Applying USPAP Fairly in Review
By Ted Whitmer, CRE, CCIM, MAI, AI-GRS
The reviewer must correctly employ recognized review methods and techniques. This is not possible if the reviewer cannot distinguish how to apply the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP) to a multitude of different scenarios. This article sets forth common sense review methods and techniques that should be used by reviewers, as well as educating appraisers whose work may be the subject of a review, either by a client, opposing counsel, or a state board.
An appraisal review is defined in USPAP as “the act or process of developing and communicating an opinion about the quality of another appraiser’s work that was performed as part of an appraisal or appraisal review assignment.” An appraiser is one who is expected to perform valuation services competently and in a manner that is independent, impartial and objective. An appraiser who is in fact objective must learn to apply the standards fairly in the review process.
Where USPAP does not set forth acceptable methods and techniques, it is the intent of this article to do so for appraisal reviews. This will not cover every aspect of appraisal reviews, but sets forth guidelines on how to fairly develop and communicate an opinion about the quality of another appraiser’s work.
Interpretation v. Application
The only entity that is charged with interpretation of USPAP is the Appraisal Standards Board (ASB) of the Appraisal Foundation (TAF). Every other person or entity who uses USPAP applies the standards and does not interpret the standards.
The following is from the Forward of the current USPAP: “The Appraisal Standards Board (ASB) of The Appraisal Foundation develops, interprets, and amends the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP) on behalf of appraisers and users of appraisal services.”
All other persons and entities should apply the standards and not attempt to interpret the standards. In fact, the ASB issues Advisory Opinions (AO) and Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) as guidance. Even AOs and FAQs are not interpretations, nor are they a part of USPAP. They illustrate the applicability of Standards in specific situations and offer advice from the ASB for the resolution of specific appraisal issues and problems.
It stands to reason that if guidance put out by the ASB is not interpretation, then a reviewer should avoid trying to interpret USPAP and merely apply the standards to a review. Instead of interpreting USPAP, if the standard can be applied in more than one way, then the standard should be applied in the best light of the appraiser and not against the appraiser. Keep this in mind as you read through this article.
One Size Does Not Fit All
Assume the same appraisal and appraisal report developed and written by the same appraiser is reviewed in the following settings: mortgage lending, board enforcement, civil court proceedings, criminal action, experience credits, to secure a job, and to become approved on an appraiser roster (list). This same report should not be reviewed in the same manner. USPAP is the same, as are all the rules contained in USPAP. However, the proof of noncompliance with USPAP should be under different standards of proof. The application of USPAP rules should change depending upon a multitude of factors.
A continuum is defined as “a coherent whole characterized as a collection, sequence, or progression of values or elements varying by minute degrees” (Merriam Webster Dictionary).
Potential Harm to Appraiser
An appraisal review is an activity that can result in harm to the reputation of the appraiser. Needless to say, reputation is one of the greatest assets an appraiser has in the marketplace. Good reputation must be maintained by an appraiser. Actionable defamation is the publishing of a false fact that damages the reputation of another. Therefore, there are legal consequences to damaging the reputation by publishing false facts. However, the reviewer should go beyond just trying to avoid publishing false facts. Any allegation that the appraiser is in noncompliance with USPAP should never be based solely on the opinion of the reviewer, but should be supported with facts or other objective evidence.
The following are examples of needed facts or evidence to support USPAP noncompliance.
Scope of Work
USPAP states: “the scope of work is acceptable when it meets or exceeds the expectations of parties who are regularly intended users for similar assignments, and what an appraiser’s peers’ actions would be in performing the same or a similar assignment.” A reviewer should not conclude an improper scope of work by the appraiser unless there is a showing that the work did not (1) meet the expectations of the parties who are regularly intended users, and (2) what an appraiser’s peers’ actions would be in performing the same or similar work. It should be noted that a “peer” is on an assignment-specific basis. A reviewer for a state enforcement action should not claim to be a “peer” unless they can establish they are, in fact, a peer. Additionally, even if they are a “peer,” there needs to be evidence that other “peers” would not have found the scope of work acceptable.
