Purchased for $789,000 in 2006, unit #421 at The Palms (555 4th Street) hit the market four months ago with a list price of $868,000. Unable to find a buyer, the asking price on the two-bedroom condo was eventually reduced to $750,000 “subject to lender’s approval.”
Last week the sale of 555 4th Street #421 closed escrow with a reported contract price or $700,000. Well let you do the math (and decide whether or not it’s a “real” comp).
The Palms (555 4th St.): Secondary Market Slowdown And Short Sale [SocketSite]

Comments from Plugged-In Readers

  1. Posted by Jay

    So many units in that building for sale!
    * 555 4th St #833, San Francisco
    * 555 4th St #102, San Francisco
    * 555 4th St #521, San Francisco
    * 555 4th St #718, San Francisco
    * 555 4th St #718, SAN FRANCISCO
    * 555 4th St #841, San Francisco
    * 555 4th St #710, San Francisco
    * 555 4th St #703, San Francisco
    * 555 4th St #930, San Francisco
    * 555 4th St #540, San Francisco
    * 555 4th St #312, San Francisco
    * 555 4th St #741, San Francisco
    * 555 4th St #401, San Francisco
    There is another one for sale for $674 (#401) and there is another one for sale for 1 million dollars (finger to nose, both 2br2bth).
    The rest of the neighborhood continues to plummet as well. There is a unit at 207 king – the lofts across from the ball park – for under $700 now! 14+ units for sale at the beacon!
    And the beautiful thing is the median is hardly affected b/c of all the units closing at ORH & the infinity.

  2. Posted by chuckie

    No… not a real comp. It’s a sale under duress… the seller had to move (job related).
    Three things caught my eye about this new 2bed/2ba listing that just showed up on Redfin.
    First, of course, purchased in May 2007 for $832,500 and now listed fot 699,000. Bidding war?
    Second, from the listing, “Sellers use den as their master bedroom although it is not code compliant for such use”. Say what?
    Third, from the listing, “Calling all Giants’ fans! Don’t miss this fantastic opportunity to live directly across from the ballpark! ” I guess I’m easily amused.

  3. Posted by dub dub

    chuckie — my guess: the den might not have windows, in which case it can’t be called a bedroom, but they are telling you it’s big enough to be used that way if you want (some “dens” are quite tiny). Or something like that.
    I’m too lazy to even click over to take a look 😉

  4. Posted by Jimmy (Bitter Renter)

    Its not a real comp. And all those other units for sale aren’t really “inventory” either. Just ask “Rob” in Bayview, from yesterday’s blog, if banks use short sales and foreclosures as comps. If the bank you happen to use DOES do that, then just tell them that “they don’t understand San Francisco” (because RE prices always go up, not down. silly bank.) and get “a local bank” that “understands the market.” At least, that was the general consensus of readers here.
    Clearly the new buyer in this case was a shrewd financier who just obtained “instant equity” of $132k or more thanks to his behind-the-scenes negotiating skills. Because, as we know, a short sale isn’t really a comp.

  5. Posted by ben

    Jimmy: well said.

  6. Posted by diemos

    Perhaps it’s time for David Lereah, former chief economist for the NAR, to write another book. I’ve even got a title for him:
    “Foreclosures don’t count, dammit!”

  7. Posted by fundy mental

    Now I can’t even remember how the argument goes that it’s not a comp.
    How is the buyer paying less than market? Any sale could be under some duress couldn’t it?

  8. Posted by tipster

    “Sellers use den as their master bedroom although it is not code compliant for such use”. Say what?”
    If I thought a lot of real estate salespeople “stretch the truth” at every opportunity, I’d think that what you are seeing is a 1 bedroom plus den, that they want to advertise as a two bedroom so they can try to charge just under two bedroom prices, but more than they’d ever be able to charge if they advertised it as a 1 bedroom plus den.
    If I thought the only thing from keeping a real estate salesperson from hiding everything was the fact that they might get sued, I’d assume that the statement about non code compliance was in there to protect them from a lawsuit when they listed a 1 bedroom as a 2 bedroom.
    Then I’d go to the photos looking for the second bedroom in addition to the den. If I couldn’t find it, I’d assume I was correct.
    But fortunately, I think all Realtors are as honest as the day is long, so all of the above is really irrelevant.

  9. Posted by phatty

    207 King #412 is a 1 Bedroom + Den. If I were to go look at this place thinking it was a 2 bedroom, I’d be pretty pissed off for wasting my time. It is so sleezy when realtors list these things as 2 bedrooms… if anything, they should be honest and say it’s a 1 bedroom + den, and the den is large enough to possibly be used as a bedroom.
    The place is ridiculously small (under 1k sq ft). Actually, that’s not that small for a 1 bedroom I suppose.
    Floor plan can be found here:
    No idea who on earth would have paid $832k for this place. Guess there are some retarded Giants fans out there.

  10. Posted by Foolio

    None of this matters, since SFRs are still strong. There’s no substitution effect because there’s no overlap between house and condo shoppers.

  11. Posted by diemos

    “None of this matters, since SFRs are still strong.”
    I assume it matters to the people who leveraged themselves up to buy a condo.
    “There’s no substitution effect because there’s no overlap between house and condo shoppers.”
    Indeed. If SOMA 2/2s were selling for 50K nobody in the market for an SFR would be enticed out of spending a million for an SFR. (exageration for effect and sarcasm alert!)

  12. Posted by Foolio

    @diemos: I got your sarcasm, but apparently you didn’t get mine…

  13. Posted by redseca2

    Thanks for the link to the floor plan.
    I remember when these units became available. I seem to recall that this was originally intended to be a commercial (office) occupancy floor in the building. The developers decided to switch to condos and probably perfectly timed the market peak in the process.
    All of these units included a very large windowless and very high ceiling’s “den” space. This may have been a result of switching to condos on this floor when the rest of the building was already built out.
    I was briefly interested because I seem to be dragging a large and valuable library collection through life and windowless is appropriate for old books.

  14. Posted by diemos

    @foolio: Sorry!

  15. Posted by sleepiguy

    Obviously, this is a pattern we’ll continue to see all over the city. A building near me in an arguably more prime area can’t get rid of a unit at 20% less that what an identical unit sold for last year.

