17th May 2015

Free Appraiser Marketing Webinar

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Register Now For The Next Webinar – we’ll see you there!

Bryan Knowlton

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14th May 2015

Hey Fannie, It’s Not a Comp, It’s a Sale!


Something’s been gnawing at my craw ever since January when FNMA’s wonderful CU was unleased to the world.

And before that, which still continues, is the AQM process they still use to judge the work of appraisers. No one else has written about this, or even mentioned it, so I will: It has to do with the word “Comp” which is used liberally by FNMA.

What exactly is a “Comp?”

In FNMA’s world, it’s any property that they obtain, either by their vast AVM process which examines millions of property transactions, or properties that have been extracted from appraisal reports submitted by appraisers… yes, your work. In their fuzzy logic, it’s a “Comp” considered for your report if they say it is. It is not!
A true “Comp” is a property viewed and/or analyzed by a real living, breathing, mirror fogging appraiser who compares that sold property against the subject property in terms of multiple features, characteristics and amenities. It is not determined by an AVM or algorithm within the vast bowels of FNMA. Until the property has such analysis done by an appraiser, it is merely a SALE…it is not a “Comp”.

This FNMA lie really became evident to me yesterday (4/20/15) when FNMA released a news release about how CU has been integrated into their on-line Desktop Underwriter software mortgage lenders use, which you can read http://www.fanniemae.com/portal/about-us/media/corporate-news/2015/6239.html?p=Media&s=News+Releases&from=RSS

Within that news release is this quotation from a VP at a mortgage lender: “The collateral information that CU provides is invaluable and simply staggering,” said Breck Tyler, Executive Vice President, Trustmark Mortgage Services.

“CU has aided in providing important comparable data that was previously unavailable or very difficult to get. CU messages in DU will help streamline appraisal review and make the underwriting of an appraisal a much more informed process.”

Then today, FNMA released info directed to Correspondent Lenders who intend to use the CU process in UCDP, but don’t intend to sell the loan to FNMA:  https://www.fanniemae.com/content/fact_sheet/collateral-underwriter-non-seller-implementation-guide.pdf which has this statement: “Fannie Mae does not instruct or suggest to lenders that they ask appraisers to address all or any of the up to 20 comparables that are provided by CU for most appraisals.”

I want to repeat what I said above in case you missed the point: A PROPERTY IS NOT A “COMP” UNLESS YOU DETERMINE IT IS AND INCLUDE IT IN AN APPRAISAL REPORT. Otherwise it’s just a “sale”.

If you’re an appraiser who liberally uses the word “Comp” in place of a “property sale” I would ask that you be more careful. If you receive info from a lender, AMC or anyone else who asks you to look at the “Comp” they have provided, correct them and use the words “sale property” until you have determined that it truly is a “Comp.”

I’m also asking members of appraisal organizations and associations to communicate your concern about this lie perpetrated by FNMA directly with them, and ask FNMA to change the word “Comp” used in their CU Reports, news releases, instructional materials, etc. to “Property Sales” so that there is no misunderstanding about the significance of this issue.

If organizations and associations won’t do that on behalf of appraisers, then we might as well kiss the profession of residential real property appraising goodbye. Because if a list of ‘sales’ are considered “Comps” then an actual human appraiser won’t be needed to provide supportable property analysis and market value reports.

So, you may distribute this message to anyone.

By Dave Towne, AGA, MAA Owner / Educator Towne Appraisals, Mount Vernon, WA Dave Towne in e-AppraisersDirectory.com

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13th May 2015

U.S. sues Quicken Loans over improper FHA loans

DETROIT — The U.S. Justice Department suedQuicken Loans on Thursday alleging the Detroit mortgage lending giant had improperly originated and underwrote mortgages insured by the Federal Housing Administration.

The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court inWashington, D.C., alleges that from September 2007 through December 2011, Quicken knowingly submitted, or caused the submission of, claims for hundreds of improperly underwritten FHA-insured loans.

The government is claiming that Quicken encouraged its employees to disregard FHA rules and falsely certify compliance with underwriting requirements in order to reap the profits from FHA-insured mortgages.

Jay Farner, president and chief marketing officer of Quicken Loans, said in a phone interview Thursday evening that Quicken would not settle the case but would defend itself against the charges.

