In the News

"I don't think that anyone can assume that the appraised value of their home is based on reality. Appraisal fraud is so common that homeowners need to assume the opposite," says research director David Callahan of Demos, a public policy center. Demos released a report about appraisal fraud in March, sparking intense discussion in the real estate press.
 
No one knows exactly how often appraisers tinker with reality. But reports suggest that they face enormous pressure to tweak their numbers.
The numbers speak for themselves. Young adults have the second highest rate of bankruptcy and are more likely to file for bankruptcy than baby boomers were at the same age, according to a recent bankruptcy study by the nonprofit group Demos.
 
The new bankruptcy reform law that will take effect in October fails to address one of the root causes of bankruptcy, particularly among young adults: a lack of basic financial education.
A study by Demos found that 51 percent of households refinancing between 2001 and 2003 used home-equity loans to cover living expenses and pay down other debt such as credit-card debt.
 
The wealth of new services and flexible lending practices have brought more choice and price competition to the marketplace. But many of the innovations bring new hazards that can trip up unwary homeowners, costing them thousands in unnecessary expenses, draining value from their biggest investment, and, in the worst cases, turning their houses into debt traps.
Demos is a research institute based in New York City.
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Recently Demos, a New York City based think tank, issued a "briefing paper" titled How Widespread Appraisal Fraud Puts Homeowners at Risk. The introduction to the paper, written by David Callahan says in part: While many U.S.
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David Callahan, author of "The Cheating Culture: Why More Americans Are Doing Wrong to Get Ahead," chronicles rising numbers of people - not just in business - willing to cheat on their taxes, embellish resumes or lie to their auto insurance company about a claim.
 
"Americans who wouldn't so much as shoplift a pack of chewing gum are committing felonies at tax time, betraying the trust of their patients, misleading investors, ripping off their insurance company or lying to their clients," Callahan writes.
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"It's a shameful sign of our times," said David Callahan, research director at the public policy group Demos in New York, and Tim Doyle, director in government affairs for the Mortgage Bankers Association. "This is just another area in American life where a boom, with all its money to be made, brought out the worst in us," Callahan said.
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Like the Carmans, more seniors are heading into retirement still paying down mortgages or taking out home-equity loans.
For Americans buried under a mound of debt, getting a new start will be more difficult under a bankruptcy reform bill that President Bush is expected to sign by next week.
 
Public policy research group Demos says that increased filings are caused not by irresponsible consumerism but by a stagnant economy. Families turn to credit to make ends meet temporarily, said Tamara Draut, director of Demos' economic opportunity program.
"This is just another area in American life where a boom, with all its money to be made, brought out the worst in us," said Callahan. "The carrots for cheating are getting bigger, and even though the sticks are hitting harder, our watchdogs are asleep, so it's easy to get away with things."
 
Demos issued a report warning that conflicts of interest pervade the home loan trade, where inflated property values have delivered handsome benefits to lenders and realty agents, leaving homeowners to discover their dearth of equity.