I received an email from a client today informing me that in order to continue to receive business from them, I needed to register for (at minimum) the free account at Clearbox, and they recommended that I go for the one with the background check ($30/year) since they expect that it "will soon become an industry compliance standard."
If you aren't familiar with Clearbox, they are a company based out of Salisbury MD and owned by Joan Trice, the owner of Appraisal Buzz newsletter. They market to lenders, AMC's and others, promising to ensure that their clients get "the best" appraisers and ensure that the lenders meet the CFPB requirement to provide evidence that they are ensuring that their relationships with outside vendors do not present "unwarranted risks".
Clearbox essentially wants every little detail about you, including recent photo, drivers license, SS# (required to get a background check), home phone numbers, mothers maiden name, etc. They then check what appears to be every possible source for additional information on you. Did you get a speeding ticket 2 years ago? It will be on that record. Got in a fight in college? That will be on there.
So here is my problem. Does the fact that I got a speeding ticket 2 years ago (I didn't, but for arguments sake...) make me a bad appraiser? Of course not. But will a client of Clearbox start sorting with the appraisers that have absolutely no marks on their record? Probably, since that would be the easiest way to choose your appraisers, right? "Why even mess with this guy? I see he has a mark against him, why waste the time to figure out what it is, what his side of the story is, or if it has any bearing on his ability to produce a good appraisal, when I can just choose these others that don't have that mark?"
Secondly, I think Clearbox is doing a great sales job on these lenders. Just like outsourcing to an AMC allowed lenders to say "Oh look, we don't have anything to do with the ordering process so there is no way we could be pressuring anyone!" (a total lie, they just pressured the AMC to pressure appraisers), this just seems like the same thing. And does it really absolve them of any responsibility? If an appraiser -- with a spotless record -- has a bad day and decides to take a swing at the obnoxious homeowner, is the lender any less responsible according to CFPB then if that guy had two previous convictions for fighting? Not according to any attorney I know. They will be in court, and paying for it either way.
To some degree I applaud Joan, since she saw a niche, created some fear and doubt, and is successfully selling her product. It's the American way. And realistically, $30 is no big deal. How do you say "No" to a client sending a dozen orders per month over $30? But I am NOT happy about providing a lot of personal information that I don't see as relevant in any way to how good of an appraiser I am. Oh, and did I mention Clearbox wants to test your skills and rate you? Really? I can't imagine some of the really senior appraisers out there that have been practicing for 30+ years will be taking an online test so some company they just had to pay money to will benevolently grant them status as a "knowledgeable appraiser".
Another thing to remember is that Clearbox is not the be-all, end-all in this space. Many AMC's and lenders contract with her competitors, so it is entirely possible that you will have to register with multiple companies, since they won't accept each others background checks and records.
Unfortunately, this is something the state appraisal boards and the ASC should have been doing for years now. Every time you renew, they should run a background check on you, and build it into your renewal fee. Now, once again, we have more people digging into our pockets for the remaining crumbs of money we used to make...