Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Making Borrower Background Checks Part of the Appraisal Process

In two previous posts I suggested appraisers sometimes do “background checks” on loan applicants, which is contrary to everything taught to me as an appraiser and even seems blasphemous. After all, the same real estate should be worth the same, no matter who is buying or refinancing it, and the standard definitions of market value assume the sale of the appraised property on the open market to a third party. A staff appraiser at a lending institution may even be accused of “not minding his own business” in conducting such a check. “How dare you question a borrower’s integrity! Home Savings of America attracts only the most honest borrowers!” R.I.P., Home Savings.

I started doing background checks in 2012, though, and have no regrets, as I have rescued clients from scammers.

The Achilles Heel of the appraiser/valuer profession is reliance on false information. That is why an appraisal report may have many pages of “Assumptions and Limiting Conditions”, including the dangerous assumption that all information provided to the appraiser is true. This is supposed to absolve an appraiser from liability, but it does not necessarily serve the client’s interest, if the client is a lender or buyer.

The last time I discussed this was 8 months ago in my post, , when I decried the proliferation of commercial straw buyer scams used to sell unmarketable properties. These scams seem to be becoming more sophisticated and organized. Instead of a lone individual who may have responded to a LinkedIn ad, there may be several people involved now, including an attorney (to scare the appraiser), a public relations executive (why would a good property even need PR?), and a “Capital Markets” representative from one of the major brokerages. CM is also an acronym for cow manure.

One of the characteristics of a straw buyer scam is that the buyers are the ones to show the property, with the seller not present, and they do everything they can to persuade me to inflate the value, such as providing me with inappropriate comparable sales data. In some cases they have already acquired the property, such as acquiring the seller's LLC (not recorded as a real estate transaction) or establishing a private joint venture with the seller. If the appraised value comes in too low, straw buyers do not try to negotiate a lower selling price, but instead waste their efforts on discrediting me. In my latest encounter with such a group, they even chronicled my bowel movements.

In the past, I used to waste many hours on e-mail rebuttals. Then I found that an $8 background check per person can stop such people in their tracks. The principals of the most recent group I encountered had multiple tax liens, a foreclosure and a bankruptcy. Their backgrounds did not match up with the project they were supposedly going to develop. All the arguing stopped once they were exposed for who they really were.

Another relevant post:

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