  16. Posted by ex SF-er

    a few things
    1) it’s positive to see that the lender allowed the short sale. many lenders are dragging their feet and then the borrowers end up in FC. better for neighbors that the place gets short sold as opposed to FC. (homes can get pretty beat up post-FC… and it’s not nice to have empty units all over the building)
    2) I personaly think of this as a comp, but many do not. thus far other parts of the US have fared very poorly and 1/3 (plus) of properties that are selling are FCs. if 1/3rd of the market is FC then for sure that’s a comp. This hasn’t happened in SF. at least not yet. (who knows if it will). but on a practical level, I’m sure that the neighbors are thinking about this new sales price.
    -FWIW: I live across the street from a house that went FC. the eventual sale was (guestimate) like 50% of the previous sale. so I’m sure it hurts my house value. but I was overjoyed with the sale because I wanted someone to LIVE there.

  17. Posted by EBGuy

    Tangent… anybody catch Norm MacDonald on The Tonight Show this past Monday. He was trying to sell his “second home”, which he had moved out of when he bought a new place (Jay even let him show some pictures). When Norm mentioned it was a condo, Jay quipped, “Better get it quick, they’re not making any more of those…”

  18. Posted by Dave

    I’m not really sure how much of what is being said is sarcasm vs. not… but I don’t buy any argument that a short sale, or a “sale under duress” isn’t a valid comp.
    Properties sell for what they are worth, at least in a market where there is a decent supply of interested potential buyers, and I think SF qualifies in that regard. Only in the rarest of situations can I imagine a sale of any sort not being a valid comp.
    Of course, the condition of a property when sold has to be figured into the equation. A trashed property with no kitchen isn’t a particularly useful comp for a similar one that’s well-maintained and fully equipped.
    If somebody really believes that some sales don’t represent real comps, I’d love to hear real arguments as to why anyone should buy that. Otherwise, I will keep on believing that, unfortunate or not, foreclosures and short sales are just as good as any other comps.

  19. Posted by Scott

    “Properties sell for what they are worth, at least in a market where there is a decent supply of interested potential buyers, and I think SF qualifies in that regard. Only in the rarest of situations can I imagine a sale of any sort not being a valid comp.
    If somebody really believes that some sales don’t represent real comps, I’d love to hear real arguments as to why anyone should buy that. Otherwise, I will keep on believing that, unfortunate or not, foreclosures and short sales are just as good as any other comps.”
    So all those homes and condos that sold in 2005 and 2006 for inflated prices were sold for what they were worth?
    So the home next to mine where a unqualified buyer that got a no doc loan with no money down and the corrupt bank and appraiser that justified the higher price to get a loan done thinking they’ll just sell it to Freddie… that was a valid comp?
    People’s “understanding” of comps and “worth” continue to amaze me here….

  20. Posted by Animo

    No appraisers here to comment?
    Couple of things, first, it is not always apparent whether a sale is “short” or not. As for a foreclosure sale, it is not necessarily as good a comp as an unforced sale for a whole variety of reasons that an appraiser may consider, e.g. there may not be an interior inspection, the property may be only purchased in cash or nontradition financing, limited time to close, etc. In short, if foreclosures are not the prevalent transaction within the geographic area considered by the appraiser, a foreclosure may not be a the “best possible sale in terms of design and location” as a comp.

  21. Posted by smarty

    Scott, you amaze me… how could the prior owners financing of a home possibly effect it’s value in the present market? If the home next to yours is being sold by an unqualified buyer that has to get out quick for 100k less than what you’re offering your home, I’m going to buy that home over yours. Thus, it is a ‘comp’, and you’d need to lower the price of your home to that level in order for me to consider it.
    The prices for homes sold in 2005/2006 are as useful to me as the prices for the same home back in 1910. And yes, they sold for what they WERE worth – BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT THEY SOLD FOR. Perhaps the house sold for less than it’s worth today when it sold in 1910, and perhaps the house sold for more than it’s worth today when it sold in 2005. But in 1910, and 2005, it sold for it’s value. And if it sold today for whatever price & whatever reason, it becomes a comp for someone looking today. Because they could have purchased it at that price. This can’t be that hard of a concept to grasp…

  22. Posted by anonm

    The point of a comp is to establish what the market will pay for a comparable property. It’s not about calculating the fundamental underlying value of the property. Housing prices may be overinflated or underinflated, but that’s an entirely different question.
    If you argue that foreclosures are not comps, you are arguing that they are selling at well below market prices. The question is then, why isn’t someone willing to pay market price for the foreclosed property?
    As a potential buyer, I certainly don’t care whether or not the seller is behind in his payments: all I care about is whether it’s a good property and what the price is. As long as there are a reasonable number of buyers like me, we will bid up prices to near market values. The only way that foreclosures can be going for well below market value is if, from the buyer’s perspective, there is a giant stigma attached to buying a foreclosure. Furthermore, this stigma must be universal across all buyers. I don’t really see it, but maybe you can make an argument for why you believe that to be the case?

  23. Posted by SausalitoRes

    @Scott–You misunderstand how “market value” is defined in a real estate appraisal (and by the banking industry). Here it is, cut and pasted from a standard appraisal form:
    “The most probable price which a property should bring in a competitive and open market
    under all conditions requisite to a fair sale, the buyer and seller, each acting prudently, knowledgeably and assuming the price is not
    affected by undue stimulus…”
    Market value is not concerned with any idea of “true value” or “long-term value”…it’s just a matter of what someone will pay. When lenders and buyers act foolishly, then market values go up.

  24. Posted by Louis

    long story short doesnt this mean Palms is down 10-15% since 2006?
    all things considered thats not too bad of a drop IMO. if thats as far as it goes.
    anyone agree?

  25. Posted by Dave

    Now I understand the confusion. Some people mistakenly believe that a property’s value has some basis beyond what someone is willing to pay for it.
    It doesn’t. The values in 2005 and 2006 were absolutely what those properties were worth at that time. Now their value has declined in many cases.
    Don’t ever confused market value with “what that property is worth TO ME” as they are often very different numbers.

  26. Posted by phatty

    I agree Louis. I think the Palms value should have dropped WAY more by now.

  27. Posted by Scott

    “The values in 2005 and 2006 were absolutely what those properties were worth at that time.”
    Ignorance is bliss.

