Cobra’s Favorite Target is TAF Dave Bunton

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Some Cobras Might Want To Look In The MirrorIn 2016 I began to wage a battle with the Appraisal Institute to bring to light how they were working against the residential appraisers’ interests by going to state legislatures (largely, Scott DeBiasio). What triggered my outrage was their attempt to take control over the local finances of each chapter and I’m not even a member. Their lack of residential representation continues today but the difference is, the appraisal industry’s deeper understanding of AI’s past behavior, linkage with AMCs including past senior officers who run them and lack of effectiveness in moving residential forward.

One of my thought processes during the effort was being forced to “choose sides” between The Appraisal Foundation and the Appraisal Institute because AI was doing everything they could to attack TAF. The residential industry was already being crushed by fees, partly due to AI’s alliances with REVAA and the legacy of past AI leadership working at or running AMCs.

Like most appraisers, I am frustrated by the argument that USPAP has to be continually updated and the realization that most of our industry simply can’t keep up with the changes. Setting standards is a good thing and I recognize and appreciate all the hard work that people on TAF do. My issue is the frequency of change and that’s what residential appraisers need to see changed.

And then comes this bombshell new book “Dispatches from the Cosmic Cobra Breeding Farm” that I received this week and wow, the writing style of the author Jeremy Bagott is spectacular. This guy can write. The book cover looks like an Isaac Asimov sci-fi novel but it reads like Stephen King, full of current cultural references. I got it this week and have nearly read the whole thing.

The book’s favorite target is TAF president Dave Bunton who is referenced dozens of times and portrayed as the source of the problem, and references Dave’s $760,000 compensation.

TAF compensation

TAF responded with a note to correct the misstatement.

Since it seems to be well-known that Jim Amorin, CEO of AI makes around $400K as a base salary, I would think the other ancillary benefits bring the number a lot higher. Jim’s predecessor made about $350K as a base salary, plus benefits.

A book was recently published about regulation of the appraisal profession that includes several references to The Appraisal Foundation. It is always appreciated when anyone highlights the critical role the profession plays in protecting consumers and the economy. However, nothing does more damage to the public trust in the appraisal profession than communicating inaccurate information.

In the spirit of the Foundation’s commitment to transparency and honesty, The Appraisal Foundation President David Bunton spoke with the author last fall. In a conversation that lasted nearly an hour, the author never mentioned that he had the Foundation’s 2017 Federal 990 for or inquired about Mr. Bunton’s salary. We at the Foundation were as surprised as anyone that the author mentions Mr. Bunton’s salary more than 20 times in the book.

Had the author asked Mr. Bunton about his 2017 salary, he would have been more than happy to share the complete story. More than a decade ago, the Foundation’s Executive Compensation Committee set up an executive retirement account for Mr. Bunton, a common practice in the nonprofit world. Under the terms of this account and per IRS regulations, a lump sum disbursement was required when the account holder turned 65 years old. For Mr. Bunton, that occurred in 2017. The Foundation’s 2017 990 reflects BOTH Mr. Bunton’s annual compensation and the entire retirement savings from the account, which was a majority of the compensation. Unfortunately, the author, for whatever reason or reasons, never asked about the reported 2017 salary, every time he mentions it –without context– he is misleading the reader and damaging the public trust in the valuation profession.

However, we are thankful this has given us yet another opportunity to discuss the Foundation’s strong stewardship of its resources and finances. For example, the author notes that the Foundation’s meetings are held in far-flung places across the country. The full story is the Foundation holds meetings in neighborhoods across the country so that local appraisers and other stakeholders can attend without incurring many travel expenses. We hold our meetings during off-season when hotel costs are the lowest. For example, in 2018, the average hotel rate for a room at a Foundation meeting was $153.50. The Appraisal Foundation also keeps costs down through its recent innovation to livestream its meetings so everyone with a PC, tablet, or smartphone can take part in our process.

In the end, when fact from fiction is separated, we at the Foundation thank the author for highlighting a difficult fact in which we agree: there is deep anxiety and distrust felt by many in the profession. Whether it is the dilution of the appraisal regulatory structure, technology threatening the role of the appraiser, or organizations unfairly eating away at the appraiser’s fee, real estate appraisers feel dispirited and underappreciated. For this reason, The Appraisal Foundation encourages everyone to identify not only the problem, but also work together solving it.

