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New Federal Rule Exempts Nearly One-Third of Commercial Property Sales from Appraisals

Doubling of Loan Price Threshold to $500,000 Removes Appraisal Requirement from More Than $65 Billion in U.S. Commercial Properties
April 27, 2018
Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, Constitution Center, Washington, D.C.


A new federal rule doubling the threshold for commercial real estate deals requiring an independent appraisal will reduce the time, cost and regulatory burden associated with processing smaller real estate deals, banking and real estate analysts say.

The Federal Reserve Board, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency adopted new rules exempting commercial property sales of $500,000 or less from the appraisal requirement. Regulators originally proposed raising the minimum from the current $250,000 to $400,000 but bumped it up to $500,000 after determining the higher threshold posed "no material loss risk to financial institutions."

Under the new rule which used CoStar's comparable sales data and repeat-sale indices to track pricing changes and other sales metrics over time, financial institutions must still perform a property evaluation for deals of $500,000 and below, but do not have to engage an independent appraiser.

"Deregulation is a major theme of the Trump Administration and this updated regulation is a smart move," according to Justin Bakst, CoStar director of capital markets. "Moving the [sale] threshold up to $500,000 creates very little additional risk to the system," he added.

Comps Data Used to Track Smaller Deals


In determining the level of increase, the agencies considered the change in prices for commercial properties measured by the Federal Reserve's Commercial Real Estate Price Index (CRE Index). Since 2012, the CRE Index has been compiled using data from the CoStar Commercial Repeat Sale Index (CCRSI) as one of its data sources.

"The agencies examined data reported on the call report and data from the CoStar Comps database to estimate the volume of commercial real estate transactions covered by the existing threshold and increased thresholds," according to the final rule.

Bakst said the agencies determined the small transactions affected by the new threshold, while large in number, did not create the type of leverage and risk that contributed to the last financial crisis. Banks have healthier capital ratios today and commercial real estate leverage has largely remained well under control, he added.

Banks can perform acceptable loan evaluations in house using sources of comparable sales data like CoStar, Bakst added.

"Although the property sales total affected by this rule change is a drop in the bucket compared with overall commercial property volume, the cost savings are noteworthy," Bakst said. "For example, if we estimate appraisal costs at between $2,000 and $4,000 per transaction, this represents an aggregate savings of $300 million to $600 million."

Banking regulators carved out an exception for construction loans on one- to four-family residential properties, which will no longer be included in the same category as commercial property loans to avoid potential confusion with single-family permanent financing and as an added consumer protection for home buyers. The sale threshold for appraisals on those properties will remain unchanged at $250,000.

Lower Threshold Was a 1990s Relic


Financial industry analysts who commented on the rule change said that the previous commercial transaction threshold had not kept pace with the price appreciation of commercial property.

For example, the average price of a property valued at $250,000 when regulators set the previous minimum threshold 24 years ago in 1994 has now more than tripled to $760,000. Raising the threshold to $500,000 provides a recession-resistant buffer, Bakst said.

Under the new $500,000 threshold, 31.9 percent of property sales in the CoStar database would be exempt from the appraisal requirement. In terms of dollar volume, however, the properties now exempt from appraisals comprise just 1.8% of the overall dollar volume of loans in the CoStar database.

Before the final rule was approved, there were 13 different categories of loan transactions that qualified for exemption from the appraisal requirement, including a general exemption for all real estate-related transactions with a value of $250,000 or less. The new rule adds a 14th exemption for “commercial real estate transactions” not secured by a single 1-to-4 family residential property.

“For commercial real estate transactions exempted from the appraisal requirement as a result of the revised threshold, regulated institutions must obtain an evaluation of the real property collateral that is consistent with safe and sound banking practices," the new rule states.

Are Small Loans Risky for Small Banks?


Some critics, namely appraisers, take issue with the agency findings. James L. Murrett, president of the Chicago-based Appraisal Institute trade association representing nearly 19,000 appraisal professionals in about 60 countries, said raising the threshold is "confounding" given concerns expressed by the same agencies about commercial property pricing and loan risk management.

The OCC and Fed have warned that rapidly appreciating property prices in some commercial property segments and rising concentrations of commercial property loans, particularly among smaller banks with $1 billion to $10 billion in assets, could heighten risk to the nation's banking system.

"Without a doubt, the final rule increases risk to the commercial real estate lending system," Murrett said. “Seen through the lens of loosening regulations, the final rule may make sense. But from a safety and soundness perspective, the final rule raises significant concerns.”

Murrett said that an increase in property evaluations without appraisers will likely cause a return to the conditions during the run-up to the financial crisis, when "appraisal and risk management were thrust aside to make more, not better, loans."

Smaller institutions, which are less likely to maintain appraisal departments, are more likely to be susceptible to breakdowns in appraisal independence with fewer controls in place, he added.

Murrett said the decision increases the importance of modernizing the regulatory structure governing appraisals, including positioning appraisers to better offer evaluation services.

"Appraisers need to be nimbler in today’s marketplace - not only to compete, but to help maintain safety and soundness of the real estate financial system.”

Big Shops Don't Play in Small Loan Pools


Appraisal operations in the largest commercial real estate services companies likely won't be affected by the rule change since their main business is more sophisticated and involves providing valuations for complex property assets priced above $500,000, said John Busi, president of the valuation and advisory group at Newmark Knight Frank.

The appraisal world is getting faster and cheaper and this change creates efficiency for the banking regulators to be a little more nimble and relax some of the standards put in place after the financial crisis," Busi said.

"Of course appraisers are going to be upset by it because many have had business on commercial property under $500,000," said Busi. But he added that smaller appraisal shops should be nimble enough to adapt and bring in work without suffering a large decline in fees.

"We view the recent increases in thresholds for appraisal requirements as an opportunity for lenders, borrowers, and appraisers," added Chris Roach, CEO with BBG, one of the nation's largest pure-play valuation and appraisal companies with 27 U.S. offices.

Roach said BBG's valuation specialists have evolved from a traditional appraisal practice to a more diverse valuation practice for a variety of clients.

"We stand by our high-quality valuation products, no matter the size of the loan," Roach said. "But with these revised loan amount guidelines, we are well-positioned for growth in our evaluation product."


Randyl Drummer, Senior News Reporter  CoStar Group   
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