  28. Posted by smarty

    “Ignorance is bliss.”
    LOL. I don’t think you get it… (but maybe your ignorance is bliss?)
    If I paid 1 Million for property A in 2005, then property A was worth 1 Million in 2005. Period. That’s fact. You can’t change it (without a time machine). Even if Property A is worth a single dollar today, which is 2008.
    Property A’s 1 Million dollar sticker price can not be used as a comp in todays market. Because this is 2008, and that was 2005. If property A sold for $1 today, then it would become a valid comp today at $1. But not a valid comp in 2005’s market, because that was 3 years ago. It’s worth in 2005 is still 1 Million.
    I hope this makes sense to you.

  29. Posted by Amen Corner

    “I agree Louis. I think the Palms value should have dropped WAY more by now.”
    With all the listings there, I doubt you’re going to have to wait long for further falls in price.

  30. Posted by spencer

    the sky is falling. the sky is falling.

  31. Posted by anon

    “If I paid 1 Million for property A in 2005, then property A was worth 1 Million in 2005. Period. That’s fact.”
    Smarty, read the posts above. You don’t understand this. You are right that if property A sold for 1 million in 2005 that was the market value in 2005. But it does not establish that was property A’s “worth” in 2005. Market value and worth can be two different things. That 1 million selling price very likely was driven by the availability of no-down, low-doc, teaser loans that resulted in very low initial payments. So the property may have been “worth” the ridiculously low monthly payment coupled with no risk at all from declining values, but that does not establish that it was therefore “worth” 1 million.

  32. Posted by diemos

    “Market value and worth can be two different things.”
    I would say that there is no such thing as single definable worth for an asset. It’s up to every individual to decide what something is worth to them. In our market system the person who values it the most (and has the cash to back it up) gets to have it.
    In fact, all free trade depends on different assets having different worth to different people so that the trade can benefit both parties in the trade.

  33. Posted by rg

    Smarty, YOUR “ignorance” is exactly what got us into this whole mess. Anon says it all: Property A was not “worth” 1 million in 2005, it’s just simply what you paid for it. It’s astonishing to me the shear quantity of suckers out there. What if a reasonable, educated, uninfluenced appraiser came with you in 2005 and said that Property A wasn’t worth anywhere near 1 million dollars? Would you have still got into a bidding war with other uninformed bidders? What if Greenspan all of a sudden raised rates to 15% like in the 80s? Would you have still looked at that 1 million dollar pricetag the same way?
    SausalitoRes, thanks for the clip from a real appraisal form, but you discredit your own point:
    “each acting prudently, knowledgeably and assuming the price is not affected by undue stimulus…”
    Let me list the undue stimuli:
    $$$ hungry real estate agents, appraisers and lenders who broke the law on SO many levels.
    Unheard of interest rates, far too low than every should be allowed.
    Unchecked growth, SF LOST population yet we’re still building.
    Insane rises in prices irrespective of stagnant salaries…

  34. Posted by Satchel

    I’m actually SHOCKED that appraisers “certify” that people were acting “prudently” and “knowledgeably” when buying and selling property. That sounds like something that would open up legal liability. I mean, appraisers as a group are not rocket scientists – that’s for sure – but even they could figure out that knowledge and prudence were not part of the equation in many (perhaps all?) purchase transactions over the past five years or so.
    About what a property is “worth”. I think all that can reasonably be expected from decent appraisers and realtors would be a fair estimate of “market value”. Estimates of “intrinsic” or “fair” value – that is, what a property is truly “worth” – is way beyond their pay grade (to quote Obama). That’s something for traders, investors or perhaps banks who might get stucco’d with the property to figure out.

  35. Posted by diemos

    As long as everyone else was jumping off a bridge an appraiser would be happy to certify that it was prudent and reasonable to jump off a bridge. After all, he would have plenty of comps to point to.

  36. Posted by tipster

    You guys act like the appraiser’s job was and is to accurately appraise the values. It isn’t. There hasn’t been a market for that type of appraiser for 8 years.
    The appraiser’s job is to hit the number or go above it. That’s it. End of job description because there is NO motivation for ANYONE to have an accurate appraisal.
    When real estate was going up, no one wanted accuracy, they just needed to check a box that said an appraiser signed off on it. If they checked the box, a LOT of people made a LOT of money and the investors, who were the most distant parties to the transactions, had no clue what was going on. Rising prices masked all problems.
    When the investors finally realized what was going on, they insisted on another party to insure the loan. FM/FM will happily collect the fees to do that, and if they lose, THEY DON’T CARE. The taxpayers bail them out.
    If you went to Las Vegas and put a dollar in the slot machines, and every time you won, you got to keep the winnings but pay back the dollar, and every time you lost, the government reimbursed you, would you really care what the odds of winning were. All you had to do was to get an appraiser to sign off that the machines weren’t rigged. If an “appraiser” screwed up and got it wrong, who cares? You still collect ALL the winnings and stick someone else with the losings, so who cares? That’s how FM/FM feel. Jumbo loans were thought of as pretty safe, so people did the same there too, even though no one guarenteed them. Of course, that’s about to change for Jumbos.
    FM and FM still don’t care. They just want the “appraiser” to hit the number. End of story.
    So the “appraisers” are basically in the business of justifying the number. To do that, you pretend any overbid is an accurate representation of the value, and any low price has some flaw. That’s what your WHOLE JOB is.
    If something sells in a foreclosure sale, that is immediately bad, and the appraiser just comes up with some reason to ignore it. I don’t see why everyone thinks this is so horrible, that’s what the banks are paying for: these guys are just providing the service for which the banks are paying. Why would you expect them to provide a service that YOU want when you aren’t paying them anything?
    Every modern bubble needs a seemingly independent organization to trade their reputations for independence to grease the skids. Remember the stock “analysts” in the dot com bubble? Everyone thought they were independent and above prostitution. Wrong. Here, it’s the appraisers doing the same thing: relying on investor’s outdated beliefs in their independence to keep the game running. Like the analysts, they really aren’t making the lions share of the profits, they are just the useful rubes in the scheme, who are being kept around based on their willingness to trade their reputations for the ability to catch a few crumbs while the others who pay them (and threaten to fire them) take the profits.
    So cut them some slack. Like the Nazi prison guards, operators of gas chambers, etc., they are just trying to keep their jobs.

