Is it going to be a problem for a loan if the appraiser sees pot growing at a house? Well, it depends. Like many things in real estate, it’s not always a simple answer. Here are some things to consider.
Different opinions: There isn’t one definitive opinion appraisers have on how to handle cannabis, so seeing pot growing at a home can potentially be dealt with in different ways depending on the appraiser and the lender.
Not an agricultural specialist: Many appraisers don’t want to be put in the position of identifying plants, so some say, “I can’t tell if it’s Ficus or cannabis. I’m not an agricultural specialist. I don’t need to mention roses or peaches, so why would I call attention to a different plant?” Of course to be fair, roses and peaches aren’t federally illegal, so this might not be a perfect comparison.
It’s personal property: Some appraisers say, “It’s personal property, and it’s not my job to discuss personal items belonging to a seller or Borrower. I wouldn’t mention cottage cheese in the fridge or a Lambo‘ in the garage, so why would I mention a specific plant?”
Not a code enforcement officer: An appraiser in residential real estate shouldn’t be expected to confirm legality or count plants. Appraisers are not there to tattle, judge, or explain code.
One plant vs. farm: Let’s be real. There’s a difference between having a few plants for personal use and a full-fledged cartel “grow house.” Remember, it is never legal to use a residential house for a commercial cannabis operation. Yet here’s an honest question. How many plants are acceptable for a federally-backed loan? Is one too many? How about five, ten, or fifty? Ask a loan officer and see if you can get a definitive answer.
Bouncing the ball: When seeing “alternative agriculture,” an appraiser might email a photo to a lender client and say, “Hey, I saw some plants at the property. How would you like for me to handle this?” The appraiser in this case is bouncing the ball of liability to the client and allowing the lender to give direction. It is the lender’s decision and loan anyway, right? Some lenders might choose not to do the loan and other times appraisers might be asked to blur photos that clearly show a certain type of plant growing. In other cases lenders have asked for plants to be removed, so they might instruct the appraiser to make the value subject to removal of plants. The reality is most lenders have been silent about cannabis so far, but some smaller banks have been clear they won’t do loans with cannabis on site.
Would the loan have closed?: Here’s a question running through my mind. If I would have included a photo in my appraisal of cannabis growing somewhere on the parcel or in the house, would the loan have closed? Even if I personally think it’s no big deal to grow, if a loan only closes because I chose to ignore something that I knew would (or could) be an issue for a client, is that more liability for me as an appraiser? I know, it sounds like I’m overthinking the issue, but I’m actually doing critical thinking. This isn’t a statement on how appraisers should think. I’m only saying it’s a viable question to ponder in the midst of an emerging market.
Closing Thoughts: Will it be an issue for the loan if there is cannabis growing? Honestly, there are many moving parts. I’m not trying to be frustrating, but it probably depends on the lender, how the appraiser handles it, and maybe even the number of plants. In short, this green issue is not black and white (sorry). Of course if there is obvious moisture or electrical damage associated with growing, then we can all agree that’s going to be a problem. The truth is some escrows with cannabis simply aren’t going to close since it’s an ambiguous world right now in lending due to the disconnect between federal and state law. Yet to be fair lots of people grow cannabis and they’re still getting loans. So clearly a few plants isn’t killing deals all the time either.
I hope that was interesting or helpful.
Questions: Did I miss something? Appraisers, how do you handle this? Lenders and Realtors, anything to add? I’d love to hear your take.