Thursday, February 28, 2008

Fannie Mae New Rules for Appraisals

by Tanta on 2/28/2008 08:17:00 AM

To refresh memories: Last fall, New York AG Andrew Cuomo sued an outfit called eAppraiseIt and its parent company, First American, for conspiring with WaMu to pressure appraisers to produce inflated appraised values. WaMu was not part of the suit, since for legal reasons state AGs can't sue federally-chartered thrifts in state court. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were not being sued either, but they were quickly served with subpoenas for documentation involving inflated appraisals on loans they may have purchased. The GSEs quickly agreed to appoint independent examiners to review appraisal practices, with the direct threat that lenders would be forced to buy back loans that failed to meet existing GSE rules.

It appears that Fannie Mae has finished or nearly finished its review, and is about to ruin several very large aggregators' and thousands of pissant brokers' day with a new set of rules regarding how appraisals can be obtained and what affiliations between lender and appraiser are acceptable:

Feb. 27 (Bloomberg) -- Fannie Mae, the biggest source of financing for U.S. home loans, told lenders it will probably ban their use of appraisals by in-house employees or those arranged by brokers.

Fannie Mae distributed the proposal, a response to New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's yearlong mortgage probe, to lenders in a ``talking points'' memo this week, according to a person familiar with the document. The memo was published on American Banker's Web site yesterday.

``It would be a monumental change because it would require a shift in the way that the lending industry does business,'' said Jonathan Miller, chief executive officer of Manhattan-based appraisal company Miller Samuel Inc. and a longtime proponent of creating a firewall between residential appraisers and mortgage originators. ``I think it would be tremendous.'' . . .

``Fannie Mae wishes to cooperate with the New York AG's investigation and, as part of a cooperation agreement, will likely agree to a number of items,'' according to the memo.

The proposed changes include banning Fannie Mae's partners from using appraisers employed by their wholly owned subsidiaries. Mortgage lenders that own appraisal companies include Countrywide Financial Corp., the nation's largest home- loan originator.

The restrictions would apply to loans acquired after Sept. 1, according to the memo. Fannie also told lenders that an independent appraisal clearinghouse likely would be established.

`Laughable' Practice

About three quarters of residential mortgage appraisals are arranged through brokers who only get paid if a loan closes, Miller said today in a phone interview. He called the practice ``laughable'' because it creates a financial incentive for mortgage brokers to push appraisers toward higher valuations. Higher appraisals also mean more homeowners qualify to refinance their homes and take cash out, he said. . . .

Cuomo spokesman Jeffrey Lerner said today in an e-mail that that Cuomo, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac hadn't reached an agreement.

``We have had ongoing discussions for several months,'' Lerner said. ``At the end of the process, we will either have agreements or we will take other appropriate action.''

Cuomo prefers to pursue cooperative resolutions before litigating, Lerner said.

``We are continuing our discussions and we are making progress,'' said Corinne Russell, spokeswoman for the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight, which oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. . . .

Freddie Mac hasn't sent any memo similar to Fannie Mae's, said company spokeswoman Sharon McHale.

``We are cooperating fully with the attorney general's investigation, but at this point it would be premature to speculate as to what the outcome will be,'' McHale said.

Countrywide spokeswoman Ginny Zoraster declined to comment on Fannie Mae's proposals.

``The company does not believe this case has merit and expects to present a vigorous defense,'' Zoraster said in an e- mailed statement.
My observations:

1. So much for "synergy." I only hope that if this puts a stop to large lenders buying appraisal firms (and destroying appraiser independence), we can next move on to large lenders buying title companies (and destroying escrow officer independence).

2. Insofar as brokering of mortgages is going to survive this bust--and the indications are that any bank with a shred of sense right now is shutting down its wholesale division--they will go back to being application-takers, for which they will earn a modest fee. They will have a hard time maintaining their current pose of a "full-service lender" by also processing loans--including ordering appraisals, selecting a closing agent, etc.--which are a huge source of fees collected from consumers and which tend to give consumers the (false) impression that brokers are actually lenders.

What has been going on for some time now is that the massive failures in the wholesale model have forced the wholesale lenders to, in essence, redundantly process these loans, as everything the broker does has to be checked and rechecked and in some cases simply repeated. (You let brokers order appraisals, and once you get it, you order a second appraisal or field review appraisal or run an AVM in order to reality-check the appraisal you got. The process pretty much ceases to be efficient here.) If the GSEs just come out and force wholesalers to take control of the appraisal process from the very beginning, then the kabuki ends and we stop pretending that brokers are doing anything except bringing in a consumer willing to sign an application. The rest of the loan processing is turned over to the wholesaler.

3. An "independent appraisal clearinghouse" would, presumably, be intended to remove some of the problems I discussed in this post with individual lenders managing approved or excluded appraisal lists. Without details I can't really say what they're doing here, but it sounds like Fannie and Freddie are seriously considering getting into approving or excluding individual appraisers or appraisal firms. FHA has always done that in some fashion or another; the GSEs never have. That's a very substantial change to the way the GSEs do business with lenders.

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