“We can’t agree to charges that are blatantly false,” he said. “We will continue to fight for what’s right.”

And he added that Quicken’s practices were the “gold standard” for processing FHA loans.

The government also said that Quicken granted “management exceptions” whereby managers would allow underwriters to break an FHA rule in order to approve a loan.

Last week, Quicken, in anticipation of such a suit, aggressively denied any wrongdoing and took the unusual step of suing the government for a declaration that its actions were proper and legal.

“Those who do business with the United States must act in good faith, including lenders that participate in the FHA mortgage insurance program,” said Benjamin C. Mizer, principal deputy assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “To protect the housing market and the FHA fund, we will continue to hold responsible lenders that knowingly violate the rules.”

Quicken, founded by billionaire Dan Gilbert, has said it is the nation’s largest originator of loans backed by the FHA. In recent fiscal quarters, Quicken has ranked as the nation’s second-largest lender for direct-to-consumer mortgage lending, although its total volume, like that of all major mortgage lenders, has declined since the refinancing boom started to fade in 2013.

In its own lawsuit filed last week, Quicken stated that the Justice Department had “cherry-picked” 55 examples that were problematic out of more than 246,000 Quicken originated in 2007-11. The Quicken lawsuit says Justice was threatening a high-profile lawsuit involving a much larger number of loans unless the company agreed to pay a large settlement and admit flawed lending practices and federal Fair Claims Act violations.

In another email, the same divisional vice president for underwriting wrote to a group of Quicken executives stating that 40% of the management exceptions on FHA’s early payment defaults should not have been granted, adding: “We make some really dumb decisions when it comes to client service exceptions.”

In yet another email discussing an FHA loan, Mike Lyon, identified as the operations director, a senior level executive, explained that a loan was approved based on “bastard income,” which he described as “trying to put some kind of income together that is plausible to the investor even though we know its creation comes from something evil and horrible.”

Farner said that the emails the Justice Department cited in its suit were taken out of context and that a fuller reading would support Quicken’s version. “I’m very confident about the emails,” he said.

The government’s complaint alleges that as a result of Quicken’s knowingly deficient mortgage underwriting practices, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has already paid millions of dollars of insurance claims on loans improperly underwritten by Quicken.

In one case, the government said, one mortgage applicant requested the return of his $400 mortgage application fee so that he could feed his family, but Quicken approved the loan instead. The borrower quickly defaulted.

In a statement Thursday, Quicken said it will continue to offer FHA mortgages for now, “but like nearly every lender in the country, we will be evaluating the prudence of our continued participation in the FHA program.”



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12th May 2015

Top FHA appraisal questions answered

Answers to the 8 most frequently asked questions about the new FHA Handbook 4000.1

FHA-1The Federal Housing Administration recently announced changes to its appraisal policies found in the Single Family Housing Policy Handbook, or HUD Handbook 4000.1. FHA appraisers must be in compliance with these changes by September 14, 2015 (note the previous compliance date was June 15, 2015).

To help get you started on the changes, we compiled the most frequently asked questions about the new FHA Handbook 4000.1. All of the questions came from students attending our Live Webinars: HUD Handbook 4000.1: Changes, Big and Small.

Is the new FHA Single Family Housing Policy Handbook 4000.1 intended to replace current HUD handbooks, including 4150.2?

Handbook 4000.1 is intended to supersede several HUD Handbooks in their entirety, including 4905.1 – Requirements for Existing Housing One to Four Family Units, 4150.2 – Valuation Analysis for Single Family One to Four Unit Dwellings, and 4240.4 – 203K Rehabilitation Home Mortgage Insurance.

What is the effective date for the requirements of Handbook 4000.1?

The requirements in Handbook 4000.1 apply to case numbers assigned on or after September 14 2015. In industry conference calls, HUD officials have encouraged appraisers and mortgagees to begin using the new Handbook immediately, although they are not required to do so until September 14.

Are appraisers required to complete a three-year sales history on the comparable sales in FHA appraisals?  

One of the significant changes to FHA policy is the requirement for appraisers to complete a three-year prior sales history of the comparable sales and listings used in the appraisal. This is outlined in the Appraisal Report and Data Delivery Guide issued by HUD. In addition, two sources are recommended for this prior sales history search – local MLS and local public records, at a minimum.

