Beyond USPAP

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Beyond USPAP

By Isaac Peck, Editor

Does USPAP still work? 30 years after its creation, many in the appraisal industry are questioning the efficacy of the appraiser’s rulebook. Many argue the one-size-fits-all approach unnecessarily restricts appraisers, creating inefficiencies that cost them business.

The Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP) has been the standard of the real estate appraisal profession for 30 years. Established in 1986–87 through a joint committee of U.S. and Canadian appraisal organizations, the copyright to USPAP was donated to the Appraisal Foundation (TAF) in 1987.

In 1989, the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act (FIRREA) authorized TAF as the source of appraisal standards and qualifications, while simultaneously requiring the states, under supervision from the Appraisal Subcommittee (ASC), to license, regulate, and supervise appraisers. The states are also tasked with enforcing USPAP on all appraisals for federally related transactions.

Many states apply this mandate to all valuation activity performed by appraisers, requiring that appraisers follow USPAP when reporting and developing any opinion of value, not just value opinions for federally related transactions. Thus, USPAP is the law of the land and a universal standard for nearly all Licensed or Certified real estate appraisers in the United States.

The debate over USPAP centers around two key practice areas; the first involves non-lender appraisal work. If an appraiser is approached by a private client and asked to produce a valuation according to standards other than USPAP, should the appraiser be allowed to deviate from USPAP? The second area is directly related to bank/lender work and whether an appraiser should be able to provide an “evaluation” or a valuation product that is considered less than an appraisal. Should this product have to comply with USPAP?

While the advocates for a USPAP alternative contend that loosening USPAP’s requirements will allow for a transformation of the appraisal profession and is necessary to ensure its health and growth, opponents argue such moves will diminish appraising and erode the public trust, ultimately hastening the demise of the appraisal profession.

USPAP Handcuffs
Advocates argue that allowing appraisers to deviate from USPAP will provide appraisers relief from what some refer to as “USPAP handcuffs,” while also incentivizing people to join the industry.

Chief among these advocates is the Appraisal Institute (AI). Ever since 2013, AI has been promoting its own Standards of Valuation Practice (SVP), an alternative set of valuation standards that it says will create additional business opportunities for appraisers by allowing increased flexibility in non-lender assignments.

Jim Amorin, MAI, SRA, AI-GRS and 2017 President of AI, says that AI is not looking to supplant or replace USPAP for federally related transactions, but that requiring appraisers to comply with USPAP for all appraisal work is causing appraisers to miss out on a number of opportunities to diversify their businesses and apply their valuation expertise in the marketplace.

 

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In terms of applying other alternative valuation standards for non-federally related transactions, Amorin says there are a number of viable alternatives that state appraisal boards should consider. “There are many different standards out in the marketplace, including USPAP, Canadian USPAP, the International Valuation Standards, AI’s SVP, and more,” said Amorin. “What if a client does not need or want USPAP as the guiding document?”

Amorin says he recently encountered this problem himself. “A few months ago, I was contacted by a family-owned Canadian firm which owns assets throughout the U.S. and Canada. They were seeking an internal valuation of their assets and wanted me to appraise several properties in Texas. However, they needed the valuations to conform with Canadian USPAP (CUSPAP),” says Amorin.

This created an obstacle for Amorin. “When I told them that because the properties are located in Texas, I would have to comply with USPAP as well, they said: ‘That’s not what we want, we don’t want to train our Board of directors on USPAP.’ I then proposed that I could comply with USPAP by just including additional information in the addenda to the report, but they told me very clearly that they didn’t want any references to USPAP in the assignment, just CUSPAP. It came down to a business decision on my end and I ultimately declined the assignment,” reports Amorin.

These types of scenarios are encountered by appraisers throughout the U.S., many of whom are in “mandatory reporting” states where, as Licensed/Certified appraisers, they are not permitted to produce any valuations that deviate from USPAP, according to Amorin. “If the state of Texas would allow standards other than USPAP, I could have performed the appraisals reliably, impartiality, and competently—the way that I’m supposed to. Nobody would have been harmed by that. I would have given the clients exactly what they were looking for,” argues Amorin.

