1. Don’t rely solely on website valuations from Zillow, HomeGain, Trulia, or other real estate websites. The automated valuation models (AVMs) are only estimates based on a limited amount of information.
2. Ask your real estate agent to prepare a competitive market analysis (CMA) or a broker’s price opinion of the property before you make an offer.
3. If you are selling a home, consider going one step further and having your own appraisal done before you price your home for sale. Appraisals usually cost less than $1,000. If you live in a community where prices are fluctuating or where there are a number of foreclosures, doing your own appraisal will help guide your pricing decisions. It will also be a good point of reference when a buyer’s lender conducts its own appraisal.
4. Lenders hire appraisers, not buyers, even though buyers pay the appraiser’s fee at settlement. However, buyers can save a lot of headaches and improve the quality of the appraisal by taking steps to be sure that they are working with a qualified professional. Most lenders will work with buyers to get a fair appraisal. If they are not willing to do this, it could be a bad sign for a future relationship that may last 15 or even 30 years.
5. Many state licensing agencies make available online the names of appraisers who have been disciplined. It’s easy to check out whether the appraiser your lender is using is on the list.
6. Request that the appraiser have a residential appraiser certification and a professional designation. Examples include the Appraisal Institute’s senior residential appraiser (SRA) or member of the Appraisal Institute (MAI) designations.
7. Buyers should tell lenders to find an appraiser who comes from the same county or a neighboring county. One of the most frequent complaints about low appraisals is that appraisers were unfamiliar with the local market.
8. If you are the seller, meet the appraiser when he or she inspects your home. Share the CMA or appraisal you had done. Go over all upgrades and improvements that you have made. Make sure the appraiser knows about important pending neighborhood improvements such as roads, commuter rail lines, schools, parks, or shopping centers. Are major employers expanding? Are new companies moving to town? Remember, you want to do all you can to get the highest appraisal so that the buyer can get the financing necessary to meet your price.
9. Both buyers and sellers should question a low appraisal. Review the appraiser’s credentials. Review the appraisal to see if any short sales or foreclosures were used as comps. Ascertain whether improvements to the property were taken into account.
10. Often, lenders will agree to a second appraisal if the first is so low it will kill the deal. Ask to have a more current comp included that reflects current real estate market conditions.
Steve Cook is Executive Vice President of Reecon Advisors and covers government and industry news for the Reecon Advisory Report.
Cook is a member of the National Press Club, the Public Relations Society of America and the National Association of Real Estate Editors, where he served as second vice president. Twice he has been named one of the 100 most influential people in real estate. He is a graduate of the University of Chicago, where he was editor of the student newspaper. In addition to serving as managing editor of the Report, Cook provides public relations consulting services to real estate and financial services companies, and trade associations, including some of the leading companies in online residential real estate.