How should an appraiser handle the prior sales history requirement in non-disclosure states?

According to the Appraisal Report and Data Delivery Guide, page 34: “A property’s location in a ‘non-disclosure state’ does not remove the appraiser from the requirement to research, report, and analyze the prior sale history of the subject and comparable properties.” The appraiser must make an attempt to obtain this information and is required to report the information that is reasonably obtainable. The appraiser must also “describe the difference between recent transfers versus the current sale or offering and the effect on the appraisal problem.”

Has HUD/FHA changed any of the requirements for observing the attic and crawl space? 

No; the requirements for an appraiser to observe the crawl space and attic have not changed. FHA prefers that the appraiser make a full entry into the attic or crawl space, but if that is not possible, a minimum entry of “head and shoulders” is acceptable. If the attic and/or crawl space are not accessible, the appraiser must state that fact in the appraisal report.  The mortgagee will determine property eligibility.

Is it true that FHA has removed the fall distance requirement for electric power line towers and other towers?

Yes!  The requirement to check fall distance no longer exists. An appraiser is still required to notify the mortgagee if the dwelling or related property improvement is located within an easement or if they appear to be located “within an unsafe distance” of a power line or tower. In addition, neither power transmission lines nor local distribution lines may pas directly over the dwelling, any structure or related property improvement such as pools and spas.

Is it true that the new Handbook 4000.1 contains a requirement for appraisers to operate the appliances in the subject property?

Yes. The Handbook states “Cabinets and built-in appliances that are considered Real Property must be present and operational.” The Handbook goes on to state, “The Appraiser must operate all conveyed appliances and observe their performance.” In industry conference calls, representatives from HUD have reiterated this requirement.

What is the appraiser’s responsibility regarding MPR repairs?  

The appraiser is responsible to observe, analyze and report all repairs necessary for the subject property to meet HUD’s minimum property requirements (MPR) for existing properties or minimum property standards (MPS) for new construction. In addition, the appraiser must provide a cost to cure and a photograph of the deficiency. The mortgagee (i.e., the underwriter) will determine which repairs are required. The mortgagee has the authority to require additional repair items, and/or to waive any or all of the appraiser’s identified repair items.

If you have more specific questions about the NEW FHA Handbook 4000.1, check out our upcoming Live Webinar: HUD Handbook 4000.1 Changes, Big and Small or enroll in an online or live CE FHA seminar today.

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6th May 2015

Freddie announces appraisal changes to the Uniform Collateral Data Portal

Freddie Mac announced April 29 that beginning June 30, the Uniform Collateral Data Portal (UCDP) will deliver new proprietary feedback messages for appraisals submitted to Freddie Mac and also will return a proprietary hard-stop code that will not allow for users to override. Freddie announced that the new proprietary messages are aligned with the government-sponsored enterprise’s effort to provide improved appraisal quality feedback.

Currently, if lenders receive hard-stop code “FRE800,” Freddie Mac proprietary messages automatically are overridden, and the code does not prevent lenders from receiving a “successful” status when the appraisal is submitted in the UCDP. Beginning June 30, when the following three Freddie Mac proprietary fatal edits are activated on all UAD forms, lenders will receive a new hard-stop code, “FRE700,” which will prevent them from receiving a “successful” submission status. These fatal edits must be addressed, and an updated appraisal must be submitted to the UCDP before a “successful” status can be received.

  • FRE1086 Signature Date Check: Triggers if the signature date of the appraisal is before the effective date of the appraisal.
  • FRE1087 Appraiser Name Check: Triggers if the appraiser’s name is missing from the appraisal.
  • FRE1040 Subject Legal Description: Triggers when the legal description is missing.

Freddie also announced that four new feedback messages will be returned on all UAD forms submitted to UCDP to complement the “Single-Family Seller/Servicer Guide” requirements related to appraisal eligibility. The presence of these feedback messages may indicate that the appraisal and associated mortgage are not eligible for delivery to Freddie Mac. These feedback messages will be implemented as warning messages and will not prevent lenders from receiving a “successful” status.

