Two appraisals with a 20% difference in value

My appraisal was 20% higher than the other appraiser. That’s what the attorney told me after I sent in my report. My first thought was, “Wow, I’m surprised”, and my second thought was, “Yikes, I hope I didn’t get it too high.” Long story short, the reason why there was such a huge disparity in value came down to comp selection. I chose properties that made reasonable sense for the subject, and the other appraiser chose homes that on paper looked like they could be the right ones, but in the end they were too low.

36955234 - woman making choice between city and country, on gray background

How can value be so far off? Well, let’s take a quick look at this situation and consider some key points for choosing comps. Even if you aren’t from the Sacramento area, what do you notice about my comps and his comps? (Note: I removed addresses and moved the subject property icon slightly to obscure its location).


The Comps – Explaining why there was a 20% difference in value:

  1. Closer to Main Street: The other appraiser chose sales that were either on a busy street (Lincoln Ave) or closer to a main street (Fair Oaks Blvd). Of course it’s fine if sales with a busy location are used, but we have to consider if a value adjustment ought to be given.
  2. Court Location: This is a key point. If you look closely, two of the other appraiser’s “comps” are located in court-type streets off Fair Oaks Blvd. These “court” locations are subject to increased traffic noise from the main street, but they also don’t have the same feel as the subject street. The court location basically has only one street of homes instead of multiple walkable streets with a more traditional neighborhood feel. We have to consider if there is a value difference here instead of blindly calling these locations similar.
  3. One-Mile Radius: The appraiser’s sales are located within a one-mile radius, but that doesn’t mean they are reasonable for use. Just because a sale is within a mile doesn’t mean it’s automatically a “comp” (key point). After all, there is a difference between a “sale” and a “comp”.
  4. Older vs. Newer: Just because it’s a newer sale doesn’t mean it’s the best “comp”. Fresh sales are ideal, but sometimes older sales are more relevant – especially if they are in the immediate neighborhood and require less adjustments than new stuff that’s really less similar (I’m not saying we should pass up new lower-priced “comps” for older higher sales). In this case the other appraiser chose newer sales that were less similar instead of older more similar sales. The irony was there was an older similar property that closed 2.5 years ago on the subject street for 5% higher than the other appraiser’s current value. Since the market has increased in value over these past years, this one sale alone could have been a tell the appraised value was simply too low.
  5. Deep Study: It’s easy to value something in a tract subdivision with model match sales galore, but it can be tricky when working in an area where values differ tremendously from street to street. This is why it’s critical to dig deeply to find how the market really views the subject street and property. I recommend finding sales on the subject’s street (even if they’re older) and asking yourself how these homes compared to the rest of the market at the time of their sale. What sold at a similar level? This type of research helps us see the context of how the subject street might fit in the overall picture of value. Also, if the subject sold in the past (and it was a legit sale), how did it compete with other sales at the time? What did it really compare to? That might also give us clues into the market. The truth is we might need to look through years of sales in the immediate neighborhood and spend multiple hours crunching numbers and scribbling notes so we get a sense of the context of value. If you’ve only struggled for 15-30 minutes, chances are you need to keep looking and continue to make comparisons and seek out advice until you get a good sense of how value tends to work on the subject street and in the immediate area. Otherwise it’s easy to pick nearby sales and call them similar even though they might trend much differently.

I hope that was helpful. Please know my goal isn’t to say my appraisal was perfect (there is no such thing) or to throw another appraiser under the bus. I love my colleagues. In this case there was a clear value difference and frankly the other appraisal just wasn’t reasonable.

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Questions: What do you see about the comps above? Any other tips for choosing comps? Anything I missed? I’d love to hear your take.

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Choosing comps when there is a gated community

I had a real estate agent ask a fantastic question recently about choosing comps when there is a gated neighborhood. Here’s the issue: If the subject property is NOT located in a gated community, can an appraiser use “comps” that are similar and within 0.25 miles but are in a gated community? My answer is YES and NO.

45853684 - iron gate

YES: An appraiser can definitely use sales from a gated community. If there isn’t a price difference inside and outside the gate, an appraiser can use gated sales and make no value adjustment. Or if there is a price difference between the two locations, an appraiser can always choose to use gated “comps”, but also make an up or down adjustment to account for the value difference.

NO: Sound the alarm because it’s a red flag if you are valuing something outside a gate but only using gated “comps”. After all, what is the gate keeping in? And what is it keeping out? Despite being nearby, a gated subdivision could be a much different market that is higher or lower in price. Realistically, if I am only using gated sales for my “comps”, I haven’t really shown what the market is willing to pay outside the gate. There could be a value difference, which is why it’s critical to find non-gated sales to help tell the story of value for the subject property (even if the sales are older). It goes back to an “apples to apples’ comparison where we want to try to use the most similar sales in terms of size, location, condition, quality, bed/bath count, etc… Ultimately as we study the market we can make the distinction between properties that are truly “comps” from ones that are merely sales.

A local example: Here is a graph of all 2500 to 3500 sq ft sales in the Crocker Ranch area of Roseville. The blue dots are the gated sales and the yellow dots are the non-gated sales.

