It’s an opinion of value that can make a break a deal. That’s what real estate appraisers produce.

Yet, once that opinion is delivered, and if it is not what stakeholders (buyers, sellers, Realtors and mortgage loan originators) need or expect, angst, second-guessing and accusations of appraiser incompetency sometimes follow.

Lenders are largely unsympathetic to these complaints. Partly because lenders are prohibited by federal law from pressuring appraisers to come up with a certain value. And partly because appraiser standards or practices weren’t violated when an appraiser came up with a low-ball value. (Sort of like what does this poem mean to me.)

Financially, it’s safer for appraisers to err on the conservative side as nobody ever makes a claim against an appraisers’ errors and omissions insurance for low-balling. The claims were made back in the go-go lending day for allegedly inflating the value.

California stakeholders have another option to redress appraisal issues. The California Bureau of Real Estate Appraisers is the state regulator charged with licensing appraisers and appraisal management companies, education and enforcement.

Even so, Bureau Chief Jim Martin told me that half of the complaints made are closed because there was no violation.

What does get the bureau’s attention? “Failure to include applicable comparable sales, misrepresenting market conditions, misrepresenting impediments, misstatements of data and mischaracterizing data,” said Martin.

According to Martin, the disciplinary process can be:

  1. A strong conversation
  2. An advisory letter
  3. A citation with an education requirement
  4. A fine
  5. An accusation, involving an effort to revoke an accused offender’s license

Fifteen out of more than 10,000 appraisers had their licenses revoked in the last fiscal year, according to Martin.

Don’t try to use the bureau to hammer an appraiser about a value outcome. And, it’s a long timeline for the complaint process to run its course.

“Regardless of the outcome of a complaint and subsequent investigation, it won’t change the outcome of the immediate transaction of concern,” said Martin.

How about some fun facts?

Between 2005 and 2007, California had 20,000 licensed appraisers, twice the current number. The average age is over 56. Three are over 90. The failure rate on the appraisal license test in California is 60%.

If the 2020 ballot proposition to create a “split-roll” property tax – eliminating Prop. 13 assessment caps for commercial real estate – factories, offices and shopping centers will have to be reassessed, creating a crushing shortage of appraisers.

There are more than 470,000 commercial properties in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, according to Nikki Russell of California has nearly 1.4 million commercial and industrial properties.

The 58 California counties tax assessor’s who will be charged with the reassessment process “are scared. They are freaked out,” said Martin.

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Jeff Lazerson - Mortgage Columnist since 2011