At the Core: A Tale of Two Cities

A Tale of Two Cities

Technology is shrinking the world. The other side of the planet is less mysterious than it used to be. Social media has had a figurative Pangea effect on the planet, pulling every nation and every continent closer to one another one YouTube video at a time.

The effect has the same hold over the business world. Our office is in the heart of Manhattan, but our clients are from all over the globe. They come to New York for a day, or a week, or a month, or even for years at a time, or forever. They love the city, but they still want to know that their investment in it was a wise one. Not only compared to the other properties in a building or in the surrounding neighborhood, but also compared to other properties in Europe or Asia.

As the world shrinks, our responsibility as real estate agents grows exponentially. We are number-crunching conveyors of information. And with so much good information ready to be collect and so many tools to help collect it, really there’s no excuse for us not to offer valuable real estate information about any plot on the planet.

One of our clients recently told us he was leaning toward a new investment in London rather than buying in New York. It was safer, he thought, and many others in his family had done so in the past. He asked us to create a comparison of costs and market trends between the two cities.

Here’s what we found:

The Cost of Buying a Condominium (London vs. New York):

Taxes paid at closing to the U.K. government are significantly higher in London compared to the taxes paid at closing to the city and state of New York. New York saw a recent bump to their mansion tax, while the U.K government is pondering an additional Stamp Duty Land Tax paid by non-residents of the U.K.

 (A Comparison) New York Mortgage Tax and Mansion Tax vs. London Stamp Duty Land Tax

New York

New York State Mortgage Tax (in New York City) — Buyers in New York that obtain mortgage financing are required to pay a mortgage tax based on the size of the loan (not the price of the unit). The amount of the tax is dependent upon the county where the subject property is located. In all five New York City boroughs, a mortgage borrower would pay 1.8% of their loan amount on mortgage balances of $500,000 or less, or 1.925% of their loan amount on mortgage balances greater than $500,000.

New York State Mansion TaxPrior to June 2019, there was a flat 1% Mansion Tax levied against all properties sold at a purchase price of $1 Million or more. There was a lot of buzz about creating an onerous Pied-a-Terre Tax. Instead though, lawmakers altered the mansion tax rule and created a tiered structure that charges a higher percentage to people who buy higher-priced properties. The tax is against the full purchase price.

$1 Million – $1,999,999 = 1%

$2 Million – $2,999,999 = 1.25%

$3 Million – $4,999,999 = 1.5%

$5 Million – $9,999,999 = 2.25%

$10 Million – $14,999,999 = 3.25%

$15 Million – $19,999,999 = 3.5%

$20 Million – $24,999,999 = 3.75%

$25 Million + = 3.9%

London

Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) – -Most homebuyers in England and Northern Ireland pay a Stamp Duty Land Tax. It’s a tiered tax, based on purchase price and whether or not it’s your primary residence. The tax is against the full purchase price.

When Purchasing Your Primary Residence

£125,001 – £250,000 = 2%

£250,001 – £925,000 = 5%

£925,001 – £1,500,000 = 10%

£1,500,001 + = 12%

When Purchasing Additional Property/Non-Primary Residence

£40,001 – £125,000 = 3%

£125,001 – £250,000 = 5%

£250,001 – £925,000 = 8%

£925,001 – £1,500,000 = 13%

£1,500,001 + = 15%

** First-time homebuyers avoid an SDLT on any home with a purchase price under £300,000

*** The U.K. government is considering a new 1% Stamp Duty Land Tax for non-residents of the U.K. who by homes in England and Northern Ireland. This would be in addition to the existing SDLT fees. The surcharge would apply to homeowners that spend fewer than 183 days in the U.K. during the 12 months prior to the date of a property transaction.

Other Closing Costs to Consider

Aside from government taxes, there are other fees to consider when purchasing a property in New York or in the U.K. mostly due to the American practice of obtaining an expensive title insurance policy when purchasing real property, the typical non-tax closing fees in New York are higher than they are in London, but not nearly enough to account for the massive difference between Mortgage/Mansion Tax and SDLT. Ten, twenty, or even $30,000 in title fees isn’t out of the ordinary in New York, whereas in London a buyer might pay a conveyance fee of less than £2000.

Mortgage Rates

Mortgage rates in London were generally about 1% lower than what we see in New York right now.

Lenders in London advertised Adjustable rate mortgages almost exclusively, whereas in New York, we often see 30-year fixed rates advertised just as often.

The State of the Market in London

London had 3,703 annual Transactions in 2018. That number is down in Prime Central London by 15% compared to 2017 and down 45% compared to 2014. For greater London the numbers are down 4% compared to 2017 and 26% lower compared to 2016.

Prices were increasing by about 20% per year from around 2008 – 2014. But in 2018, Prime Central London prices dropped 2.9%. Prices dropped .2% in Great London.

The average price of a home in London was $266,999 in 2008. That average jumped to $473,609 last year. Prices in London were down though by .5% in 2017 and by .8% in 2018.

New construction is typically priced 15-20% above market.

The average home price in London is now 16 times the average salary in the U.K.

High-end transactions are down 25% in London compared to a year ago.

 Brexit Conversation Dominates the News

Uncertainty and hesitation are likely the most common words spoken in any conversation that relates to the London housing market. A lot of buyers and sellers are waiting out a Brexit resolution with a current deadline set for Octobert 31st.

The Bank of England’s Mark Carney said an extreme “no-deal,” hard Brexit scenario could bring spiraling interest rates and a drop in house prices of up to 35% over the course of the next three years. Other forecasts were much less extreme though. Most analysts thought there would be some downward movement no matter what the outcome.

 Taxation of non-resident investors in U.K. real estate (Major Changes made April 2019)

Non-residents had an advantage over U.K. residents when it comes to the taxation of U.K. real estate. But the British government is attempting to level the playing field.

As of April 6, a uniform tax code applies to sales of both residential and commercial real estate and includes non-residents. The tax charges will apply to gains on direct sales of U.K. real estate as well as indirect disposals of U.K. “property rich” interests.

Non-resident companies would be taxed 19%. Non-resident individuals would be taxed up to 20% on gains from commercial properties and up to 28% on gains in the case of residential property.

 

 


Our Real Estate Finance Specialist Talks about First Months on the Job

In this space The Apple, Peeled usually features an expert that has made their mark on our industry. We’re constantly looking out for guest experts that our team and our readers can learn from. And in so many instances, our subjects have become our trusted resources and guides in their areas of expertise.