Making Client Requirements a USPAP Issue
Many reviewers are critical of appraisers for not detailing client requirements in the appraisal report. This is from Residential Appraisal Review and USPAP Compliance, Student Manual, published by the Appraisal Foundation, 2016: “Reviewers are responsible, as necessary, to address client and regulatory guidelines in addition to USPAP compliance (emphasis added). Some of the entities who have such additional guidelines are Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, FHA/HUD, and VA, as well as Interagency Group Members.” Note that the Appraisal Foundation in this publication states that regulatory guidelines are in addition to USPAP compliance. They do not say it is a part of USPAP compliance. Reviewers often, and incorrectly, make client requirements (FNMA, FHA, etc.) equal to USPAP. The Scope of Work Rule is a development rule, not a reporting rule. The following are the assignment elements set forth in the rule:
• Client and any other intended users,
• Intended use of the appraiser’s opinions and conclusions,
• Type and definition of value,
• Effective date of the appraiser’s opinions and conclusions,
• Subject of the assignment and its relevant characteristics, and
• Assignment conditions.
This list does not include client requirements. The definition of Scope of Work from USPAP narrowly applies to the extent of the research and analysis, not the checking of boxes and inclusion of report elements. USPAP defines it as: “the type and extent of research and analyses in an appraisal or appraisal review assignment.”
“Misleading” is set forth in Conduct (Ethics) and in Standard 2. The ASB is clear that the target of the report is the client and any other intended users. As with any document, any other non-intended users, even knowledgeable reviewers, can be misled or may not understand portions of appraisal reports.
“Misleading Conduct” should only be alleged by proving intent of the appraiser to mislead and showing that the client and/or intended users were misled by the report. Standard 2 “misleading” should not be tested against anyone but the intended users. Not even knowledgeable appraisers should conclude that an appraiser was in noncompliance with Standard 2 (misleading) unless the reviewer shows the intended user was misled.
Some reviewers conclude that they are knowledgeable about appraisal theory, standards and ethics and even a particular market or property type, therefore, if they are misled by something in an appraisal report, any intended user would be misled. The reviewer’s conclusion is “intended users may not be informed enough to know they were misled.” This is an incorrect application of USPAP and ignores that the intended user may have thousands of pages of documents concerning the subject, have various studies and considerable research into the market and discussions with those knowledgeable about the property.
Failure to Correctly Employ Recognized Methods & Techniques
A reviewer should cite failure of the appraiser to employ recognized methods and techniques only if they can cite sources showing that what was done is not acceptable. In addition, the reviewer should show that there are no other alternative texts, articles or schools of thought that don’t agree with what they can produce in a text or article. Finally, any text or course that states it is “for educational purposes only” should not be used to impeach the appraiser related to the application of methods or techniques employed by that appraiser.
There must to be a strong showing, not that there were better comparables, but that the appraiser failed to use reasonable comparables. An attorney and a doctor are given considerable leeway in judgment calls on applying trial strategy (attorney) or treatment (doctor). It stands to reason that since an “appraisal” is an opinion of value and the appraiser must exercise judgment, the judgment should only be questioned with a strong showing that there was not a reasonable basis for choosing certain comparables. In addition, the reviewer should always produce “better” comparables before concluding the appraiser chose poor or wrong comparables.
The reviewer should have to show better adjustments, with support, to communicate an opinion that the original appraiser has unreasonable adjustments. As with the choice of comparables, the reviewer should show that the judgment of the appraiser was so unreasonable that other reasonable appraisers would not have applied the adjustments. As previously stated, the appraiser should be given wide latitude to exercise judgment.
Omission of Necessary Information
The reviewer should not only have to show that omission of information concerning the subject or comparables resulted in a non-credible analysis, they should have to show (1) that it is not just a reporting error, where the appraiser did in fact consider the information but failed to report it, and (2) it wasn’t built into the comparables or adjustments and therefore did not cause non-credible results.
