How do appraisers account for a difference in age between comps?

There are so many factors to consider when valuing a property. Anyone who works in real estate knows this. So how do we account for a difference in age between comps? Does age matter? Should we make any value adjustments? Someone asked me this recently, so I figured it was worth kicking around the issue together. I’d love to hear your take in the comments below.

difference in year built in the appraisal report - sacramento appraisal blog

Question: How do appraisers account for a difference in year built? Do appraisers give an adjustment when to comps there is an age difference?

Answer: Here’s my take. Most of the time buyers tend to buy based on condition instead of age. Thus if there is a difference of a few years or so within a subdivision, it might not have any impact on value as long as the condition is similar. For instance, in some tracts we see an age range of 1977 to 1983. If one house was built in 1977 and another in 1983, and they are in the same condition, it’s unlikely to see the 1983 home command a value premium unless for some reason it has a higher quality or if it is located on a stronger street. Sometimes buyers are actually not even aware of the age of the home. They’re really just looking at the neighborhood and buying what is there. Do you agree?

My $500 Adjustment: I’ll admit when I first began appraising I used to adjust $500 per year on all comps in every appraisal because that’s what I was taught to do. In very technical terms, this valuation methodology is…. bogus. After all, a $500 adjustment per year certainly doesn’t apply to every neighborhood, every market, or every property type. These days though I rarely make any adjustment for year built since most of the time I’m looking at condition instead. However, if the age gap is too large, there may be a difference in value, and we we have to begin asking if we should even be comparing the homes in the first place. For instance, is 1977 vs. 1990 a good comparison? What about 1990 vs. 2003? Maybe not because we might be dealing with a different quality of construction, different tracts, or different markets. But at the same time, we might see homes in one area were built in 1955 and another nearby area has homes built in 1972. If there is no price difference observed between both areas, then the homes may easily be competitive despite their age gap. The thing we need to do though when valuing a 1955 home is to be sure to find 1955 sales instead of just 1972 sales (this helps prove the market really does pay the same amount for both ages).

Subjective Mush: I know this begins to sound very subjective, but there is no rule out there when an adjustment is needed other than when buyers at large have clearly paid more or less because of a feature. In reality it can be tempting to make value adjustments for every single distinction, but sometimes it’s best to not force adjustments by remembering the market isn’t so sensitive as to warrant a price reaction for every single difference. However, a good rule of thumb when searching for comps is to take an “apples to apples” approach. This means we start by searching for similar-sized homes with a similar age rather than choosing newer or older sales that really might not be competitive. I know this sounds basic, but when we keep the fundamentals in mind, it keeps us sharp (right?).

Brand New Homes: As I mentioned recently, we do need to be careful about comparing brand new homes with ones that are even a year or two old because brand new homes tend to sell at a price premium. This means despite only 1-2 years difference in age, we might see a pretty big difference in value.

I hope this was helpful.

Questions: Anything else you’d add? When do you think age does matter to buyers? Any stories or examples?

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Why no value adjustment is sometimes the best adjustment

It has to add value, right? It’s tempting in real estate to make upward adjustments in our valuations whenever we see a feature that is remotely positive. Our thinking is that buyers have to be willing to pay something for that special feature, so we should give it a little value boost. But sometimes making no adjustment is the best thing to do. Let’s look at three quick examples.

no value adjustment given - sacramento appraisal blog

Three examples where no adjustment could be the best move:

  1. Duplex with Large Lot Size: We get used to giving value premiums for larger lot sizes for single family homes, but a larger lot size for a duplex is often not a positive gain for the property. Assuming the lot cannot be built on or divided, the extra space really costs more for the owner to manage, and that can actually diminish cash flow for the property. Imagine a duplex on 0.75 acres, while every other similar duplex is on a postage stamp lot. If there is no difference in the rent between all the duplexes, and the larger lot is not useful for building, there probably isn’t a value premium for that extra lot size. In fact, the larger lot may be a nuisance because of the cost of extra landscaping maintenance or even illegal dumping.
  2. Location Across from a Park: It’s always worth more to be located across from a park, right? Not necessarily. While a park location might feel like an asset, if it’s also located on a busy street, the negative of the busy location might balance out any positive gain for the park location. Or if a park is known for loitering or criminal activity, it might not be desirable at all to live across the street from it. This is why it is telling to hear home owners talk about their park location. At times they love it and wouldn’t trade it for the world, but other times it’s a clear negative. Of course market value is not just about one owner’s perception, but the entire market. How would most buyers respond to the location? This is where we have to look at neighborhood sales over time to see if there is any price difference between park sales and non-park sales.
  3. Condo with a View of a Lake: Imagine a condo with a view of a lake. We would all assume the lake view is worth more than a non-lake view, but what do the neighborhood sales and listings tell us? Is there any price difference at all? If the vast bulk of properties in the condo development are all rentals, and there is no difference in the rental value for the lake view vs. the non-lake view, then the lake view is not an asset. This real life scenario came from a conversation with a mentor recently.

The Point: Sometimes it’s tempting to give a positive value adjustment because we feel there simply has to be one. But there actually might not be one. Maybe the market doesn’t behave the way we think it should, or maybe the market in one subdivision trends differently than a nearby subdivision. This underscores the need to watch neighborhood sales and listings closely to try to let the data speak to us rather than let our assumptions trump the data.

Marketing to Millennials Event: Locals, I wanted to invite you to an event I’m moderating at the Sacramento Association of Realtors on May 6 at 12pm. It’s called Marketing to Millennials, and it’s all about how to connect with Millennials in your real estate business. This generation too often gets a bad wrap from so many sources, but how can you connect with them and serve them best in business? There will be a guest speaker and four panelists. Make sure to say “hi” if you can make it. Read more here (pdf) or sign up here.

Question: What other examples can you think of where a positive value adjustment wasn’t needed (even though it seemed like one should be given)?

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