  37. Posted by fluj

    “The appraiser’s job is to hit the number or go above it. That’s it. End of job description because there is NO motivation for ANYONE to have an accurate appraisal.”
    That is not true. Appraisers can and will object to a projected figure if it doesn’t work. There is a blacklist. Appraisers livelihood depends upon not getting on the blacklist. They do what they can. But if it’s not possible? No. They will not expose themselves. Even in runaway bull markets sometimes there just isn’t enough precedent and more cash will be needed in order to get the deal done.
    You simply haven’t done enough r.e. deals to speak in the manner you speak. Part of me really wishes you’d stop making things up all the time, Tipster. Then again maybe not. It is entertaining.

  38. Posted by tipster

    Oh, fluj, why don’t you tell us all how it really is?
    We all know what a blacklist is. Here’s a great example from WaMu:
    “California appraiser Jeniffer Wertz earned more than $100,000 a year doing two or three appraisals a day for Washington Mutual until May, when she refused to revise reports to falsely indicate market conditions were stable, according to a complaint filed Jan. 10 in California state court in Sacramento.
    A bank sales manager “insisted” Wertz “change her appraisal to indicate ’stable’ market conditions so the loan could be approved,” she said in the complaint. If Wertz didn’t, she claimed, the sales manager said she would be “prevented from doing any WaMu appraisal work.”
    The independence of appraisers has been raised as a potential factor in the subprime mortgage crisis. In November, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo sued First American Corp., the largest U.S. title insurer, for allegedly inflating home values under pressure from Seattle-based Washington Mutual.”

  39. Posted by NoeValleyJIm

    I admire your restraint, in not invoking Godwin’s Law here.

  40. Posted by Daniel

    Worth is determined by whatever price was paid. Afterwards, worth can go up or down by the next person paying for it. And so forth. Just like a new car that becomes a used car for each successive owner.

  41. Posted by Scott

    “Worth is determined by whatever price was paid.”
    Hmm, what if I sold you a used car for $10,000. You bought it in the heat of the moment and then you went to another dealer to only find it for $5,000. You then look it up in kelly blue book and see it’s resale value to be $5,000. Was the car worth $10,000? Or would you feel like you made a dumb ass mistake? You then try to resell it because all of a sudden you can’t make the payments, and all the offers you get are around $5,000.
    Ok, so what was the car worth?
    A) $10,000 because that is what you paid for it.
    B) $5,000.
    This is not a trick question…

  42. Posted by ex SF-er

    Estimates of “intrinsic” or “fair” value – that is, what a property is truly “worth” – is way beyond their pay grade (to quote Obama). That’s something for traders, investors or perhaps banks who might get stucco’d with the property to figure out.
    Please. I’ll take an appraisal value over the traders/investors/banks any day.
    They may have a higher pay grade, but evidently not a higher IQ or ability to value assets. Unless you call marking everything to model at 100% of it’s wish-value accurate valuation.
    as for tipster’s argument about appraisors… there is some validity to his argument but he overreached with his analogies.
    It is a classic problem of “capture”. There are many honest appraisors out there. But they starved from 2002-2007 so most are out of business. the rubber stampers made a ton. so the banks “captured” the appraisors. You see similar problems with auditors the companies they audit. (Enron/arthur anderson). You also see it with govt and the agencies they regulate (Treasury/Federal Reserve)
    but the game is changing. Now the banks want lowball appraisals (when it comes to refinancing customers) and highball appraisals (when it comes to marking their assets on their own books). Thus, the game has changed and we’ll get different appraisal valuations going forward than we did going backwards.
    during the euphoria many appraisors put themselves out on a limb to make a buck. but now they’re in the crosshairs and the markets are going down. it’ll be harder to find an appraisor to “hit the number” on the high side. (not that hard of course… but harder than it was)

  43. Posted by Satchel

    ex SF-er,
    “They may have a higher pay grade, but evidently not a higher IQ or ability to value assets.”
    I saw a really funny cartoon a few months ago – I’d love it if anyone who recognizes this could provide a link.
    The cartoon went something like this:
    Some schlubby looking average joe was berating a bank/investment bank ceo (I think over the telephone).
    The first panel of the cartoon started with the schlub saying, “You guys think you are so smart! With your fancy degrees and all.” The panels continued, “You lent money to anyone, you made up any value, you tricked everyone into believing that the homes were actually worth that!”
    “You paid yourselves millions and billions of dollars! NOW, everything is crashing down, people are losing their homes, people are having their life savings wiped out, and yet you get to keep your millions and now the TAXPAYER is going to bail all of you out, just so you can keep your bank together and continue to pay yourselves ridiculous amounts of money!”
    “Now, how smart do you think you are?”
    And, of course, the last panel is the kicker, when the bank/investment bank CEO finally says something:
    “Pretty damn smart!” (with a smirk, and as he takes the money and runs)
    Did anyone else see this – my memory is rough here and I’d LOVE to see it again!
    I should have been clearer. The traders and investors who were betting THEIR OWN MONEY would not have been so foolish. But, when it’s heads I win tails you lose with other people’s money, well, I guess they could be just as foolish as appraisers.

  44. Posted by SausalitoRes

    The conditions you highlighted are not considered “undue market stimuli”. With the exception of loan fraud and property flipping, what you or I might consider to be greed and stupidity are really just standard market conditions as of a certain period of time. To the extent that a comparable sold with bank financing generally available to borrowers in the market, that is not an “undue market stimulus”.
    When everyone drinks the Kool-Aid then that’s the market.
    It is not the appraiser’s job to *outguess* the market and provide personal opinions of what market price *should* be. The appraiser provides an opinion of what a property would sell for as of a certain date and subject to certain standard conditions. Many appraisers have personal opinions as to whether the market currently overvalues or undervalues various types of properties…and those appraisers might make personal investment decisions accordingly. But it would be improper for an appraiser to say, for example, “this property would sell for $100,000 but that’s way too much in my opinion”.
    BTW, appraisers have no obligation to disclose personal investments…only to certify that they have no current or contemplated interest in the property being appraised.
    Banks have other underwriting criteria to protect them from adverse market value fluctuations. These criteria include borrower’s credit record, loan-to-value ratio, debt-to-income ratio, etc. Much of the problems banks find themselves in are due to weakening/disregarding these standards or falsifying loan applications. Ill-conceived loan products didn’t help either.
    Some homeowners may find themselves in trouble if they believe that an appraisal report supporting their purchase price means that they can’t lose money. It only means that there’s someone else out there who would pay the same amount. Banks and federal regulators understand this.