Use of the Report to Allege Development Error
One cannot tell from an omission in a report what the appraiser did or did not do in the development of an appraisal. A reviewer should be careful to separate a development error from a possible reporting error. For example, a report may have no analysis of the history of the subject, the highest and best use, nor land value. However, the appraiser may have done all the analysis and failed to report that analysis. A reviewer should not allege a development error when the report is absent a discussion of analysis.
Date of Appraisal Report
I commonly see reviewers apply USPAP rules equally to ten-year-old appraisals and contemporaneous appraisals. The appraiser should be given “the benefit of the doubt” on older appraisals. If an appraiser conducts 200 appraisals per year, then an appraisal conducted five years earlier could have been 1,000 appraisals in the past. To judge that appraisal as though it is contemporaneous makes no sense. The appraiser often cannot remember what was done the previous month, much less answer questions about a five-year-old appraisal. Furthermore, there are a number of factors that cannot be assessed later such as the market, knowledge of the intended user for the property appraised, the factors in reviews contemporaneous at the time of the appraisal and many other factors set forth in this article.
Workfile & Access to Appraiser
This is related to the previous factor; the date of the appraisal report. The appraiser, appraisal and report should not be held to the same application of USPAP rules if the workfile is no longer in existence or is not available to the reviewer. Additionally, if the reviewer cannot interview the appraiser, then the “benefit of the doubt” should go to the appraisal and appraiser without additional evidence to the contrary.
Complexity of the Problem
Almost every appraisal that proceeds through board enforcement involves strange properties or markets. We almost never see an appraisal of a residence in the middle of a subdivision be a problem appraisal for board enforcement.
The following are cases that I was involved in that were subject to Board action:
• A log house in a rural area
• A power plant
• A unique small apartment property
• A subdivision
• A house that was in a gated community that was constructed like an office building
• A house with considerable excess land
• A house in a transitioning area
These are examples of properties that created a problem for enforcement and the appraiser. These properties should not have USPAP applied in the same manner as the house in the middle of the subdivision. However, in all of the above cases, testimony was that the appraiser “did not correctly employ recognized methods and techniques,” the appraiser was not “competent” and the appraiser produced a “misleading report.” These general and broad-based USPAP provisions should not be a fallback to criticism of the appraiser.
Data Availability & Number of Approaches Needed
One appraiser tells his clients that he is really good when he has five comparables that are exactly like his subject, that recently sold, and all for the same amount of money.The truth is, this does not a “good” appraiser make and the lack of data does not make the appraiser incompetent.Lack of data generally means the subject and/or market are unique. The application of the standards should slide depending upon the amount of data that is available and comparable at the time of the appraisal. As a general rule, the more approaches that are used, the better the data in the market. The omission of any of the approaches may mean there is less data available.
Premises of the Appraisal
When there are many premises supplied by attorneys in litigation, there is a greater chance that there will be drastically different values between two appraisers. A Texas case had testimony from one appraiser that a property was worth close to $25 million. The other appraiser, for the identical legal description, testified the property was worth $300,000. The difference between the two were the legal instructions given and the input from other experts.
An extraordinary assumption may be used in an assignment only if:
• It is required to properly develop credible opinions and conclusions,
• The appraiser has a reasonable basis for the extraordinary assumption,
• Use of the extraordinary assumption results in a credible analysis, and
• The appraiser complies with the disclosure requirements set forth in USPAP for extraordinary assumptions.
There is a duty to not just take instructions, but to ensure the use of an extraordinary assumption results in credible analysis. If the appraiser has done this, a reviewer should review the appraisal and report without making their own determination of the side they would be on.
Intended Use of Appraisal
There are five overarching requirements of an appraisal report:
1. It must be consistent with the intended use.
2. It must contain sufficient information for the intended users to understand the report properly.
3. It must not be misleading.
4. It must contain sufficient information to show the appraiser complied with Standard 1 in development of the appraisal.
