Frequently Asked Questions

What is an appraisal?

An appraisal is a thought process leading to an opinion of value. This opinion or estimate is arrived at through a formal process that typically uses the three ''common approaches to value''. They are the Cost Approach - which is what it would cost to replace the improvements, less physical deterioration and other factors, plus the land value. There is the Sales Comparison Approach - which involves making a comparison to other similar, nearby properties which have recently sold. The Sales Comparison Approach is normally the most accurate and best indicator of value for a residential property. The third approach is the Income Approach, which is of most importance in appraising income producing properties - it involves estimating what an investor would pay based on the income produced by the property.

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Why and when should I get an Appraisal?

Every year, countless of people in the United States buy, sell or refinance their properties. Most, if not all, of these transactions include a simple line item for an appraisal. It has become an understood and accepted part of a real estate transaction. ''Let's bring in the expert and make sure we're not spending too much on this property.''

But is this the only reason to get an appraisal? Are there other times when the services of a certified, licensed, independent real estate professional might come in handy?

Property Tax Challenges

It's a running joke that every one has a different perspective of what a house is worth. And it's the tax assessor that seems to always come in at the high end of the scale! Challenging the tax assessment has become an annual ritual in many parts of the country. Unfortunately, most people go into these challenges unarmed. They may pull some information from the internet to support their claims, but have no real basis other than: ''It wasn't worth that much last year.''

A real estate appraiser can help in these situations. While it may not be economical to commission a full appraisals to lop a few hundred off your tax bill, often an appraiser can do a limited appraisal or neighborhood analysis for much less. These documents can carry a lot of weight when you appear before an appeals board.


PMI Removal

Private Mortgage Insurance or PMI is the supplemental insurance that many lenders ask home buyers to purchase when the amount being loaned is more than 80% of the value of the home. Very often, this additional payment is folded into the monthly mortgage payment and is quickly forgotten. This is unfortunate because PMI becomes unnecessary when the remaining balance of the loan - whether through market appreciation or principal paydown - dips below this 80% level. In fact, the United States Congress passed a law in 1998 (the Homeowners Protection Act of 1998) that requires lenders to remove the PMI payments when the loan-to-value ratio conditions have been met.

Many appraisers offer a specific service for home owners that believe they have met the 80% loan-to-value metric. For a nominal fee, the appraiser can provide you with a statement regarding the home value. Some will even take the next step and help you file a challenge with your mortgage company. The costs of these services are very often recovered in just a few months of not paying the PMI.


Pre-Sale Decisions

Before someone decides to sell a home, there are several decisions to be made. First and foremost: ''How much should it sell for?'' But first there may be other equally important questions to ask: ''Would it be better to paint the entire house first?'' ''Should I put in that third bathroom?'' ''Should I complete my kitchen remodel?'' Many things which we do to our houses have an effect on their value. Unfortunately, not all of them have an equal effect. While a kitchen remodel may improve the appeal of a home, it may not add nearly enough to the value to justify the expense.

Appraisers can step in and help make these decisions. Unlike a Realtor, an appraiser has no vested interest in what amount the house sells for. His fee is based on his efforts, not a percentage of the sales price. So seeking a professional appraisal can often help homeowners make the best decisions on investing in their homes and setting a fair sales price.


Estate Planning, Liquidation or Divorce

The loss of a loved one is a difficult time in life. Likewise, a divorce can be a particularly traumatic experience. Sadly, these events are often complicated by difficult decisions regarding the disposition of an estate. Unlike many wealthy individuals, the majority of Americans do not have dedicated estate planners or executors to handle these issues. Also, in most cases, a home or other real property makes up a disproportionate share of the total estate value.

Here too, an appraiser can help. Often the first step in fairly disposing of an estate is to understand its true value. Where property is involved, the appraiser can help determine the true value. At this point, equitable arrangements can more easily be arrived at among disputing parties. Everyone walks away knowing they've received a fair deal.

There are other uses for real estate appraisals. The highly-trained individuals behind these services are always looking for ways to put their expertise to work for home owners and the people who support them.

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How do I prepare for an Appraisal?

For homeowners, a real estate appraisal is the linchpin to buying or selling their home. It allows the property transactions to occur among the buyer, seller, real estate agent and mortgage lender.

Before an Appraiser arrives, there are a few things you should know. By law, an appraiser must be state licensed/certified to perform appraisals prepared for federally related transactions. Also by law, you are entitled to receive a copy of the completed appraisal report from your lender (not the appraiser).

To facilitate the appraisal process, it's beneficial to have these documents ready for the appraiser:

  • A plot plan or survey of the house and land (if readily available)

  • Information on the latest purchase of the property in the last three years

  • Written property agreements, such as a maintenance agreement for a shared driveway

  • List of personal property to be sold with the home

  • Title policy that describes encroachments or easements

  • Most recent real estate tax bill and or legal description of the property

  • Home inspection reports, or other recent reports for termites, EIFS (synthetic stucco) wall systems, septic systems and wells

  • Brag sheet that lists major home improvements and upgrades, the date of their installation and their cost (for example, the addition of central air conditioning or roof repairs) and permit confirmation (if available)

  • A copy of the current listing agreement and broker's data sheet and Purchase Agreement if a sale is "pending".

  • Information on "Homeowners Associations" or condominium covenants and fees.
    A list of "Proposed" improvements if the property is to be appraised "As Complete".

  • Once your appraiser has arrived, you do not need to accompany him or her along on the entire site inspection, but you should be available to answer questions about your property and be willing to point out any home improvements.

Here are some other suggestions:

  • Accessibility: Make sure that all areas of the home are accessible, especially to the attic and crawl space

  • Housekeeping: Appraisers see hundreds of homes a year and will look past most clutter, but they're human beings too! A good impression can translate into a higher home value

  • Maintenance: Repair minor things like leaky faucets, missing door handles and trim

  • FHA/VA Inspection Items: If your borrower is applying for an FHA/VA loan, be sure to ask your appraiser if there are specific things that should be done before they come. Some items they may recommend might be: Install smoke detectors on all levels (especially near bedrooms); install handrails on all stairways; remove peeling paint and repaint the effected area; provide inspection access to the attic and crawl space.

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