walk away. We are fighting for our livelihood and for the integrity of the work that we do. We ask all appraisers to join with us in this effort.”
OPEIU International President Michael Goodwin said that OPEIU and AFL-CIO and their millions of members stand firmly behind the AGA. “We support concerted action by the American Guild of Appraisers to protect the integrity of professional appraisal practice and the profession.”
ABOUT THE AMERICAN GUILD OF APPRAISERS/OPEIU GUILD 44
The American Guild of Appraisers/OPEIU Guild 44 seeks to represent the interests of appraisers, developing a strong presence before the U.S. Congress and each of the state legislatures. By working closely and exchanging dialog with other like-minded organizations, the AGA works to educate consumers about the appraisers’ non bias, independent role in the value process, while ensuring the accountability of both the appraisal profession and the financial institutions with which the appraiser provides services.