What Do Appraisers Look For When Determining A Property’s Value?

Most people are surprised to learn what appraisers actually look at when determining the value of a real estate property.

A common misconception homeowners generally have is that the value of their home is determined after the appraiser has completed their physical property inspection.

However, the appraiser actually already has a good idea of the property’s value by the time they have scheduled an appointment to stop by the property.

The good news is that you don’t have to worry so much about pushing back an appointment a few days just to “clean things up” in order to help influence the value of your property.

While a clean house will certainly make it easier for the appraiser to notice improvements, the only time you should be concerned about “clutter” is if it is damaging to the dwelling.

The Key Components Addressed In An Appraisal

The Site:

Location, view, topography, lot size, utilities, zoning, external factors, highest and best use, landscaping features…

Design:

Quality of construction, finish work, fixed appliances and any defining features

Condition:

Age, deterioration, renovations, upgrades, added features

Health & Safety:

Structural integrity, code compliance

Size:

Above grade and below grade improvements

Neighborhood:

Is the property conforming to the neighborhood?

Functional Utility:

Is the property functional as built – style and use?

Parking:

Garages, Carports, Shops, etc..

Other:

Curb appeal, lot size, & conforming to the neighborhood are obvious to the appraiser when they drive down into the neighborhood pull up in front of your home.

When entering your home, they are going to look at the overall design, condition, finish work, upgrades, any defining features, functional utility, square footage, number of rooms and health and safety items.

Be sure to have all carbon monoxide and smoke detectors in working condition.

Since the appraisal provides half the weight in any credit decision involving the security of real estate, the appraisal should be done by a qualified, licensed appraiser whom is familiar with your neighborhood, and the type of home you are buying, selling or refinancing.

If you’re interested in what specifically appraisers are looking for, here is a copy of the blank 1040 URAR form that is used by every appraiser in the country.

Related Update on HVCC:

Appraisers hired for a mortgage transaction on a conforming loan are chosen from a pool of qualified appraisers at random. Neither you nor your lender has the flexibility of deciding which appraiser will inspect your home.

This recent change was brought on with the Home Valuation Code of Conduct HVCC, and is effective with conventional loans originated on or after May 1, 2009.

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Five Myths About Home Values

During periods of economic growth, when home values are typically just going up, most homeowners do not question appraisals much.

And in times of turmoil when property values are declining, home sellers and even listing agents quite often question and pick apart appraisals.

However, the actual appraisal process changed very little over the course of the housing boom and bust cycle American homeowners witnessed between 2001 – 2009.

Since the topic of home values seems to be a hot discussion, let’s address the top five appraisal myths.

Appraisal Myths / Questions:

“I just put $15K into the property, why isn’t the appraised value higher? ”

Not all improvements to the property are equal in producing added value. A local real estate investment club used to tout buying a run-down, roach-infested property cheap, and after de-bugging and adding a fresh coat of paint and carpet – *presto* – the house would appraise like the new homes up the street.

Even with cosmetic repairs, the property may still be much more comparable to the foreclosure next door than the new home a block away. Look first to the “guts” of the property, the electrical, heating & air, etc. If they are updated, then the number of beds/baths and square footage are the next biggest weight, followed by a genuine updating of cosmetic improvements.

“But my home really compares to some of the properties in the neighborhood across the way…”

For example, if a homeowner preparing a house to sell adds $150,000 in upgrades to the kitchen, built-in cabinets and flooring, it may help the property show better in an open house and in magazine advertisements.

However, the seller might still be stuck with a $450,000 appraised value like the three comparable properties on their street vs the $750,000 they were hoping to list it for.

Even though the neighborhood across the main street had similar homes in the higher price range, especially after the seller’s extensive upgrades, appraisers will always use homes from the actual neighborhood to establish value first.

So basically, the seller simply over-improved their home for their specific neighborhood.

“This appraiser included foreclosures as comps – that’s not fair”

It isn’t fair, especially if your home is well-kept and in great condition compared to the run-down foreclosures in the neighborhood.

Unfortunately, if every recent sale, or nearly all sales, are foreclosures at reduced prices, then the appraiser is forced to use the recent sales and trends as comparable values.  High foreclosure rates generally depress values and show a trend of lowering prices.