  45. Posted by SausalitoRes

    Satchel said:
    “I’m actually SHOCKED that appraisers ‘certify’ that people were acting ‘prudently’ and ‘knowledgeably’ when buying and selling property. That sounds like something that would open up legal liability.”
    Actually Satchel, the bulk of real estate transactions are considered to be undertaken by people acting knowledgeably and in their own best interest. That’s what makes a “market”. The appraiser doesn’t have to *certify* that.
    It is the appraiser’s job to determine if any non-standard conditions affected the price of a comp. However, simply to discard a comp. transaction because it doesn’t fit your model and without any specific information about non-standard conditions would be a violation of appraisal standards.
    I hope that clarifies.

  46. Posted by Boo

    Am I being too simplistic when I think that all an appraiser does is collect data about relevant comparable sales and then put it in a neat report? All they’re telling you is what others are paying within a relevant time period for assets similar to the one you’re considering buying. Isn’t it up to the buyer to decide if they are sailing in a ship of fools?
    And ultimately isn’t it up the the buyer to not be a knucklehead and to take a moment to consider what affect the appraiser’s relationship with the lender and the market might have on his/her conclusions?
    I mean, do people really just look at the value on the appraisal and nothing else? Comps are just data and appraisers can’t mess with that. So a buyer has the option to consider those comps themselves and decide if they’re valid or not, to them, personally. I mean, they’re the ones buying, not the appraiser.
    It just sounds like folks are saying that appraisers and their wickedness and greed can influence the market to a signifcant degree. But isn’t it buyers that provide the comps. And buyers do dumb stuff sometimes!

  47. Posted by SausalitoRes

    @ Boo:

  48. Posted by fluj

    @ boo, Appraisers can use three methods. Around here they typically use both comps and replacement cost to determine value.
    Tipster, all your anecdote showed was one state court case. You didn’t even say what the outcome was. I’m glad you know how to use Google, “appraisers + blacklist” or something.
    You know something? For someone who takes others to task for data imprecision so often, you have a very low standard for your own discourse.
    You compared appraisers to “Nazi prison guards, operators of gas chambers, etc.” To answer your question, I will tell you how it is whenever you tell us how it is not. Which is just about daily.

  49. Posted by Boo

    I guess really my point is that it seems that buyers out there confuse the purpose of an appraisal. Appraisers don’t have advanced economic degrees. They’re not required to determine if the investment makes sense. They just determine if it is selling for the same price as other ones. Right? And maybe they don’t do the best job at that sometimes because it’s a subjective thing. And that’s where personal repsonsiblity of the buyer comes into play. We as buyers have to make sense of the investment for ourselves. That’s what I was thinkin anyway.

  50. Posted by Satchel

    @ SausalitoRes,
    I don’t think you and I disagree (although you obviously know much more about the appraisal industry than I do!). As I wrote above, I think the most one can and should expect from a good appraiser is a fair estimate of MARKET value – not “intrinsic” or “fair” value or some other concept.
    That being said, I’m surprised that the appraisal industry poobahs put that “prudence” and “knowledge” language in the standard appraisal form that you excerpted in your “Posted by: SausalitoRes at August 28, 2008 1:51 PM” post above.
    “Knowledgeably” and “prudently” are legally loaded terms that IMO seem to require an appraiser to make a value judgment about the quality of the decisionmaking that buyers and sellers are making. A clever lawyer at trial could make the argument – easy to make IMO – that in order for an appraiser make these judgments as to knowledge and prudence, the appraiser must be making some sort of intrinsic value or “worth” judgment as to the subject asset being appraised. Otherwise, how can the appraiser sign off on the idea that the buyer is acting “prudently”? That seems like a lot of risk for an appraiser to take on for an appraisal that will likely generate a fee of $250-1000 at most, at least to me.
    I guess there’s plenty of wiggle room, though, in the language. Still, if *I* were writing the standard forms, I’d leave out loaded terms and try to confine the appraisal opinion to “market value”, meaning what buyers and sellers are IN FACT paying for like properties, etc., rather than opining on what PRUDENT and KNOWLEDGEABLE buyers are paying in that market. Why certify that all those fools overbidding with other people’s money were acting “prudently” and “knowledgeably”?

  51. Posted by SausalitoRes

    Your points about the terminology have some validity. The appraisal/banking industry rewrites the definition of market value from time to time. Perhaps they’ll take a look at those words at some point.
    BTW, it’s possible for *sellers* to act without knowledge and prudence also.
    I would say that the burden of proof is on the person trying to show that a seller or buyer acted in the absence of knowledge and/or prudence. After all, they only have to employ “market-level” knowledge and prudence.

  52. Posted by ex SF-er

    Great comments SausalitoRes.
    as for Boo’s question:
    I mean, do people really just look at the value on the appraisal and nothing else?
    In many cases, unfortunately, the answer is yes. When I bought my first home I was very ignorant as to the workings of home-buying process. I bought my house and the appraisal done for the mortgage came in $10k higher than I paid. I thouhgt “wow, my house appreciated $10k in a week!”
    it’s also the genesis of the constant adds you see touting “instant equity!!!”
    but I agree with all of your pseudo-questions that very accurately describe the job description, the abilities, and the purpose of the average appraisor.

  53. Posted by view lover

    I dont’ understand how there seems to be so much responsibility put on the buyer to second guess 1) the asking price, 2) the guidance of the real estate agent, 3) the appraiser and 4) the bank willing to lend the money, sometimes with no money donw and an interest rate that does not reflect adverse risk. If all of these are a green light, do any of you really believe that the buyer should then look for another way of evaluate the “value” of the home? Most people do not have the skills to do that in that not everyone is a math genious, or such an untrusting individual. When every professional tells you that the asking price is at fair market value, what can you really do in a market with little desirable inventory and you want to buy a place to live? I guess you can sit on the sidelines, but most people will trust the professionals to have some integrity, even if they don’t apparently.

  54. Posted by Boo

    @ ex SF-er
    Good point. Those were pseudo-questions. But question marks are just so much more fun than periods. But do I really need them?