Another example provided by Amorin is right of way and eminent domain appraisal work, which his firm specializes in. “It is not uncommon for a local government agency to come to us and say: ‘We’re thinking about pursuing a right of way case for a new sewer line across this ten mile stretch of properties. For budgeting purposes, we need an idea of what the acquisition costs are going to be.’ For an appraiser following USPAP, we have to do an appraisal on every one of those properties,” Amorin said. “While that’s great work for an appraiser, the city has to spend a lot of money up front, just to make a quick decision on what their budget should be. It would be very nice if an appraiser could provide this service. But USPAP makes this type of assignment incredibly difficult and very cost prohibitive. So while an appraiser is best positioned for this type of work, oftentimes the agency ends up going to a local real estate brokerage and asking them to come up with an estimate,” says Amorin.

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This is the driving force behind AI’s effort to promulgate its own set of standards, SVP. “We are trying to get states to open up their rulemaking processes to allow state appraisal boards the opportunity to study alternative standards and approve them for use for non-federally related transactions. This will allow appraisers to engage in more kinds of work, while making sure they are still providing independent and objective valuations performed with the highest ethical standards,” Amorin says.

AI is actively pursuing legislative changes in a number of states. “The Texas Appraisal Board can now open up a rulemaking process to begin evaluating other valuation standards. We are pursuing similar language in Florida and California as well. After a set of public hearings and input from interested parties, state boards would have to review a proposed set of standards and determine if they are appropriate for appraisers in the state,” says Amorin.

In response to critics who believe that AI’s efforts are dangerous and bad for the profession, Amorin says nothing could be further from the truth. “I think it is a scare tactic used by a handful of people who are opposed to change. We are not asking for the Wild West. Any additional standards would still need to be approved by the state appraisal board on a case-by-case basis. This will ensure appraisals are done competently. USPAP has become very rules based and mortgage centric. There are a lot of different types of work for appraisers besides lending work. Some of the rules create an unnecessary burden, and allowing state boards to review and approve other standards will help the profession,” argues Amorin.

Case for “Evaluations”
Associated with the movement to set aside USPAP for certain alternative products is what are often referred to as evaluations. Evaluations are described as an “appraisal-lite” and are defined by the 2010 Interagency Guidelines as “A valuation permitted by the Agencies’ appraisal regulations for transactions that qualify for the appraisal threshold exemption, business loan exemption, or subsequent transaction exemption.”

In other words, an evaluation is used when an appraisal is not required.

Proponents of evaluations argue that requiring appraisers to follow USPAP in every instance makes it cost prohibitive to compete in this space and prevents appraisers from most evaluation work, which some estimate as being three to four times the annual volume of appraisal work.

Under USPAP, the minimum an appraiser can prepare is a Restricted Use Appraisal Report but these are still appraisals, not an evaluation.

Most states are “mandatory reporting” states, where an appraiser must follow USPAP when doing any valuation work. Some, however, have given appraisers the greenlight to capture this work. Currently, appraisers are exempt from following USPAP when performing evaluations in North Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee.

Even when it is codified in state law, however, some appraisal boards have openly resisted USPAP exemptions for evaluations. A Virginia law took effect July 2017 aimed at allowing appraisers to perform evaluations without complying with USPAP. But the Virginia Real Estate Appraiser Board immediately issued a “Guidance Document” stating that it still intends to enforce USPAP as a universal standard that appraisers must adhere to when performing both appraisals and evaluations. It remains to be seen how this conflict between state law and the appraisal board’s guidance will be resolved.

Because AI’s alternative SVP (Standards of Valuation Practice) is primarily focused on non-bank work, Amorin says that the AI’s position on evaluations is distinct from its push for alternative standards. “Our work in the evaluation area is not to force the issue, but is centered on supporting the initiatives of our local chapters. We recognize there is more than one school of thought on this issue among our membership and appraisers at large, so we only actively pursue this initiative when and where our own members have asked for it. The most recent example is in Virginia. One of our local chapters in VA reached out and asked for help pushing through a piece of legislation, and we became involved on that basis,” says Amorin.

