First appraiser suit against Wells Fargo and Rels claims companies blacklist appraisers.
SEATTLE – Today two real-estate appraisers filed a proposed class-action lawsuit against Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC) and Rels Valuation, an appraisal management service, claiming the two organizations pressured and intimidated appraisers to deliver artificially inflated home appraisal values to help close loans and increase profits.
The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco under the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Practices Act (RICO), claims that beginning in 2004 Wells Fargo and Rels colluded to punish appraisers who refused to inflate appraisals by denying them future appraisal work.
Rels is one of the largest appraisal management companies in the country, acting as an intermediary between banks and appraisers. Appraisers, by law, are intended to be independent and autonomous from the influences of others, but according to the complaint are compelled to do the bidding of Rels, and through them Wells Fargo.
“We plan to show Rels effectively tells the appraisers what they want to see in the valuation, and if they don’t deliver, they are locked out of future work,” said Steve Berman, the attorney representing the plaintiffs and managing partner of Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro.
According to Berman, Rels provides the appraiser with a predetermined figure called the ‘Borrower Estimated Value’ and expects the appraisers to deliver reports with values exceeding the Rels-supplied figures.
“We heard from appraisers who say that after providing bona-fide appraisals that come in below what Rels wants, the company contacts them and strongly suggests they reevaluate the property,” Berman noted. “If an appraiser refuses, we contend Rels simply refuses to use them again.”
Don Pearsall and Timothy Savage both claim Wells Fargo tried to strong-arm each of them into inflating appraisal values, violating the laws and regulations of the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP). The USPAP rules clearly state an appraiser must not accept an assignment that includes the reporting of predetermined opinions and conclusions - something the lawsuit claims Rels does on a regular basis.
According to the compliant, Rels and Wells Fargo have given appraisers predetermined comparable properties to base appraisals, further compromising the appraisers’ independence.
Plaintiff Pearsall, a long-time appraiser, completed an appraisal for Wells Fargo and Rels in 2007. After submitting his report, Rels asked that he alter the report to reflect the company’s desired views on the property.
After refusing, the suit claims Rels blacklisted Pearsall, stripping him of a large portion of his income.
Timothy Savage, an appraiser in Vail, Colorado, also submitted two appraisals to Rels in 2009, which the company rejected, asking him to increase the appraisal values. After refusing, Savage received a letter from Rels informing him that he is no longer included on the approved panel of appraisers, the suit claims.
“We’ve heard from appraisers across the country sharing similar stories - bullied into inflating prices and blacklisted when refusing,” Berman added. “Apparently the treatment that both Tim and Don experienced is the same for hundreds, if not thousands of appraisers.”
The lawsuit seeks to represent all state-licensed or state-approved appraisers nationwide who’ve been removed as an approved appraiser by Wells Fargo or Rels Valuation. The suit asks for treble damages and is the first lawsuit filed on behalf of appraisers against Wells Fargo and Rels.
You can learn more about this case by visiting www.hbsslaw.com/appraisers . If you’ve performed appraisals for Wells Fargo or Rels Valuation and been blacklisted, you can also contact attorneys at [email protected].
About Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro
Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro is based in Seattle with offices in Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Francisco and New York. Since the firm’s founding in 1993, it has developed a nationally recognized practice in class action and complex litigation. Among recent successes, HBSS has negotiated a pending $300 million settlement as lead counsel in the DRAM memory antitrust litigation; a $340 million recovery on behalf of Enron employees which is awaiting distribution; a $150 million settlement involving charges of illegally inflated charges for the drug Lupron, and served as co-counsel on the Visa/Mastercard litigation which resulted in a $3 billion settlement, the largest anti-trust settlement to date. HBSS also served as counsel in a $850 million settlement in the Washington Public Power Supply litigation and represented Washington and 12 other states in lawsuits against the tobacco industry that resulted in the largest settlement in the history of litigation. For a complete listing of HBSS cases, visit www.hbsslaw.com .