We always choose someone from outside of Douglas Elliman. Certainly, it’s someone from beyond the walls of our own office. But for this month’s edition, we decided we’d try something different. Early this year, our team created a position that seems quite unique to our industry. We added our own “Real Estate Finance Specialist,” a role designed to provide our clients unlimited access to an unbiased, unaffiliated mortgage expert.

How It Happened

Almost 6 months ago, Matthew Jablonski made one of the scariest decisions of his life. He was a mortgage originator for 15 years, entrenched in the industry, consistently placing in the top 1% of loan officer in the country every year.

But then he quit! And he joined our team.

Matt told us that the mortgage industry changed, the people he was surrounded by changed, and just about everything else in his life was changing, so the timing was spot-on to change careers too.

“I decided it would be better to change everything all at once,” he said. “I needed a shot of adrenaline. Something more dynamic with more possibilities. Something that was new on a daily basis.”

During the train ride from his house, Jablonski opened his notebook and double-clicked his mechanical pencil. On his way into the city to see our team at our weekly meeting, he got all of his ideas down on paper, and then he created an outline and a specific job description.

A few times before that morning he thought, “What if I quit my job and got my real estate license and I joined Marie and Jeff’s team?” he said. “I had absolutely ZERO days experience as a real estate agent, but I played a role in over 2,000 real estate transactions during the course of the last 15 years. Surely, I thought, I brought something to the table.”

On a page inside his composition notebook, not lost inside all of his other thoughts, there’s a bullet-point list that says:

  • I’d be completely unaffiliated with a mortgage lender or a bank, so the clients might be more at ease if I gave them mortgage advice.
  • I’d use my experience to help these clients find the mortgage program that best suits them.
  • I’d be able to hold lenders accountable, both in the efficiency of their process and with all the numbers.
  • I could translate things that may not have been made clear by a loan officer.
  • I could help a client understand how to negotiate for the best terms.
  • I could vet pre-approvals for anyone that makes an offer on one of the team’s listings.

Even though he was confident in the idea, and he thought it was a completely unique position that could give our team a leg-up on the competition, Matt later told us that he was really afraid to pitch the job to us.

“What if (Marie and Jeff) weren’t interested,” he said. “Over the years, (the Espinal Adler team) referred a ton of business to me. As soon as I pitched the job, everyone would be completely aware that I wasn’t completely happy with being a loan officer. That could have been bad for business.”

The Beginnings

Nearly a dozen years ago, Matt and Marie sat next to each other at a Manhattan closing. Matt helped the buyer with her mortgage, and Marie listed the property for the seller. Marie and Matt spoke very briefly once or twice during the process. But while their clients were signing the massive pile of documents on the closing table, they discussed strategies for refinancing Marie’s personal home.

Soon after that, Matt closed the refi for Marie and her husband. Then the team started referring a lot of our clients to him because he was such a good hand-holder. We’ve worked on a lot of complex transactions over the years, and all of our buyers that worked with Matt made it to the finish line and he always gave them all the time they needed. And he always kept us in the loop too.

“At every bank or mortgage company I’ve ever worked at, there’s always been a manager around to remind me to go to my closings,” Matt said. “Face-to-face time is always good for business. It’s kind of crazy what can happen if you put everything aside and show up to your closings! Luckily, I showed up that day.”

In an interesting twist, the Espinal Adler team very recently helped a client close on the sale of her property and on the purchase of a new, bigger and better unit. The client was the same one who Matt helped get a mortgage when she was buying Marie’s client’s apartment. The stars were aligned.

Pitching the Job

Despite his fears, Matt pitched his idea because he said getting referrals from us would force him to stay in the mortgage industry longer. Logic dictated that he share his idea.

Marie’s jaw dropped.

“I was kind of in shock because the same idea was sitting and stewing in my brain for at least a year,” Marie said. “I thought it would be great if Matt could run a ‘Mortgage Desk’ for our team. But I always dismissed the idea because I didn’t think he’d want to leave.”

In theory, we were on the same page as Matt, but there was still so much to work out. He still wasn’t licensed. We still had to further define his role and figure out if we could make it work financially. And Matt had to be 100% sure he was ready to take a leap of faith.

“I had to overcome the fear of failure and the fear of leaving behind a job that provided for my family for so many years,” Matt said. “And, the hardest part was leaving behind an amazing colleague that worked alongside me and helped me achieve amazing success over the last couple of years.”

We kept an open line of communication. All of the pieces started to fit. Matt took his real estate courses, passed his tests, and joined the team when he got his license shortly after the new year.

Typical Client Interaction

The very first client that Matt assisted in his new role comes with a success story that will be difficult to duplicate.

Our client Sachin, who is a busy executive at a well-known accounting firm, already called three different lenders before he spoke with Matt for the first time. He chose a loan officer that he was completely comfortable with, whose bank offered a very low interest rate.

Sachin and Matt spoke several times while his mortgage application was ongoing. discussed loan program options and about the city and state taxes that Sachin would ultimately be responsible for at closing. The application process was running smoothly and Sachin received a commitment well in advance of the contingency date written into his contract. But when Matt reviewed the commitment letter, he noticed that the low rate came with a sizable origination fee approaching $30,000.

Sachin let Matt know that he wasn’t aware of the fee. So, Matt called the loan officer to find out if there was an error or miscommunication. There was no error. The only hope to eliminate the fee was to obtain a loan estimate from a competing lender the documented they were offering the same rate without the origination fee. Armed with that information, Sachin’s loan officer could request a pricing exception to reduce or eliminate the fee.

“I called all of my contacts within the industry to see where they would “price-out” the loan,” Matt said. “Sure enough, one of them was able to offer the identical rate without charging the extra fee. Sachin could have switched gears and applied with this new lender. But instead, he passed along the competitive data I helped him to obtain.”

Sachin’s loan officer’s request for a pricing exception was granted. The fee was eliminated and the deal closed right on-time, without the fee.

“Matt’s insight into financing options and their implications, given my unique deal structure and circumstances were invaluable,” Sachin said. “I secured the right product for my needs at an optimal rate and cost and managed the timeline to a timely close.”

Getting Creative

Our client Rick is a self-employed resident of California who was in search of a Manhattan apartment that he could use as a second home when he was in New York on business, or if he was in town to watch a St. John’s basketball game (he’s a huge fan).

We connected him with Matt before he flew in with his wife Anita to look at properties. Apparently, Rick did his homework on the team and he notice that Matt was a St. John’s alum and he covered the basketball team when he was Sports Editor and Editor-in-Chief for the student newspaper. They had an instant connection.