Amorin says allowing appraisers to perform evaluations will improve the valuation work being done in the space. “Evaluations have been around since before FIRREA and they currently make up 75% of the valuation work being done (not to mention automated valuations). That means three evaluations are performed for every one appraisal. This work is currently being provided by non-appraisers, including brokers, accountants, financial analysts, data providers, and even bank tellers. Who better to provide an evaluation than a competent and qualified real estate appraiser? I don’t think an evaluation is the right answer for every lending decision, but this is a huge market segment that appraisers are being frozen out of. And in cases where an evaluation is appropriate, an appraiser is the best person for the job,” says Amorin.

TAF’s Position
The Appraisal Foundation, which has frequently bumped heads with AI over the years, is adamantly opposed to any alternative standards to USPAP and argues that allowing state appraisal boards to approve alternative standards for use in non-federally related transactions will open the door for numerous domestic and foreign standards, allow contingent fee assignments without disclosure, encourage lax recordkeeping requirements, and lead to misleading or fraudulent appraisals. TAF’s position is that USPAP “provides tremendous flexibility for appraisers” and provides “consistency and stability” to the appraisal profession.

In Defense of USPAP
Jonathan Miller, President of Miller Samuel, Inc., longtime appraiser and outspoken advocate for the appraisal profession, argues that allowing appraisers to deviate from USPAP and provide evaluations and other non-USPAP compliant valuation products ultimately erodes the public’s trust in the appraisal profession and threatens the longevity of the industry.

Miller agrees that banks and lenders have used evaluations, and even automated valuation models, since the 1990s, but he sees this latest push for appraisers to depart from USPAP as a slippery slope. “A high level of public trust is what keeps the appraisal industry in business. It holds our profession to a higher standard. If you allow appraisers to begin performing evaluations and deviating from USPAP, you will have trained appraisers being no more highly regarded than others, such as real estate agents and bank tellers,” says Miller.

“We need to think beyond the short term income opportunities of allowing appraisers to compete in the evaluation market,” says Miller. “It is more about the longevity and relevance of the appraisal industry and less about appraisers getting evaluation fees tomorrow.”

Miller agrees that appraisers are the most qualified professionals to perform evaluations, but says that misses the point. “Advocates for a USPAP alternative seem to be saying that an appraisal and evaluation are the same thing because they both conclude in a value, and who better qualified to do something less than an appraisal than an appraiser? Of course that’s true. But if we lower our standards, eventually our appraisal skills will be worth no more than any other member of the public. Practitioners like doctors and electricians have the public trust that their service quality will reflect their training. In reality, you either are an appraiser or you are not. We don’t have the luxury to switch that on and off,” Miller says.

Even outside the evaluation issue, Miller argues against any alternative standards for many of the same reasons, contending that the main problem is confusion among the public, and even confusion among the valuation profession on what it means to be an appraiser.

It could also be a regulation nightmare, Miller argues. “We have 55 states and territories. What will happen if each state starts individually approving or denying separate valuation standards? If we accept the AI’s SVP, what about the American Society of Appraisers’ (ASA) standards, and all of the other appraiser associations? Maybe Canadian USPAP will be allowed in Alabama but not in Florida. This creates another layer of confusion and completely blurs the lines about the standards that appraisers are held to. It’s the worst thing you can do to the consumer and ultimately it dilutes what it means to be an appraiser. It is damaging the bedrock of what separates us from a broker giving a BPO,” argues Miller.

Lender Perspective
George Mann, former Chief appraiser for Fifth Third Bank, is a long-time advocate for allowing appraisers to perform non-USPAP compliant evaluations and shares his thoughts from a lender’s perspective. “I have been a ‘client’ for evaluation and appraisal services for over 25 years. Since 1990, banks have been ordering evaluations and are going to keep ordering them. From a bank’s perspective, we would love to use the most qualified people (i.e. licensed appraisers) to perform evaluations, but unlike federal law that says we can, almost all state laws say we can’t,” says Mann.