TAF Correction to Publication

To which Jeremy responded:

CRYPTIC MEMO CLAIMS FOUNDATION DEALT BUNTON INTERNAL RETIREE PAYOUT PLUS CEO PAY IN 2017

An unsigned, undated memo on Appraisal Foundation letterhead was posted to the blog site “Valuation Nation” on January 22. The memo, citing “inaccurate” reporting in an unnamed recently published book, sought to further explain the 2017 annual pay of David S. Bunton, president of the Appraisal Foundation. The $760,000 pay package for the head of the 14-employee nonprofit, categorized as “compensation” in the Foundation’s Form 990, was reported to have included both an annual CEO pay component alongside an internal retirement-related payout. “There are many open questions about the internal retirement component of Bunton’s pay if this memo is accurate,” said Jeremy Bagott, author of Dispatches from the Cosmic Breeding Farm, a book dealing with waste and abuse in appraiser oversight. “For example, have any additional sequenced internal retirement accounts been set up by his compensation committee or anyone else? One thing is clear: Bunton was no retiree in 2017. Nor was he one in 2018 or 2019. Even a onetime internal payout could have the effect of underreporting his pay over the coming years. Part of this haul was once our money, public money,” said the author. Bagott contacted David Greer, Director of Communications for the nonprofit, seeking further comment. As of this writing, an email to Greer was unreturned.

Honestly, I found the author’s reasoning: “Bunton was no retiree in 2017. Nor was he one in 2018 or 2019. Even a onetime internal payout could have the effect of underreporting his pay over the coming years.” oddly weak and panicky, inconsistent with his strong writing style in the book.

I appreciate the distinction between AI and TAF but look at the performance of AI on behalf of their residential membership – it’s been zero.

The key point made in Jeremy’s book was the phrase “incorporation by reference” which focuses on the

“…public’s inability to access privately copyrighted standards once they’ve been incorporated by reference into public regulations. By “access,” read “purchase.”

This is reported to be a growing problem in law where copyrighted material becomes law, yet access to it is restricted. This insight is something for us to focus on going forward.

One flaw in Jeremy’s presentation, besides misstating Dave Bunton’s salary is that while Jeremy holds an “MAI” designation, the “MAI” designation of the Appraisal Institute is embedded into many state laws a la “incorporation by reference” because those laws require the use of an “MAI” in commercial appraisals in order for the appraiser to get the work. This work is now illegal under FIRREA to select someone with private designations over someone without, but still the efforts for things like branded AI classes have been attempted to be pushed into law. One other thing, I thought the characterization of the ASC director was misrepresentative of what actually happened and seemed to be more of a cheap shot, again for effect. I know him and from direct experience that guy is brutally ethical.

So to summarize the Cobra book:

  • It is superbly well written and articulates the problems facing residential appraisers, in particular, today
  • The “incorporation by reference” is a smart way to look at the appraiser regulatory situation
  • The “nail in the coffin” point made throughout the book about Dave Bunton’s salary was unfortunately incorrect
  • I’m a bit surprised that the author, as an MAI, didn’t speak to AI’s “incorporation by reference” practice since there has been a “Cosmic” battle between AI and TAF.

Still, I’d read the book for its articulation on where appraisers sit today in the mortgage finance ecosystem. It’s brilliant.

Jonathan Miller
Latest posts by Jonathan Miller (see all)
Image credit flickr - _paVan_
Jonathan Miller

Jonathan Miller

Jonathan Miller is President and CEO of Miller Samuel Inc., a real estate appraisal and consulting firm he co-founded in 1986. He is a state-certified real estate appraiser in New York and Connecticut, performing court testimony as an expert witness in various local, state and federal courts.

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7 Responses

  1. Avatar Scott DiBiasio says:

    Mr. Miller is incorrect when he says, “This work is now illegal under FIRREA to select someone with private designations over someone without, but still the efforts for things like branded AI classes have been attempted to be pushed into law.”

    The FIRREA “Prohibition on Discrimination” applies only to transactions regulated by one of the federal financial institutions regulatory agencies – mortgage lending transactions.

