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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4 questions to ask when giving real estate value adjustments

Let’s talk about adjustments. Last month I wrote about being a trigger-happy real estate adjustment giver, and I had some great feedback. One appraiser told me she is going to stop adjusting for some of the very minor stuff like fireplaces and covered patios, and an agent told me his list of adjustments was basically the one I shared as an example of what not to use. It’s great to hear of growth like this, and I love the honesty, yet I think anytime we start talking about adjustments, it can also make us feel insecure because we begin to question everything we are doing. So for the sake of growth and conversation, let’s kick around the topic a bit more. I’d love to hear your take in the comments (or send me an email).

giving real estate adjustments - by sacramento appraisal blog - image purchased and used with permission from 123rf dot com

4 questions to ask when giving real estate value adjustments

Does the adjustment represent how buyers behave? When valuing a property, we adjust the comps when there are value-related differences compared to the subject property. The adjustments are not about what one buyer would pay, but rather what a representative buyer in the market might pay. In other words, if you lined up a group of 100 interested and qualified buyers, and they would pay a difference for that certain feature, we then adjust by that difference. Remember, there is always going to be one buyer who is going to love a feature, and pay way more because of it, but we have to ask, “How much is the market going to pay for this?” Example: House shaped like Darth Vader’s light saber.

Does the adjustment seem reasonable? Take a step back from the adjustment you are giving and just ask, “Is this reasonable?” If you’re giving a $500 fireplace adjustment, does that really seem like a reasonable adjustment, or is it purely made up? Does a $10,000 location adjustment for the busy street really represent what the market is willing to pay? Or does a $25,000 condition adjustment between the fixer and remodeled home make reasonable sense? This is a big question to filter our adjustments through, and I recommend getting into the habit of asking it. By the way, I find sometimes when it comes to condition, the adjustment might be more like 20% instead of $20,000.

Is the adjustment supported? It’s easy in real estate to pull out a list of canned adjustments and start giving them whenever we see any difference between a comp and the subject property. So we see a built-in pool and automatically give a $10,000 adjustment for the difference. Yet we need to do some research in the neighborhood. Is there a price difference between similar homes with and without pools? At times our canned adjustment at $10,000 might actually make really good sense, so it’s perfect to use, but other times we might see a different story of value. It’s easy to get stuck giving that $10,000 adjustment in every case, but this is where we need to let the market speak to us. Research the sales and let them set the tone. This means the adjustment might look different in each valuation. Maybe you’ll have no adjustment at all for a pool if there really isn’t a discernible price difference, while other times you might adjust twice as much as you normally do because the pool is something special and it looks like buyers paid a premium for it. Remember, the goal ought to be to find other homes that actually don’t need any adjustments at all because they are truly comparable. I know that’s a fat chance, but keep that in mind.

Does the adjustment fall in the range of value? As much as we’d like to think there is one perfect and precise adjustment out there to give, it’s most likely we will see a range of value emerge. For example, if we surveyed a neighborhood and found homes with built-in pools were tending to sell between $8,000 to $15,000 higher in price, we have to make a decision. What should the adjustment be in the case of the subject property’s pool? If it’s an older pool, maybe we end up giving a value adjustment closer to $8,000. But if it is a higher quality newer pool we might reconcile the adjustment closer to the top of the range.

I hope this was helpful.

Questions: What is question #5? Anything else to add?

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