AMC Fair Housing Mythodology
AMCs are on notice to cease demanding and insisting that appraisers do digital staging.
You’ve seen the AMC’s orders.
“Appraiser is to obscure, blur or remove individuals from photos.”
Fair housing laws say so, that’s why. Do they?
I had my first settlement conference with an AMC recently. Appraisers have been participating in settlement conferences with Appraisal Board members and Department attorneys for years. Because there is no Board for AMCs, the opportunity falls to me.
At issue was the ubiquitous “client requirement” involving digital masking of people from images. While lenders and AMCs wave the Fair Housing penalty flag in order to assure compliance; there is NO such law. Never has been.
Mostly, this issue involves images of people inside their own homes. But it dovetails into exterior views and pictures that include personal artifacts.
When did interior images become a requirement? They’ve always been helpful in order to support comments on interior condition. Flaking paint, cracked walls, broken windows, water in the basement, etc.
Back in the 1980s when I, like so many of you, shot rolls of film, nobody asked us to cut people out of an image. For one thing, it was film. There was no way to doctor the emulsion. If someone was in the shot…they were in the shot for good. When digital photography emerged as a reasonable alternative to film, that’s when the possibility of editing came about. That was about twenty years ago. Back then, some lenders only wanted a bathroom and kitchen shot.
Why? I don’t know.
Around 2000 is when digital imagery really exploded in appraisal. As the saying goes, “pixels are cheap”. It was then that lenders began requesting images of most interior rooms.
Why? I don’t know.
Some lenders want everything photographed. AMCs pass on this faux “requirement” without giving it another thought. Then they write instructions that people should never appear in photographs or else. Let’s unpack that.
First, I agree that people shouldn’t be in appraisal images if possible. I still have images from hundreds of appraisals that I completed over the years. I save them for illustration purposes. I have no idea what the addresses or dates are…but I still have the images. I was hard pressed to find many images that depicted people. There were a few accidental shots and some congested urban street views, but little else. For the most part, people aren’t interested in being in the picture. After all, this isn’t a publicity still. These are documentary style images intended for informational purposes. Still, no matter what time you get to a property somebody may be going to bed, getting up, arriving home from work, going to work, heading to or from a nap (kids). Then there are the elderly or the bed-ridden who cannot, for any number of reasons, leave the room you need to shoot. It’s just not happening.
What about street scenes? People are everywhere at all times of the day. We’re not shooting a movie. We can’t clear the streets just because some underwriter five states away wants a clean image with nothing to influence them.
Nobody needed ten interior shots of a house in the 1980s or early 1990s. Why do lenders need them now? They don’t. They just want them.
Note: Race and the racial composition of the neighborhood are not appraisal factors.
Look familiar? It’s baked into every Fannie form appraisers use. What this means is that the only people capable of making race a factor in a loan file is the lender; not the appraiser.
Appraisers should make every effort to avoid recording an image of a person if, for no other reason than they’re probably blocking something you should see. Lenders need to re-examine the reason for all of these pointless and invasive interior shots. They add nothing meaningful to the file. Nobody is laying out mortgages for Beanie Baby collections and bad drapes. So why are appraisers wasting megapixels on decorating images?
AMCs are on notice to cease demanding and insisting that appraisers do digital staging. That is clearly in violation of Illinois law.
By Brian Weaver, Coordinator Editor of IllinoisAppraiser, Appraisal Management Company Coordinator for the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR)
Source Illinois Appraiser Newsletters – Volume 9, Issue 1 – June 2016