5. It must, at a minimum, contain the requirements of SR 2-2(a).
If the appraisal assignment is being used for litigation purposes, then the content should be minimal and not detailed. The reason is that the opposing side is going to use the report for discovery and ultimately will use the report to discredit the testimony and the appraiser witness. The opposing side in a court case is almost never the intended user. The intended user is the attorney, their client and possibly the court. Not only is the other side not the intended user but (1) they will use their own appraiser’s appraisal and report, and (2) not only will they not use your report, they will make every attempt to discredit the report, the appraisal and you as an appraiser. This certainly is not an intended use.
Furthermore, in most every case, the appraisal report is not admissible into evidence but the testimony of the appraiser is. When the intended use is for mortgage loan purposes, the application of USPAP is on a sliding scale (continuum). The higher the loan-to value ratio, the more complex the property, the higher the risk, the more likely the appraiser would have to expand the scope of the appraisal and be more detailed with the report. If the report is for HUD or FNMA, it is more likely that minimal content is necessary. This is because (1) the intended users generally have significant information about the property and transaction, (2) the appraisal report is on a standardized form, and (3) the participants, including reviewers, are familiar with the forms and property type.
More is required in a report for unsophisticated users of appraisal reports and services and less is required for those who frequently receive reports. A reviewer should apply USPAP differently if the appraisal and report are developed and written for users who daily or frequently read reports and interact with appraisers versus users who infrequently see appraisal reports.
Factual v. Opinion-Based Noncompliance
Not all USPAP rules are created equal. Allegations of noncompliance with USPAP can be either “factual” or “opinion” based. USPAP sets forth reporting requirements in twelve rules. Seven of the 12 start with “state,” four begin with “summarize” and one rule says to “include” (the certification). However, the rules are set forth in compound sentences and there are requirements in the comments that are not in bold rules. All this creates confusion to both the appraiser, who is to apply USPAP as a minimum standard set, and to the users of appraisal services.
If one of the following is missing from an appraisal report, it is factually noncompliant. There are some rules that are conditional. For example, if the value definition is “market value” and there is a reference to exposure time, then a statement as to the exposure time is necessary. If the value definition does not include exposure time, there is no USPAP requirement for stating the exposure time. The same goes for many other provisions, such as competency. One must look at the conditional precedents of USPAP before applying a rule to an appraiser.
For example, the following 15 items are required to be stated in an appraisal report:
Identity of client, identity of intended users, intended use of report, real property interest appraised, substantiation of real property interest by title descriptions or other documents, type of value, definition of value, cite the source of value, if in terms of cash or other non-market financing & summarize terms if not cash, exposure time if developed in compliance with SR 1-2(c), effective date of the appraisal, effective date of the report, use of the real estate existing as of the date of value, use of the real estate reflected in the appraisal, and report option.
The following are required to be “summarized” in an appraisal report: information to identify the real estate involved in the appraisal, physical property characteristics relevant to the assignment, legal property characteristics relevant to the assignment, economic characteristics relevant to the assignment, scope of work used to develop the appraisal (research & analysis used and not used), extent of significant professional assistance, information analyzed, appraisal methods & techniques employed, reasoning that supports the analysis, opinions & conclusions, provide sufficient info to understand the rationale for opinions & conclusions, must contain sufficient info to understand the reconciliation of data and approaches per SR 1-6, results of analyzing subject sales, etc. per SR 1-5, if info for SR 1-5 is unattainable steps taken to obtain info is required.
Another example of this is found in SR 1-4. The rule says that when the sales comparison (cost or income) approach is necessary, then the rules following apply. This means that if the certain approach is not necessary, then the rules don’t apply. The condition precedent to the application of the rules is that the approach is necessary for credible results.
There is one requirement to “explain”: the exclusion of any approaches to value. There is also potentially one requirement to “describe.” This is in the Competency Rule: the steps taken for an appraiser to become competent. There is one requirement to “include” a signed certification that has ten parts. Signed certification in accordance with Standard 2-3:
I certify to the best of my knowledge and belief:
1. Statement of facts
2. Limited by…
3. No interest
4. Prior services
5. No bias
6. No predetermined
8. Per USPAP
10. Significant assistance
The following must be “sufficient,” and according to the comment in SR 2-2(a) (viii), the detail depends upon “significance.” Other parts of Standard 1 are arguably in the state and summary requirements of Standard 2.