  55. Posted by Publius

    I am aware that the lack of real independence of appraisers was thought to be a cause of the subprime crisis. In addition to the case cited by tipster, there was some proposed legislation that would require lenders to use independent appraisers. I’m not sure, however, where that legislation stands now.
    I know that an appraiser’s license can be on the line if they overvalue a property, but I also know that they are under extreme pressure to “hit the number” by both mortgage brokers and lenders.
    view lover – I agree. Who is Joe Public to disagree with the “professionals.”

  56. Posted by condoshopper

    say all an appraiser does is pull comps, isn’t that already part of the realtor’s job? what value does the appraiser really add to the process, especially if the meaning of “worth” is so subjective and difficult to agree upon.

  57. Posted by The Milkshake of Despair

    viewlover – certainly a valid point. Most lay people seek and accept the advice of professionals in fields beyond their expertise : medicine, plumbing, law, auto mechanics, etc. I’ve learned that no matter what the trade it always helps to learn a little about it on your own. I can’t remember how many times I’ve had to call a car mechanic’s bluff – they were hoping to sell an expensive service that they were not even planning to deliver assuming that I knew nothing about what was under the hood. So when they charge you $400 for a new ECU and you see the same old grimy ECU under the hood you know you’ve been cheated. Once I found an honest mechanic I don’t worry about double checking his recommendation. Same goes for other professions. A competent honest professional is worth doing business with for life even if they charge substantially more than others.
    But most people aren’t willing to become a jack of all trades just to double check their professionals. In that case the RE pros that you mentioned do have a duty to do their research and present their conclusion in a frank and honest way to the consumer.
    I’m sure that there are some buyer’s agents out there consulting their clients to wait the downturn out a while for prices to drop, even though this advice is against their personal interest. I’m equally sure that there are buyer’s agents advising a buy right now when they wouldn’t ever think of wagering their own cash in this declining market. That’s dishonest behavior but really hard to prove.
    On appraisals my opinion falls between the extremes expressed here. Appraisals should not simply be a de facto mimicking of the recent sales comp data. There needs to be some judgement on whether prices are unduly affected by other forces (cheap money anyone ?). However appraisers should not be expected to predict the future.
    It would be nice if the appraisers who read this site would chime in and give some insight into these questions.

  58. Posted by ex SF-er

    When every professional tells you that the asking price is at fair market value, what can you really do in a market with little desirable inventory and you want to buy a place to live? I guess you can sit on the sidelines, but most people will trust the professionals to have some integrity, even if they don’t apparently.
    this is a fantastic point. it is the reason why I have been on a quest to rename RE agents and the industry as “Real Estate Salesperson” as opposed to “Real Estate Expert”. this highlights the relationship of buyer/seller and agent more clearly than does “expert” IMO.
    there is nothing wrong with being a salesperson. some of the most highly trained and paid jobs are salespeople. (as example, the international sales rep for Cisco is a salesperson).
    I’d add to your list. It wasn’t just the RE agents, mortgage broker, appraisor who said the people could/should buy. It was also the buyer’s PARENTS/family who used outdated models to push people to squeeze into as much house as they can afford

  59. Posted by fluj

    “”Real Estate Salesperson” as opposed to “Real Estate Expert”. ”
    They’re called sales associates or brokers. If somebody wants to call himself or herself an expert, then hey, test them.

  60. Posted by SausalitoRes

    The real estate agent is compensated for closing the transaction and has a stake in seeing that it closes. The system of using independent appraisers (whose compensation is not contingent on any predetermined result or the closing of a sale) grew-out of past banking/lending crises. Most appraisers are honest/ethical/competent. Some are not.
    One common misunderstanding about home appraisals is who may rely upon them and for what purpose. They are addressed to the client which is the mortgage broker or the lender in the case of a new loan/refi. Typically, they contain a statement that says something to the effect of “This report is to be used by the client in conjunction with the granting of a loan. There is no other intended use.” If the bank loses money based on a bad appraiser, they can go back on the appraiser. If someone other than the intended user loses money (or if money is lost by the intended user due to some activity other than the intended use) than that person is out of luck. The intended user generally extends to the ultimate purchaser of a securitized mortgage.
    Even though the home buyer pays for the appraisal, they are not the client.
    Really, what’s coming out of this thread is the complexity of a home purchase/loan transaction. There should be courses at the local community college in buying a house and everyone should take it. The Sunday supplement provides just enough information to be very dangerous.

  61. Posted by tipster

    Woah, I didn’t mean to imply that the real estate bubble was the “fault” of the appraisers. No way. They provided the service which was requested of them. But that service was and still is, to justify the price so that the bank can make its fees from the loan. They are hired by the person who gets its fee by making the transaction happen, NOT by the investor who cares the most that the transaction is accurate.
    Back in the day when banks made and held the loans, those two parties were the same person. Now they aren’t.
    The managers of pension funds were under extreme pressure to maintain 8% returns as interest rates fell. They threw caution to the wind and bought mortgages. They mostly bailed out in 2006 and sold them off to foreign investors who also needed the yield, though some of them may have bought the loans in 2006-2007 to keep the bubble, which was benefiting their own economies, going.
    The INVESTORS should have been hiring the appraisers, not the banks who weren’t planning on holding the loans. If that had happened, the appraisers, would have a different purpose: not to hit the number to make the banks rich, but to ensure that there was no $100K cash back on a $1M loan or “downpayment assistance” or other such nonsense. They were asleep at the wheel and wall street noticed it and picked their pockets while they were napping.
    No, the blame isn’t with the appraisers, the blame is with the unions and others who hand over their pension money to people who are careless with it, and who still got paid millions to perpetuate the illusion that their members were earning big bucks towards their retirement. Now that retirement money is gone.
    Everyone did their jobs except the pension managers who bought the loans, and maybe the rating agencies on whose ratings they relied. But the rating agencies were paid to rate, and if they didn’t rate high, they got no follow on business. Shame on the pension managers for not figuring this out. Everyone else did exactly what they were supposed to do: lie through their teeth if necessary to make the deals happen.
    No one’s fault but the money managers. And they all made millions, so honestly, who cares? The system itself is set up to allow this to repeat endlessly because the little guys who are the only ones getting screwed are too far removed from the whole process to even know if their money managers are doing an adequate job.

