In today’s market, where many property values are depressed, and short sales and bank-owned foreclosures are commonplace, a fair appraisal is critical to ensuring you garner fair market value for your home when selling or refinancing.
By definition, a real estate appraisal, property valuation, or land valuation is the process undertaken to assess the property’s market value, which is the price at which the property would trade in a competitive market setting i.e. the real estate market. An appraiser provides a report of the value opinion of a property, taking into account factors such as square footage, upgrades and location. These reports are then used as the basis for determining the value of the home for mortgage loans, settling estates and divorces, tax matters, or setting the sale price, among other things. In short, appraisers are influential when it comes to affecting the outcome of a refinance or sale.
According to certified real estate appraiser, Barbara “Buffy” Francuz, a competent appraiser may go beyond the minimal research the lender would require an appraiser to consider when assigning value to a home.
“Lenders usually only require appraisers to provide evidence of three recent sales, one active listing, and one pending listing in a small geographical area,” said Francuz. “An appraiser should be geographically competent, meaning they will have educated themselves about the nuances of the neighborhoods they are appraising. They’ll pay attention to location, condition, square footage and zoning, and will consider multiple comparables prior to selecting those to be used in a report.”
In fact, Francuz says zoning is often overlooked when selecting comparable properties. Area boundaries tend to be somewhat convoluted in Culver City; even though homes in a neighborhood may have the same postal zip code, they can be zoned differently, and may actually not even be within Culver City at all.
If an appraisal comes back lower or higher than anticipated, or if there is some question as to the validity of the value, ask the lender for the report. Be proactive if you believe the appraiser has not used comparables similar, or properly adjusted, to your property.
Contrary to popular belief, there are ways to assure your property is appraised appropriately.
• Make sure the MLS record is filled out in its entirety.
Too often, real estate agents will neglect to fill in areas of the MLS, such as the type of heating system, a/c, garages, fireplaces, included equipment, etc. The descriptions are often flowery, using words like “cozy or cute home”, but neglecting to get down to the nitty-gritty, such as including the size and availability of closet or storage space, or listing if the kitchen is original, or how many of the bathrooms have been upgraded. Make sure your listing agent or broker includes details that are informative and factual, which entices buyers, but also assists appraisers.
• Include multiple photographs in your MLS listing.
Clear, descriptive photos show a lot about a home to both buyers and appraisers. The old adage “a picture’s worth a thousand words” rings true here. If a possible comparable has no, or few, photos, the appraiser has no way to judge the aesthetic value of any upgrades. In short, photos help both you and your neighbor, because they provide a more accurate representation of what condition a home is in when it sells.
• Clean up.
Make the bed, do the dishes, put away the laundry. Though cleanliness is not part of the opinion of value, remember that photographs of your home are included in an appraisal report for all to see.
• Make an appointment and stick to it.
If you know you can’t be at the home at the appointed time, have your Realtor meet them, or enlist the help of a friend knowledgeable about your home. Make sure the appraiser has access to the full exterior of your property, as well as the interior. Make yourself available to answer the appraiser’s questions regarding upgrades that may not be visible (did you replace your gas or sewer line, upgrade the electrical or plumbing?) In essence, give them as much information as possible to help them write an accurate report.
Sometimes, you may feel like the appraiser did not do a great job. If you feel that your property was represented incorrectly, or that the reported value opinion was too low or too high, challenge it. Review the report; ask questions regarding the specifics noted above. Appraisers should be able to stand behind their reports with supporting documentation, so if you don’t get a satisfactory explanation of the reasoning behind the appraisal, make it known to your lender.
Heather Coombs Perez and Heart Realtors are part of Culver City’s award-winning Cavanaugh Realtors team, and are committed to Culver City schools and the community through their Gifts From The Heart program. You can reach Heather at 310-259-7419 or at [email protected]. You can also visit the website at www.heartrealtors.com for more information.
Barbara “Buffy” Francuz is a certified real estate appraiser and can be reached at [email protected] or at 213-413-2460.