  • FRE1093 Condominium Zoning: Triggers if the Site Zoning Compliance Type is Legal Nonconforming and the Site Zoning Permit Rebuild to Current Density Indicator is “no.”
  • FRE1095 Subject Highest and Best Use: Triggers if the present use of the subject property does not represent the highest and best use of the property.
  • FRE1094 Sales Contract Review: Triggers if the contract of sale was not analyzed by the appraiser on a purchase transaction.
  • FRE1092 Condominium Hotel Project: Triggers if the condo project name appears to be a condominium hotel.

Finally, new appraisal quality feedback messages primarily will focus on overall completeness of UAD appraisal forms and will be initially activated only for the Uniform Residential Appraisal Report(Freddie Mac Form 70). Freddie Mac will provide sufficient notice as these messages are activated for additional and applicable UAD forms. Although Freddie said it anticipates these messages will be returned infrequently, appraisals with missing data occasionally get through. These feedback messages serve to assist and build on the quality control checks lenders currently have in place. The messages also will be implemented as warning messages and will not prevent lenders from receiving a “successful” status.


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5th May 2015

Appraiser gets jail time for inflated appraisals

An appraiser from Collier was sentenced today to 42 months in federal prison in mortgage fraud schemes involving two properties and three banks.

After a two-day sentencing hearing, U.S. District Judge Terrence McVerry imposed that term on James Lignelli, 59, and ordered him to pay $300,000 in restitution to the lenders he ripped off by preparing false appraisals.

Lignelli was found guilty of bank fraud at trial last summer, although the jury acquitted him on counts of bank and wire fraud conspiracy.

Federal prosecutors said he provided inflated appraisals for loan applications in two schemes.

The first involved Michael Pope, operator of Pope Financial Services, and Tiffany Sprouts, who ran Sprouts Mortgage. Assistant U.S. Attorney Brendan Conway said at trial that Lignelli prepared fake appraisals with the co-conspirators for a property in Peters, which was sold for $1.2 million.

In a second scheme, Mr. Conway said Lignelli worked with Michael Staaf, operator of Beaver Financial Services, and prepared a fake appraisal for a property on Perry Highway in the North Hills.

Lignelli and his lawyer argued that he was a dupe for the others, who he said had supplied him with false information about the properties. In trying to avoid jail, he also said he had already been punished because he’s lost his career and reputation.

But Mr. Conway said Lignelli was no dupe, but a white-collar crook who knew exactly what he was doing. In addition, he said Lignelli deserves no breaks because he was a trained, intelligent professional appraiser who deliberately inflated appraisals. In addition, he said, the relatively small group of appraisers in Pittsburgh need to realize that fraud will be punished by jail.

“Over at least a four-year period, [Lignelli] was faced with a decision over and over again – should I do another fraudulent appraisal for Pope and/or Staaf?,” Mr. Conway asked in pre-sentencing filings. “Time and time again, the defendant, motivated by greed, answered that question ‘yes’ and engaged in the repeated fraudulent conduct.”



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28th March 2015

Life After the New CU System

New: Collateral Underwriter Blog: Find answers, offer solutions.

Editor’s Note: The new print edition of Working RE just hit! Did you get yours?  

Life After the New CU System

by Isaac Peck, Associate Editor – WorkingRE.com

On January 26, 2015, Fannie Mae’s new Collateral Underwriter (CU) tool was made available to lenders, an event that was highly anticipated by the appraiser community.

While Fannie Mae has been using CU to analyze appraisals since 2013, this latest move grants lenders doing business with Fannie Mae the ability to use the tool. This essentially gives lenders access to the same appraisal analytics currently being used in Fannie Mae’s quality control process and Appraiser Quality Monitoring (AQM).

With lenders now having such a powerful analytical tool directly at their disposal, the big questions for appraisers are how this is going to change the appraisal process, what kind of additional work will be required, and ultimately, how this is going to change the appraisal profession going forward.

How CU Works
In simple terms, CU is a risk management tool that neither rejects nor accepts appraisals, but simply provides “trouble codes” and a risk score to lenders and Fannie Mae regarding potential issues with an appraisal. CU uses complex algorithms to rank an appraiser’s comps against a pool of comps and provides a ranking of how the appraiser’s comparables and adjustments compare with those generated by the model.