Shortly after they made contact, Rick sent to Matt a very complex set of corporate tax returns and they reviewed them over the phone. Matt told Rick that because he was self-employed, the way his income was calculated would be open to interpretation, and unless they obtained specific clarification from Rick’s accountant, an underwriter might use less qualifying income than what he deserved.

Matt and Rick decided that the best course of action would be to submit an official mortgage application and seek an official approval in lieu of a pre-approval, even before a specific property was identified. That way, we would know exactly how much income the mortgage underwriter would give him credit for. Having a commitment letter would put Rick and Anita in better bargaining position, but just as importantly, the proactive measures would provide our clients with additional peace of mind.

About 10 days after they applied, they were issued a commitment letter. Rick and Anita had no preference between condo or coop, but Matt and Rick spoke at length about how a coop board is even more strict than a lender — A board would insist that his debt-to-income ratio be significantly lower than what a lender called for, and the board might not calculate his income exactly the way the underwriter at the bank did.

During a trip to New York, we helped Rick and his wife find an Upper-West-side co-op that they loved. The monthly maintenance was higher than the estimates the bank used to obtain the mortgage commitment. We were all concerned that a co-op board might balk at Rick and Anita’s application if they didn’t take the time to properly analyze the corporate returns.

Matt walked Rick through all the numbers. He saw that if Rick and Anita refinanced their California property, they could take advantage of better, more flexible terms compared to what was in place. Ultimately, it would result in numbers that even the strictest co-op board would love to see. An action plan was implemented and Rick and Anita applied simultaneously to refinance their California home while they applied for the mortgage for the New York property. During the first week of June, the co-op board approved their application.

“The Espinal Adler team afforded us advantages not available in other real estate offices,” Rick said. “There is little doubt that we would not have been successful in our Manhattan Co-op search and ultimate purchase had we been with another brokerage team.  The Espinal Adler team is truly unique in having Matt Jablonski, a real estate finance specialist, as an integral part of the team. Matt shepherded us through the process, minimizing our time commitment as our particular situation was quite complex.  Moreover, as Matt’s loyalty is to the Espinal Adler client, not to a particular bank or lender, he was able to arrange the best financing options for us. Having Matt as part of our purchase team, we believe, was one reason we were successful in our co-op purchase.”


At the Core: Our Trip to Saudi Arabia

Around five years ago, we were introduced to a Saudi Arabian family that loves visiting New York City. During the course of the next two years we developed a friendship while we helped them find an amazing condo in Manhattan. In business and in life, relationships are the most valuable reward, and in so many instances we’ve been fortunate enough to stay connected with our clients long after they’ve closed on a new home.

Eventually, our friends from Saudi Arabia introduced us to their friends, and we worked hard to help them successfully negotiate on an investment property. After that, our network started to grow. We were working with more than a half dozen families from that region of the world. So many times, we were invited to visit our growing network of friends in their home countries. They’d tell us that Americans don’t visit there enough, and they genuinely wanted for us to experience it ourselves.

We visited Saudi Arabia late last month, first Jeddah and then Riyadh. We met dozens of the most gracious and most interesting people in an unbelievably fascinating part of the world. Our hosts treated us like royalty. They gifted Marie a beautiful traditional Abaya and invited us both into their home for weekly dinner with their extended family.

Saudi Arabia is still a conservative place but being there was enlightening. It was demystifying. Personal freedoms are spreading and becoming the norm. Among the professional class, there’s a palpable level of excitement as they watch the country liberalize faster than anyone might have imagined.

New regulations have brought order to industry, making investments safer and more stable. Enormous resources are flowing into the diversification of the economy and the growing pains are mitigated by the optimism of what the leadership’s vision and steps will eventually lead to.

Not far from our hotel, we saw a McDonald’s and a KFC. Then we saw all of the high-end retail stores you’d find on 5th Avenue. Jeddah is clean and beautiful, but unlike New York City, during the day, you’re not likely to see a parade of pedestrians navigating the sidewalks. Instead, they opt to travel from the confines of their air-conditioned vehicles.

On foot, we didn’t make it more than 5 or 6 blocks before we turned back to get out of the sun. When we got back to our hotel, a musician sat playing on a Grand Piano that was setup in the lobby, something that would have been revolutionary less than 2 years ago.

Our visit to Saudi Arabia was transformative. We learned so much and we had the most amazing time. But officially, we were there on business. Our network expanded exponentially. We met with groups and individuals and were given the opportunity to explain the complexities of investing in New York real estate.

Naturally, almost all with whom we met compared New York to London, the city that Gulf State homebuyers have been most comfortable investing in for years. There were so many questions. “What’s the story with the NYC market?” “Is it soft?” “What does the data show?” “How does it compare to London.”

Thankfully, we spent weeks preparing. We felt like true real estate “diplomats.” On the flight home, we talked about becoming global brokers. It’s almost too exciting to think about all that we could learn from meeting with some of the world’s most interesting people and learning about their cultures while exploring parts of the world that we’ve never visited.

We imagine an annual trip back to the Middle East, but we’ve also set our sights on Europe and Asia. What an amazing job we have!


Ask the Experts: Compliance Experts Open Doors to Mortgage Lending For NYC Developers

Behind-the-scenes, Orest Tomaselli is a key figure in the reshaping of New York City’s skyline. Many of the most prominent luxury residential developers turn to him and his team at National Condo Advisors to help coax lenders into offering financing to homebuyers who are interested in their buildings.

Tomaselli started National Condo Advisors a decade ago after Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac changed their condo and coop guidelines, leaving management company’s and boards confused and often out-of-compliance. The government agencies created a specific process and set of rules that nobody knew how to follow, leaving hundreds of buildings and thousands of unit owners unable to get mortgage financing. After years of handling compliance in the back offices at mortgage banks, Tomaselli saw an opportunity and he took it.

“Nobody knew how to do it,” he explained. “If I work with existing, established developments and new construction developments, I could work them through the process of getting them healthy, getting them compliant, getting their bylaws and budgets in-line. Making mortgage financing available.”

When they first started, the aim of National Condo Advisors was to obtain a blanket approval from Fannie Mae for an entire building – an “Agency Approval.” That would often stoke the fire and help with the first several sales until lenders became comfortable with a building. The focus now is portfolio lender approval, directly from banks and mortgage companies.

