Wednesday, 27 October 2021 | The Latest Buzz for the Appraisal Industry

Bracing for Impact: Navigating Accusations of Bias in Appraising

This article was originally published in the Fall 2021 Appraisal Buzz Magazine here.

As a black appraiser responsible for collateral risk at a mortgage bank, racial bias in appraising claws at me from every direction. There are many biases that can be interjected into an appraisal – racial bias is just one of them and here is my experience. The complexities of the topic have me concerned in overlapping and contradictory ways. As a result, I do not have the privilege of pledging complete allegiance on any front.

BIAS HITS CLOSE TO HOME
Nine years ago, my parents had their home appraised for a refinance transaction. As an appraiser, I knew the value came in low, so I asked to submit a reconsideration of value. The appraiser agreed with my viewpoint and increased his opinion of value by $100,000. At the time, I was neither surprised nor particularly frustrated by this exercise. I couldn’t say for sure why the appraiser made a series of mistakes culminating in a $100,000 error, but events of this type weren’t happening in a vacuum. It linked to what the movers said about my parents; they must have hit the lotto to afford their house. It linked to my sister’s classmates on the first day of school, when they tried to steer her away from bus #14 and towards bus #6 because that was the “ghetto” bus. It linked to my brother being the only black student in his class and the only black student in his grade. The house, the movers, the school district – it was all connected.

THEN VERSUS NOW
Nine years ago, my family prided itself on the proficiency with which we navigated being black. The $100,000 reclamation of value was further proof that we knew how to manage the financial risks associated with our skin. However, not all black homeowners feel this way. I no longer feel this way. The workarounds that were once a symbol of our ingenuity, such as redacting ourselves (removing family photos and black art) from our home, are now just plain exhausting. Then, trying to explain the necessity of ingenuity to those brand new to this conversation is exasperating. Exhausted and exasperated black homeowners across the country are no longer redacting and are done explaining. Instead, they are going to the media. The black person in me gets it. The lender in me is bracing for impact.

THE HOMEOWNER’S WOUNDED PRIDE
When a homeowner is disappointed in the appraised value, they’ll grasp at anything to diminish the appraiser’s credibility. I have seen complaints about the appraiser’s attire, complaints about the appraiser’s car, and complaints about the appraiser’s failure to see the sex appeal of the home. When you challenge an appraisal on the grounds of sexiness, that argument stems from wounded pride. Telling someone their home is worth less than they thought is hurtful, and a wounded homeowner will say things not based in fact. Bias exists, but as a lender, it is worrisome that homeowners have been empowered with a new way to stave off the disappointment of a low valuation. I fear claims of racial bias will become the new way to shop for value.

TRYING TO MAKE SENSE OF IT ALL
The perfect breeding ground for speculation is a lack of information. In its absence, people will fill in the blanks with the narrative that makes the most sense. Racial bias is a narrative that makes sense to many black homeowners. However, racial bias is also the narrative of last resort. It is subtle, subjective, and hard to pinpoint. The amorphous nature of complaints of this type is not lost on the black community. There is always a preference for facts and figures. Only when the facts and figures don’t add up are alternative explanations considered. If, as lenders, we give borrowers more information, we can crowd out speculation and empower borrowers to communicate their valuation concerns more effectively.

RECONSIDERATIONS OF VALUE
I have to imagine that, for the homeowner, reconsiderations of value are opaque. The success or failure of their disputes may seem whimsical, unjust, or racially motivated. Suppose a lender agrees with the appraiser without first explaining how they came to this agreement. In that case, the lender can be perceived as racially biased – transparency around decision-making protects the lender from the appearance of taking sides. The more the borrower can predict what conclusions their lender will come to, the less personal the process becomes. Predictability demonstrates consistent and equitable application of the rules. Ultimately, that is all black borrowers want.

RISK VERSUS REWARD
There is an emotional tax associated with the very thought of discrimination. The perception of being mistreated has a lingering negative effect, which means the management of bias claims does not end with the acceptance or rejection of the appraisal. The resolution of the appraisal may only get the lender back to neutral with their borrower. If the goal is to have the borrower transact again, lenders need to demonstrate an understanding of the experience’s impact. A conflict that ends in a powerful resolution creates loyalty. There is an opportunity in this. Black borrowers can become raving fans. If racial bias has already exposed lenders to risk, let us not miss out on the possibilities of the reward.

Responses

  1. Some good points in this article however as the accusation that racial bias exist in the appraisal profession I have yet to see and or read anything other then a possible bias for an individual that is appraising. My point is the appraisal industry is data based. And the data would be based on the activity in the specific market area. Your point in the article about the reconsideration of value appears to be more about bad appraising then about racial bias. I have not seen any data and or actual facts about racial bias existing in the appraisal industry other then a possible individual acting in a bias manner and even then its based on another individuals opinion of the situation.