And abnormally high foreclosure rates generally depress values and show a trend of constantly lowering value.

“But I just put in a $50K pool, doesn’t that count for anything?”

Pools and professional landscaping rarely see a dollar for dollar value add on a property.  The value is going to mainly be based on comparable sales in a neighborhood.

“How can similar homes in the same neighborhood appraiser for such different values?”

This is a typical question for older neighborhoods where similar models may have drastic price differences.

Additional rooms and square footage can be the main reason for one property appraising higher than another.

Keep in mind, just because the market trend in a particular neighborhood is improving over time, the individual properties need to meet the same conditional improvements as the others in order rise with the tide.

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An appraiser is looking at several things when determining the value of a property: improvements, size and square footage of the living area, neighborhood amenities, location and the market trends around the area.

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How Do Mortgage Companies Value A Property That Has Not Been Built Yet?

It’s obviously easier to picture the process of estimating value on an existing property in a neighborhood that has a history of home sales, but the task of determining the value on new construction projects does pose some challenges.

Appraisals on homes that haven’t been built yet generally require the contractor and home buyer to supply more documentation in order to get a more accurate estimate of the property’s value.

The main purpose of this article is to give an overview of the appraisal process for a home buyer that is building a home vs purchasing standing inventory.

For some, building a new home can be both exciting and overwhelming.  Watching a project transform from idea to completed home with a front yard, white picket fence and a custom red front door is a rewarding experience.

Even if you are paying attention to all of the information from the beginning, there are still several details that have a tendency to catch even experienced builders off guard.

Game time decisions have to be made as cabinets and corners line up differently than the initial drawing could show, flooring doesn’t match the wall colors, or the sun hits a window the wrong way at dinner time.

While the last minute updates may cost you more money, they might also have an impact on the value of the property.

What Does An Appraiser Need For New Construction?

Plans –

The plans or construction drawings are usually done by your builder or architect. It lays out the floor plan of your home, sizes of rooms and square footage of your home.

They should include a floor plan layout, front elevation, real elevation & side elevations, mechanical and electrical details.

Specifications / Descriptions Of Material –

A “Spec” sheet has the type of construction materials you will be using. For example, whether your home will be built with standard 2 x 4’s or 2 x 6’s.

It also contains the type of insulation, roofing and exterior products that will be used in the construction, as well as floors, counter tops and appliances for the inside dressing.

Cost Breakdown –

The document that breaks down all of the costs associated with the construction, including land, building materials and labor.

A lender can generally provide you with blank forms for the spec and cost breakdown if your builder does not have them.

Plot Plan –

Shows where your home will sit on the site, any accessory buildings, well and septic locations, if applicable, and the finish grade elevations and direction of the drainage.

Once the lender has obtained the above information from you, they will forward a copy to the appraiser. It is the appraiser’s job to determine what the future value of the home will be once it is completed, per your plans, specs & cost breakdown.

Even though an appraiser will use the cost approach in the appraisal report, it is not the value that will ultimately be used by the lender.  The market approach to value, which uses existing sales of homes similar in size, quality, construction and location is the most common approach that lenders want for new construction.

The more complete and detailed your plans, specifications and cost breakdowns are, the more accurate your appraisal will be.

Once your home is complete, the appraiser will be asked to go out and inspect the home. They will report back to the lender what they have found, whether your home was completed according to the plans and specifications originally given, and if the value is the same as originally given in the report.

Sometimes the value has to be adjusted due to changes that were made during construction which may have affected the value of the home.

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Frequently Asked Questions:

Q:  Where can I obtain a set of plans?

Most builders have basic plans they work from, and make modifications specific to their clients’ needs. When building a custom home, it’s generally a good idea to work with a reputable architect.

Q:  Is there a form I can use for the list of specifications?

Yes, HUD has a generic form that most lenders use and it will give the appraiser most of the details they need to complete your appraisal. Anything not listed on this form can be added by you separately on an additional sheet.

Q:  Can I use my contract with the builder for the cost breakdown sheet?

In most cases, the lender will accept the contract, however, they will want the builder to provide a cost breakdown to ensure that the builder has accurately bid your home.

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