An approval from Fannie Mae isn’t as relevant in New York City as it might be elsewhere. The agency will only purchase mortgage loans for amounts less than $726,525, which is impractical for so many of the multi-million-dollar units throughout the boroughs. So, in many instances, they’ve eliminated Fannie Mae project approvals and they’ve gone directly to the lenders.

“The lender piece has become incredibly important,” Tomaselli said. “When a developer is looking at a site, they will call (and they will say) we need mortgage financing on this building as soon as we record a condo declaration, which happens when 15% of the units are in contract.”

What once seemed a tall order, considering Fannie Mae calls for 50% of the units in a building to be in contract, is now a common request that National Condo Advisors is equipped to handle. A developer wants to capture every buyer that likes their building, so the ultimate goal is to be able to close on a unit as soon as there is a temporary certificate of occupancy on the building, which doesn’t always happen in New York City.

“Letting a buyer go because a lender can’t provide mortgage financing is ridiculous,” Tomaselli said.

The most common impediment standing between a building and a blanket lender approval is the same as it was when Tomaselli started his business more than a decade ago. The Fannie guidelines state that a condo should have a line item in its budget that allotted 10% of its revenue from common charges toward a reserve account.

During the early years for National Condo Advisors, they assisted a massive Brooklyn new construction condo project that had an annual budget of more than $5 Million. To become compliant, they would have to add a line item showing $500,000 was earmarked for reserves. Since all of the assets were already allocated, one of the few solutions was to jack-up common charges, which would make it extremely difficult for the marketing team to sell units in the building.

“Nobody wanted that,” Tomaselli said. “It seemed like a really innocuous kind of guideline. We had to figure out a way around it.”

The solution became a reserve study – An engineering study where every single component within the property is inspected and assigned a value and a remaining useful life over a 30-year horizon. The undertaking was designed mostly to determine if the building really needed to dedicate 10% of its budget toward a reserve fund. Fannie Mae allowed for it, so many lenders followed suit.

A reserve study done on the Brooklyn condo project determined that it needed to allot only $112,000 annually toward reserves. Since it was a brand-new building with very few unit owners paying HOA dues, the burden of funding the reserves fell on the project developer/sponsor. Regulations state that once the project’s sponsor contributes toward reserves, that money cannot be taken back. So, having the reserve study done saved the developer almost $400,000 every year until they sold out the building. It also kept the maintenance fees at market levels at a time the marketing team was trying to sell units.

Since then, National Condo Advisors has mimicked that plan Across New York City and elsewhere. They assist new and existing buildings obtain an initial reserve study, help them align their budgets, work with the marketing team to outline how to keep maintenance fees low, and they work to get a building’s bylaws, budget and insurance compliant so it will gain approval from the Attorney General’s office and pass muster with lenders.

Tomaselli started Strategic Inspections just a year after he launched National Condo Advisors because the reserve studies were taking up to 3 or 4 months to complete, which “did not go over well in New York,” he said.

Today, a typical reserve study takes Strategic Inspections 30-45 days to complete. It costs between $8,500 and $15,000 for a 100-200-unit building. The company provides a 70-page report that details the cost to repair and replace every specific component in the building that’s paid for by the board. They outline a cost to contribute to the reserve account over a 30-year horizon, in many instances eliminating the need for special assessments, and ensuring that the building is healthy, and mortgage financing will always be available. Strategic Inspections completes 40-60 reserve studies every month.

Reserve studies have saved the day in more unusual circumstances as well. Mortgage financing was unavailable at a condominium in the Financial District because the board sued the developer for shoddy workmanship. Lenders were too uncomfortable with multi-million-dollar litigation pending. But when a reserve study revealed that repairs would cost $2.5 Million, and the board documented it had more than $6 Million in its account, Tomaselli was able to prove to one of the biggest mortgage lenders in the city that the building did not represent too high a risk to lend in. Property values in the building skyrocketed afterward.

Having a 10% line item in a building’s budget isn’t the only compliance issue that stands in its way of gaining a blanket approval from a lender. They’ll often balk if a building has too much commercial space, insufficient master insurance, a high percentage of single-entity ownership, too many non-owner-occupied units, and/or low pre-sales at new buildings. In all of these instances, National Condo Advisors either can help a building get healthier or it can make a case that it’s already worthy of mortgage financing.

Still, Tomaselli said he sees pushback from some management companies and attorneys that are just fine with the status quo. He said there usually has to be a trigger for people at existing buildings to call on his team for help.

“People don’t often do a reserve study because they should do it,” he said. “They call us because they can’t get mortgage financing, or when people complain to the board about a special assessment.”

A troubled building might spend $10,000 on a reserve study and another $10,000 on compliance, but then it could quickly get approved by three lenders or more, Tomaselli said.

“From our perspective, it’s such a low-cost barrier for these developments.”

 


At The Core: Knowledge is Power

We’re preparing for an upcoming business trip. It’s been in the works for months or even longer, but its finally almost upon us.

An audience on the other side of the globe waits for us to deliver our expertise. That’s a massive responsibility, one that we embrace and take very seriously. But It doesn’t matter who or where the audience is, being called an expert in any profession is an immense responsibility.

A trip like this one has a way of forcing us to dig a little deeper and work a little bit harder to ensure that we exceed expectations. For weeks now, we’ve been gathering information along with other members of the Espinal Adler team. We’re creating reports to help tell the story of our current marketplace and the opportunities that exist within it.

It’s true that we’re gathering this information for an audience far away. But the effort and energy we invest preparing and further educating ourselves, and the willingness to push beyond an antiquated idea of our own comfort zone is going to make us better at our jobs – and that’s a good thing for all of our clients, even the ones right around the corner. Because of that, no matter how successful we are based on traditional business standards, this trip represents another massive step in our careers.

We believe that knowledge, and the effort put forth to gain it, and the desire to deliver it genuinely to others, is what separates an ordinary real estate agent from an expert.

Since well before the itinerary for our trip was finalized, we’ve been surrounding ourselves with the best, most respected, and most knowledgeable people in our industry. Learning from them is part of our job — part of our responsibility – it’s part of being a true professional. We meet every week with experts from different niches within our industry, doing what we can to pry from them whatever knowledge they’re willing to share so that we can deliver it to our clients.

In the first few months of 2019 alone, we’ve met with:

  • An attorney that specializes in representing foreign nationals.
  • One of the most talented interior designers in New York.
  • The CEO of a company whose expertise in compliance is sought out by virtually every condo developer in the region.
  • Perhaps the most respected appraiser in all 5 boroughs.
  • The president of one of the most widely used NYC property search engines.
  • More than a dozen lenders to find out exactly what each of them might offer our clients.

