Two Cheers for an ‘Evolved’ Beltway Entrepreneur… David Bunton
We come not to bury David Bunton, the public figure, but to praise David Bunton, the evolved Beltway organism.
Who is David Bunton? Bunton has made a small fortune and canvassed the world at the helm of a 16-employee Washington, D.C., nonprofit that publishes a copyrighted code of conduct. The code gives his tiny fiefdom a big say in how collateral in the nation’s $11 trillion mortgage market is valued. He is a figure with outsized power in an immense market.
His day-to-day funding source? For 30 years, his nonprofit, known as the Appraisal Foundation, has sold copies of its continually changing code to 80,000 captive state-licensed property appraisers. It also controls a monopoly on instructor credentialling and has been able to impose mandatory educational products on appraisers through a spoils pipeline into state regulatory boards and a tiny federal minder run by a former employee of the nonprofit.
He recently issued an ecumenical bull: “Appraisal bias is undoubtedly the most critical issue facing the appraisal profession right now.” With that, he began parroting talking points that accuse the nation’s appraisers of widespread bigotry – a harebrained conspiracy theory that has gained ground in corners of Permanent Washington. The fiction promises big future benefits and power for his nonprofit.
But the appraisers, a vital bulwark in the U.S. mortgage market, should not feel aggrieved or insulted by Bunton’s recent pronouncements. For the long-tenured president of the 501(c)(3) is a highly evolved creature, uniquely adapted to thrive in that insular biome known as The Beltway. As they say about the unusual campus traditions at Texas A&M, ”from the outside looking in, you can’t understand it; from the inside looking out, you can’t explain it.” So, you’ll just have to trust Bunton.
You see, unique evolutionary pressures in this Galapagos-on-the-Potomac have expedited the forces of what biologists call “genetic drift.” It resulted in a highly evolved organism worthy of awe.
The reproductive cycle of the organism is unique. Spawning begins when water temperatures rise to between 65 to 75 degrees in the swamp tributaries. Its young emerge from their mothers’ loins fully formed, sporting $600 haircuts, manicured nails, Patek Philippe wristwatches and smartphones preloaded with contacts on “K” Street. In the case of Bunton, he was born with a powerful musculature, an immaculate push-broom mustache, and a keen appreciation for foreign travel.
Millions of tiny cilia – each 10,000 times more sensitive than the human nose – aid the organism in detecting sources of cash, junkets, power, sinecures, sweetheart investments, braised short ribs glazed with 100-year-old balsamic and desserts served in Baccarat crystal.
These cilia are contained in hundreds of cytoplasmic nodules near the organism’s olfactory nerve deep inside a central proboscis. The cilia are able to detect spoils in concentrations as low as one part per million. The non-homologous organism then attaches to the source in much the same way the red-tipped tube worm attaches to superheated hydrothermal vents at extreme ocean depths.
The creature has now detected the prospects of future cash in a cultural spasm in America that began around the time of the George Floyd killing. Bunton has now embraced a conspiracy theory stoked by those with an interest in weakening appraisers. These are the fintechs, nonbank lenders, homebuilders and Realtors and their allies, Fannie and Freddie. The wild narrative has been gaining ground in the D.C. cesspool. It holds that the nation’s appraisers are responsible for America’s racial wealth gap. The simplistic shoot-the-messenger rationale couldn’t be more daft. It’s equivalent to holding the nation’s thermometers to account for climate change.
Oft-cited research by the Brookings Institution has since been discredited (as has Brookings itself in recent payola allegations involving a foreign government). A handful of performative lawsuits, bankrolled by donation-seeking public-interest groups, have yet to be adjudicated. In an August 2021 report, the U.S. Federal Reserve looked for signs of racial discrimination in mortgage approvals using new data. It found no signs of discrimination.
“On a personal note,” wrote Bunton in his February 2023 newsletter, “I had the opportunity to attend a screening of the ABC documentary ‘Our America: Lowballed’ at the Brookings Institute with Foundation Trustee Jillian White who is featured in the film. It was gut-wrenching to hear stories from Black and brown families who have had to whitewash their homes in the face of appraisal bias. The differences in the appraisals they received were appalling. There is so much work that remains to be done on the issue of appraisal bias.”
Bunton, who is not an appraiser, is now squarely promoting the fiction that appraisers value homes based on the race of the property owner.
“Appraisal bias is undoubtedly the most critical issue facing the appraisal profession right now.” That’s his new message. His medium? The PDF he sells to captive licensees at $75 a pop as a corrective. That’s all you need to know.
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