Appraisers Pressured to Inflate Home Values as the Real Estate Market “Softens”

With home prices falling–or at least slowing down–real estate appraisers are facing greater pressure to overstate home values. The pressures come from all sides, but this is not really new. The pressure may be great now, but it has always been there. The greater the home price, the higher commissions will be, the more interest will be recovered by lenders, etc. With sales slowing, it becomes more and more important for those parties to increase the value of each sale.

A greater appraised home value, of course, does not mean that the home is worth more. It means that the happy new homeowner is stuck with a loan greater than the amount they can expect to recover on sale. If this trend is truly occurring, then it does not bode well for the housing market in years to come.

National Consumer Protection Week

February 4-10 is officially National Consumer Protection Week, by proclamation of President George W. Bush. Kudos to Dubya for this one.

During National Consumer Protection Week, citizens are urged to learn more about the risks of fraud and identity theft and take precautions to protect themselves from these crimes.

So do it! That is what this website is all about, of course. Every week is Consumer Protection Week at Caveat Emptor! Consumerist also has some great links to help you do just that.

Sober Houses Ensconced in a Gray Area

Those addicted to alcohol and other drugs end up in sober houses for a variety of reasons. Some are there by court order. Others have nowhere else to go, having been kicked out of their “normal” apartments. Still others are completing their treatment, encouraged to move into the sober house after completing an inpatient treatment program, hopeful that the sober house will help them fend off a relapse.

These “sober houses,” however, are not treatment. The owners are not licensed treatment providers and do not administer any treatment. However, all impose onerous conditions on their “clients.” No boyfriends or girlfriends while in the house, multiple AA meetings per week, and giving up all remedies under state landlord-tenant law.

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“You mean I can tell my landlord to call my lawyer? Cool.”

It’s been a busy few days. I’ve been helping consumers in the legal trenches rather than by offering information and pontification online. I wanted to relate a short anecdote because being involved in it warmed my heart.

Yesterday, I met with a potential client whose landlord has been charging the client for electricity and gas used not only in his apartment, but in the common areas, as well. At one point, the tenant upstairs even ran an extension cord from the common area to her own apartment so she could mooch electricity. Finally fed up, the potential client called Xcel Energy and asked about his situation. Xcel came out and did what they should have: they sent the bill to the landlord and too the potential client’s name off the utility bills. But then the landlord tried to bill him for the amount of the bill, anyway!

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Another Rebuttal to “Defining and Detecting Predatory Lending”

Dr. Morgan is under fire again, this time by the Center for Responsible Lending, which offers a far more in-depth critique of Morgan’s study than I did. CRL tears into the nitty-gritty and finds that not only is Morgan’s logic flawed, but so are his statistics.

Form Letters for Tenants

HOME Line offers eight useful forms for Minnesota tenants on their website. (They also offer great free information to tenants if you call their hotline.) The following form letters are available:

  • Demand for property
  • Guest rights (if your landlord is trying to limit your visitors)
  • Neighbor violations
  • Privacy letter
  • Repair request
  • Sample residential lease (okay, not a letter, but useful)
  • Security deposit

Use these letters (1) if you are a renter in Minnesota, and (2) at your own risk.

More on the Myth of the Rational Borrower

The next installment of “The Myth of the Rational Borrower” by Ted Janger & Susan Block-Lieb is now up on Credit Slips. In this post, the professors examine their predictions about the effects of BAPCA of their “heuristic borrower” is more accurate:

  • That the consumer bankruptcy filing rate would fall (no big surprise there).
  • That the credit card charge-off rate would fall, but rebound.
  • That consumers’ ex ante borrowing decisions would not be altered by restricted availability of the bankruptcy discharge.

The result? Not perfectly right, but right nonetheless. Their hypothesis that the average borrower is not the rational picture the industry likes to pretend in public seems to be about right.

“Godless Bloodsucking Arbitration”

I check my site stats regularly, and was thrilled to find that someone typed the above search phrase into Google and ended up here at Caveat Emptor. When I checked the search, I was tickled pink to find out that Caveat Emptor is the first hit when you search for “godless blood sucking arbitration” (leave out the quotes when searching).

All is right with the world. Except for the godless bloodsucking arbitration portion of it, that is.

Litigation Roundup: Trial Lawyers for Public Justice

TLPJ’s Fall 2006 newsletter just came to my attention, and it is full of consumer law news. Here is a summary:

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The Anti-EULA, the anti-EULA.

READ CAREFULLY. By [accepting this material|accepting this payment|accepting this business-card|viewing this t-shirt|reading this sticker] you agree, on behalf of your employer, to release me from all obligations and waivers arising from any and all NON-NEGOTIATED agreements, licenses, terms-of-service, shrinkwrap, clickwrap, browsewrap, confidentiality, non-disclosure, non-compete and acceptable use policies (“BOGUS AGREEMENTS”) that I have entered into with your employer, its partners, licensors, agents and assigns, in perpetuity, without prejudice to my ongoing rights and privileges. You further represent that you have the authority to release me from any BOGUS AGREEMENTS on behalf of your employer.

I don’t know if this stuff is enforceable, but I don’t know if EULAs are enforceable in the first place. I guess if you can waive your rights because of the privilege of pulling some shrink wrap off a package you already own, corporations can disclaim their EULAs in exchange for the privilege of reading your t-shirt.