During the last year, our team has promoted a marketing expert, added a mortgage expert, and we hired another multi-lingual agent. All of those actions fit within the same mantra of bringing to our clients the most knowledge and expertise available.

Knowledge is Power

In our personal lives we interact with professionals who work in fields that we know very little about. We expect those professionals to guide us appropriately, especially when we’re making a purchase. But if we have no history or established relationship with the person offering their guidance, it’s not easy to put our complete and total trust in the advice they are giving.

One of the members of our team told us he went to a “big box” hardware store last week to gather information about a flooring project he was working on.

He expected the sales person would be able to provide the price per square foot – after all, it’s written right on the display. He expected that the salesperson would be able to tell how long it takes to order a product and to have it delivered and installed.

But our team member was caught off-guard and pleasantly surprised when the salesperson provided details about the tax benefits of specific capital improvements made to a primary residence, including the installation of new floors. It was obvious that the salesperson took pride in his profession. His knowledge exceeded expectations and provided instant credibility.

The same principles can and should be applied in real estate. An agent has to be so much more than a scheduler and a door opener – That is the least amount of value we can possibly provide. Every day, we have to work on our craft. We have to surround ourselves with and learn from other experts in our field so that we can live up to the responsibility of being called a professional and an expert.

 


Ask the Experts: Foreign Buying Challenges and Solutions with Martin Jajan

Martin Jajan, Founder and Managing partner at Jajan and Associates located in the Financial District, has helped hundreds of foreign national buyers purchase property in the United States. Our team asked him to share with us some of the challenges they face and some of the solutions he offers.

 

The Buying Process

The foreign buyer isn’t always aware of the complexity of a real estate transaction in the United States. Many European and Latin American nations tend to be “civil law countries” in which transactions are done through what their concept of a notary is. In the United States, a notary has the power to authenticate a signature, but in civil law countries the state grants a notary the authority to supervise an entire real estate transaction. So foreign buyers are often surprised that they need a lawyer, and that a separate attorney would represent the seller and a lender in instances when the buyer is financing a property.

The foreign buyer is often unfamiliar with the need for title insurance as well, according to Jajan. “In foreign countries, if there is a mistake with chain of title, it’s on the notary,” he said. “There isn’t a separate title company that is insuring title. There is no title insurance.”

 

Strategies and Structures

Jajan’s first conversation with a foreign buyer always begins with a description of the American buying process, but before long the dialogue shifts more specifically toward the tax implications of the purchase, and in many instances toward privacy and maintaining anonymity.

“The foreign buyer is not going to be taxed the same way that U.S. people are going to be taxed,” Jajan said. “The IRS code is clear that they will tax foreigners that are investing in property in the United State vastly different than they would U.S. citizens.”

The inheritance tax is most commonly the primary tax consideration when deciding upon how to structure a transaction. The exemption for U.S. citizens is $11.5 Million, and it’s doubled for a married couple. Foreigners are only given a $60,000 exemption. So, if a U.S. citizen passes away, their heirs could inherit up to $11.5 Million in assets free and clear of any tax. But a foreigner would pay tax against an inheritance in excess of $60,000. The amount of that tax tends to fluctuate between 35% and 45%.

Hundreds of documents have been written on how to avoid the estate tax, but Jajan says he can distill the information and deliver it in a conversation that lasts about 20 minutes. From there, based on his clients’ circumstances, he can make a recommendation that will quickly and effectively protect them from the estate tax in a relatively inexpensive manner.

Jajan estimated that 90% of his foreign clients form an entity of some kind and the entity created ultimately is the buyer in the transaction. He identified three common strategies.

  1. Form an LLC.

The Limited Liability Company (LLC) acts as a pass-through entity that will provide his clients with a higher level of anonymity and they would also gain some tax advantages compared to buying as an individual. Forming a simple LLC, however, will not protect the property owner or members of the LLC from the estate tax.

  1. Form an LLC that is taxed as a corporation and is linked to an off-shore corporation.

This multi-faceted structure would protect a foreign buyer from the estate tax. The estate tax is not imposed upon the death of the owner of an offshore corporation because the asset itself is not within the United States, and therefore falls outside the government’s jurisdiction.

With this structure, the owner would be subject to higher capital gains taxes compared to the first structure.

  1. Form a Trust

Forming an Irrevocable trust is a common solution for foreign buyers that are making a purchase in excess of $5 Million, because it can offer a client the best of both worlds according to Jajan.

The trust would own an LLC and the LLC would own the property being purchased. The trust would be taxed at a lower rate compared to an individual, and, because the trust will never die and continue in perpetuity, an estate tax would never be imposed.

 

** Some of the suggested structures can present an issue for lenders. So, Jajan always asks if his client plans to finance the purchase or pay cash. He’s met with multiple lenders that specialize in situations like these and are often more flexible and more amenable to starting a relationship with a foreign national.

 

Ideal NYC Property Type for the Foreign Buyer

For many foreigners, privacy is paramount. Structuring in any one of the methods that Jajan suggests would certainly provide a high level of privacy from the public. But buyers purchasing a co-op, or an existing condominium will be asked to disclose significant personal financial information.

Very rarely is the foreign buyer trying to hide anything, Jajan said. “From a cultural perspective, it’s very invasive to have to give financial disclosure information, when the fact is, that’s not what’s done in their home country.”

A foreign buyer purchasing a pied-a-terre, or an investment property is usually someone of means, and in some cultures, they’re used to a very high level of service and they’re used to people wanting to do business with them.

“The idea that they have to provide tons of financial disclosures and go on a co-op interview and beg someone to take their money and let them into their building doesn’t sit well with them,” Jajan said. “It’s offensive.”

Perhaps more importantly, in some instances the disclosure of financial information can bring with it a security threat.

“People hold their cards very close to their vest in terms of what their assets are and how they made their money,” Jajan said. “If this information falls into the wrong hands, that’s when kidnappings occur. That’s when other crimes and security risks might occur.”

The Ideal Property Type for a Foreign National Buyer

A new construction condominium is the ideal property type for a foreign buyer that wants to avoid disclosing personal information. A new project likely hasn’t assembled a board and the developer/sponsor has the right to sell without commanding a board package, so there is no financial disclosure involved (outside of what a lender would ask for in a situation where financing is involved).

Although an existing condominium has no ability to approve or decline someone who wants to buy in a building (like a co-op board does), a board has the ability to waive the right of first refusal or to exercise it.  They often use that ability as leverage to collect a full board package from a potential buyer.