Early feedback from appraisers indicates that the CU report generates 20 “comparable” sales and ranks the appraiser’s comps within the list. Some argue that if appraisers have done their due diligence and explained their analysis, they should not worry about CU’s additional sales data. On the other hand, some appraisers feel that CU is an incredible overreach that puts pressure on the appraiser and prevents them from doing their work independently. (See Collateral Underwriter: First Feedback for more.)

Just like other automated valuation models, CU analyzes comparables by looking at the proximity to the subject property, physical similarities, date of sale, and a number of other factors in determining which comparables the model prioritizes.

CU also thoroughly analyzes an appraiser’s adjustments, using regression analysis and analytical models, as well as comparing the appraiser’s adjustments with adjustments reported by other local appraisers. Fannie Mae’s Director of Property Valuation and Eligibility, Robert Murphy, has said that in many cases there is no statistical significance to appraisers’ square footage adjustments, with many using generic rules-of-thumb, such as $40 a square foot, and that CU is clearly intended to address this issue.

CU also looks at Quality and Condition (Q&C) ratings, and will flag an appraiser’s rating if it differs from the prescribed definitions supplied by Fannie Mae and/or those of their peers.

What’s Changed?
It’s important for appraisers to note that this is not a complete change to the status quo, as Fannie has been using CU to flag appraisals and asking lenders go back to appraisers for additional clarification, since it first began development of CU in 2011. Some appraisers have already faced inquiries and “hard-stops” from lenders based on CU’s analysis. The difference is that instead of Fannie Mae passing the information to the lender, the lender now is able to analyze the appraisal with CU before it is ever delivered to Fannie Mae.

Additionally, according to a report issued by Mercury Network, of the 95 CU messages that affect appraisers, more than half address very simple issues that appraisers are already accustomed to dealing with regularly. However, many appraisers believe that CU will increase the number of inquiries and comp reconsiderations that appraisers field from AMCs and lenders- with the added time per report putting more pressure on the already shrinking bottom lines of many.

Please Explain
The problem for many appraisers is that explaining these additional inquiries requires more time per report. Here are some example messages from CU that appraisers are being asked to provide additional data on:

• The GLA adjustment for comparable #2 is smaller than peer and model adjustments.

• The GLA adjustment for comparable #3 is smaller than peer and model adjustments.

• The reported total below-grade area for comparable #4 is materially different than what has been reported by other appraisers.

• The view adjustment for comparable #4 is materially different from peer and model adjustments.

• The appraiser’s net adjustments for the comparable sales are materially different from the model net adjustment.

• The quality rating for comparable #2 is materially different than what has been reported by other appraisers. Please provide supporting commentary for your data on this condition.

Richard Hagar, SRA and nationally recognized educator, says that many of the requests that he and his staff have fielded so far are questions that are already addressed in the report. “Our responses so far have been, ‘That is explained on page three.’ However, we’ve had a few instances where we needed to go back and address something that CU flagged, or ‘curing a deficiency’ in appraisal terms. So there is value in this system,” says Hagar. As the lender and AMC processes improve, appraisers may find that the number of inquiries and call backs decrease. “Good lenders and AMCs should be stopping and reading the appraisal report before contacting the appraiser regarding a CU warning message, because if the appraiser is doing his or her job correctly, an explanation supporting that should usually be in the report,” says Hagar.

However, CU will still result in more work for appraisers, according to Hagar. But the bright side may be that sloppy appraisers will be weeded out (or forced to improve) and good appraisers can raise their rates. “A lot of the good banks and AMCs recognize what’s going on and they expect appraisers to raise their rates. Some might look at this as requiring additional work but the requirement for better work, analysis, accuracy, and explanations was always there,” said Hagar. “The CU is checking to see if it REALLY is in the appraisal or is someone trying to slip an appraisal through the system without doing their job right. CU does add another level of work and an extra amount of detail. As a busy appraiser myself, I expect many appraisers to increase their fees, especially those who currently are accepting low fees and are not including the correct analysis to begin with. It’s going to be a lot harder for appraisers to slap together a report and move on.”

