The property appraisal industry has lately been a focal point in the national conversation on race and discrimination. Claims of racial bias influencing appraisals came up during a House Financial Services Subcommittee hearing in 2019. More recently, similar allegations have appeared in the media. The accusations are serious, so it’s important to understand not only the role of an appraiser in financial transactions but what actions the industry is taking to gain and maintain public trust.
Real estate licensees often advocate for their clients in a sales transaction. Appraisers have a much different role. By definition, an appraiser must be independent, impartial, and objective.
The Appraisal Foundation’s Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice prohibit appraisers from advocating for the cause or interest of any party or issue. Further, USPAP states an appraiser must not perform an assignment with bias and must comply with all laws, regulations, and applicable client requirements. The commonly used Uniform Residential Appraisal Report requires a signed certification by the appraiser that states, in part:
“I have no present or prospective personal interest or bias with respect to the participants in the transaction. I did not base, either partially or completely, my analysis and/or opinion of market value in this appraisal report on the race, color, religion, sex, age, marital status, handicap, familial status, or national origin of either the prospective owners or occupants of the subject property or of the present owners or occupants of the properties in the vicinity . . . .”
Many licensed and certified appraisers are also members of the National Association of REALTORS®. Article 10 of the REALTOR® Code of Ethics prohibits discrimination in professional service, while Article 11 requires REALTOR® appraisers to provide services conforming to the standards of practice expected of those in the field.
These unambiguous standards have existed for decades, so what is the basis for the heightened allegations? Are there just a few outliers acting badly, or is there a pervasive problem? We are taking a hard look. Appraisers are neutral data researchers and analysts, but we are also human and have faults. Even without ill intent, some may not always competently adhere to appraisal standards.
Recognizing the urgency of maintaining public trust, industry leaders will continue to address allegations of illegal conduct. Here are a few of the efforts being made by the profession.
- TAF created a subcommittee two years ago— now the Special Committee on Diversity and Inclusion—to promote diversity in the valuation profession.
- Late in 2020, TAF co-sponsored a two-day symposium on fair housing to look at bias and illegal discrimination.
- Revisions of the 7-hour National USPAP Update course, which must be completed every two years, are expected to include a significant segment on fair housing, bias, and illegal discrimination.
- The Appraisal Standards Board released Advisory Opinion 16–Fair Housing Laws: Avoiding Bias in Real Property Appraisal and Appraisal Review Development and Reporting for comment.
- NAR’s Real Property Valuation Committee is examining allegations of bias in real property appraisal, successfully engaging more diverse practitioners, and encouraging a study to assess the prevalence of bias.
Allegations of bias and illegal discrimination in appraisal will not be ignored by the valuation profession, because our reputation is all we have to hang our hat on! To uphold public trust and the integrity of our appraisal standards, the profession needs to elevate awareness about bias, seek cooperation to investigate allegations fairly and thoroughly, and enforce violations with vigor.
The views and opinions presented are those of the authors and do not represent those of organizations with which they are affiliated.