How I appraised a property with a non-permitted garage conversion

How do we value a non-permitted garage conversion? Today I wanted to share a real life example of a property I appraised. I’ll keep things fairly brief because it’s impossible to get to everything in just one post. Though I do have a 10-minute audio clip for more depth on conversions. Any thoughts?

UPDATE: Read part 2 of this post HERE.


Garage Conversion Formula: It would be nice if there was a one-size-fits-all value adjustment we could apply to any conversion, but that’s not how it works because conversions vary tremendously in size and quality – not to mention some neighborhoods accept them and others really don’t.

Golden Data: In this case the conversion was nicely done and was even on a crawl space like the rest of the house. I searched the neighborhood for garage conversions over the past few years and literally found none. But I did have one very lucky bit of data since the subject sold four years ago on MLS as an arms-length sale. This means I was able to look back in time and find how the subject fit into the context of neighborhood prices.


What I wrote in my report: Based on the previous sale in 2012, it is clear the market recognized the subject property’s extra size as square footage and paid for it as such in the marketplace. The lack of permits on the garage was definitely disclosed in MLS. At the time of the sale in 2012 the market was willing to pay about $15,000 (6%) less for the subject property compared to otherwise similar homes that had a garage. In today’s market were no recent sales with a garage conversion, so the appraiser used historic data to give a downward $15,000 adjustment to Comps 1-3. The garage adjustment would really be reasonable anywhere between $15,000 to $20,000, but since the subject has been upgraded extensively in recent years it made sense to adjust at the lower end of this range since upgrades lessen the negative for not having a garage.

If I didn’t have a previous sale: Without a previous subject sale, I’d need to find other garage conversions in the neighborhood or search in a competitive area of town to try to find a reasonable adjustment for the lack of a garage (and lack of permits). In some cases I would maybe consider the cost to turn the conversion back into a garage – especially if the conversion was shoddy or minimal to cure. Still other times I might ponder the cost to permit the conversion or the cost to actually build a garage if there is space to do so. Remember, the adjustment at $15,000 made sense here, but it could be FAR DIFFERENT in other situations.

Garage Conversion Video: This audio clip is ten minutes or so and could be good as background noise while working. Watch below (or here).

Note on permits: As an appraiser it’s a liability to assume everything in a non-permitted conversion was done to code. What if I recognized value for a conversion but then in the future an owner had to rip out the non-permitted area? Can you see why some appraisers (and lenders) won’t give value to something unless it was permitted? Yet we still have to ask, “Is the market willing to pay something for this non-permitted area?” This is not an easy question to answer, but it is vital nonetheless. Hopefully we can find some comps, but more than that we need to disclose everything clearly, use logic and professional judgement, and maybe reach out for opinions of other trusted professionals too.

Questions: How do you deal with garage conversions? Any other insight? Did I miss something? I’d love to hear your take.

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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.


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.


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.


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.

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Stepping on the real estate scale (at the right time of day)

Values are starting to decline. The market is sliding. Price reductions are increasing. This is exactly what we start to hear around August as the market has transitioned from spring to summer. But is the market really crashing? It could be, but sometimes the issue is simple in that we’re not weighing the market in the right context. Today let’s look at a helpful scale analogy and then unpack the Sacramento market in depth (for those interested). Any thoughts?

42512389 - white scale on a wooden table top view, fitness and weight loss concept

A Scale Analogy: Imagine being on a diet and stepping on a scale in the morning before breakfast and then again at night after eating all day. What would happen? Well, it’s going to look like you gained some weight during the day because the body is light and empty in the morning and naturally heavier at night after a day of eating. Unless you want to punish yourself with thoughts of weight gain, the key for using a scale would be to weigh yourself every day around the same time so you are comparing the same context each day. Otherwise when comparing one context (morning) with a different context (night), it might look like you gained weight when you might have actually lost some.

The Big Point: In real estate we have to consider what it looks like to weigh the market. Often at this time of year we start hearing things like, “Values are starting to tank”, when in reality the market may simply be softening for the season. The problem is we don’t see the softening though because we’re stepping on the scale at the wrong time of day so to speak. For example, if we compare stats from June to July, it looks like the market is declining in value since stats have sagged. Yet if we step back and weigh the market in context by comparing June/July 2016 data vs June/July 2015 data, we see stats also sagged last year. Bingo! This helps us see it’s normal for the market to soften up at this time of year (of course it could be declining, but that’s a different post). In short, if we want to get better at seeing the market it’s critical to compare the latest month of data with the same month last year. Otherwise it’s very easy to start making market claims when the truth is we just might be misreading the trend. If you want to use bigger chunks of data like quarters, that’s fine too. Just compare the past quarter today with the same time period last year. You can also look at many years of data to get an even better sense of seasonal trends.

