How to figure out what an accessory dwelling is worth

How much is that accessory dwelling worth? How do we really put a value on it? It’s not always easy to figure that out in real estate, so I wanted to share some of the issues I tend to think through as an appraiser when there is an accessory unit on a property. Anything you’d add? I’d love to hear your take.

image-purchased-by-123rf-dot-com-and-used-with-permission-by-sacramento-appraisal-blog-target-value

Things to consider when valuing a property with an accessory dwelling:

1) Comps: How much are other homes with accessory units selling for? This is a fundamental question to ask. Since data is often limited we might have to look through years of neighborhood sales (or competitive neighborhoods) to try to find something that has sold with an accessory dwelling unit (ADU). Even if the sales are older or a bit different in size we can at the least come up with a percentage or price adjustment to try to get a sense of what the market has been willing to pay. Ideally we’d find three model match sales in the past 90 days, but that’s probably not going to happen. Remember, we might not use the really old sales as comps, but we can still use some of the older data to get a sense for how the market has behaved regarding accessory units.

2) ADU Minimum: At a minimum an accessory unit needs to have a bathroom, sleeping area, and kitchen. This means an outbuilding without a bathroom really isn’t an accessory unit. And that Man Cave / She Shed isn’t an accessory dwelling because it’s basically a game room meant for hanging out instead of living.

3) 2nd Unit or Not: Are we dealing with a second unit or an accessory unit? It might sound like I’m splitting hairs to ask this question, but there is actually a difference between a full-fledged second unit and something that would be classified as an “accessory” unit (or “Granny flat”, “Mother-in-Law” unit, or “Guest Quarters”). I wrote a post here to describe the difference. In short, whether something is a full second unit or merely an accessory dwelling could potentially change the way we approach valuing the unit and which comps we choose.

accessory-dwelling-unit-in-sacramento-by-home-appraiser-blog

4) Just a House: How much would the property sell for if it just had a house without an accessory unit? This doesn’t help us put a value on the accessory unit, but in a sense it helps us start gauging value for the neighborhood. This at least gives us a place to begin.

5) Combining Square Footage: Often times an accessory unit’s square footage gets lumped into the main square footage of the house. This happens in MLS and sometimes it happens in Tax Records. So we might read a home is 2000 sq ft when in reality the main home is only 1400 sq ft and the accessory unit is 600 sq ft. In this example we don’t really have a 2000 sq ft house but rather a 1400 sq ft house with an accessory unit. The question becomes, could the subject property sell on par with homes that are 2000 sq ft? Maybe. Maybe not. This is where we have to do research. I will say quite a few properties are priced based on a lumped square footage and then they end up sitting instead of selling. This is not always the case, but it reminds us to be careful about assuming a home with an accessory unit is always going to have the same value as a larger home.

6) Permits: Was the accessory unit permitted? If you are hoping to see more significant value recognized for an accessory dwelling, having permits is a key factor. My friend Gary Kristensen in Portland wrote a post on ADUs and he says, “Provide the appraiser and your lender with documentation that your ADU was legally permitted. Also, list information about rental income, expenses, and detail construction costs (if your unit was recently constructed).” Good advice, Gary.

value-of-an-accessory-unit-by-sacramento-appraisal-blog

7) Rent: Can the accessory unit be legally rented? What is the market rent? This is where we might use the Income Approach to come up with a value (another blog post). Imagine an accessory dwelling has a market rent of $1000 per month. Now imagine an appraiser says the extra unit is worth $10,000. Does that seem reasonable? Doesn’t it seem low right away since the unit would be 100% paid for after 10 months? Or imagine a unit rents for $300 but it’s being given $150,000 in value. Doesn’t that seem excessive based on the low rent? Thus sometimes when we know market rent we can begin to sniff out whether a value adjustment is even approaching reasonable.

