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Business, Property and Environment, Technology

Proposed Regulations Allow Majority of Homes to be Sold Without Human Appraisal

The battle between man and bot has a new front: your mortgage.

Federal regulators have proposed loosening real-estate appraisal requirements to enable a majority of U.S. homes to be bought and sold without being evaluated by a licensed human appraiser. That potentially opens the door for cheaper, faster, but largely untested property valuations based on computer algorithms.

The proposal was made earlier this month by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the Federal Reserve. It would increase to $400,000, from $250,000, the value of homes that can be bought and sold without a tape-measure-toting appraiser visiting a property.

Key Takeaways
Federal regulators have proposed loosening real-estate appraisal requirements to enable a majority of U.S. homes to be bought and sold without being evaluated by a licensed human appraiser
Some worry, though, that dropping appraisal requirements would introduce new risks into the $10.7 trillion market for home loans.
“The appraisal profession is suffering a death by a thousand cuts,” said Joan Trice, chief executive of Allterra Group
More than two-thirds of U.S. homes sell for $400,000 or less, according to U.S. Census data and the National Association of Realtors. If the regulators’ proposal had been in force last year, about 214,000 additional home sales, or some $68 billion worth, could have been made without an appraisal, regulators said in their 69-page proposal.

Some worry, though, that dropping appraisal requirements would introduce new risks into the $10.7 trillion market for home loans.

“We still would prefer a human being doing the appraisal,” said Lima Ekram, a mortgage-backed securities analyst at Moody’s Investors Service.

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One issue: Automated valuations done by computers are largely unregulated. The 2010 Dodd-Frank financial overhaul required regulators to propose quality control standards for so-called automated valuation models, but they have yet to do so.

“There are a lot of problems with appraisals, but there are voluminous standards,” said Ritesh Bansal, chief executive of Appraisal Inc., a New York-based provider of automated valuations. “On the AVM side, it’s a wild, wild West. And that just invites abuse of all kind.”

Regulators say the immediate effect of dropping appraisal requirements would be limited because a vast majority of home loans in that range are bought these days by mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac , or guaranteed by other federal agencies. Those typically require appraisals regardless of home value.

Appraisals help “ensure that the estimated value of the property supports the purchase price and the mortgage amount,” regulators wrote in their proposal. “However, the agencies also are aware that the cost and time of obtaining an appraisal can, in some cases, result in delays and higher expenses.”

Scrapping the appraisal requirement would open a swath of new turf for upstart property valuation companies, like HouseCanary Inc., which use artificial intelligence, algorithms and sometimes even drones to value homes. Jeremy Sicklick, the company’s chief executive, said that replacing appraisers with computers will speed up home sales by weeks, reduce costs for buyers and eliminate human bias and error from the process of valuing mortgage collateral.

“The technology has reached the level to where this change creates a win-win for the consumer and lender,” Mr. Sicklick said.

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Although appraisals are based on criteria such as sales of recent comparable homes, they are sometimes more art than science. And appraisers came under fire following the housing crisis, shouldering much blame for inflating home prices at lenders’ behest.

Their latest turf battle comes months after a defeat at the hands of lawmakers rolling back some financial-crisis-era banking rules. That change eliminated a chunk of appraisers’ business by exempting many rural properties from appraisals.

“The appraisal profession is suffering a death by a thousand cuts,” said Joan Trice, chief executive of Allterra Group, a Maryland firm that tracks the industry.

Source: The Wall Street Journal

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