    The assignment to which the author references do not fall into this category. FIRREA has absolutely no application to the types of assignments that the author references.

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  2. Avatar Cotton says:

    I gave up on AI a long time ago. They are clearly corrupt and in bed with REEVA. Both of these organizations are actively destroying the appraisal profession and ultimately harming public trust. There needs to be a in depth government investigation into both AI and REEVA. I have never met 1 single appraiser that approves of either AI or REEVA. Our money is what keeps these organizations going. Time to boycott both. REEVA and AI are leeching of our entire profession with not one single benefit to the appraiser. I along with every other appraiser consider these organizations and the people who run them to be the scum of the earth! Stay wake!

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  3. Avatar dale bailey says:

    The Book is not a investigative news piece, Reeva is a business model, AI is the representative of a specific sector of Appraisers, and TAF is a non biased entity for the public good that standardizes appraisal practices, with Mr Bunton leading the way. Mr Miller points out his take on the book, Mr DiBiasio explains minor legal details in correction.

    I have met all but the Author, and those that I met and know, all represent what they believe is in their professions best interest. I do not know the author so I do not know what his best interest is in the book. IF it is too sell copies and get rewarded, then this cage rattling has given him his bonus. If it is to seriously engage appraisers and the public, then he got them interested at first but lost them after the full story was expanded upon.

    IF all we have to worry about is changing USPAP every two years, then we are very lucky indeed to have TAF batting for us. If Mr Buntons Salary is of concern, review all researched documents on incomes for people in his position in DC for Non Profits and see if he fall in the middle of the road for compensation. If we have more to worry about, then we better get to it and tackle the larger issues at stake.

    Just my take

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  4. Avatar ej says:

    One thing is for sure. TAF, the AI, the AMC cartel and the corrupt lenders are all getting filthy rich. While the working boots on the ground’s appraiser are homeless!

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  5. Retired appraiser Retired appraiser says:

    USPAP is constantly being updated to churn CE fees. Does that surprise anyone?

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  6. TAF’s 990 for 2016 shows Bunton’s base compensation at $260,000, total at $343,754. 2015: $260,000 base, $345,696 total. (Freely accessible via propublica.) Seems like reasonable comp to me.

    The Illinois Department of Central Management Services requires the MAI designation to win a bid for appraisal services; I’m not sure about other agencies. I don’t think this is due to direct influence from AI as much as it is a reflection of old practice. I’ve done a number of appraisals for private parties pursuant to a “baseball” arrangement where the controlling document, sometimes drawn up many decades before, called for an MAI. It seemed clear to me that this was the code word for “commercial appraiser” in the mind of the attorney who had drawn up the document.

    It does seem as if TAF has experienced some mission creep over its history, and this may be part of the reason for the tension with AI. Full disclosure: I have the MAI designation and was president of the Chicago Chapter in 2018. When it comes to these allegations about motives and conspiracies, I like Pontius Pilate’s line: “What is truth?”

    Keep the blog rolling–it’s always a fun read!

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  7. Avatar Realrose says:

    I am currently reading Jeremy Bagott’s book, Dispatches from the Cosmic Cobra Breeding farm. It is excellent. One question I have is why does the AI have Scott de Basio as a lobbyist? He has no experience in appraising. I researched his political background; in Maryland he ran for a local office on the republican ticket but failed; he also failed to raise even one dollar for his campaign. He has been ineffective in defending the position of appraisers and I question the AI’s value when they have selected a guy like this to represent the organization and appraisers. Another question: Why did it take a Brit to write this book? Probably because appraisers are trying to survive and don’t have time to follow all these ways USPAP is revised, and how it is “incorporated into the Federal Register”, but we have to pay $75 bucks every 2 years when we take the course update, so TAF is a “non-profit”, quasi governmental agency that is actually making tons of money off appraisers! Sound familiar? Data providers, software companies and so many products to purchase to stay in business, not counting the E&O insurance and because of a copyright, it is not available online when they publish, but we can go to WDC and read it and take notes. I am sure our comments on proposed changes are not even considered, they just make a new rule to cover their fat asses!

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Cobra’s Favorite Target is TAF Dave Bunton

by Jonathan Miller time to read: 6 min
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