4 smart moves to challenge a home appraisal
Here's a nightmare scenario for anyone trying to sell a home: a deal-killing appraisal that shows your house isn't worth nearly as much as your sale price.
This is not an uncommon occurrence.
According to the National Association of Realtors, of the 75% of contracts with settlement contingencies, 41% involved appraisal issues.
A low appraisal can lead to a canceled sales contract because lenders won't approve mortgages for more than the home's value.
But if you believe your home is worth more than the appraisal shows, what should you do?
Most lenders have a process for challenging an appraisal, says Bob Lear, a real estate appraiser for more than two decades. But you must be prepared to point out mistakes the appraiser made in comparing other properties or by missing new or upgraded features in your home.
Our 4 smart moves won't guarantee the outcome you're looking for, but they should help protect against honest mistakes.
After all, an appraisal is just the appraiser's opinion.
Smart move 1. Give the appraiser a reason to change opinion.
Too many people just contact the appraiser and say "you're wrong," says Lear, owner of Lear-Annoni Appraisals in Eden Prairie, Minnesota.
That tactic won't yield a new appraisal.
To get a second look, "you have to provide me different data — data that is different than the data I used," he said.
Read your copy of the home appraisal, then consider whether you can offer the single most persuasive item: new comps.
A "comp," in the real estate world, is a point of comparison.
The best way to know what a home is worth, the argument goes, is to compare it to a similar home that has recently changed hands. Adjust the price up or down to compensate for differences, and you'll know your home's value.
If a similar home in your neighborhood recently sold for more than your appraisal, especially if the sale took place after the appraisal, bring that to your bank's attention.
Smart move 2. Point out poor or missing comparisons.
Look at the comps the appraiser used. He or she might not know all the homes in your neighborhood that have sold recently.
The appraiser will only find comps if they're listed in the Multiple Listing Service.
If a home changed hands without ever being listed, it's similar to your home and it sold for more than the appraiser said your home is worth, then that's new information the bank and appraiser should see.
Short sales and foreclosures can also throw off appraisals of similar homes.
When you bring this to the appraiser's attention, you might say that this comp was a distressed sale or that, yes, the house down the street sold for less, but it had no plumbing.
It's tough to find comps for unique properties. If your property is unlike the others in its neighborhood, look at the comps the appraiser used. Are there other comps that are arguably more appropriate?
Lear recalls a duplex in Shorewood, Minnesota: "We did the best comps we could, but the bank needed a comp with the same square footage and the same bedroom number. Those didn't exist in Shorewood, so the bank accepted comps from a different suburb."
That could be grounds to dispute an appraisal.
If properties rarely change hands in your neighborhood, that's another potential problem.
Comps should be properties that have sold within the last 90 days. If your appraiser used older comps, you may be able to show that the market has changed.
Smart move 3. Highlight the changes you've made to your property.
An appraiser might not have noticed your home's new or upgraded features: a new kitchen, redone or additional bathrooms, updated decor, updated roof, new furnace, updated central air conditioning, finished basement or new fireplaces.
Point them out.
Richard L. Borges II, past president of the Appraisal Institute, a Chicago-based industry group, says appraisers often find it handy to have the owner present during a review of the home because it lets them ask questions and get them answered right away: How old is your roof? How often do you have to have your septic system serviced?
If you aren't at the home during the walk-through, leave a letter detailing all you've done to your home.
If, after the appraisal comes back, you see that the appraiser missed some of the changes you've made, let the lender know.
Remember, though, that "the cost of new and upgraded home features rarely equals value, unless something is at the end of its life," Lear said. "I appraised a home for a gentleman who was transferred six months after he bought the home. He remodeled the kitchen during that six-month period and sold the house for what he paid for it, plus the entire cost of the new kitchen. The old kitchen was from the 1960s, and the house was in an area that was becoming very popular."
Smart move 4. Seek a second opinion.
You can attempt to sway your lender to revise the appraisal by getting one on your own.
Lear remembers being hired by a homeowner seeking a second opinion on the appraisal of his home in Edina, a Minneapolis suburb.
Lear found problems with the home's appraisal and sent his notes to his client's bank, seeking to have the initial appraiser issue a revision or for the bank to order a new appraisal.
"That appraiser compared the client's home to six homes in Minneapolis, St. Louis Park and a completely different neighborhood in Edina," Lear said. "Not one of those is near this house. These are terrible comps."
Getting another opinion doesn't guarantee success, but it worked for this homeowner, Lear says.
In the end, you may or may not be able to get the value changed. The appraiser has to answer to underwriters, so they're not very willing to change values.
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