  62. Posted by SausalitoRes

    Everyone was making money (or thought they were) so everyone went along with the scam.
    The homebuyer may have been the least sophisticated link in the food chain but many were greedy/foolish too. Don’t let the home-buyer off the hook (except for honest victims of predatory lending).
    In most cases, I think the saying that “you can’t steal from an honest man” is true.
    When I bought my first home, the mortgage broker gave me his “first-time homebuyer” lecture. Warned me sternly that if I didn’t make my payments, the bank would take my home away and sell it. That was in 1997. I suspect that was pretty unusual, especially over the past several years.

  63. Posted by The Milkshake of Despair

    “There should be courses at the local community college in buying a house and everyone should take it.”
    Best idea in this thread yet.
    Most prudent buyers educate themselves. I know I did as well as many of my friends. But others got caught up in the frenzy. “Damn ! You paid how much for that ?”
    One wonders though if such a “Home Buyer’s 101” course were to be offered today, would the instructors be unbiased ? Imagine of we had someone like the alpha-bears here teaching the class. Imagine the pressure that such a bear instructor would receive from those who benefit from a high volume pipeline of transactions. Who would win the battle of wills ? The part time junior college instructor or the banking, appraising, sales, title search, etc. organizations ?
    There are free homebuyer classes offered though. Always taught by realtor organizations. I went to a 2 hour seminar in 2005 entitled “How to Buy a Home in a Hot Market” presented by realtors from ClickHome. Nothing in that seminar discussed the economic factors that were driving prices up. The message however was basically “If you want to be successful in buying a home, you had better get your act together and be ready to move fast when opportunity knocks. Otherwise someone else is going to steal your dream house”. The seminar then went through what was needed to be ready to pull the trigger : pre-approvals, good credit score, etc.
    Sure enough, you did need to have your act together and be quick at the draw to land a contract over the next 2 years. Of course what was missing was an analysis of whether doing so was prudent financially. I can’t fault ClickHome for false advertising on that seminar.
    In absence of a good, unbiased, well researched curricula, buyers really need to do their own independent homework. Its really disturbing to see people learn the hard way.

  64. Posted by Rillion
    I attended their first time homebuyer’s education program. It was good, especially for my partner who didn’t know anything about what buying entailed.
    It was useful even for me (mainly about all the programs available to first time buyers at different income levels) and I work for an investment management company and have a high degree of financial knowledge.

  65. Posted by ex SF-er

    I like the homebuyer class. but I’d rather we taught economics and personal finance in high school. it should be required every year (3-4 years).
    very little is more important to one’s future than personal finance and economics. It affects us every day. But the vast majority of people don’t understand even the basics. I can think of few subjects that would have been more important.
    start with “how to open a checking account and write a check” to “how to balance your budget” and “how does amortisation of a home loan get calculated”; then go on to “what is a demand deposit” and “how are interest rates set”. Then “what is a central bank and how do they administer monetary policy” and “what is inflation” and “what are the effects of a budget and trade deficit”
    an informed citizenry would help signficantly. We would have less bubbles IMO, and when we did there would be less clamor about saving the innocent ignorant little folk… because they would be educated. This will be unlikely to happen however, as many of the “elite” (both aisles) are uninterested in an eductated populace. Easier to placate the masses with reckless monetary and fiscal policy and then blame the eventual bubbles as “unforeseeable”
    it’s been quite some time, and I’d guess most people still don’t realize that the RE bubble was simply a manifestation of the much larger credit bubble. I still hear people talk about the “subprime crisis”! our so-called leaders are even worse.

  66. Posted by diemos

    “but I’d rather we taught economics and personal finance in high school.”
    The curriculum for the betas (Hi Satchel!) is determined by the alphas. The betas don’t get told anything that might upset them or interfere with their usefulness to society.

  67. Posted by fluj

    I mean there are a million things that should change in our society. “Projected growth” is one of them. Companies have successful quarters and Wall Street has already built it in that they will. So when the numbers come out, and it isn’t quite as high as expected, the stock goes down. It’s stupid.

  68. Posted by tipster

    The stock price is the very manifestation of the right to a share of future profits.
    If people are expecting more future profits, the stock goes up. When those expectations prove to be higher than they should be, the stock goes down to match the newly expected future profits.
    So when the global economy starts running out of steam, the stock price in a company like Google drops (down a fair amount on Friday) in spite of the fact that they are still making money, causing their shareholders and employees to be able to purchase less things, such as houses. This partly explains why homes in silicon valley are down more than 20% YOY.
    Additionally, as other countries’ economies fail faster than ours, the exchange rates change to reflect the expectation that interest rates in those countries will fall, causing foreigners to lose their ability to purchase things denominated in dollars, such as houses in the U.S. The euro is down to 1.46, about where it was in November of 2007.
    The slowing economy causes the financial services industry to pay lower bonuses and hire fewer people, or even lay people off, allowing them to purchase fewer things, like houses.
    So the google millionares, rich foreigners and Haas MBAs won’t be buying as many houses as they did last year.

  69. Posted by diemos

    Durn those positive (self-reinforcing) feedback loops!

  70. Posted by Satchel

    “The curriculum for the betas (Hi Satchel!) is determined by the alphas.”
    Very true. I’m stunned by just how dumbed down the US educational system has become, even compared with what I learned in a so-so Catholic elementary school in a crappy, poor neighborhood in the Bronx 30 years ago. The standards were much higher than what I see in the Tiburon public schools today. I can only imagine what passes for “education” for the gammas on down.
    This is a fun read – a test from 1895 given to 8th graders in Salina, Kansas (there is some small question as to authenticity, but it’s probably real, and in any event certainly COULD conceivably be real – whereas today of course it’s inconceivable – modern students are too dumb):
    When you listen to the dopey platitudes that pass for political discourse today – and compare them with what was available in the popular media in, say, the late 18th century (e.g., the Federalist Papers) or in the mid-19th century (e.g., the Lincoln-Douglas debates), you realize the dumbing down process is almost complete. Maybe one more generation left to prep the population for final supplication and dependence, with granite countertops, fantasies of environmentalism and cults of personalities our soma.
    Brave New World indeed.

  71. Posted by fluj

    Yeah and it’s all based on some analyst who doesn’t even work at the company. Whatever. It’s b.s. Let’s not forget about the fact that growth is supposedly always positive. At what cost? Grow your company by shipping jobs to India and stuff.
    Oh. Your conclusion is typical spin as always, Spinster.

