Real Estate Appraisal: Definition, Cost & How It Works
A real estate appraisal is a report by a certified inspector that determines the value of a property based on its features and condition. Buyers compare this value to the home price to ensure there is not a large discrepancy. Appraisals are also required by lending institutions to secure loans for the purchase of property.
How a Real Estate Appraisal Works
A home appraisal is an independent report about what a property is worth and how much the buyer should pay for it. To secure an appraisal as part of the homebuying process, the buyer or the mortgage lender researches appraisal companies, determines the best fit based on price and reviews, and hires a company. Once a seller accepts an offer letter, the buyer schedules a visit from a real estate appraiser to determine the value of the home.
To find a qualified appraiser, a buyer typically works either with the lender or with their real estate agent to determine best options. These are reviewed and vetted based on price and testimonials from prior clients. Then the appraiser is selected and conducts a full home appraisal after the seller accepts the buyer’s offer.
During the on-site appraisal of the property, the home appraiser looks for any damage and potentially costly repairs. He or she will also consider sales prices of comparably sized homes in the area to help determine the amount that the house should sell for in the current market. After considering these factors, the appraiser determines a home value that the lending institution uses as the basis for its final loan amount. This also serves to validate the initial buyer offer.
The report of the appraiser reinforces that the house is a sound investment for the buyer and the lending company. If the property is valued significantly lower than the initial offer, however, then the buyer can renegotiate the offer price.
Real Estate Appraisal Costs
A residential real estate appraisal costs between $300 and $400, depending on the area and the company. The cost for a real estate appraisal is determined by the size of your home, the location of your property, and the company you pick to do the inspection.
Elements of a Real Estate Appraisal
A real estate appraisal is comprised of four main parts, including the property description, market information, best use, and property valuation. Collectively, these four pieces are used by the lender to determine the home loan amount.
These are the four main sections of a real estate appraisal:
- Property description: This is the section where the appraiser details the basic information about the property―sometimes with pictures―like the number of rooms, square footage, attached land size, and other features unique to the property.
- Market information: This area of the report focuses on the neighborhood, trends in real estate in this location, how the market is developing, and what other houses with similar features are selling for in the area.
- Best/highest use: The best use section talks about how the property can be used to ensure the property retains its value. For a home, the continued occupation by owners is the most likely recommendation because this is the use type that yielded the current property value.
- Property valuation: The property valuation section of the real estate appraisal uses one of the property values approaches below to determine a likely sale amount if the buyer defaulted on his or her loan and the property needed to be resold.
Many people confuse a real estate appraisal with other types of home inspections, like termite or sewage inspections. A residential real estate property appraisal, however, only involves examining the property for foundational or structural damage or anything that might negatively affect an investment due to costly repairs. Determining an accurate valuation is the priority for a real estate appraiser because it is the basis for the bank’s approved loan amount.
3 Ways Appraisals Determine Property Values
Property valuation, which is part of a real estate appraisal, is calculated using one of three different approaches: a sales comparison, cost, or income approach. These give both the lender and buyer an idea of the property value. The approach used by an appraiser is dependent on the type and use of a property.
Here are the three property value approaches used in a real estate appraisals:
- Sales: This type of real estate appraisal is used for most single-family dwellings. This method determines property value based on what other properties in the area/neighborhood with the same features sold for in the last year.
- Cost: The cost approach is commonly used for properties not sold on the open market like schools or hospitals. This judges the cost of rebuilding a property with similar features in the present economy.
- Income: The income method is used for properties that generate income for the buyer or represent an investment, such as apartment buildings, rental houses, and commercial spaces. This type of real estate appraisal takes into account how much can be charged to tenants and lessees in the current market.
By using one of these methods for a real estate appraisal, the final valuation report reflects the value of the property and―or does not support―the price of the property set by the seller. The approach is decided upon by the inspector and is dependent on the type of property.
7 Pro Tips for a Successful Residential Real Estate Appraisal
It can be difficult to understand the role of the appraiser in the real estate sales process and how an appraiser protects the buyer during the homebuying process. With this in mind, we asked seven top real estate appraisers and agents to share their best tips for a successful residential real estate appraisal.
Here are the top seven pro tips for making the most of your real estate appraisal:
1. Ask the Right People for Referrals
Rachel Massey, USPAP Instructor & Certified Residential Appraiser, Massey & Associates
The first place a potential buyer should look―if they are hiring outside of the loan process―is to ask the following people for names [of appraisers]: real estate agents, attorneys who handle real estate transactions, building inspectors, and other appraisers. Typically, what will happen is that one name will keep resurfacing as someone who really knows their profession and can appropriately handle the buyer’s questions.
