Carol and Gregory Clark of Washington have filed a lawsuit against Countrywide Financial accusing the company of rigging the appraisal process "in a scheme to boost profits at the expense of homeowners and independent appraisers."

In a press release announcing the lawsuit, Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP claimed that "Countrywide forces homeowners to use its wholly owned subsidiary LandSafe, for appraisals. The company then turns around and subcontracts the work to independent appraisers while charging homeowners as much as 200% of the actual cost of the appraisal."

The lawsuit is seeking class-action status, and has been filed under the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Practices Act.

The legality of the matter aside -- Countrywide has not yet responded publicly to the allegations -- the personal finance message here is clear. Anytime that a provider of a service requires you to use an affiliate or subsidy for a service that could also be done by a third-party, you are being ripped off: If they weren't making money from the deal, why would they be so adamant about what lender or appraiser you use?

This will be an interesting case to watch. The allegations sound pretty serious but with all the terrible things about Countrywide that have come to light in the past year, nothing would surprise me at this point.

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