Two years ago I took out a mortgage with Countrywide. They sent an appraiser from Landsafe Credit and Closing services. He appraised my home at $340,000. I As my Mortgage was for $220,000- I had $120,000 in equity- which made me feel very secure.
Last month Countrywide contacted me to tell me that they could refinance my mortgage for a lower rate- I figured I could give it a try. Again they sent out an appraiser from Landsafe. My loan guy called me to tell me that my appraisal came in at $220,000. I was appalled - I live less than 1/10th of a mile from the beach in southern Maine. I own an 1820 cape on 1.51 acres. While i understand that housing values are down- they have not dropped at the same rate for coastal/waterfront properties in Maine. My loan officer said he was asking for a new appraiser immediately , he said something had to be wrong with this one because a drop of $100,000 was way off.
When he told me the second appraisal came back at $260,000 I was furious- I asked him to send it to me- (I never did see the first one) This appraiser had measured my house differently than any other appraiser ever had-
Where I had always had an 1820's cape- with 1758-1800 sq ft, 7 rooms ,4 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms- I know had 7 rooms, 3 bedrooms, 1 and 1.75 bath. My home was now measured at 1612 sq ft.
I called Countrywide- my loan officer said there was nothing he could do- he suggested I call Landsafe. But when I called Landsafe- they told me that they could only talk to their customer- Countrywide. At this point I was on the phone with Landsafe, while looking at their website which said they were owned by Countrywide. When I asked how it was that Countrywide owned then , and was also their customer- the operator got very mad at me and asked m where i got that information.
I ended up asking for her supervisor- Gina-who was very short with me also. She told me that I wasn't allowed to call Landsafe- if I had a problem with my appraisal I needed to take it up with Countrywide- after a few go arounds, I asked for her supervisor. She told me her supervisor-Buffy- was in a meeting and wouldn't be free for an hour. I said I would hold. For an hour. And if Buffy couldn't come to the phone, then Gina should get Buffy's supervisor on the phone. But I would wait all day.
five minuted later, I was speaking to Buffy, who told me that I need to go back to countrywide and ask for another appraisal- she advised that I submit in writing all of my objections to this most current appraisal- and supply any additional information to support my objections. She said my loan officer could then request another appraisal , and if the request was approved, they would be in contact with me o schedule it. She also said my loan officer would call me within the hour.
After my call with her, I found a number on Landsafe's website- to report concerns of ethical misconduct , which I did. I asked for the ethics officer to all me back.
My next call was to the appraiser. While I couldn't talk to her directly , I was able to talk to the owner of her agency, who gave me an earful about Countrywide/Landsafe.
Apparently, they have changed he rules on how they allow their appraisers to value houses. There are new rules for measuring . There are new rules for assessing what is and isn't a bedroom or a bathroom. For example- My house, having been built in the 1800's had one small closet built into it. We had added closet and storage space where ever possible, but our bedrooms do not have closets in them. The closets are in the hallway just outside of each bedroom -not as much of an inconvenience as it might sound. According to the new rules- without closets in the room, I do not have a bedroom, I have a den. They initially tried to say I had a no bedroom house, but I had 4 'dens'.
She also told me that the appraisers were told to find the two lowest price listings in the surrounding area- he subject house could not be appraised at a value higher than the these lowest priced listings, despite it's value. She said that Landsafe would send an appraisal back if it came in too high and ask the appraisers to 'rework the numbers'.
She said that two years ago, Countrywide/Landsafe were allowing their appraisals to overvalue properties so that they ( Countrywide) could approve all these big loans. Now that Countrywide was in so much trouble, she said they were undervaluing properties . She related one appraisal she had done for Countrywide last month. Once she submitted it to the , they automatically knocked $100,000 off the top 'just to be safe'. The end result was that the asking price was $100,000 over the estimated value of the house-the bank would't' finance it- the buyers would either have to put up the money themselves, or lose the property. The sellers would lose money if they chose to accept Landsafe's assessment of their home value.
She told me that she would assess my house at closer to $300,000- but Landsafe/Countrywide wouldn't accept that. She gave me the name and number of another lender and advised that I check everything out about Countrywide- read about the lawsuits etc, and when I was ready- think about terminating my business with them.
My loan officer had also said something about a 'crack down on the appraisers' so what she was saying didn't sound way off. It was also consistent with the appraisals I had.
Finally I spoke to he ethic officer at Landsafe, and I expressed my concerns about the lack of objectivity of the appraisers. I told him that it was my understanding that Landsafe was appraisal outcomes to it's appraisers - telling them when to overvalue and when to undervalue- for their own financial benefit and not in the best interest of their customers- we the loan-ee's.
Please, if this has happened to you- don't think that there is nothing you can do. Be a squeaky wheel. Make a fuss. Make people listen to you. This won't stop unless you do. I I know how this all works. I should, I also worked for Unum...
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