If you’re in the market to buy or sell a home, eventually you’ll encounter an appraisal. Most folks know that it deals with home values but many might not understand exactly how important a role the appraisal plays in the home buying process.
First it’s important to distinguish between two different types of home value estimates. First, the report a real estate agent often does for a home seller in order to arrive at a list price for the home is commonly known as a Comparative Market Analysis. However, this is almost never an actual “appraisal”. An appraisal is a home value estimate that is compiled by a licensed real estate appraiser. The appraiser is often hired by a lender, bank or other mortgage company to determine an official value of the home for loan purposes. The distinction between a market analysis and an appraisal can sometimes be very small but in other ways very large. For example, the way a real estate agent prepares a comparative market analysis is by examining the sales prices of similar properties in the area (known as “area comps”). A real estate appraiser may use this same technique to arrive at the value of the home, however appraisers often have several different methods they can use.
Perhaps the biggest distinction between the value arrived at in a comparative market analysis and that of an appraisal is that only an appraisal is accepted by lenders as an “official” estimate. This creates an interesting situation because the appraisal can sometimes differ from the value arrived at in a comparative market analysis, especially if the appraiser is using a different method than pulling the “comps”. This is perhaps one of the biggest issues that can occur between buyers and sellers after an offer on a home has been negotiated and accepted. Consider the following situation:
A real estate agent estimates the value of a home using area comps at $325,000 and a buyer comes allong and offers full price for the home. Later, the lender hires an appraiser to do an official appraisal on the home and they use a square footage method for determining the value and arrive at a value of $300,000. Now there’s an issue because the lender is unwilling to lend more to the buyer to purchase a home than the home is actually woth. So the end result is, in order for the sale to progress, the seller must agree to reduce the sales price by $25,000.
In many ways, a home is worth what someone is willing to pay for it, however, that value must still pass muster by the appraiser. This is perhaps the biggest reason why pricing a home correctly from the beginning is so important. Many sellers have the idea that by pricing the home high initially, they can always “get lucky” and find a buyer willing to pay more for the home. However, because the home has to eventually pass the appraisal, even if the home were to sell at an inflated price, it wouldn’t pass the appraisal.