  72. Posted by ex SF-er

    to be fair, it is difficult to compare educational standards from the 19th century with those of today because at one time much of the populace was not schooled.
    back then if you were schooled through 8th grade you were by default either of the learned class or often the elite. (who would send a mentally retarded child to High School in Kansas in 1895? answer: nobody)
    I couldn’t quickly dig up the information for 1895 or for 8th grade, but for example in 1940 only 28.5% of Kansans finished high school whereas 86% did so in 2000.
    due to this, the “average” school-kid in Kansas in the 1800’s appears smarter than the average one of today because only the best students stayed in school to 8th grade back then. the worst students or those with less educational support dropped out by then.
    this as you know is what we call selection bias.
    This is also one (of several) reason why it is difficult to compare outcomes of public vs private schooling. Because the data often uses averages. Public schools by law must teach everbody. Including drug addict kids and illegal immigrants and mentally handicapped kids and “bad” kids. Whereas the private schools kick all those kids out. This raises the average and mean performance of the private schools in relation so the publics.
    I know that my neighborhood school looks “bad” by the rules of “No kid left behind” or whatever. But the kids that go through the IB program get into any school they want in the country and excel. but the average for the school is bad.
    still, it is clear that our school system (public and private) is failing at best. mostly due to the lack of will of adults in our country. don’t want to make it “too hard” and hurt Johnny or Sally’s self esteem

  73. Posted by NoeValleyJim

    While there is plenty of blame to go around, I think the primary responsibility goes to the Fed and Executive Branch of government, whose job it is to regulate the money supply. Remember when Greenspan said “It is a conundrum” when he couldn’t figure out why raising interest rates didn’t have the expected effect on 30 year mortgage rates?
    Well, he shouldn’t have stopped there, shrugged his shoulders and let the “invisible hand” take care of it. It is the responsibility of the Executive Branch to regulate banks and they should have stopped the IBs from all their massive and speculative leveraging. Instead they looked the other way, sort of like how the crooked cop on the beat looks the other way at drug dealing. To be fair, their ideology is lassez-faire, but they also took lots of campaign contributions from these guys, so it was really politically expedient to ignore it.

  74. Posted by Satchel

    @ NVJ,
    You’re basically right IMO about the problem being the unrestrained growth of the money supply being the problem. But how exactly would you try to regulate that? Remember, this is not a partisan issue. Glass-Steagall was gutted, for instance, under the Clinton administration at the urging of Rubin (former Vice Chairman of Goldman, head of Clinton’s NEC, future head of Citigroup). Money supply growth in the 1990s under Greedspan was OFF the charts. I didn’t see any attempt by the Executive Branch then to rein anything in, did you?
    The invisible hand works just fine. There was NOTHING laissez faire about an activist Fed and USG that continually pumped up base money AND intervened to bail out the poor fools at every turn (for instance, just recently, 1998 Long Term Capital Debacle, 1999 insane pumping of the money suply because of fears of Y2K, 2002-05 “force” lowering of interest rates to bail out the economy because of the misallocation of capital by all the tech fools, and now of course, repeated “stick saves” and foolish shell games to protect the “economy” (really, the banks and IBs) from the consequences of the housing foolishness.
    I just don’t see where the iinvisible hand has had a chance to work. I mean, it did after the Panic of 1873, that’s for sure. But even as early as the Great Depression (which was of course caused by government/Fed policy and the architects of the New Deal) the USG and the Fed have been activist. I came across this fun quote, from the same author of “The Bubble That Broke the World” – a financial journalist writing in the 1930s:
    On February 13th, 1933, journalist Garet Garrett wrote:
    “This is what is new in this depression, and wherein it departs from history. In previous depressions, a bank that was book solvent and unable to pay its depositors had no alternative. It was obliged to go into bankruptcy and liquidate. A railroad that could not pay its creditors simply went into receivership and was liquidated. And so on. Such a thing as Government going into debt itself in order to assume and underwrite the debts of private enterprise was hitherto unimaginable.”
    I guess the backstopping didn’t work too well back then – I mean, what happened after 1933?
    Regulation and Executive Branch control sounds great in theary. In practice, of course, the very smart and very devious people who run the banks will simply seize the government and steer it their way. That’s what Rubin did, BTW. That’s also what Fannie/Freddie did/does through their campaign contributions.
    You will NEVER stop this influence peddling IMO. The only way to ensure efficient allocation of capital and a system that doesn’t create such insane levels of excess is to allow periodic “wash outs” of capital, people, livelihoods, etc. Eliminate the potential for failure and eventually you eliminate all possibility of success.

  75. Posted by Satchel

    ex Sf-er,
    Those are good points about selection bias as regards educational standards, but I think you are overstating it a bit.
    I always had the impression from all the history I had read that elementary school education was pretty “universal” in the US by the turn of the century, but I had never really looked for stats. It is tough to come by good information, and one has to estimate for sure.
    Nevertheless, we do know from the census data that approximately 50-55% of school age people in the US (ages 5-19) were enrolled in school by the 1890s, and we also know that SECONDARY school enrollment by the early 20th century was only about 15%. Because the secondary school students would have been overwhelmingly in the age group from 14-19, you can see mathematically that a pretty high proportion (like greater than 75%) of the elementary school age kids were in school by 1890.
    I couldn’t find out any proportion of actual graduation rates from 8th grade, but based on a couple of tables I saw about propensity to enroll in the next higher level of education in those years (basically, 20% advanced onwards), probably somewhere around 50-60% of the kids graduated elentary school by 1895. These ratios of course were highest in the North and West (today, really the midwest and plains states), because education of ex-slaves in the South was very poor, and so the 50-55% national numbers would have been low for a place like Kansas or Minnesota.
    Most of these data I got from a pretty interesting book available on google books, “Education of the American Population”:
    I’ve always been struck in the historical and anecdotal literature just how hard parents and kids worked to get educated in the 19th century and early 20th century (Lincoln walking to school through the snow, a great-aunt of mine by marriage who was a “war bride” and Seminole Indian who traveled by canoe with her siblings – all under 10 years – through swamps in Florida to get to school, etc.).
    Another great book that I read a few years ago on this theme is “The Children’s Blizzard” (David Laskin), and I defnitely recommend it to you, ex SF-er, especially now that you have left SF for the frozen plains!

  76. Posted by Michael L

    REO, Short Sales, Auctions all play a part in comps if its within the radius.

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