8) Square Footage Adjustment: If I’m adjusting $50 per sq ft for extra square footage in my report, would it be reasonable to see that same adjustment for the 600 sq ft accessory dwelling? This is only a question I ask myself. There isn’t a constant where the market will pay the same amount for square footage for the main dwelling and something else (converted basement, converted garage, accessory unit). Part of it depends on quality too. If the extra unit has a quality clearly below the main house, it’s probably not reasonable to see buyers pay the same amount for square footage outside the house. Though if the quality is the same, we might be looking at an adjustment that is similar or the same to that which is given to the house. Again, there is no rule here. This is only a question I ask myself in the background when approaching an accessory unit. I would never automatically give an adjustment like this. Remember, square footage adjustments are NOT based on the entire value of the property divided by the square footage.

9) Cost vs. Value: We all know the cost of something doesn’t necessarily translate to the value, but cost can help us gauge quality. There might be a difference in value for an accessory unit that cost $125,000 compared to $15,000, right? This is basic logic, but let’s not overlook the importance of it.

I hope that was helpful.

Questions: Anything you’d add? Did I miss something? If you work in real estate, how do you come up with the value of an accessory unit? I’d love to hear your take.

If you liked this post, subscribe by email (or RSS). Thanks for being here.

5 things to consider about higher appraisal fees and longer turn-times

Appraisal fees have been going up and turn-times have been getting longer. Why is this happening? Why is it taking longer to get appraisals done? Is there really a shortage of appraisers? Let’s consider a few points below to help think through some of the bigger pieces to this conversation. I hope this will help you better explain the issue to your clients also. Any thoughts? I’d love to hear your take.

appraiser-shortage-by-sacramento-appraisal-blog-image-purchased-and-used-with-permission-by-123rf

5 things to consider about higher fees and longer turn-times:

1) Appraiser “Speculators”: Did you know there are actually 45% less licensed appraisers in California today compared to 10 years ago? This sounds alarming, but is it a shortage? The number of appraisers climbed exponentially before 2007 because the market was good and it was fairly easy to become an appraiser in California at the time. This hefty increase was more about the market though rather than there actually being a need for more appraisers (key point). In fact, many of the appraisers who entered the field were more like speculators hoping for easy money –  but then the economy unraveled. We can’t therefore look at 20,000 appraisers as being a normal or healthy number of appraisers in California.

brea-licensing-numbers-for-appraiers-sacramento-appraisal-blog

2) Rate of Decline Slowing: According to a phone conversation with the Bureau of Real Estate (BREA) last week, in 2009 the state was losing about 190 licensed appraisers each month, and that number is now 34 per month. It’s great news the decline has slowed, but it’s also going to be a big problem if we don’t see the decline stop at some point. The good news is last week BREA actually announced new rules that essentially make it easier to become an appraiser trainee. Now let’s hope lenders/AMCs will encourage trainees to be used in reports (this needs to happen). Of course one factor worth mentioning is we don’t really know how many of the nearly 11,000 appraisers are actually actively working. For reference, the average age of an appraiser in California is nearly 52 years old (73% male and 27% female).

3) Shortage: When talking with BREA on the phone, they said there is NOT an appraiser shortage. Their sense is there are enough appraisers to handle current appraisal volume, though they said certain markets definitely have a shortage (such as rural northern California), while other markets are still saturated with appraisers (they said Orange County and even Sacramento). This reminds us what Jonathan Miller says, that there is NOT an appraiser shortage, but a shortage of appraisers willing to work for low fees.

4) Not Getting All the Money: A loan officer I spoke with was frustrated that his Borrowers were paying $550 for conventional appraisals and $750 for jumbo appraisals – and still experiencing longer turn-times. When he told me the Appraisal Management Company (AMC) he uses though, that’s where the problem comes in. This AMC regularly pays appraisers $350, which means they’re pocketing 40% of the fee the Borrower thinks is going to the appraiser. A few days ago on Facebook there was an appraiser who had an offer from an AMC to appraise a property for $850, but the AMC was charging the Borrower $1,385. Let’s remember appraisers are supposed to be paid “customary and reasonable” fees under Dodd-Frank, but a reasonable fee is what the appraiser gets – NOT what the Borrower pays.