—-—–—– And here’s my big monthly market update  ———–—–

Big monthly market update post - sacramento appraisal blog - image purchased from 123rfTwo ways to read the BIG POST:

  1. Scan the talking points and graphs quickly.
  2. Grab a cup of coffee and spend time digesting what is here.

DOWNLOAD 62 graphs HERE: Please download all graphs in this post (and more) here as a zip file. Use them for study, for your newsletter, or some on your blog. See my sharing policy for 5 ways to share (please don’t copy verbatim). Thanks.

Slowing Market (Quick Summary): The hot spring season is definitely transitioning to a slower market. What do I mean? It’s taking slightly longer to sell today compared to last month, the median price and average sales price declined from the previous month, inventory saw a 20% increase from June (it’s still really low though), and price reductions have been more common. Yet at the same time the market is actually stronger this year as it was taking 4 days longer to sell last year and price metrics are a good 7-10% higher this year too. Overall the market feels fairly “hot” under $300,000, but there has been notable price resistance at higher price levels. These days well-priced properties are going quickly, but otherwise buyers can smell a high price from a mile away – and they’re not biting. It’s easy to think the market is starting to turn or tank, but it’s normal for the market to soften at this time of year. Unless we begin to see otherwise, right now it looks like we are seeing what seems like the start of a typical seasonal downtrend.

Presidential Election & the Market: We’re hearing lots of talk about how the market is strong because it’s a presidential year, but let’s remember the market is doing what it is doing as a result of years of unfolding trends. The presidential election doesn’t all of a sudden trump (no pun intended) the factors that have been driving the market for years and have caused the market to be where it is today. For context, values in Sacramento were increasing rapidly in 2004, utterly tanking in despair in 2008, recovering in 2012 (due to cash investors and 4% rates), and now the market is figuring out how to be normal after modest value increases this spring. Sure, there could be some impact because it’s a presidential year, but let’s defuse the hype and not overstate it. Take a look at the stats and graphs below and see if you can discern any real difference because this year is a presidential year.

Sacramento County:

  1. The median price is 100% higher than it was in early 2012.
  2. There were only 4 sales under $100K last month (single family detached).
  3. Sales volume has been about the same this year compared to last year.
  4. FHA volume is down about 8% this year compared to 2015.
  5. FHA sales were 26% of all sales last month.
  6. Cash sales were only 12% of all sales last month.
  7. It took an average of 27 days to sell a home last month, which is 2 days more than the previous month (and 4 less days compared to last year).
  8. REOs were only 2% of all sales last month and short sales were 2.7%.
  9. There is only 1.69 months of housing supply in Sacramento County, which is 11% lower than it was last year at the same time.
  10. The median price declined by 2.7% last month and the average sales price also declined, though both are 10% higher than they were last year at the same time.

Some of my Favorite Graphs this Month:

Median price since 2013 in sacramento county

price metrics since 2015 in sacramento county - look at all

inventory - July 2016 - by home appraiser blog

CDOM in Sacramento County - by Sacramento Regional Appraisal Blog

Bottom of the Market in Sacramento

inventory in sacramento county Since 2011 - by sacramento appraisal blog

seasonal market in sacramento county sales volume 6

Interest Rates Since 2001 layers of the market in sacramento county - by sacramento appraisal blog


  1. The median price is 97% higher than it was in early 2012.
  2. It took 1 day longer to sell last month compared to June (but 4 less days compared to July 2015).
  3. Sales volume is about the same as it was last year at the same time.
  4. Cash sales were 14% of all sales last month.
  5. Cash sales volume is 6% lower this year than last year.
  6. FHA sales were 22% of all sales last month.
  7. FHA sales volume is down nearly 8% this year so far.
  8. There is 1.96 months of housing supply in the region right now, which is just about the same as last year during this time.
  9. The median price, average sales price, and avg price per sq ft all declined last month from June, though they’re all up 7-8% from last year.
  10. REOs were only 2% of all sales last month and short sales were the same.