2. Know What the Appraiser Is Seeking
Jennifer Harder, Founder & CEO, Jennifer Harder Mortgage Brokers
Appraisers will check the external factors of your home such as the site, quality of construction, integrity of roof and foundation, issues with gutters and siding, parking, and the neighborhood. Inside, they are most concerned with square footage and functionality of the layout. For a complete list, you can ask for a copy of the 1040 URAR form that appraisers use.
3. Review Comps With Your Agent
Mike Giamou, Co-founder, Medallion Capital Group & Licensed Mortgage Agent
One of the main things an appraiser will look at to value your property is recent sales of comparable properties in the area. Make sure you review the relevant comparables with your real estate agent so that you aren’t caught off-guard by a lower-than-expected appraisal.
4. Trust the Appraiser
Gynell Vestal, Certified Residential Appraiser & Founder, Consumer Home Value
An appraisal is a safeguard, so the buyer doesn’t overpay for a property. Of all the people involved in the homebuying transaction, the appraiser is the only party that is unbiased. They do not have a stake in the game. The appraisal requirement is in place to protect all involved parties by providing an unbiased, independent opinion of value to ensure the property provides adequate collateral for a loan.
5. Prepare to Negotiate Sales Price Based on Appraisals
Ralph DiBugnara, President, Home Qualified
A property inspection and appraisal report will both need to be completed. The inspection tells you if there are any repairs needed, and the appraisal will give the definitive value. Depending on what they say, you may have some room to negotiate the price.
6. Find a Local Appraiser
Julie Upton, Realtor, Compass San Francisco Bay Area
The most important factor in an accurate appraisal is having someone with local knowledge that knows the nuances of the neighborhood, any pending zoning changes, and local market conditions. An appraiser who lives outside of your county or city is more likely to provide an appraisal that misses the mark. You can ask who is doing the appraisal and ask where she/she is from. If they’re not local, ask for another appraiser.
7. Let Your Real Estate Agent Help You
Terry Jamnik, Vice President of Business Development, VA Home Loan Centers
In the case of a low appraisal, your agent can either assist in disputing the appraisal or negotiate with the seller on your behalf to see if the selling price can be lowered. Lowering the purchase price may cause an issue with your lender, but there are a number of options available in the case of a low appraisal. A good real estate agent will consider all of these options and guide you through the process.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Who pays for and picks the real estate appraisal company?
The buyer pays for the real estate appraisal as a part of the closing costs. If you are using a Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC)-insured lender like a bank or credit union, then they will pick the appraisal company. If you are not using lending sources for a mortgage, then you can pick your own appraisal company.
Does the seller see the real estate appraisal?
The seller does not get a copy of the real estate appraisal unless you give it to them. In cases where you want to negotiate the price after the appraisal, you might need to supply the seller with a copy of the report to justify your request to lower your offer.
What should you do if your real estate appraisal is inaccurate?
If the real estate appraisal contains inaccuracies like the wrong house area comps or features, then you can report these issues to the appraiser. Your real estate agent can help you review the report and figure out where the problems are if you get an unexpected result.
Can your agent do your real estate appraisal?
Some real estate agents can do appraisals because they are trained and certified for a home inspection. A real estate agent representing the buyer or the seller should not do a home appraisal for your property, however. A home appraisal should be completed by an impartial third party with no ties to either the buyer or the seller.
How do I find a real estate appraiser?
You can ask your agent or a real estate lawyer for a reference for an appraiser. If you would rather research appraisers yourself, then you can use the Appraisal Institute’s advanced search to find an appraiser in your area.
Bottom Line: Residential Real Estate Appraisals
A residential real estate appraisal is a report from an independent, trained inspector hired to determine the value of a property based on home or sales values in the area, damage to the property, and overall property condition. A home appraisal costs between $300 and $400 and is paid for by the homebuyer. A home appraisal makes sure that the seller’s asking price is in line with the value of the home so that a buyer does not overpay.
An appraisal— alongside real estate contacts and sales documentation—can be full of hard-to-understand legal terms and concepts. Rocket Lawyer can look over home appraisals, offer letters, and contracts for a fraction of the price of a lawyer to help you fully understand every part of the homebuying process. Find out more about Rocket Lawyer’s services today.
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