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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6 things to remember when valuing a newer home in an older neighborhood

How do you value a new home in an old neighborhood? Here are six things I keep at the forefront of my mind when approaching this situation and choosing comps. What else would you add? I’d love to hear your take in the comments.

New vs Old Homes in a Neighborhood - by sacramento appraisal blog

  1. Premium: There is usually a premium for new construction. Just as buyers pay more for that new car smell, buyers will typically pay more for a home that has never been lived in.
  2. Fading Premium: However, the premium for new construction fades VERY quickly. This is important to keep in mind because any premium paid when the house was built a few years ago may not exist in today’s resale market.
  3. Infill Location: If the newer home is part of an infill project, it might have a bad location since the best locations were probably already built out. Moreover, infill projects tend to have tiny lots compared to larger ones found with older properties.
  4. Quality: Sometimes newer homes may not have the same quality as older homes, which reminds us new is not always more valuable. Other times though new homes are far superior to the surrounding area.
  5. Conformity: Does the property fit in with the neighborhood in terms of design and size? Or does it stand out in a bad way? The principle of conformity is a very relevant dynamic in real estate, and whether a property fits in the neighborhood or not can impact its value.
  6. Neighborhood Acceptance: Sometimes neighborhoods go through a period of change where it becomes more acceptable for older homes to be torn down and newer bigger ones rebuilt (East Sacramento). Other times it is not common or acceptable, so a new home might look like a sore thumb.

When valuing a newer home next to older ones, it’s easy to automatically assume it’s worth more. Yet we have to ask, how does the market see this new property? Is the market willing to pay more for this or not? What are buyers looking for in the neighborhood? The proof is in the data, so often times we need to dig deep for comparable sales. It might even be helpful to search through the past several years of sales to find something else that was new. What was comparable to the new property at the time of its sale? Did it sell with any premium? Or did it sell right on par with other older homes? Be careful of course when interpreting new construction comps since sometimes newly constructed homes are loaded with concessions and credits, which can inflate the price.

Questions: What’s number 7? Any other thoughts or insight?

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5 tips for valuing a lake location in real estate

How do you know what a lake location is worth? How much value should you give to a house with a lake view compared to a house across the street without the view? I had this conversation recently with a real estate agent who had some questions about pricing a lake house, so I wanted to share some tips for uncovering value from an appraiser’s perspective. It’s honestly quite a bit in principle like valuing a golf course location. Have a read and let me know what you think.


5 Things to Consider When Valuing a Lake Location:

  1. Lake sales vs non-lake sales: It’s going to be important to find sales on the lake at some point because these sales will help indicate how much buyers have been willing to pay for a lake location. It’s obviously helpful if you have recent sales, but even if you have to look over the past ten or so years of sales, find something that sold and then compare how much of a premium it had at the time to similar-sized non-lake homes. For instance, if you find a 1600 sq ft house on the lake, compare this house to other 1600 sq ft sales at the time to extract the value difference for the lake. Or if you find a 2300 sq ft house on the lake, compare this house to other competitively sized homes at the time without lake locations. Once you find a few sales to work with, you can then apply the percentage difference between these sales to your situation. Keep in mind the perception in the market among buyers could have changed though over time, so know your market. Also be aware that builders may sell homes with very large lake premiums. It may be best to look at the resale market to see how much buyers are willing to pay without any builder mark-ups.
  2. Subject Sale: If the subject property sold previously in recorded MLS history, you may have a good example of how the market has viewed the subject property. Was there any premium for the lake in the previous sale? If so, how much? This can be great secondary support, especially if the subject property has sold multiple times recently.
  3. Use Other Competitive Lake Houses: You can attempt to find a competitive neighborhood with a lake, extract the percentage value of the lake by completing Step 1 above, and then apply this percentage to your situation. However, a competitive neighborhood might be really far away, and the real issue becomes whether the community is truly similar or not. These are important things to keep in mind because you want to compare apples with apples so to speak.
  4. Conversation with Local Pros: Talk to local pros who know the market well, explain your situation, and ask them questions. It’s ideal to compare actual sales, but if there are none for whatever reason, nothing will beat the knowledge of agents who know the idiosyncracies of a market (they’re often spot on – though not always). Also be sure to look at withdrawn listings and current listings to see if there is any potential helpful data to mine.
  5. Be Aware of the Lake: Be aware of the location of the house on the lake, the view and how much frontage the property has. Also, can a dock be installed? If there is a dock, does it matter much for value? Does the property owner have rights to the lake? Are those rights any different from the rights for other nearby properties? This probably isn’t an issue for a man-made lake, but having water rights (riparian rights if you want to sound fancy) will very likely make a value difference elsewhere.

