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How to make sure a home is appraised accurately

Shawn Purdy On September 21, 2015
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By PAUL OWERS Sun SentinelFORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Despite a steadying housing market, sellers and real estate agents still complain that low appraisals delay or kill as many as 15 percent of all deals.

In recent years, agents and others blamed a 2009 law that they said inadvertently led to less-experienced appraisers working in unfamiliar neighborhoods.

Now a common refrain is that appraisers purposely keep valuations down. St. Petersburg, Fla., appraiser Frank Gregoire, who testified before Congress, says banks and underwriters are pressuring appraisers “to be less optimistic and more cautious” to prevent another housing bubble.

But that’s “patently false,” said Ken Chitester, spokesman for the Chicago-based Appraisal Institute. He concedes there may be a lag in valuations in a recovering market, but says appraisers can only work with the data available to them at the time.

Appraisers make the final call, of course, but here are steps that sellers and their agents can take to ensure that valuations are fair and accurate:

Don’t get greedy. Strong demand for homes is resulting in multiple offers, and some properties are being bid up so high that they won’t appraise, real estate agents say.

Cash buyers typically don’t request appraisals, but banks require them so they don’t lend more money than homes are worth. In accepting a bid from a buyer needing financing, a seller would be wise to consider whether the offer can match the appraised value.

“Highest is not always best when you’re dealing with an appraisal,” said Jim Heidisch, a broker with Campbell & Rosemurgy in Pompano Beach, Fla.

Be accommodating without being intrusive. The change in rules governing appraisals discourages contact between agent and appraiser, but there’s nothing improper about the agent’s being at the home to give the appraiser access and answer any questions, said Michael Citron, of RE/MAX ParkCreek in Coconut Creek, Fla.

Sellers should not be present because they tend to get in the way, agents say.

“If they’re there, the sellers will ask, ‘Is it going to appraise?’ and you don’t want to bother the appraiser,” Citron said. “Just have the lights on and the air conditioner blowing real cool to make it as comfortable as possible.”

Fort Lauderdale appraiser Scott Dooley said he doesn’t mind if sellers stay. If they aren’t there, he prefers for an agent to meet him. In roughly half the cases, agents don’t show up, and instruct him to gain entry by using a lock box, he said.

Provide information about the house, including renovations and comparable sales. When Citron greets appraisers, he gives them packages that include comparable properties, upgrades and amenities within the development.

The report should include the dates of major work done on the kitchen, bathrooms and roof, as well as the closed permits on any additions, Fort Lauderdale appraiser Patrick Sullivan said. Providing receipts also is helpful, he said.

The homeowner’s report may point out a favorable location within a community and other characteristics that distinguish it from nearby homes, Dooley said.

“You don’t want things to be missed that may result in higher value,” he said.