All that is being asked is for state law to agree with existing federal law, Mann says. “Federal Law has said since 1990 that appraisers should have the choice to perform non-USPAP Evaluations. All that is being asked is that appraisers be able to perform a service they are best positioned to provide,” argues Mann.

Answering critics who say the public trust will be damaged, Mann says the argument does not hold water. “Right now in 47 states the public has to rely on non-appraiser evaluations provided by their banks. So, how can public trust not improve by allowing the most qualified people do them? It cannot go down by allowing this. It can only go up,” argues Mann.

Mann offers a comparison between appraisers and accountants. “Imagine there is a federal law that says that all Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) must follow Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) for certain assignments. (GAAP is only required for public company financial reporting.) But then state laws take it further mandating that all personal tax returns prepared by CPAs must also follow GAAP. Well, the public isn’t going to pay extra for CPAs to do their tax returns when GAAP is not needed for this type of work. The public will either do their taxes themselves or find bookkeepers who aren’t licensed accountants or CPAs and aren’t required to use GAAP. Where is the benefit to anyone with such state laws? It would prevent accountants from providing a service that they are most qualified for. I couldn’t hire an accountant to do my tax returns without them being required to follow GAAP. That is where we stand with evaluations and USPAP. It only hurts appraisers and hurts the public,” says Mann.

Given that evaluations are a “fact of life,” according the Mann, the question is: do appraisers want to do that type of work? “I would rather not dictate to the small future generation of appraisers what services they can or cannot provide – especially in regard to one they have been legally allowed to provide by federal law for 27 years! Appraisers have lost out on this work for 27 years! The banks and those doing evaluations don’t care if appraisers choose to lose out on it forever. Non-USPAP evaluations will always be done. So do the most qualified people want to be part of that or not?”

Going Forward
With Virginia recently passing legislation allowing appraisers to complete evaluations, and the Texas Appraisal Board now empowered to consider and approve alternative appraisal standards, the question arises: where will the industry go from here? Kansas, North Carolina and Florida are currently considering bills that will allow appraisers to perform evaluations, with the Kansas legislation also potentially allowing use of AI’s SVP when “performing an appraisal for any purpose other than a real estate-related financial transaction.” California is again considering a bill allowing appraisers to perform non-USPAP compliant valuations, after the first draft of the bill was stuck in committee and failed to pass in 2015.

The debate over what standards appraisers should be held to and what types of “value opinions” they are allowed to provide is certain to continue, as appraisers and industry stakeholders grapple with what the future of the appraisal profession should look like.

 

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About the Author
Isaac Peck is the Editor of Working RE magazine and the Director of Marketing at OREP, a leading provider of E&O insurance for home inspectors, appraisers, and other real estate professionals in all 50 states and D.C. He received his master’s degree in accounting at San Diego State University. He can be contacted at isaac@orep.org or (888) 347-5273.

 

 

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Comments (6)

  1. USPAP is nothing more than a “consent decree”. It was a consent decree forced on the appraisal industry after the fall-out of the Savings and Loan scandal of the late eighties. The same sort of document that was signed by many inner city police depts. who had over zealous officers who handled many issues with too much force. It told officers that can & cant’s of police work. USPAP has been a one-sided writing from day one. The only ones that have to abide by it are the appraisers. Proof: many of the revisions required in your reports are violations of the appraiser independence guaranteed in USPAP.

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  2. The American Guild of Appraisers has also opposed alternative standards. Though not necessarily only for the reasons cited by others. That doesn’t mean we oppose all circumstances where a specific ‘private’ client’s needs dictate a product; faster, cheaper and with far less detail than would ordinarily be involved in the fully USPAP compliant reports we are all used to.

    (1) Under USPAP there is NO LEGAL purpose for which abbreviated work cannot be performed and still be in compliance under USPAP. None. ALL that is required is disclosure and identification of relevant standards that may be affected; and some form of reassurance that the product or results are not misleading as a result of the abbreviated scope of work. Who could possibly argue with that?

