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 The Cold Hard Truth About Mortgage Property Appraisals 
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Post The Cold Hard Truth About Mortgage Property Appraisals
by: Rob Lawrence

With the present downturn in the market and home prices dropping faster than a lead balloon, I thought it best to share with you what I’ve learned regarding property appraisals.

Here is the cold, hard truth on valuations and what appraisers will NEVER tell you. Keep these points in mind on every loan you do.

1. Cosmetic stuff such as paint, new carpets, window treatments, etc. do not increase appraised value, they only increase the perceived value of the property from the viewpoint of the buyer. Yes, cosmetics will affect your asking price and what the buyer is willing to pay, but it will NOT increase the intrinsic value of the house on the appraisal report. It also won’t get a customer out of PMI if you try to refinance him and all he has done to improve the property is wallpaper and paint. Lenders are much savvier than this and (if the time period has only been a year or two and prices haven’t increased) will require “significant” property upgrades to kick off PMI, not just cosmetic effects. Remember this.

2. Also, high end appliances such as sub-zero freezers and granite counter top upgrades do nothing to increase value on the actual appraisal report. And even if by chance they do, it will be very, very low and insignificant. Yes, some appraisers will try to tell you that they took the upgrades into account when determining value, when the real reason is they didn’t. Appraisers just say that, because it’s the borrowers who belly ache with “well I put all this work into the house, and surely my shiny new stainless steel appliances added some value, didn’t they?” Of course they did. *wink* *wink*. ;-)

3. On condo’s, the appraiser must first look within the same complex development for comparable properties BEFORE looking elsewhere to justify a value. That’s because lenders want to know what other units next to it have sold for, and most likely, these units are all similar in nature and have a common historical precedence for valuation.

4. If the appraiser goes outside the normal mileage boundaries of the area to search for comparable properties, there must be a valid and overriding reason given. And this reason must be CLEARLY articulated and stated on the appraisal report. Failure to do this and you risk having the appraisal report kicked back to you from underwriting and requesting additional comparables. (This delays the closing, risks your interest rate lock and may even kill the whole deal!)

5. Carefully watch your hits and adjustments on the rate sheet and beware of pricing bumps because of a low appraisal. If the “loan to value” on the property is too high and the customer is taking cash-out, then this WILL affect the interest rate and--more importantly--your income! On the other hand, if the appraisal comes in higher making the “loan to value” lower, you can either keep the extra yield spread you earn or pass the savings onto the customer and lower their interest rate or reduce some of the closing costs. If you do nothing, you can simply use this additional “found capital” as additional leverage to make yourself more competitive with the borrower. As the deal progresses, you may have to bargain and cut your fees to save the loan. Keeping a bit of padding, gives you a way to make amends without losing your shirt!

6. Keep in mind that appraisal values are a moving target and that the appraiser can only go back so far to pull out comparable properties, typically no more than 3 to 4 months. Anything longer and the bank will condition you for it and ask for more comps. Again, you don’t want to delay the closing and risk losing your commission.

7. Any value that is given to a home is only as good as the value of the other properties surrounding it. If the market is in a downward trend (as we are today), then the prevailing prices will be downward. Duh?! Customers don’t like to hear this. Everyone thinks they are sitting on a “goldmine” and I can’t even tell you how many BBQ’s I’ve been at where so-and-so is bragging about how much their house is worth. You can imagine the shock on their face when they try to refinance and get the appraisal report. That alone is enough to deflate their enthusiasm. Sorry to spoil the party, Mr. Customer, but all value is subjective and only as good as what someone else is willing to pay.

8. Tell customers, that no matter what the property value comes in at, you have absolutely no control over it. Appraisers are independent third parties and their opinion is usually firm. They are bound by legal, ethical and moral obligations and could lose their license if they stray too far beyond the guidelines. They could lose their job!!!

9. If customers doubt the appraised value and think it should be higher (again the goldmine mentality), tell them that it is up to them to get a second opinion if they choose too. However, be sure to tell them that it will cost them another appraisal fee (this usually is enough to stop them cold in their tracks!). Reiterate the points mentioned above. You are acting as their trusted advisor so they should heed your advice.

10. As a last resort, you could call the appraiser and see if they may have overlooked something on the report such as significant upgrades (meaning finished basements, porches, attics, additional rooms, etc.) Also, are there any other recent sales in the area that you know of? Could the appraiser use one of those comparable properties instead? Maybe this will help you get to the value you are looking for. Maybe not.

Remember when working on loans you need to set expectations with the borrower. I always tell customers that no matter what they “think” the property is worth we actually have no idea until an independent third party takes an objective look at it. It’s no use trying to guess and speculate!

When someone tells me the value of their home I take it with a grain of salt because I know that most likely the appraisal will come in far less than they think…and I price my loans accordingly. I suggest you do the same. Listen to your gut instinct and never just take the borrowers word for it.

I hope the above tips regarding appraisals help you in this ever changing market. If you want to survive you’ll need to adapt and become your customer’s best friend. The better educated you are about the mortgage process, the less fall-out you’ll have and the more loans you’ll ultimately close.

About The Author
Rob Lawrence is ranked one of top national trainers in the mortgage industry. He is the currently the CEO of, coaching, tools and resources to turn mortgage professionals into mortgage warriors. Visit for his free “Sink Or Swim” weekly newsletter, mortgage training, marketing advice and more! Jumpstart your career in the mortgage business, starting today.

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Sun Dec 14, 2008 10:09 pm
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