Behind the scenes of how appraisals are ordered

How are appraisals ordered? How much time are appraisers actually given to finish the report? What is it like on the appraisers’ side of things? Let’s take a look at what happen before, during, and after an appraisal is ordered for a loan. Knowing how things work can foster informed conversations and help everyone plan for an effective escrow too. I hope this helps.

how appraisals are ordered - by sacramento appraisal blog - image purchased and used with permission from 123rf

My Interview on CBS: By the way, last week I was interviewed by CBS to talk about housing trends. Click here to see the video or scroll to the bottom of this post.

NOTE: The info below is relevant only for how appraisals are ordered in the lending world. Private appraisals do not require use of an AMC.

Before the Appraisal Order:

  • Appraisers typically have to be on an approved list for an Appraisal Management Company (AMC) to be sent appraisal orders. Appraisers apply to be on such a list, submit a resume, a few work samples, etc… In case you don’t know what an AMC is, according to NAR, an Appraisal Management Company (AMC) works with lenders and appraisers to facilitate the ordering, tracking, quality control and delivery of appraisal reports.
  • The AMC puts together a list of what they expect from appraisers. Sometimes the list is just one paragraph, but other times it might literally be three pages long of what they expect on the inspection, or how the appraiser should handle certain situations if they arise. When the order is sent to the appraiser, this list is attached along with the order.

Image purchased at 123rf dot com and used with permission - 14688774_s - smallerThe Appraisal Order:

  • When an appraisal is needed, an AMC will order one from one of their approved appraisers. If there is not an available appraiser on their list, the AMC will try to find an appraiser to add to their list.
  • Some AMCs will send out a blast order to a large group of appraisers. Typically the fee is very low and the turn-time is very quick. The first appraiser to click on the order is the one who gets it.
  • Other AMCs or appraisal departments will send out an order to a specific appraiser, and give the appraiser anywhere from several to 24 hours to accept the order.
  • Appraisers are regularly given about 7 days to finish an appraisal, though some AMCs may require 3-5 days.
  • If the appraiser doesn’t like the fee or turn-time that is offered, the appraiser can negotiate for a different fee and deadline. Some AMCs listen to appraisers and approve higher fees as needed, whereas other AMCs are bottom feeders only searching for the cheapest and fastest service.
  • An appraisal is usually due no later than a specific time such as 12pm, 1pm, or by midnight of the given due date.
  • A rush fee might result for an appraisal that is due several days prior to the normal turn-time or even just one day.

appraisal value - image purchased by Sacramento Appraisal Blog from 123rt dot com 4During the Appraisal Order:

  • AMCs usually want the appraiser to call to set the inspection within the first 24 hours of accepting the order.
  • Once the inspection is set, the appraiser has to update the AMC’s online appraisal platform with the inspection time.
  • The appraiser is usually required to give status updates every 24 or 48 hours.
  • The ordering platform can actually track how well an appraiser communicates and whether deadlines are met, which can result in more or less work for the appraiser.
  • The appraisal might be due in 7 days, but if nobody can give the appraiser access until day 6, the appraiser is likely going to ask for several more days to complete the assignment.
  • If the property ends up being more complex, the appraiser may need additional time or even a fee increase.
  • The appraiser can access the purchase contract and other provided documents in the AMC’s online portal. Keep in mind the appraiser only has access to whatever documents are there though (usually the purchase contract, but rarely the pest report, TDS, or title report).
  • INVOICE: Many AMCs require the appraiser to NOT include the invoice with the appraisal. There can be a big difference between what the Borrower is paying for the appraisal and what the appraiser is actually getting (this point was added thanks to an appraiser who emailed me).

After the Appraisal Order:

  • The appraiser is thanked profusely and lauded with praise by everyone involved in the transaction (kidding).
  • An AMC’s review department will look over the appraisal and ask the appraiser for any clarification or additional comps if needed. Appraisers typically are asked to complete revisions in 1-2 days.
  • If deemed necessary, the lender may hire a second appraiser to do a second appraisal when a house is complex, the value is suspicious, or the house has been flipped recently.
  • Most lenders have a rebuttal process, and the appraiser will typically be given 2 days to look at any new information or data that is submitted for the appraiser to consider.
  • Appraisers are usually given a 2-3 day turn-time for a re-inspection.
  • Appraisers are often paid between 30-60 days of doing the appraisal. It depends on the client.