5) Markets Change: The market has been experiencing a correction after years of low-ball fees from AMCs. Maybe some of it is due to there being less appraisers, and we’ll feel that out over time, but before sounding the appraiser shortage alarm, we have to respect the reality that fee markets don’t remain the same forever. For instance, a local architect friend has been so busy lately that he’s been quoting much longer turn-times and “blow off” fees that clients wouldn’t possibly accept (but they are accepting them). We see a similar market change with contractors as they are incredibly busy right now and not taking the little jobs since the big jobs pay more. Keep in mind appraisers are juggling appraisals for purchases, refinances, and private situations. When things get busy, appraisers understandably gravitate toward clients who pay better. This means low-paying AMC clients get dropped and anything that is not a “piece of cake” valuation might struggle to be accepted unless the fee is reasonable. As a consequence this also means AMCs may have to shop for many extra days or weeks to find an appraiser to take on the assignment. It’s not easy to digest this, but we have to respect the way markets move and then change our expectations too. Otherwise we are left feeling entitled to the way things have been when the market is simply different now.

I hope this was helpful.

Recent Woodworking: By the way, from time to time I like to share some things I’ve built so you know I have a life outside of appraising. Yes, I’ve built a few skateboards recently with my oldest son. It’s like re-living the 80s for me.

ryan-lundquist-sacramento-appraisal-blog

Questions: Which points stand out to you the most? What else would you add? Did I miss something?

If you liked this post, subscribe by email (or RSS). Thanks for being here.

Does a fence need to be painted to meet FHA standards?

Does a fence need to be painted or stained to meet FHA minimum property standards? During an FHA refinance an appraiser recently told a home owner that his fence needed paint or stain for the loan to work. Is that really true though? Let’s dig into this issue. I’d love to hear your take in the comments.

FHA appraisal standards for wood fence - sacramento appraisal blog

The Quick Gist: FHA requires appraisers to identify defective paint surfaces on a home’s exterior (which also includes the fence). However, this doesn’t mean a fence actually needs to be painted. Being that most fences such as cedar, cypress, and redwood are already considered a sustainable wood (or sealed or treated), they don’t actually need to be painted. Think about it practically in that new home builders don’t paint their fences and neither do the vast bulk of property owners. But if a fence has been painted in the past and now has defective paint (peeling, chipping, flaking), then the defective portion should be scraped and sealed according to FHA standards (see p 497 in FHA Manual 4000.1 for a paragraph on defective paint).

FHA-photo-by-Ryan-LundquistThe Reality: Appraisers are not trained to identify whether wood is sealed or not. Maybe some appraisers have that skill set, but most probably don’t. While on the phone with HUD yesterday I even asked them how an appraiser would specifically identify a fence that was not sealed. Crickets. The person on the phone did not have an answer other than to say FHA requires a fence to be sealed from the elements. This means a reasonable focus for appraisers would be to call out defective paint on fences, but otherwise assume the wood is sealed unless there is evidence to suggest otherwise. Does that seem like good common sense? One further point to consider is something my friend Realtor Dean Rinker said in a conversation recently. Even if the standard was the fence needed to be painted, would that also include the neighbor’s portion of the fence too? Imagine that.

14727880 - 3d illustration: a group of cans of paint and roller

Yeah, but the house was built in 1968: I’ve seen people quote the following section from the old FHA manual (or a recent FAQ) in support that fences need to be painted. The idea is that if a fence was built before 1978 when lead-based paint was used, then the home’s fence should be painted to curb any safety issue. First off, if the fence has never been painted, there is NO safety issue with lead-based paint. Thus the age of the house is not the driving issue in this conversation on fences. Most of all, this section states an appraiser should be looking for defective paint on the fence, but it does NOT state the fence needs paint. It is true FHA does not want bare wood on the house, but it is entirely normal for fences to be “bare” (keep in mind wood on fences is sealed or treated though, so it is technically not bare).

