Overseas AMC Staff: Could I Speak to “Villiam?”
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At least one appraisal management company (AMC) put a new accent on appraising by having the point of contact be in another country—specifically, a call-center in India. According appraiser Bill Streep, this is how the conversation went:
Bill Streep: “Hi, this is Bill.”
AMC Staff: “HELLO! Bill. Could I please speak to Villiam?”
Bill Streep: “This is Bill.”
AMC Staff: “Yes, Bill. I need to speak to Villiam.”
Bill Streep: “My name is Bill, it’s short for William.”
AMC Staff: “Yes… (insert long pause) Could I please speak to Villiam?”
Bill Streep: “This IS William.”
AMC Staff: “No, this is Bill. I need to speak to Villiam.”
Bill Streep: “Hang on…” I set the phone down and shuffle som
e papers around.
Bill Streep: “Hello, this is William.”
AMC Staff: “VILLIAM! HELLO!”
Bill Streep: CLICK.
While the above story is funny, wasting time and money are not. Ever since AMCs gained prominence, appraisers have lamented having to deal with inexperienced AMC staff who have little or no knowledge of real estate in many instances, let alone the standards and requirements of an appraisal report compliant with the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP).
Appraisers point out that the inexperience of AMC staff sometimes leads to extra time spent clarifying, providing additional information, answering questions that are addressed in the report, and what some appraisers call “educating” the AMC staff making the requests. Some say this has gotten better as AMCs have matured. Others say it is still a daily struggle. And time is money.
Streep, an appraiser from San Antonio, Texas, says that he now declines work from AMCs that consistently use India for their call-centers. “It’s just too much of a headache. I don’t have anything against India or Indians but I’m tired of hearing the same old script when all of the questions they ask are already addressed in the report,” Streep says. The outsourcing of AMC staff is not the problem, as Streep sees it, but is simply illustrative of the business model of AMCs to cut their costs while requiring more time and work from appraisers to complete an appraisal order. “So many AMCs are taking the cheapest route to servicing their clients, they’re carving out of the middle as much as they possibly can by fishing for the lowest fee and outsourcing their call-centers. It would be different if they were doing it on a cost-plus basis, but no-one likes getting a fee-haircut AND being pestered by unnecessary requests and stipulations on top of that,” says Streep.
Streep doesn’t think that all AMCs are bad or “greedy,” he just tries not to work for the ones that don’t pay fair fees or invest in hiring competent staff. “Right after the real estate crash, business was tight and we knew we had to deal with AMCs with untrained staff. But as the real estate market picked up, appraisers have more options and they’re going to remember which AMCs treated them well,” says Streep.
Joseph Cagle, an appraiser from Warner Robbins, Georgia, is an appraiser who worked for one AMC both before and after they began utilizing call-centers in India. “I really don’t have a problem with the call-center in India,” says Cagle, who admits that globalization has changed the way that we all do business. “The problem is that it’s incredibly difficult to discuss issues regarding an appraisal when the person you’re talking to usually doesn’t have a clue what you’re talking about,” says Cagle.
“We’re talking about someone who usually has little or no knowledge about the appraisal process, your geographic region, or even what an appraisal report is supposed to contain — it makes it pretty difficult to negotiate fees, let alone deal with the 100 follow-up questions that typically follow,” says Cagle.
Echoing the sentiments of other appraisers who raise their fees on AMCs that are difficult to deal with, Cagle says that he usually charges “problem” AMCs two to three times his normal fee because their staff typically have 100 questions, many of which have already been addressed in the report, which makes it clear that the report wasn’t even read by the staff. In fairness, Cagle says that inexperienced AMC staff is nothing new to the industry, but the language barrier and the lack of knowledge about appraising certainly make things a little more difficult. “The calls at eight o’clock on Sunday night certainly don’t help either,” says Cagle.
Richard Hagar, SRA, has a similar story, but this time it involved a review appraiser. He says that about two years ago he received a call from a review appraiser. “He had impeccable British English and there was significant time lag in our conversation, the kind you would expect when you talk to someone on the other side of the world. After speaking to him further, he ended up telling me that he was calling me from India,” says Hagar.
David Brauner, Editor of Working RE and Senior Broker at OREP E&O insurance sees a disconnect between the increasing pressure on appraisers to provide more complex data and analysis in their appraisals and the silence about situations like this from lenders and regulators. “Appraisers are directed to improve the quality of their reports and expand the products they deliver beyond form filling into more analytics, if they wish to remain competitive,” Brauner says. And worse: with Fannie Mae’s new AQM (Appraisal Quality Monitoring), appraisers now must meet very specific reporting requirements or face “blacklisting.” “According to many, what Fannie Mae is asking for is simply sound appraising,” Brauner says. “But we really won’t know until we see who makes the blacklist and why and how the rebuttal process works. Stories like this overseas call center and many others illustrate a seeming indifference to quality and a smooth process. You wonder why these issues on the ordering side are not being so vigorously addressed or even acknowledged by industry leaders,” said Brauner.
The “India” story may be an anomaly because it involves overseas staff, but appraisers have complained about underqualified AMC staff, time-wasting stipulations and reconsiderations of value for years.
Many appraisers view the tangled submission process as a more serious threat to their livelihoods than even a lack of customary and reasonable fees. (We’ve included a three question survey below to see what you think.)
“Something or several things are bogging the system down and robbing appraisers of time, money and their pleasant dispositions,” Brauner said. “Perhaps those who can make things happen ought to be concerned with finding ways to increase quality, streamlining and consistency on both sides of the lending equation.”
If Streep is right about appraisers having more options when times are good, the AMCs that invest in experienced, knowledgeable staff and pay fair fees are the ones that appraisers will want to work for.
And Wait, There’s More
WRE found this on ISGN’s website at the time of publication:
ISGN is Hiring in India
With a state-of-the-art operations center in Bangalore, we have a wide variety of positions available to support our servicing and default outsourcing capabilities, including mortgage loan processing and fulfillment, underwriting, valuations, title and settlement, closing, post closing, quality control, loss mitigation, foreclosure, REO disposition, IT services and more.
India Jobs at ISGN
If you are interested in exploring mortgage career opportunities, including but not limited to, Mortgage Processers, Underwriters, Mortgage Closers, Title Specialists, HUD Reviewers, and Appraisal Reviewers, please search for available positions below.”
Additionally, in June of last year, Bloomberg reported that Bank of America opened a unit in India conduct appraisal reviews for residential appraisals, with employees following checklists to verify appraisal “completeness.” The move came after Bank of America laid off 5% of its Landsafe employees in an effort to cut cost earlier that year. (Read more here.)