Three Important Considerations:

  1. Backed-up AMC Communication: Appraisers are often blamed for a slow escrow, but in reality an appraiser might hit all deadlines that were given without being tardy. The problem is that a loan officer might submit an order to the appraisal department, but the appraiser might not actually see the order for a few days if the ordering department is backed up. Moreover, if the appraiser is dealing with a complex issue and reaches out to the AMC for conversation or direction, but it takes the AMC four days to respond to the appraiser, it can certainly delay things. The same thing happens when appraisers request documents that should be easy to get, but they end up taking many days.
  2. Remembering the Past: I remember working in an appraisal office in 2002 and at the peak of the busy season we had a 4-week turn-time, and we would do 2 or 3-week “rushes”. The turn-time was simply longer because that was the market at the time. It seems right now we are locked into a much faster turn, which is nice, but when the market gets hot, that may need to change.
  3. Picky Appraisers: When appraisers are overloaded with work, many appraisers might say NO to appraising a complex property. This means an AMC might have to reach out to many appraisers before finding someone willing to take on the assignment (hint: pay the appraiser for the additional complexity as money tends to talk). For instance, a 7-day turn time in the beginning of the year was actually not enough time for many appraisers because they were backed-up with so many other appraisals. Thus when both an easy order and a very challenging order would come into the appraiser’s pipeline, the obvious choice was to take the easier route because the hourly rate would be far better than how much more time it would take to complete the complex appraisal (that makes sense, right?).

My Interview on CBS:

Questions: Any thoughts, stories, or points to share? Agents, does anything surprise you here? Appraisers, did I miss anything? I’d love to hear your take.

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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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The real estate market that ripened early in Sacramento

The market ripened early this year. Buyers have simply been ready before sellers. On one hand listings and sales have been at fairly normal levels for the first two months of the year, so we can say the market is normal in that regard. But buyer demand really took off last month as pendings in the regional market were up by almost 30% compared to last February. This is the part that is not normal, and why we can say the Spring market ripened early.

Hungry buyers - image purchased and used with permission by Sacramento Appraisal Blog

One Paragraph to Explain the Market: Well-priced listings are going quickly and experiencing multiple offers, but otherwise properties are sitting on the market if they are not priced correctly. Buyers have been anxious to get into contract, but at the same time they seem to be showing discretion by not readily pulling the trigger on homes with adverse locations or issues. This has led to a sense of many current listings feeling like leftovers since they’ve been well vetted like thrift store clothing. The good news is we are reaching the time of year where more listings should be hitting the market to help alleviate the pressure of a lack of good inventory. Lastly, it took a few less days to sell last month, inventory decreased, and the sales to original list price ratio increased (all normal in Spring).

NOTE: I am posting once a week now, and this means my big monthly post will have less text, but a few more graphs (Placer, Sacramento County, & Regional Market).

Two ways to read this post:

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

DOWNLOAD 45+ graphs HERE for free (zip file): Please download these 45+ graphs here as a zip file (or send me an email). Use them for study, for your newsletter, or even some on your blog. See my sharing policy for 5 ways to share.


median price and inventory since 2013 - by sacramento appraisal blog price metrics since 2014 in sacramento countymonths of housing inventory by sacramento appraisal blogCDOM in Sacramento County - by Sacramento Appraisal Blogsales volume in Sacramento Countyfebruary sales in sacramento county


Placer County median price and inventory - by home appraiser blog

number of listings in PLACER county -February 2015 - by home appraiser blog

months of housing inventory in placer county by sacramento appraisal blog

days on market in placer county by sacramento appraisal blog

Placer County sales volume - by sacramento appraisal blog

SACRAMENTO REGION (Sac, Placer, Yolo, El Dorado):

median price and inventory in sacramento placer yolo el dorado county

days on market in placer sac el dorado yolo county by sacramento appraisal blogmonths of housing inventory in region by sacramento appraisal blogRegional market median price - by home appraiser blognumber of listings in Placer Sacramento Yolo El Dorado county - by home appraiser bloginterest rates inventory median price in sacramento regional market by sacramento appraisal blog

Questions: What is driving buyers to get into contract? Is it low rates? Is it a sense of needing to get in a home before values rise too quickly? What do you think?

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