Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Redlining with Appraisals

Having been in the real estate industry for many years I am no stranger to the relationship of a real estate appraisal and how much a bank would be willing to lend on real estate. In today's lending environment banks are concerned more than ever about the "Loan to Value" or LTV they are lending on.

            In years past, banks were lending on appraised values that everyone knew were over inflated. And yet lend they did by the billions. It made no sense whatsoever and anyone who really understood real estate watched in disbelief, if not in shock at the loans made. Of course we now know that everyone is paying the price for taking an appraisal at face value even when good judgment tells you otherwise. Have the banks learned from this? Judging from recent experiences, NO!

            A few loans I have been involved with only show banks have simply reversed the pendulum.  Just as they relied exclusively in the past on appraisals for LTV, they continue to do so today except, towards the other extreme. The problem is that the appraisals are being made based on market values for a given type of real estate in a given area. That sounds logical but is it real?

            In a market where foreclosures and short sales are common place, is it really fair to value a piece of real estate in comparison to another sold entirely in distress? My answer would be, not always! The banks claim; why shouldn't they rely on the appraisal if another buyer can buy very similar real estate at a much lower price? Although that may be true of a "purchase", in cases were a "refinance" is being made, the situation is different.  Is the borrower in distress? Is the cash flow and ability to repay good? Does the borrower have a good credit rating? Does the debt to income ratio fall in line with lending policy?

             When the bank has a refinance that is all positive and there is a slight difference between appraised value and the amount of the outstanding loan the bank should commit to renewing the loan even if the LTV is slightly off. Why? Because it is good business and economic sense.  There is no doubt in my mind banks have an important role to play in stabilizing real estate values. Latitude in this area truly improves overall real estate values and it rewards consumers who have been responsible and simply have been caught in what everyone knows will be a temporary market fluctuation.

            Instead banks lend a blind eye to circumstances, force existing borrowers to fork-over additional cash to bring the LTV into the banks guidelines. This leaves a bad taste in the consumers mouth, slows economic recovery and continues the decline in real estate values in a given market.

            The current climate in bank lending really is a form of economic "redlining". It is a policy that says, we know you are a good borrower, you have the cash, the repayment ability but, since other people in your neighborhood were less frugal, took big risks and overleveraged themselves we refuse to lend to you based on the fact your neighbors don't have the right financial color.

            Are these the same banks that took our tax dollars? Is this legal? Are the appraisals rigged to recapitalize banks? Who's looking at this? 

The Business of Change

The Business of Change
Throughout my business career I have had the opportunity to make significant contributions towards changing the overall operating plan if not the culture of a few business ventures. This change always came from an executive management level but in the end relied heavily on the abilities of the general operating staff.

The general industry term for people who are brought on to make operating changes is "Change Agent". Historically, change agents are hired consultants or at times in-house management appointed with special responsibilities and authority to make changes happen. Successful change agents are a breed of operational managers that are unique.  Assuming someone with an MBA and years of business experience is a change agent is like assuming a vet would be a good pediatrician.

I can tell you from experience that being a change agent is incredibly hard work. Not only do you spend a great deal of time understanding the business,  you also spend a lot of time practicing business psychology convincing people that new will be better, to give up the old ways and to look towards a brighter future. This is not an easy task, even when you have true believers. I guess this is because, part of change is that you have to deal with uncertainty, perhaps some pain and in the end most people have difficulty in being able to create reality out of a mere vision. To add to this state of anxiety, change usually occurs over time and not overnight. It is a challenge over time.

So what are some of the basic needs of creating change in business? It really varies from company to company and what type of change you are trying to implement. Nonetheless, there are some bare basic principles.

Start with a vision of what you want to accomplish.
This can be general at first but then you really have to do your homework. Get to all the details of what needs to happen. Then contemplate what will go wrong, how you will get trumped up and how you plan to recover from the inevitable plan that goes wrong. Then start again and rework the details until you know that you can accomplish the vision.

Evaluate the company. 
Again really do your homework. What is the ability of the overall staff. Sometimes you need to bring in new employees with new skills, sometimes you can train. Sometimes you need some temporary help to get it all done. Very important is to assess the ability of top management to tolerate change and the eventual chaos that sometimes emerges. Do they all understand the challenges, the risks, the rewards. Sometimes you have to campaign and get people to sign on before you can contemplate change. I can not stress this part enough because in this process not only do you get people to buy into change but they also provide great insight and help make for a better plan. It also forms a channel of communication that may never have existed before. Make sure you understand what the company is good at and what it does poorly. Be honest not just with yourself but with those who asked you to perform.

Do you have all the tools to make the changes.
Again really do your homework. What will the changes affect. For example a new computer system may require upgrades of computers, faster internet speeds, more workstations. A new marketing plan may require a better telephone system or a CRM (Customer Relationship Management ) system, or new delivery mediums. Think of work flows and everything it takes to complete the business mission.

Establish clear communications with all levels and in all departments.
Here we are in the information age, high tech everything. Emails, texts, walkie talkie telephones, cell phones, smart phones, PDA's, internets, intranets, voicemail, Skype and video conferencing. You can't even go to the bathroom in peace anymore. And yet.......the left hand does not know what the right is doing. Communicate with your people. Know how to talk to all levels of the workforce and be patient. Remember that communication requires "more listening" and very "specific language" to get the messages flowing in "both" directions. Sometimes it's repetition, illustration and explanation of causes and effects as well as confirmation of "message received". Be a teacher and a student. I have learned the neatest tricks from low level staff and taught the big bosses new tricks that make their work life better. 

Give praise, thanks and be humble.
I started out by saying being a change agent is really hard work. It can also be a lot of fun that is extremely rewarding. I have found that it is especially important to recognize people who make it all work. Give them thanks for trying, especially when things don't go quite as planned. If the plan was well conceived then a recovery should be possible from most mishaps. Remember that team work is very important and helping people accomplish tasks and learn is very rewarding. Pay attention to what people are doing and recognize their efforts and contributions, no matter how small or trivial.  Laugh, crack those jokes and know that no matter how successful your plan may be you could not get it done if not for the management and all the people who make it possible. Don't ever take credit for their effort.

Still contemplating the business makeover? Have a lot of questions? I might be available for a long lunch.