    USPAP directs that appraisals must be considered in light of their intended use and the needs of the client. Revisions happen to USPAP all the time. IF a need for such a revision is required where added clarity is provided so that overzealous regulators do not attempt to apply the most stringent interpretations of USPAP to these “abbreviated” assignments that should not pose a major problem.

    (2) The existing ability of states to uniformly and or fairly interpret and enforce USPAP as it is written; and in accordance with FIRREA is also an abysmal failure.

    Adding a second set of regulations when they already proved themselves to be incapable of enforcing standards AS WRITTEN and intended, only exacerbates the problem . It makes no sense to create a second (or 50th) set of alternate standards that will vary from state to state.

    (3) Many states do not have staff appraisers that any reasonable person would call “peers”; yet that is the foundational standard of USPAP compliance.

    Some states (like Oregon) have been exposed in public for not knowing the difference between USPAP compliance, and potential contract law in their state. Oregon offered two public responses when pressed abut their egregious blunder.(a) They said 11 other states they asked about the issue also felt they were right! In itself; an insider admission that 25%+- of states do NOT understand the USPAP that we have. That 25% is only those that were actually asked by Oregon! How many others lack similar expertise? (b).Once their blunder was exposed, did Oregon officials admit the error; apologize and reverse all consent agreements of those that could not afford to fight them? No! They did not. They said (essentially) ‘We don’t care what the authors of USPAP say is compliant. They don’t make the decisions. It is not a settled issue until an Administrative Law Judge decides the issue! Seriously? Other states do not understand that FNMA “guidelines” are not the same as USPAP, nor are they intended for third party enforcement where FNMA itself has not found any issue.

    Some states prohibit investigators from doing outside appraisals. Investigators have NOT PERFORMED a USPAP compliant appraisal for 10; 20, or even 25 years! Further, they have not performed an actual appraisal for non investigative purposes for the same time frames!

    How can they be peers? They NEVER did a UAD report; or one involving 1004MC; or one that is not delivered via hard copy anymore. Some have never done an appraisal intended for loan work either! They simply lack ALL current , relevant real world experience. Is it wise to give them a second set of standards; or 50 second sets of standards to add to their confusion?

    On the other side of the coin are states where regulatory officials DO perform outside appraisals. Georgia is such a state. Agents obtain listing appraisals from a regulators firm and if the sale appraisal comes in low, a complaint is filed that is (partly ) decided by the very official whose company did the listing appraisal! Clearly a conflict of interest.

    A practical medium needs to be found. One that allows (requires?) regulators to prove ongoing proficiency and familiarity with both USPAP and GSE requirements that they now conflate with USPAP. It also has to be done in a way where no potential for conflict of interest arises. Regulators should not knowingly engage in practice that is so broad it is a virtual certainty that their company’s work will bring them in conflict with those they regulate.

    Other states do not follow USPAP appraisal review standards in their investigations and written report findings.Oh, they offer a lot of spurious rationalizations, but in truth they simply do not follow USPAP even when their own state laws require them to do so!

    Notable cases involved where they do not/ or have not follow(ed) USPAP OR sound appraisal practices and or their own state laws in enforcement are (allegedly) Illinois; definitively Maryland; Minnesota, & California. Georgia is alleged to have numerous issues involving bias, Texas had issues though these appear to have been largely eliminated with replacement of involved persons.

    Several states actually seek out areas of appraisal business that are not covered by USPAP to exercise their agencies ‘authority’ in efforts to grow their agency.

    Its not all bad however. There are states like New Jersey that have repeatedly demonstrated impartial investigations and open minded, common sense application of USPAP. The same can be said for New York. Virginia has also demonstrated its forward thinking consideration of issues that arise affecting all parties. Kudos!

    Similarly Louisiana, and North Carolina show positive activity and no great history of repetitive regulatory abuses. Some states have been neutral in terms of reports sent for our review. This is as it should be for all.

