Misuse of Terms “USPAP Certified Appraiser” and “USPAP Certified Appraisals” Threatens Public Trust

Misuse of Terms “USPAP Certified Appraiser” and “USPAP Certified Appraisals” Threatens Public Trust

(by David Maloney) There appears to be a growing use by appraisers of two USPAP-related terms which might be construed as being misleading, thus this caution.

In the first instance, an appraiser refers to him or herself as being a “USPAP Certified Appraiser.” In the second case, the appraiser states that he or she offers “USPAP Certified Appraisals.”

According to John Brenan, Director of Research and Technical Issues at The Appraisal Foundation, “The Appraisal Foundation does not certify appraisals or appraisers.” This alone should give one pause for using the two questionable terms, but there are additional reasons as well.

The Ethics Rule of USPAP prohibits advertising in a “false, misleading or exaggerated manner.” Doing so, of course, endangers public trust in the appraisal profession — and recall that maintaining the public’s trust is the primary reason for the development of USPAP in the first place. In addition, during deposition or testimony the opposing attorney might take an appraiser to task for promoting him or herself as being a “USPAP Certified appraiser” or offering “USPAP Certified appraisals” when The Appraisal Foundation itself has stated that no such type of appraisers or appraisals exist.

Why do appraisers use such terms? The first reason sometimes given for doing so is because they had successfully completed the 15-hour National USPAP Course and had received a piece of paper referred to as a “certificate of course completion” stating so. This is a dangerous route to take, as it violates the public’s trust by giving the impression that the appraiser has been certified by a bona fide certifying authority. Most professionals agree that a certificate of course completion does not equate to being certified by a recognized body that is empowered to do so. The former requires warming a seat and (maybe) passing a test. But the latter requires a certifying entity – usually a professional society or a governmental agency – attesting to the fact that an individual has done whatever it is that is required by that entity for the awarding of the “Certified” designation.

I think I can safely say that on every occasion in which I have been asked by a prospective client “Are you a certified appraiser?” the caller is really asking whether or not I have satisfied the requirements of a bona fide certifying body (i.e., a standard-setting organization authorized to train, test and attest to the fact that I have met all its requirements for becoming certified). Callers are definitely not interested in whether or not I simply have a piece of paper attesting to the fact that I completed a course which, by the way, may actually be only one of several steps required by a certifying body in order to become “Certified.” What the public is really interested in finding out is whether or not I have satisfied all the requirements of a bona fide certifying body.

By the way, I have never been asked if I am a Senior Member. Nor have I been asked if I am an Accredited or Associate Member. It is always, “Are you a CERTIFIED member?” That will never change. The term “certified” is ingrained in the public’s lexicon and always will be. We must strive, therefore, to make use of the term responsibly in a way that meets the public’s expectations and not in a manner that misleads or merely serves to puff our credentials.

On a related issue, I often explain to a caller that the various appraisal associations make use of different terms for different levels of designation. For instance, one association uses the term “Senior Member” while other associations use “Certified Member,” and while different, both terms represent the highest level of designation attainable within their respective societies. For clarity, the public should contact the associations to determine what their requirements are for earning the various designations, whether “accredited,” “senior member,” “certified,” etc.

Some also claim that the use of the term “USPAP Certified Appraisal” is appropriate and is not misleading because the inclusion in the appraisal report of the mandatory, signed USPAP certification causes the report to become “USPAP Certified.” I do not agree. I can find no justifiable link between an appraisal being “USPAP Certified” and the inclusion of the USPAP certification statement within a report. The USPAP certification is merely an attestation by the appraiser to certain elements of information contained in the report regarding the assignment. Simply including a USPAP certification in the report does not satisfy the public’s understanding (and, indeed, expectation) that a “USPAP certified appraisal” (if one existed) would be one which had been reviewed and found USPAP compliant by a bona fide credentialing authority. And there are no such entities which do so — certainly not The Appraisal Foundation.

In as much as USPAP was designed and is maintained with the express purpose of maintaining the public’s trust and confidence in the profession of appraising, to promote oneself as a “USPAP certified appraiser” or as one offering “USPAP certified appraisals” based on receiving a certificate of course completion or on the inclusion of a USPAP certification in a report does not meet the public’s expectations. As a result, doing so would appear to be misleading and in violation of the USPAP Ethics Rule regarding false, misleading or exaggerated advertising.

To be most accurate, we suggest that appraisers state in their promotional literature and Web sites that their appraisals are prepared “in compliance with USPAP.” And appraisers who have done so can also make mention in their curriculum vitae and promotional literature that they have attended and passed the 15-hour National USPAP Course taught by an ASB-certified National USPAP instructor.

The bottom line is that in order to preserve the public’s trust in the profession it is of paramount importance that, among other things, appraisers promote themselves in a manner which is not misleading. Moreover, regarding using the term “Certified,” it is imperative that such use be truthful, transparent and conforming to societal standards as well as to the public’s well-documented expectation of what is meant by the term “Certified.”

© 2009 David J. Maloney, Jr., AOA CM

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