  2. In our business we live on an island mostly. I know few other appraisers. It is impossible for me to judge but it would seem that if I’m using the data, racial bias is impossible. Example: OK, you have an extremely nice home surrounded (in an urban area) by homes in less than average condition. you try your best to find a home similar to the subject. Do you go (in my case) a mere mile to an exclusive neighborhood and take a 450,000 home(similar) when the highest sale in your neighborhood!!! is 125,000? You can’t! To me this a chalk it up to a great home in a less desirable neighborhood. It would be wrong to use the 450,000 comparable. And as an appraiser I feel horrible not being able to give value to the subject. But this isn’t racial bias. It’s plain and simple market value.

  3. The best line in this article is “Homeowners Wounded Pride.” That is 99% of what we are dealing with. My mom and stepdad tried to refinance but had trouble. Their home was not worth what they thought. They tried to get me to appraise it, but I refused. In the end, they had about 10 appraisals done by different mortgage companies. In every case, my parents would get the result and call and complain about the appraiser’s wardrobe, attitude, race, inexperience, etc.

    That was 30 years ago, and we ignored people like that because we knew they were just upset over the low value. This has been going on since the beginning of appraisals. If it comes in low, find an excuse, file a complaint, get a lawyer and definitely blame it on racial bias, age of appraiser or locational competency.

    What people need to realize is that the ONLY wqay to overcome a bad or low appraisal is to file an ROV. That is it. If you have better comps, the submit them. Filing a complaint will not get you anywhere. All that does is that is might get the appraiser in trouble, but it does not raise your appraisal value.

  4. You cite a specific anecdote in support of your opinion. But you’re a professional appraiser, so that makes it completely fair for us to ask you how the appraisal in question got modified by $100k. What types of errors or omissions in the appraisal and appraisal report caused the original value conclusion to come in $100k lower than the reconsidered value?

    – Was the subject mischaracterized in any way?

    – Were the comparables initially chosen actually among the most similar, as is asserted in the Appraiser’s Cert? Or did the appraiser choose the obviously unreasonable comparables?

    – Were any adjustment factors used unreasonable or inconsistently applied?

    – Was the subject ranked lower in the reconciliation of value than was warranted, given its attributes and in comparison with the (truly) most similar comparables?

    – Or, as your telling of it could be interpreted, was the difference a matter of subjective judgement (aka “discretion”) on the part of the appraiser?

    Because without a little more specificity (from you) we have no way of understanding how this violation actually occurred. What the mechanism was that the appraiser used to cheat these borrowers – because that’s what it is when an appraiser lowballs an SFR property by $100k: lying, cheating and stealing. There is no way to tell which type of misconduct – whether a violation of the ETHICS RULE or the COMPTENCY RULE was the cause of the errors which led to this unreasonable conclusion.

    You have made an allegation of racism here, which is fine. Now I’m asking you to clarify what these errors were with something other than what a layperson would use to make their point. The ROV didn’t just make the change occur by magic – there must have been some substance to it, which by extension means the errors that were corrected must have actually existed in the form of something beyond subjective judgement.

  5. If you submitted an ROV and the Appraiser agreed with you and raised his/her value it’s more likely to be confirmation bias rather than racism. You haven’t provided any support for your conclusion other than someone agreed with your ROV and found in your favor. Sounds like they were trying to do the right thing rather than risking their license/livelihood for hatred.

  6. $100,000 and nine years ago? Wow. Did you report appraiser to the state for what must have been glaring errors? $10,000, I can, maybe understand. Perhaps missed a comp that had just closed the day the appraiser was at the site and then failed to look at that sale again. But $100,000 and nine years ago? Maybe in this market, but not back then.

  7. I am working with an appraiser right now that is in this situation. Unfortunately, in this day, filing a complaint “has” gone somewhere. This is the appraiser’s situation. Both the appraiser and the homeowner are minorities. The homeowner did not like their value. The appraisal was reviewed and also found to be accurate. The homeowner submitted 4-5 sales they would prefer the appraiser use. All of those homes were completely updated. The subject property was not only not updated, but in need of repair. The lender also reviewed the appraisal and found the appraised value to be inaccurate. The complaint was submitted to HUD against the appraiser and also the lender. HUD asked for a response. However, before asking for a response called and asked if the appraiser is open to a financial settlement to the borrower. HUD is not challenging the appraised value or the appraisal in any way. What it is asking for is a financial settlement and if you are not willing to speak about a financial settlement, they will investigate 12 full months back every appraisal you have completed. This IS the new value shopping and something needs to be done. You may not understand this until you are in the position.

  8. This is now the 4th case that I have heard the claim of racial bias and in all 4 cases the value increased exactly the same amount $100,000. Can you please provide both of these appraisals to the group. I think that actually looking at both would be incredibly beneficial to us all.

    I’m assuming you filed a complaint to the state, what was the outcome?

  9. This is a very interesting article. I’ve been checking back to see if there has been a response from Jillian. As professional appraisers, more detail would be a great learning tool for us, our trainees, and anyone else associated with our appraisal businesses. Thanks Jillian!

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