Many condominiums include in their by-laws a right of first refusal, which would force an owner to offer their unit back to the condo before selling to a third party. It’s important to note that a title company won’t issue a title policy unless the condominium waives their right of first refusal, and most lenders won’t issue a mortgage unless that right is waived. Its not unusual for a condo board to have concerns with absentee owners living overseas because it might be more difficult to collect common charges and/or special assessments. They’re also cognizant of their owner occupancy levels in an attempt to remain compliant with lender guidelines.

“They are using their power to get as much information on someone as possible so they can make a decision on how to protect themselves,” Jajan said.

 


The Impact of Design with Benjamin Noriega Ortiz

Enlisting an interior designer to help with your home search makes sense on multiple levels, according to well-known NYC designer Benjamin Noriega Ortiz.

Ortiz said he’s accompanied longtime repeat clients and their realtors on countless showings over the years, but homebuyers that are thinking of hiring a designer for an upcoming purchase would be wise to utilize the search itself as a way to interview prospective designers.

Literary agent and lifelong New Yorker David Vigliano is in the midst of searching for his next New York City Apartment. He’s hired Ortiz in the past, most notably to decorate his Park Avenue property, so he thinks it made complete sense to have Ortiz’ watchful eye during showings.

“He’s able to point things out that I might not consider,” Vigliano said of Ortiz. “As a buyer you have a real emotional reaction to a space. It’s easy to fall in love with some aspect of it and get carried away by that.”

Anyone can look at a designer’s work in a magazine or through pictures online, but Ortiz said that photos are not necessarily the ultimate test and shouldn’t always be the deciding factor when determining who to hire. He said it’s just as important to have chemistry, a connection, and the ability to communicate and get along with your designer.

“You have to remember that you have to deal with the designer very intimately,” he said. “They are going to ask questions like ‘what’s in your night table drawer?’ If you’re not comfortable with a designer, they’re not for you.”

Ortiz helped Debbie and Mitchell Rechler decorate four rental properties as well as a home on Long Island and most recently, their Manhattan apartment.

Debbie Rechler said when she first met Ortiz, he wanted to know about all of her family’s habits – their eating habits, when and where they watch television, where they hung their coats. But now, after collaborating so many times, she said that Ortiz can easily extract what he needs from her and her husband to create a look and a feel that makes their family feel at home.

“It’s like being with a really close friend that knows how you live,” Rechler said. “He gets in our head. He can take things out of my brain and then he can implement it.”

Consider looking at the same place three times with three different designers, Ortiz said. Without giving away all of their secrets, a lot of designers would likely do that for free, considering it an initial consultation.

A lot of brokers might frown upon investing the extra time showing properties to clients and to their interior designers, but Jeff Adler and Marie Espinal of the Espinal Adler team at Douglas Elliman said they would fully endorse an arrangement like that because ultimately, it could help everyone.

“Design is so crucial in real estate,” according to Espinal. “A designer can really lay the groundwork for a vision. Sometimes they can tell a story in a way that a person can’t do on their own.”

“If the designer has a bad feeling about an apartment, we want to know about it,” Adler said.

Ortiz knows some of his repeat clients so well and has earned their trust enough that they’ll ask him to preview apartments with a realtor so he can narrow their search before they even step foot in an apartment. Sometimes, he can immediately dismiss certain spaces. For example, he can tell the client that a unit faces south, and they’ll need blackout shades; he’ll know if a new building is set to go up across the street and will soon block their amazing views; he’ll know if their custom furniture will fit or make sense in a particular space; and he can rule out apartments that don’t have enough flat walls to hang paintings for his clients that are collectors.

“I’ll tell them, you don’t live like this. This is a mistake.” But, Ortiz said, he can provide specific feedback that could actually make the real estate broker’s job easier. “I’ll go to two or three or four apartments with the realtor, and then I’ll say, ‘okay, you can show this one.’ Then the client comes in and says, okay [the search] is done.”

 

Selling Your Property (Design vs Staging)

Ortiz’ designs tend to be very personal. A client might show him a painting and ask him to convey the feeling of that painting throughout their living space. Always prioritizing functionality, he uses paint colors, artwork, furniture, shapes, and lighting to create the concept his client is looking for. Ortiz said he almost always includes the color green somewhere and you’ll almost always see a circle of some kind incorporated into the design. No matter the outcome, and no matter what he thinks about the look he’s created, only the client can determine if he was successful.

“If the client says it’s good, it’s good, because it’s their place.”

It’s a designer’s job to appeal to an individual’s or a couple’s very specific set of tastes. They want to love the space they live in. But when someone is selling their property, appealing to a much larger audience is the obvious priority. Even though interior design and staging are two completely different things, Ortiz said that good staging is “really a work of art.” He regularly sees brilliant staging in New York City where a good stager can properly convey scale (so people know that their furniture will fit) and the stager can use a non-threatening pallet to make a space look beautiful.

The good news for property sellers, according to Ortiz, it doesn’t take much to make a very personal space much less personal. “Sometimes all you need to do is change the paint and immediately it becomes less personal.”

The Impact Design Has on the Way We Feel

New York City moves fast. Its residents are always on the run and so many of them have demanding high-stress jobs. Like most interior designers, Ortiz said a person’s living space can have an amazingly positive impact on their personal well-being.  Spending time thinking about the environment you live in is “crucial” and as soon as you walk into your living space, you should be able to catch your breath and it should feel like home.

“You have to be able to wake up and feel happy,” Ortiz said. “And that feeling can guide you through your day… [and] through your life.”

Ortiz said it’s entirely possible to create those feelings through interior design no matter where you live, whether it’s a 5,000 square foot home or a tiny studio apartment, your living space should also be diverse and accommodating. “Sometimes we want to feel active… Feel sleepy… Feel fun,” he said. “In a house or an apartment, you can do all of that.”

Marie Espinal, Benjamin Noriega Ortiz, Jeff Adler


The Psychology of your Home

Every day, all day, we help people buy and sell real estate. So naturally it’s easy to get hypnotized into commoditizing properties and to think of them as nothing more than square footage or a bedroom count. We could all use a reminder that the space we live in is so much more than just space.

After members of our team sat with Interior Designer Benjamin Noriega Ortiz, we had a long, in-depth conversation about the impact that our living space has on our personal well-being. Jeff was only half-joking when he said an apartment could adequately function as a therapist. But, is it really a stretch to assume that science might actually support that hypothesis? We seriously doubt you could find any mental health professional who’d argue that someone’s environment has no impact on their emotional state.

