I read with interest an article in American Banker a week ago written by Clifford Rossi. The article can be found HERE. I spoke to Dr. Rossi briefly last week to inquire of his background. We had a fascinating, albeit brief conversation with a promise to meet up in person in Washington DC in a few weeks.
The article was about how misleading public facing home price estimators can be such as Zillow. In all fairness I think Zillow does a fair job of making disclaimers about accuracy but the irresistible urge for a free estimate (Zestimate in Zillowese) is undeniable. You would gorge yourself on chocolate cake if the label read "free delicious cake, no calories" in spite of some nagging feeling that it still must be bad for you.
Let's face it… appraisers hate AVMs, Automated Valuation Models. The threat is out there that in a world of "big data" that the need for appraisers will become diminished. With the GSEs Uniform Collateral Data Portal (UCDP) project is there a hidden agenda to displace appraisers? Maybe, but if it is they are about to make the second largest blunder in valuation history. The first blunder was relying on "reps & warrants" and washing their hands of any due diligence on appraisals and of appraisers.
So back to Dr. Rossi for a minute. He informs me that he was a modeler of AVMs. He worked at Washington Mutual, Countrywide, Freddie Mac and Corelogic. I couldn't resist asking him a bit nervously if they suffered in spite of him or because of him. I was already in deep at that point and blurted out that he was to the valuation world what Dr. Oppenheimer was to nuclear science. Gratefully, he has a sense of humor and I might add keen insight on how AVMs should be used and how they have been misused and abused.
What I believe to be the biggest threat to the appraisal professional are policies and practices that have devolved away from sound appraisal theory. Specifically, the definition of market value needs to be examined. Earlier definitions made no mention of "price". Early theory suggests that appraisers must focus on value and not succumb to the "price equals value" trap. Secondly, the GSEs only require one approach to value, the Sales Comparison Approach. We should just rename that the Sale Price Approach. If you believe it is your role to just report recent sales prices then yes, that self-fulfilling prophecy will indeed be your ruination. You don't need carbon-based life forms to spit out sales prices. Machines CAN do that.
My friend, Ed Pinto, is doing a lot of research right now into the history of the appraisal process. Ed's fascination is with bubbles. We are in complete agreement that we could never have inflated the bubbles without the help of appraisers. While the weak link may surely have been weighted towards the lack of independence in the process there were also just some fundamental flaws in appraisal policies and practices.
Ed and I are working on a course on this subject. In fact, if you have access to old text books, old forms or some oral history you wish to share please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or Ed. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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