I hope that was helpful. Anything else you would add? If you’re in real estate, what have you learned about lake locations?

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Why do appraisers give such little value for square footage?

Why do appraisers sometimes give such little value to something as important as square footage? It’s crazy that an appraiser gave $10,000 in value for 300 square feet, right? Maybe you’ve felt this way about an appraisal on your home or for one of your listings. Give me a minute to help clear up some of the confusion by explaining how appraisers are supposed to come up with value adjustments for house size.

Example 1: A Typical Size Scenario

Real estate appraisers should be giving value to square footage according to how the market sees the square footage. What does that mean? While it may cost $40,000 for a 400 square foot addition, based on an analysis of comps in a neighborhood, the appraiser might determine properties with an extra 400 square feet sell for $20,000 more than houses without that space. This means the market in this particular neighborhood really only rewards $20,000 in value for the size difference. This example of course assumes there are no other factors to consider such as lot size, location, upgrades, room count, financing etc….

Example 2:  The McMansion Mega House

Imagine your house is 6,000 square feet in a neighborhood where the largest model is 4,000 square feet. Do you think the market is willing to pay 50% more for you house because it is 50% larger than the 4,000 square foot model? Probably not. There are situations where the market is actually willing to pay very little or nothing for the extra square footage because it’s considered an overimprovement (or “superadequacy” for the fancy term). This can be very upsetting for home owners and agents, but the appraiser is not being mean or ruthless, but only interpreting the market properly (hopefully).

This is important to understand for the following reasons:

  1. Cost vs. Value:  Appraisers do not give value to square footage based on construction costs, but rather the reaction in the marketplace to extra size. Think of it in terms of a kitchen remodel or pool. Just because a kitchen costs $75,000 to remodel does not automatically mean you’ll see $75,000 in value in the resale market. Or while a pool may cost $35,000, resale value will very unlikely include the total cost of the pool. Cost does not always equal value.
  2. Additions & Conversions:  An addition or garage conversion may not always put your house on par with other larger houses. There are many factors to consider when it comes to valuing an addition. It’s important also to know the neighborhood before planning a huge addition because you don’t want to overbuild for the neighborhood.
  3. The Largest House:  Larger houses tend to have an overall lower price per square foot than medium-sized houses, so applying a straight cost-per-sqare-foot for the neighborhood may not yield credible results for the largest house.
  4. Big New Construction Premiums:  If you buy a newly constructed mega-house like in Example 2, you will likely pay a big premium for the extra square footage during the sale, but you may not see this premium again when reselling.
  5. Real Estate Agents:  Agents who know the local market and how appraisers should look at square footage will be able to coach and resource home owners about the process and what to generally expect.
  6. Unique Neighborhoods:  Each market is different. There is no standard price adjustment for appraisers to make because buyers in one area may be willing to pay more or less for size compared to another neighborhood.

All things considered, it’s not always easy to swallow that a big difference in square footage does not always translate into big value. Let me make it clear too that just because I explained how an appraiser is supposed to give value for square footage does not mean that the appraiser actually did that.

Any insight, questions or commentary? In appraisal reports you’ve read, how much value do you see appraisers give for square footage? I’d love to hear your comments.

If you have any questions, or real estate appraisal or property tax appeal needs in the Greater Sacramento Region, contact Lundquist Appraisal by phone 916-595-3735, email, Facebook or subscribe to posts by email.