If the home was built before 1978, the appraiser should note the condition and location of all defective paint in the home. Inspect all interior and exterior surfaces – wars [sic], stairs, deck porch, railing, windows and doors – for defective paint (chipping, flaking or peeling). Exterior surfaces include those surfaces on fences, detached garages, storage sheds and other outbuildings and appurtenant structures (FHA’S 4150.2 Old Manual).

When it comes to FHA the standards aren’t always as clear as we’d like them to be. This is why it’s critical to know what the FHA manual actually says, consider the spirit of the FHA manual, be in tune with how the bulk of appraisers deal with issues, and of course use common sense.

Questions: Any stories, insight, or examples to share? Did I miss anything? I’d love to hear your take.

If you liked this post, subscribe by email (or RSS). Thanks for being here.

An open letter about celebrity flipping seminars

Dear Public,

Last week I got an invite to a celebrity flipping seminar. That’s right, I can go learn how to flip houses from Tarek & Christina, the stars of HGTV’s Flip or Flop. Being that this is the second celebrity event to come to town this year, let’s talk about some of the dangers of these events and the real temperature of the flipping market. Please note: I’m not angry. I’m not a hater. I’m not jealous. I only want to give thoughtful commentary for the sake of others.

Celebrity flipping event HGTV Sacramento Appraisal Blog

Some things to know about these events:

  1. The reality stars won’t be there: This may come as a surprise, but the stars are not likely going to be there unless you consider a video appearance as being present.
  2. The goal is to make money off you: The event is designed to whet your appetite only to invite you to go deeper by paying for courses. From the reading I’ve done it sounds like the next step costs $1,000 to $2,000, but some students end up spending far more over time ($5000+ easily). The event will feel good and you’ll probably be inspired, but make no mistake the real goal is to get you to open your wallet.
  3. Flipping formulas don’t work everywhere: There is no such thing as a flipping model that will work in every location and every type of housing market in the United States, yet this event is being hosted in many cities and states. Moreover, it may be wise to be cautious about listening to a company coming from the outside, knowing far less about the local market, and using a celebrity’s star power to talk about flipping.
  4. It’s no longer a foreclosure market: The market used to be full of bank-owned properties, so it used to be much easier to buy low-priced homes to make a quick buck. For example, in 2009 over 70% of all sales in Sacramento County were bank-owned, but now that number is 3%.
  5. Experienced investors are struggling to find good deals: This event touts attendees will “gain insider access to private pre-auction real estate inventories.” Keep in mind even seasoned investors are struggling to find good deals right now because housing inventory is sparse and the foreclosure market dried up. Just last week I talked with an investor who was once easily in the top 10 in my market a few years ago, but is having a hard time finding deals lately. This doesn’t mean flipping is impossible, but it’s currently a really competitive market. That might be good to know before forking out thousands of dollars so you can “retire rich”, right?
  6. More skill is required: Today’s market in flipping is much different than it used to be. A friend on Twitter said it perfectly: “The anybody flip market has dried up. It’s a contractors-special flip market now. Serious add-value needed.” I agree with this as today’s flippers often need to add square footage, add a second bath, maybe do a more substantial kitchen remodel, etc… It’s often not just a matter of picking up a property, putting on some “lipstick”, and re-listing it. The rules have simply changed since the “foreclosure flood” ended. In short, it takes more skill to flip in today’s market.

My advice? Be careful. We all want financial freedom, but you could easily spend thousands of dollars on these seminars to obtain “secret flipping knowledge” (that you can probably get for free). If you want to get into flipping I suggest meeting investors in your local market and scouring the forums on BiggerPockets.com for free flipping advice.

I hope this was helpful.

Sincerely,

Ryan

Questions: What is your favorite HGTV show? Did I leave anything out? What point resonates with you the most? If you’ve attended an event like this, was it valuable? If you are currently flipping properties, what advice would you give to a newbie? Any suggestions for places to meet local investors?

If you liked this post, subscribe by email (or RSS). Thanks for being here.