1. Aware of, understand & correctly employ recognized methods and techniques.
2. Not commit a substantial error of omission or commission.
3. Did not render appraisal services in a careless or negligent manner.
4. Any personal property, trade fixtures or intangibles that are not real property but are included in the appraisal.
5. Any known easements, restrictions, encumbrances, leases, reservations, covenants, etc.
6. Whether the subject property is a fractional interest, physical segment, or partial holding.
7. Determine scope of work necessary for credible results.
8. Effect on use and value of existing land use regulations.
9. Reasonably probable modifications of land use.
10. Economic supply & demand.
11. Physical adaptability of the real estate.
12. Market area trends.
13. If applicable, the assemblage and refrain from valuing the whole by addition.
14. Anticipated public or private improvements.
15. When applicable, personal property, trade fixtures or intangibles.
If the appraisal report excludes any of the above and the condition for inclusion is met, then it is factually not in compliance with USPAP. However, if the requirements above are in the report, then a reviewer could say they are not summarized enough. This is not fact-based but opinion-based. The reviewer could say that the description of the subject is not adequate. It is clear that a property and a market description could take hundreds of pages to write and could include many details of the subject and the market. A reviewer can always find an aspect of the subject, market or data and say the appraisal and appraisal report is deficient and does not comply with USPAP.
Similarly, allegations that the appraisal did not correctly employ recognized appraisal methods and techniques, that the report is misleading or the scope is insufficient are opinion-based issues of
noncompliance. A reviewer should err on the side of the appraiser, unless there is little potential harm to the appraiser for such an allegation. For example, if one is reviewing an appraisal for mortgage loan purposes, the reviewer should have greater leeway to be critical of the application of the opinion-based standards versus if one is reviewing for court testimony, civil suits, criminal cases or board enforcement. Those settings should require evidence and not mere conjecture or opinion of the reviewer.
The reviewer should never make an allegation of noncompliance by the appraiser for not employing recognized methods and techniques without citing references to the proper methods and techniques. This should not be done with any text or course materials that warn the reader that the contents “are for educational purposes only.”
The Supreme Court in Alaska in the Wold case said there should not be allegations of violations of USPAP that the appraiser used the wrong comparables or adjustments without showing the correct comparables or adjustments. Even with a showing of a different set of comparables or adjustments, one must keep in mind that an “appraisal” is by legal definition “an opinion of value.” If selection of comparables and adjustments made to the comparables was definitive, then an appraisal is not an opinion of value and could be performed by an algorithm in a computer program. Rather than an immutable mathematical algorithm, as Dr. Charles Gilliland, PhD says, an appraisal is an interpretive art.
A client’s intended use, principals’ motivations, number of competitors and a myriad of other circumstances can impact observed market transactions. All of these factors drive modern appraisal applications. These complicating factors guarantee that no single hard-and-fast formula can reliably produce a credible estimate of market value. An appraiser is called upon to skillfully transform market information into an estimate of value for a subject property. That estimate must reflect the realities of the economic and legal environment of that subject property.The results rely on a set of assumptions and interpretations designed to capture those realities.
The Preamble to USPAP states…”The purpose of the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP) is to promote and maintain a high level of public trust in appraisal practice by establishing requirements for appraisers.” The frequent practice of applying USPAP the same way to all reviews does not “promote and maintain a high level of public trust in appraisal practice.” This article did not provide an inclusive list of all factors that should be considered in the application of USPAP rules. However, it does provide the basics for a fairer application of USPAP rules.
About the Author
Mr. Ted Whitmer, JD, MBA is an appraiser, attorney, instructor, asset manager and consultant. Mr. Whitmer holds the MAI & AI-GRS designations from the Appraisal Institute. He is CRE & CCIM member of the National Association of Realtors, a licensed broker and Certified General appraiser.