If you’re buying a home, chances are you’ll need a loan to make the purchase. Once you have a contract, your loan officer will order an appraisal of the property.
There are three types of loans generally seen in D.C.: Conventional, Federal Housing Administration (FHA), and Veteran’s Administration (VA). Outside the Beltway we also see United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) loans.
The job of a licensed or certified appraiser is to determine a home’s fair market value. This lets the lender and the buyer know whether the value and the loan amount are in keeping with the what you have agreed to pay for the property.
An appraiser will view the home, take pictures and make notes to later be transposed to the Uniform Residential Appraisal Report and provided to the lender, who will share it with you. In the case of FHA, VA, and USDA loans, the appraiser’s requirements also include a limited property inspection.
Armed with that information, the appraiser will research properties that have recently sold to determine which are closest to the makeup of the home you are buying. Typically, the appraiser will look at properties within a half mile radius that have sold within the last six months and select at least three homes to compare.
Some typical items compared are lot size, square footage, number of bedrooms and baths, exterior features such as patios, decks and fencing, parking availability and features like central air conditioning and fireplaces.
The sales price of each property is the starting point. From there, the appraiser will assign a dollar amount to each item, then add to or subtract from the sold price to arrive at an adjusted sales price for each of the comparable homes.
For example, if the home you are buying has a fireplace and a comparable home has none, the appraiser will add a predetermined value (perhaps $3,000) to adjust the actual sales price of the comparable home to reflect the value if both homes had fireplaces.
Similarly, if the comparable home has two fireplaces, the appraiser will subtract the $3,000 to adjust the home’s value in line with the one fireplace your home has.
Also included are the age of each home and its condition and quality. The condition standards range from C1 (new construction) to C6 (deferred maintenance that affects structure and stability). Most commonly seen in our area is category C3 (well-maintained with some upgrades).
The categories that denote quality are Q1 (individually designed for a specific person or purpose using the highest quality exterior and interior materials) to Q6 (basic quality using lowest cost building materials). Once again, Q3 is what we normally see (higher quality with upgraded interiors and finishes).
Most appraisals will reflect the sales price of your property. If yours comes in above, congratulations! You got a bargain. But what happens if it comes in low?
If you have an appraisal contingency, you have five options: 1) challenge the appraisal, 2) proceed with the sale, adding money to your down payment to make up the difference, 3) ask the seller to lower the price to meet the appraised amount, 4) negotiate with the seller to split the deficit in a mutually agreeable manner or 5) exit the contract and have your earnest money deposit returned.
To challenge an appraisal, review it with your agent and look for discrepancies. Are the comparable homes located in the same area? Are there better homes to compare? Are there errors in describing the houses? Have specific items been properly adjusted?
Your agent can provide any new information to your lender, who will forward it to the appraiser to review and make a final decision. If your challenge is not successful, your agent will help you negotiate with the seller to find the best solution.
So, what’s the worst-case scenario? My own experience, of course. I attempted to purchase my current home four years ago with an FHA loan. I was all excited until the appraisal came back—at $90,000 less than what I had agreed to pay! And because of FHA guidelines, that appraisal would be tied to the property for four months until I could get a new one.
My loan officer provided the solution—change my loan to conventional and order a new appraisal. When I received it, I realized that the first appraiser had made a $50,000 error and used houses that were of much lesser quality as comparable homes. I had been avenged!
Valerie M. Blake is a licensed Associate Broker in DC, MD & VA with RLAH Real Estate. Call or text her at (202) 246-8602, email her through DCHomeQuest.com, or follow her on Facebook at TheRealst8ofAffairs.