    It is appropriate and timely to ask ourselves if USPAP still serves a purpose. Many laws and regulations subjected to special interest carve outs and unauthorized bureaucratic exceptions for as long as FIRREA has been, often lose sight of the original objectives. FIRREA/USPAP are two such areas.

    IF FIRREA as originally drafted (remember 10% FIELD REVIEW language folks?) had been religiously followed, the great recession of 2008 could not have happened despite the other factors involved.
    Where a one in ten probability of bad appraisals being identified existed, no widespread inflation of value would have been possible.

    But field reviewing 10% of all appraisals was “not convenient”. Those who were regulated argued it was too costly to individual consumers. Apparently the trillions spent on TARP, TARP II and QE1, 2 & ongoing were cheaper.

    AI has identified a market need . It deserves honest and impartial open debate, but their interpreted market need should not over rule common sense and prudent appraisal practices. If their clients want $65 form based “Big Data comp checks” that sfine. Let them have them. Just don’t call them real estate appraisals; or allow them to masquerade as such.

    M. Ford, President Special Operations; & Chairman, National Appraiser Peer Review Committee AGA #44 OPEIU AFL-CIO

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  3. If this is a government standard, why in the hell is it under copyright ? USPAP should be PUBLIC DOMAIN. The copyright is merely incentive to amend the standards every two years.

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  4. I agree with Jonathan. And if lenders and others want faster or cheaper appraisals they can negotiate a different scope of work. The scope of work demanded by most clients borders on a self contained or relocation appraisal but with a much lower fee.

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  5. One other topic, if all these organizations and publications are about and want to promote some new types of standards, where the hell was there leadership and standing up for the industry over the last 8 years, that’s right it was no where to be found, find new leadership and throw all these academic ineffective people out of leadership roles and put more effective people in place, water seeks its own level and all those that are leaders in this industry or head of appraisal organizations should be ashamed for lacking a spine the last 8 years, lol.

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  6. I read this article and have to think of the demise of the appraisal profession for the last 22 years I have been appraising. Not only with the problems with HVCC, lack of proper disclosure of appraisal fees on the new HUD settlement statement ( stating what the appraiser was paid and the AMC), the various professional appraisal organizations that fail to achieve any representation of the appraiser profession and will ultimately become just a warehouse to say for providing continuing education classes online. I have to ask a question, if all the organizations and the appraisal publications promote their own agendas to get alternate valuation methods and avm appraiser assisted hybrid appraisal products to the market, only the large organizations have the ability to capture this cash flow and business along with training the new age wage slave appraiser in their organizations by lowering standards. It is not that USPAP is outdated, but a power struggle by those organizations that remain for fighting over resources (appraisal work) and skimming a fee off from those reports for profit and all by the way of following a monopoly and price fixing to force appraisers out of business . The future of appraisal with the banks and all those involved will be apply online, get a house like buying a candy bar at the store, have them manipulate what it is worth with computer assisted models and a monkey appraiser putting a rubber stamp on a report to be a form filler, no creativity, no care of public trust, no care of families taking on financial mortgages that effect their lives, only the care of collecting a fee in the moment with no common sense and paying all in the transaction. The only people that will be hurt in time are future generations who will not know who to trust and what something is worst, this is what communism and socialism is at the foundation and eliminating any type of wealth building in this country through real estate, converting real estate with the proposed methods into a death debt trap for american families. Why not tackle a truthful article on the fall out from all the lack of regulation and skimming of appraisers incomes for profit by those at the top, because it is a race to the bottom of the rabbit hole and we are at the bottom. Cannot wait to retire for this profession that used to be professional, now it is a joke and no better than making french fries in fast food. Write an outright truthful article about the past 8 years, present and future on the manipulation of customary and reasonable fees, because pretty soon, we will hire people from foreign countries to oversee the work with no liability. This a gain will cause a market crash and people walking away from their homes, especially millenials and generation x because we have good bs meters. I do not doubt that AMCs are here to stay and serve a purpose, just we need to increase fees with all costs involved by appraisers and keep the fees separate as not to confuse or erode public trust.

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