After extensive research, we found dozens, if not hundreds, of articles, books, and scientific studies that draw a line between our living space and our mental well-being. We found studies that were conducted here in the United States, in Europe, China, India, Australia, and just about every corner of the globe. Some of the studies focused specifically on architecture, size of space and quality of construction, while others put an emphasis more on comfort, colors and other aesthetically pleasing elements.

With almost no exception, whether it was a blogger, an interior designer, a real estate agent, a doctor or a scientist, there is a consensus: Where we live affects the way we feel.

The conversation we had after Benjamin left our office was pretty amazing, and it made sense to think about real estate in such a personal way. Our homes are our physical and emotional fortresses. They should always be our safe place, but they also have the potential to be our happy place.

Our Homes are a lot like Yours

We love it when our conversations offer clear and obvious perspective. We can only do our job exceptionally when real conversations and real-life experiences provide that type of outlook and it becomes a part of our team’s collective mindset.

The talk we had about our living space provided the most amazing perspective. We thought about how important our own personal living space is to us; We thought about all the time and energy we’ve spent on the smallest details that transformed our own houses into our homes, and we thought about the way we feel when we’re at home.

Just a few weeks ago, Jeff was over-the-top excited about a new dining room table he ordered. On his computer screen, he showed it to the team from every possible angle. While he knew exactly how it would look in his apartment, it could have been the way it felt or the way it looked. But more likely, Jeff was envisioning the conversations and laughs he would share with friends that will gather around it for years to come.

We all have things that do nothing more than occupy our precious living space – things that serve no real purpose and offer nothing to connect with on an emotional level. But everyone in the office could tell by the look on Jeff’s face, that this table was going to make his happy place even happier.

This week Marie described chasing her new beagle puppies for several laps like a NASCAR car driver on a track that started in her kitchen and looped through her dining room and living room before zipping past the starting line somewhere near the dishwasher. When Marie suddenly reversed her course, she caught the puppies off-guard and their momentum made them slide across the kitchen floor and caused a doggy pileup at Marie’s feet that was gentler and happier than a wreck at Daytona. Marie was genuinely, laugh-out-loud happy in her home. And that’s how it should be for everyone.

Our homes play host to so many of our memories, and our friends and family members, and our alone time, and Sunday morning breakfasts, and birthdays and holidays, and children and pets, and home offices and inspiring views. Our homes are where we rest and recover and relax. It’s where we think quietly, away from the distractions of the outside world.

We have so much control over what our living space is, how it looks, and what it ultimately becomes. We control the way we arrange it, the colors we paint it, and the way we accessorize it. We even control the sounds and the smells that glide through and blend into the unseen air that we share the space with.

So much goes into turning your house into a home. But the very first step in making the perfect home is finding the perfect home. At every property showing, and during every phone conversation and every email exchange, it’s all about maintaining the proper perspective. We can never forget just how unique and personal your home will become to you. Finding your home is a huge responsibility; one that we’re honored you’ve entrusted us with.


At the Core: Espinal Adler Team Takes “Full-Service” to a Whole New Level

After eclipsing $100 Million in sales last year, the Douglas Elliman team led by Marie Espinal and Jeff Adler announced their relaunch as the Espinal Adler Team in January 2019.

The veteran duo credits the team’s success to its holistic and hands-on approach with its clients, resulting in consecutive year-over-year growth for a decade by toppling the impressive $100 Million annual sales benchmark.

“I think it’s a testament to the things that we’re doing right, and all the while without compromising the way we service our clients or how we want to run our business,” Espinal said. “We want to advise our clients the way that patients are advised by their doctors.”

That consistent, high-level of service allowed the team to stay focused and thrive in a year that volume was down for a lot of NYC realtors, according to Adler, who prioritized cultivating long-term relationships over chasing the immediate sale.

“Even with all the volatility in this industry and this market, we have consistently grown since we’ve partnered,” he said. “Last year, everybody was down and freaking out. But we were optimistic. Because the way we do business is what the market is shifting to.”

The Espinal Adler team is being built specifically with the client experience in mind. It already had its own Marketing Director, a powerhouse of multi-lingual agents and expert market analysts. But this month, the team took an unprecedented step in adding 15-year mortgage-industry veteran Matthew Jablonski to their roster. Jablonski will serve the team’s clients in an advisory role, completely independent from any bank or mortgage lender.

Jablonski will be tasked with having his finger on the pulse of a constantly evolving mortgage industry, identifying lenders who offer the most competitive rates with the most efficient process, all in an effort to spare the team’s clients from the time-consuming information gathering process. “Our clients should rest assured that we’re in constant pursuit of information that will help them secure the best available mortgage terms,” Adler said.

Jablonski will prepare clients for the mortgage application process and be available to conference with a buyer’s loan officer or mortgage broker to ensure all the right questions are asked and answered. He’s also a trained solutions expert, or as Espinal phrased it, “a thought partner” in the event there are any roadblocks during someone’s mortgage application process. “We want our buyers to get the best possible loan for their needs, and this will help them achieve that,” Adler said.

For sellers, Jablonski will carefully vet pre-approvals when offers are made. He’ll review appraisal reports if a listing property under-appraises and offer alternatives to unnecessarily lowering a sales price.

Espinal said she and her team have worked with Jablonski for over a decade during stops he had at Chase, Mortgage Master and most recently Citizens Bank. His addition to the team will change the homebuying process for clients working through the Espinal Adler Team. A real estate broker is there for their client at every step of the negotiation, both Espinal and Adler pointed out. But, for the most part, a buyer is on their own when it comes to securing funds for the transaction.

“This was the one missing component,” Espinal said. “With the inclusion of a mortgage advocator, it really does become a full suite of services. We think it’s going to make a monumental difference in how a client experiences real estate through us.”

“It’s unparalleled,” Adler said. “How many other real estate teams have their own mortgage specialist?”

Many real estate agents have a decent understanding of mortgage finance, especially in New York City, Jablonski said, but getting to the closing table can be like navigating through a minefield of potential pitfalls. With 15 years and more than 1,500 mortgage transactions under his belt, Jablonski said his familiarity with the process, his understanding of mortgage guidelines and his ability to think like a mortgage underwriter will undoubtedly enhance the customer experience, and just as importantly, Espinal Adler clients will ultimately save money.