“I’ve received two phone calls from appraisers since CU came out who are raising their rates by $100. One is overwhelmed with business because he does good work and the other is raising his rates because he’s been cutting corners and recently has been caught by the CU system- he needs more time to do proper reports. Fannie Mae has started asking him for proof of all of his adjustments, so he’s recognizing that he has to do more work to fill out the form,” says Hagar.

The bottom line, according to Hagar, is that CU will enforce the requirement that proper support and explanation be in an appraisal. “Appraisers will need to explain and defend everything they’ve done in the appraisal. It could have been a Q&C rating, an adjustment, why your upstairs square footage is materially different from your peers, and much more,” Hagar says.

Warning Messages

Appraisers have been eager to discuss how best to avoid CU warning messages or red flags, but experienced appraisers advise that the goal is not necessarily to avoid them, but to anticipate them and explain your methodology. If appraisers are to remain independent, they shouldn’t necessarily be using the same Q&C ratings as their peers, or even the same Gross Living Area (GLA). For instance, if many local appraisers use incorrect MLS data in their reports, or incorrectly agree on a particular quality rating, does that mean an appraiser should alter their opinion to avoid call backs? The solution, according to Hagar, is to stand your ground and explain why you’re right. Why the property is actually a Q4, why your GLA is correct, or why your adjustment is more appropriate. Of course, first you have to know that you are correct and that is why proper education and training are so important, according to Hagar. “If you didn’t have the correct training in the beginning, you better get it now.”

Appraiser Access to CU Data
A debate is raging why only lenders have access to CU. A Network of State Appraisal Organizations, which includes nearly 20 state appraisal coalitions, have sent a letter to FHFA Director Melvin Watt, urging him to give individual appraisers access to CU data. The Network argues that CU’s “identification of alternative property sales as possible better comparables for analysis will likely result in the rejection of reports and the requirement for appraisers to spend considerable additional time responding to questions as to why those other sales were not used.”

However, some appraisers, while agreeing with the potential concerns regarding CU, take a contrarian approach with regards to giving individual appraisers access to the CU data. (Click Here to sign the petition to allow appraisers access to the UAD data.) Mike Foil, an appraiser from Arizona, writes in an online forum that while he agrees with the concerns of the Network, he does not support their solution. “We are independent appraisers who are paid to render our expert opinion about the subject property and a value for the same. If I use a comparable that, based on observation and research, believe to be a ‘C4′ for UAD purposes, but then find out from running CU ahead of submission, that other appraisers used a ‘C3′ for the same property; should I then use what other, unknown appraisers have used just so my report has one less flag? My answer is no! I am not being paid to submit a report based on what other people think, I am being paid for my professional opinion,” argues Foil.

Foil says he absolutely does not want CU data when he performs his appraisals. “I want to do my job, to the best of my ability and then stand on that. Giving CU data to the appraiser is one more step toward taking the profession in the direction of becoming an automated, mechanical function of the loan process. If you are insecure and need CU to tell you how to do your job, then I believe you are part of the problem,” says Foil.

This again speaks to the issue of whether appraisers should go along with what other appraisers are reporting as Q&C ratings, adjustments, or GLA in order to stay under the radar, or if the appraiser should do their own independent research and analysis, and stand by their opinions.

Either way, appraisers should be prepared to support and defend their methodology and conclusions.

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26th March 2015

Thinking about making the switch?

If you’d like to be more efficient but don’t know how to get there, or if you’re not completely happy with your appraisal software, I’d love to help you.

Next Friday, I’m hosting two free “Switching” webinars that cover the highlights of TOTAL as well as converting your files and databases to make the transition smooth.  I’d love for you to join me:

  • Switching from ClickFORMS to TOTAL: 11AM Central, April 3rdRSVP here
  • Switching from ACI to TOTAL1PM Central, April 3rdRSVP here

I hope to see you in my class!  If you have any questions ahead of time, even if you can’t make it, please hit reply or give me a call.

Have a wonderful weekend,

Angi Fletcher
Angi Fletcher
Product Coach
Real Estate Solutions Division
1-800-ALAMODE ext. 267

PS:  To learn more about TOTAL and all of our solutions for appraisers, check out our latest catalog here.