Some of my Favorite Regional Graphs:

days on market in placer sac el dorado yolo county by sacramento appraisal blog interest rates inventory median price in sacramento regional market by sacramento appraisal blog - market median price and inventory in sacramento regional market 2013 median price sacramento placer yolo el dorado county Regional Inventory - by Sacramento regional appraisal blog Regional market median price - by home appraiser blog sacramento region volume - FHA and conventional - by appraiser blog


  1. Today’s median price is 72% higher than it was in early 2012.
  2. It took 3 more days to sell a house last month than the previous month (but 4 less days than last year at the same time).
  3. Sales volume was down about 11% in July 2016 compared to last July and is down slightly for the year about 3%.
  4. Both FHA sales and cash sales were each 15% of all sales last month.
  5. There is 2.25 months of housing supply in Placer County right now, which is up very slightly from last year at the same time (but up 30% from last month).
  6. The median price increased about 1% from the previous month, but for a better context it’s up 10% from last year at the same time.
  7. The average price per sq ft was $216 last month (was $202 last year at the same time).
  8. The average sales price was $480K last month (up about 11% from last year).
  9. Bank owned sales were only 1% of all sales last month.
  10. Short sales were 0.07% of sales last month.

Some of my Favorite Placer County Graphs:

days on market in placer county by sacramento appraisal blog interest rates inventory median price in placer county by sacramento appraisal blog months of housing inventory in placer county by sacramento appraisal blog number of listings in PLACER county - 2016 Placer County housing inventory - by home appraiser blog Placer County price and inventory - by sacramento appraisal blog Placer County sales volume - by sacramento appraisal blog

DOWNLOAD 62 graphs HERE: Please download all graphs in this post (and more) here as a zip file. Use them for study, for your newsletter, or some on your blog. See my sharing policy for 5 ways to share (please don’t copy verbatim). Thanks.

Question: Did I miss anything? Any other market insight you’d like to add? I’d love to hear your take.

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Why a property’s previous sale can really matter for an appraisal

Paying close attention to a property’s previous sale can be a big deal. I know it’s tempting to say value is all about the current market, but sometimes looking at the past can help us understand the present. Here are some reasons why I pay attention to previous sales. Any thoughts?

previous sales matter to appraisers - sacramento appraisal blog

5 things to consider about a property’s previous sale:

  1. Requirement to Explain: If you didn’t know, appraisers are required by USPAP (our uniform standards) to analyze and report the past 36 months of sales or transfers of the subject property. Thus analyzing a prior sale can be a normal and even mandatory part of the appraisal process.
  2. Context: A previous sale can sometimes give tremendous insight into how the market responded to the subject property. This is especially true if a property is unique or funky. What did the subject property compare to at the time of its previous sale? How did it fit within the market? Digging deeply into neighborhood sales can help us answer these questions and maybe even influence the comps we choose for today’s value.
  3. Clues into Adjustments: A prior sale can give clues into how much we might need to adjust for certain aspects of the property. For instance, if the subject is located on a busy street, a previous sale might help us see if that was a big deal or not compared to other neighborhood sales. Or maybe the subject property has a very large lot for the neighborhood, and prior sales can help us gauge how much of a premium there was if any. Or imagine a house is twice as large as anything else in the neighborhood. Let’s find some current comps of course, but let’s also look to the past too. Can we maybe glean some value context by seeing what buyers were actually willing to pay for this beastly home in the past? Maybe so.
  4. Comp #4: Appraisers can use the subject property as a comparable sale in reports. Not that appraisers need permission, but according to Fannie Mae, “The subject property can be used as a fourth comparable sale or as supporting data if it was previously closed” (B4-1.3-08). I’ve done this on occasion when a property is unique and data is limited. After all, what is more comparable than the subject property itself?
  5. Past vs. Present: If there was a previous sale in the past, we can probably milk it for some perspective, but let’s remember we ultimately have to let the current market speak to us instead of imposing the past on the present. After all, the market might be different today due to a change in zoning, change in buyer demand, gentrification, etc… It’s worth noting too sometimes sales in the past simply sold for way too much or way too little.

Example: Here is a graph I made for an appraisal I did recently that was going to court. The subject sold three times in the past at a mid-range of the competitive market. Does the history of sales help build credibility for why I reconciled the value to the middle range? I think so.

context for value with graphing - by sacramento appraisal blog

Tip for Agents & Owners: If something has changed about the property since the previous sale, be very intentional about talking with the appraiser about the change (please use my Info Sheet for Appraisers). Also, I recommend opening up discussion about the nature of the prior sale so the appraiser can have more information and maybe make a judgment call about the sale (especially if the property sold too high or too low for some reason).

I hope that was helpful.

Questions: How do you use previous sales when you value properties? What is #6? Did I leave something out? I’d love to hear your take.

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