Crocker Ranch Neighborhood - Sacramento Appraisal Blog

The graph helps show larger-sized properties inside the gated areas tend to command higher prices. Obviously there are some higher non-gated sales too, but the highest sales in the area over the past 7 years have come from within the gate. This is why we have to study sales and then choose “comps” accordingly.

choosing comps in appraisal - sacramento real estate appraisal blog

Questions: Do you find values to be higher or lower outside of a gated community? Any other advice or wisdom you’d offer when it comes to choosing comps? Did I miss anything?

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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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How do you value an attached unit when there are no recent sales?

I get quite a few calls from the real estate community about pricing attached units. The conversation tends to go like this:

Agent: Ryan, I’m working on pricing a halfplex, and it’s not easy.
Me: I feel your pain.
Agent: There aren’t any recent halfplex sales in the neighborhood, and my unit is larger than others too. What should I do?
Me: You should probably just guess and hope you’re okay on value.
Agent: What??
Me: I’m kidding. Let’s talk about it.

What is a halfplex? If you are located in another part of the country, you might call an attached home something else, but in the Sacramento area we say “halfplex” (sort of like half a duplex). The home below is a halfplex because it is connected to the house next door by the garage and a wall inside. Moreover, the parcel line runs through the center of the connecting wall in the garage, so each unit is individually owned and has its own lot.

tips for valuing a halfplex

It’s not always easy to value certain properties – especially when sales are sparse. This is why it’s important to have a solid valuation methodology clipped to your real estate utility belt so you can apply it as needed.

Tips for Valuing a Halfplex (Attached Home):

1) Apples to Apples: An attached home should be compared to other attached homes because a buyer looking for a detached unit is usually NOT simultaneously in the market for an attached one. It’s just a different type of house. Moreover, there can be a huge value difference between attached vs. detached.

2) Start in the Immediate Neighborhood: You’ll want to find halfplex (attached) sales in the immediate neighborhood so you are sure what buyers have been willing to pay in the area. If you go out too far looking for “comps”, it’s easy to miss the immediate market by assuming that values are similar in other tracts. I recommend using the Polygon tool in Sacramento MLS so you can actually draw exact neighborhood boundaries in the immediate subdivision to be sure you are only getting data from those boundaries. You might want to start looking at sales over the past 6 months and then go back to one year. In an ideal world you will have a ton of sales, but we all know that doesn’t always happen.

TIP: In addition to sales, be sure to look at both listings and withdrawn listings in the immediate neighborhood to get a fuller picture of neighborhood values.

start small before searching further away for comps - sacramento appraisal blog

3) Look at Older Sales in Immediate Neighborhood: Be sure to look back over the past few years or so in the immediate neighborhood so you can see gain a better context for the halfplex market. You probably won’t use these oldies as comps in a listing presentation (or appraisal), but they still might provide a fantastic context because you can either add or subtract value to older sales based on what the market has done over time.

4) Previous Subject Property Sale: Has the subject property sold previously? If so, look up sales at the time to see what it was comparable to in the neighborhood? Moreover, how has the market changed since it sold previously? Be sure to give more value weight to recent sales and current reasonable listings, but be aware of any previous sale to help create context. Remember the condition of the subject property might have changed over time, and pay attention to the nature of the previous sale (maybe it sold for too little or too much).

5) Competitive Sales in Other Tracts: In some areas of town there are simply few attached homes, so you may need to go out several miles to find comps. The problem of course is that if you travel too far, some neighborhoods might have higher or lower prices, so be aware of value adjustments that might need to be made. As a rule of thumb, try to look in areas where you think a buyer might realistically considering hunting for a home if the subject property was not available. You can double check how comparable other neighborhoods are by comparing older sales in the immediate neighborhood with older sales in neighborhoods that are further away. For instance, if you have an older sale that closed at $250,000 in the immediate neighborhood, how much did similar-sized halfplex sales in further places sell for at the time? If the neighborhood that is further away ends up being very similar in price when comparing historical sales, there is a good chance current sales in the further neighborhood could help tell you what the current market is willing to pay for your neighborhood.  Be careful to not just look at one sale though because one sale does not make or break the market. Having a few data points is best so you know you’re not just looking at an outlier.

what is a comp - sacramento appraisal blog

6) Detached Units in Immediate Neighborhood: Be aware of what other detached units are selling for in the neighborhood. If there are very few recent sales, I recommend going back in time to find out what the price difference was between halfplex (attached) sales and similar-sized detached sales in the immediate neighborhood. Then once you understand the price difference in the past neighborhood market, come back to today’s market. What are similar-sized detached sales currently selling for? This may help you see what attached units should theoretically be selling for. Remember, this is definitely a back-burner approach to value, and it’s not the first step, but it can still provide context.

7) Bottom of the Market: Where is the bottom of the market in the immediate neighborhood? There is a good chance that halfplex (attached) units tend to sell toward the bottom of the price range compared to similar-sized detached units. I’m not saying all halfplex units are going to sell for dirt cheap, but only that they tend to be marketed toward the lower end of the price ladder in many neighborhoods.

I hope that was helpful. If you’re interested in more details, see How to choose comps like an appraiser.

Photo Credit: The first photo is from Roseville & Rocklin Realtors Steve & Heather Ostrom (thanks).

Question: Anything else you’d add? I’d love to hear your take in the comments.

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