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24th March 2015

Mitchell Maxwell & Jackson sues state $10 Million for allegedly destroying reputation


From left: MMJ founders Jeffrey Jackson and Steven Knobel

From left: MMJ founders Jeffrey Jackson and Steven Knobel

– See more at: http://therealdeal.com/blog/2015/03/09/mitchell-maxwell-jackson-sues-state-for-destroying-reputation/#sthash.RFS7dhwv.dpuf UPDATED, 9:49 p.m., March 9: Mitchell Maxwell & Jackson, the real estate appraisal firm that was dragged through protracted litigation for allegedly affixing false signatures to appraisal documents before being vindicated last year, is now saying the state owes them $10 million as compensation for the ordeal and the havoc it caused.

Co-founder Steven Knobel claims that the state’s case ravaged his company’s reputation and was responsible for driving away most of its clients, including its biggest, Citibank. While the firm was once worth $9 million and had 30 employees, the complaint states, it has now lost the majority of its business and is down to a single employee.

An investigation was opened into Knobel and MMJ co-founder Jeffrey Jackson in 2010 when Marianne Mueller, a former star employee who was later terminated, complained to the New York Department of State that her signature had been placed on appraisals that she had not reviewed, under the direction of Knobel.

At the end of 2012, an administrative judge for the New York State Department of State decided to revoke appraisal licenses, despite what the firm calls a dearth of evidence and a disproportionate reliance on the testimony of a “disgruntled former employee” who stood to benefit from discrediting the firm because she was seeking to get out of a noncompete agreement.

According to the complaint, filed Jan. 29 in the New York Court of Claims, Mueller’s testimony was changeable and unreliable. “The state ignored this inconsistency and knowingly relied on incredible, if not perjured, testimony,” the complaint states. Additionally, Knobel claims that the state ignored a parade of appraiser witnesses who refuted Mueller’s claims and even failed to grant MMJ due process, as the complaint they were presented with was inscrutable.

This argument ultimately prevailed last year when a State Supreme Court Justice found that due process was indeed violated and that the licenses should not have been revoked. The court stated, “There was a complete paucity of proof here that Knobel and Jackson individually or jointly were behind this so-called nefarious scheme.”

Though Knobel and Jackson were able to delay the revocation of their licenses pending their appeal of the decision the damage to the company’s name was irreversible, they claim.

In a phone interview with The Real Deal Monday evening, Knobel said there was a need for an ombudsman who could step in if the state failed to do its duty and carry out a fair investigation.

“If I wasn’t a very successful appraiser who had the resources to fight this, I would have given up on Day One,” he said.

At the market’s peak, MMJ was one of New York City’s most-dominant appraisal firms, with about 3,000 clients. Now, Knobel wants retribution for the disproved accusation that unraveled a business he has run since 1991.

“Knobel lost his salary, appraisal commissions, the value of his interest in MMJ and related entities, and his very livelihood,” according to the complaint. A New York State representative declined to comment.

Hiten Samtani contributed reporting.


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24th March 2015

Collateral Underwriter and Fannie Mae Appraisal Guideline Changes Webinar

What is Fannie Mae’s Collateral Underwriter saying about your appraisal reports? What are your clients taking away from your appraisal reports based on Collateral Underwriter?

Thanks to the expertise and hard work of appraisers throughout the country, Collateral Underwriter is the most robust and data rich appraisal review tool ever produced. This 1 hour webinar presented by AnnieMac Home Mortgage will provide the behind the scenes look at Collateral Underwriter that you need in order to keep abreast of the changes brought from this automated appraisal review tool. The webinar will also highlight some changes to appraisal guidelines from Fannie Mae over the past year.

The webinar will be presented by Wes Costello, the Collateral Valuation Director of AnnieMac Home Mortgage. The live webinar will be presented twice and will repeat the same information.  First on Monday, March 30th at 5:30pm EST and then Tuesday, March 31st at 11:00am EST.

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.

To register for Collateral Underwriter and Fannie Mae Appraisal Guideline Changes on Mar 30, 2015 5:30 PM EDT at:



To register for Collateral Underwriter and Fannie Mae Appraisal Guideline Changes on Mar 31, 2015 11:00 AM EDT at:



presented by:

Wes Costello, the Collateral Valuation Director of AnnieMac Home Mortgage


posted in Appraiser News | 0 Comments

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