“I was in the mortgage business for a long time, but I never crossed paths with anyone that performed the role that I’m taking with this team,” Jablonski said. “It’s new and it’s exciting and it makes all the sense in the world.”

In addition to Espinal and Adler, and now Jablonski, the team includes Marketing Director Cortnie Schultz, and salespeople Joseph Chaplin, Ya (Amy) Wang, Jessica Escobar and Jennings Lee Culver.

 


Ask the Experts: Market Dynamics with Jonathan Miller

Jonathan Miller’s Market Outlook

The number of units sold in Manhattan in 2018 was down by more than 14 percent compared to the previous year. The brokerage industry tends to be very linear in its perception of the market, so many believe when the market is rising, it will rise forever. And, in-turn, when the market falls, it will fall forever. That approach can lead to overreaction.

The 10-year Challenge (2009 vs. 2019)

Some analysts are even comparing the current cycle to the last downturn and the housing bubble in 2009, but Miller outlined quite a few differences between then and now.

In 2009, the average discount from listing was 10.2%. In 2018 the discount was 5.2%. In ’09, Miller said sellers were anchored to the “pre-Lehman, pre-financial crisis asking prices” and had to travel farther on price to meet a buyer. (Miller measures listing discount by the percent difference between the contract price and the price that the property was listed for sale at the time of contract – not when it was first listed). The most recent asking price is “really the moment the property entered the market,” he said.

Miller said there are more buyers today compared to 2009, but those buyers are “very jaded about what value is.” Meanwhile, sellers are anchored to another market completely, he said.

The change in tax laws in 2018 and a several-month stretch that saw mortgage rates rise before recently dropping close to previous levels had both buyers and sellers re-calibrating what value is. That process can take time.

“If a seller overprices a listing, it takes them up to 2 years to de-anchor from what their price was without thinking that they left money on the table,” Miller said. “The disconnect between buyers and sellers is measured by lower sales volume.”

Starter Segment vs. High-End Luxury

For the last two years, Miller has said that the NYC market is softer at the top and tighter as you move lower in price.

Overall inventory is up by about 17%, with a significant amount of supply coming from the studio and 1-bedroom market. Studio inventory is up 21% percent.

“The pace of the starter market is still the fastest of all segments,” Miller said. “It’s just not as detached as it was because now you have more supply.”

Interest Rates and Their Impact

Typically, rates rise when the economy is strong. The low rates we’re seeing today understate the strength of the current economy, according to Miller. “That’s the disconnect.” In the long run, interest rates do not impact price trends. Mortgage rates have trended lower for three decades, Miller said, but housing prices have fluctuated up and down during that same lengthy stretch.

Mortgage rates weren’t wildly different in ’09 compared to today. In a recent report, Miller stated that an adjustable rate mortgage rate averaged 4.38% in 2009 and was at 3.98% using the same metrics in 2018.

Miller said that real estate investors should stop trying to perfectly time the market (both with rate and supply vs. demand). Perfect timing is a concept that was born out of the housing bubble, he said, when investors viewed housing as a highly liquid stock, instead of in its proper context. “(Real estate) is more of a long-term asset.”

 In-Depth Look at the State of Appraisals

“There was nothing learned from the bad behavior of a decade ago,” Miller said, reminding himself of a Mark Twain quote. “History doesn’t repeat itself, but sometimes it rhymes,” Jonathan Miller recited. Miller, President and CEO of real estate appraisal and consulting firm Miller Samuel Inc., said federal regulators are acting irresponsibly in their effort to reduce and perhaps even eliminate the need for an appraisal as part of an overall effort to erase “friction points” that slow-down the mortgage application process.

Miller said the regulators were more concerned with collecting fees than they were with protecting the American consumer. He likened the subtle de-regulation to the housing bubble of a decade ago, pointing out that regulators were getting paid by the failing investment banks they were rating back then. Now, he said, regulators and both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are getting paid whenever loan volume passes through those agencies. (Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are Government sponsored enterprises that purchase mortgages from banks and mortgage companies in an effort to create liquidity so that lenders have the capacity to lend to more homebuyers).

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), The Board of Governors for the Federal Reserve System, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) proposed a rule to amend the agencies regulations requiring appraisals for certain real estate related transactions. The proposed rule would increase the threshold level at, or below which appraisals would not be required for residential real estate-related transactions from $250,000 to $400,000.

In response to our request for comment, spokespeople for the FDIC, the OCC, and The Federal Reserve said they do not comment on proposed rules during the rulemaking process.

Mortgage volume has trended lower despite rates falling steadily since the housing bubble, because lenders don’t want to take on risk, Miller said. “They’re in the fetal position. Banks are afraid of their own shadow.”

The tremendous amount of regulation implemented since Dodd Frank has led to mortgage lenders filling Fannie and Freddie’s portfolios with low-risk “pristine” mortgage bundles. But with rates so low, margins are so compressed, regulators need to stimulate volume to make money, according to Miller. “I think (Fannie and Freddie) are emboldened to take more risk.”

The push for fewer mandatory appraisals isn’t the only thing that has hurt the appraisal industry since the Dodd Frank Act was passed in 2010. The evolution of the mortgage industry’s use of the Appraisal Management Company (AMC) has led to a collapse in quality of appraisals ordered by banks, Miller said. He described the AMC as an institutional middle man that takes more than 50 cents on the dollar away from the professional appraisers who do the actual work.

“It’s like a Hollywood actor paying their agent 60% instead of 10%,” Miller said. “The mortgage industry is trying to widgetize the appraiser.”

The AMC is supposed to act as a communication barrier between the appraiser and the loan officer or mortgage broker, to thwart undue pressure to bring appraised values in at specific numbers. But according to Miller, the AMCs are under the same types of pressure that an individual appraiser might face. Some AMCs receive hundreds of thousands of dollars every month by way of appraisal orders placed by big banks. At least at the sales level, the banks apply pressure to the AMC to not “kill deals,” said Miller, who has testified in several class action lawsuits against AMCs.

In many instances, Miller and his firm were hired to do sample reviews of appraisals that came through AMCs. Often, the AMC would utilize appraisers in the market that would always “hit the number,” Miller said. A lot of those appraisers were ignoring valid comps, sometimes from directly across the street that were virtually the same as the subject property. “The AMC encouraged it because they were getting the work,” he said.

Appraisers are pushing back and there are already signs that AMCs were beginning to crumble, Miller said. Quality appraisers are turning away bank work when they know the order is coming in through an AMC because they’re not happy working for less than they deserve and because they’ve been reduced to “form-fillers,” Miller said.