Portland Area Real Estate Appraisal Discussion

Appraisal Came In One Thousand Below Contract Price
January 15th, 2016 12:19 AM

Low Appraiser Below Sales Price
speaking at Portland area real estate offices, I often hear horror stories about appraisals coming in at just one thousand dollars or so below the contract price of a property that is being sold for several hundred thousand dollars.  This difference, often less than one percent, is beyond typical appraiser accuracy but it results in a big hassle for all parties involved who now need to decide if they will bring more cash at closing, cancel the contract, renegotiate the contract, ask for a second appraisal, or dispute the appraisal.  Here is my take on why this occasionally happens and the top three things a real estate agent can do to help avoid the situation.

Appraisers are highly trained and regulated to be independent and unbiased third parties.  Most appraisers around Portland know a colleague who has been disciplined by the state appraisal board and most appraisers are terrified to do anything that might suggest that they are biased.  This feeling of fear can, at times, become misguided and cause some appraisers to reconcile an opinion of value that ignores the contract price and the limits of the appraisal accuracy when working with imperfect or incomplete sales data. 

A very small percentage of appraisers falsely believe that the appraiser should estimate a value and pretend that the contract does not exist.  I once had a reviewer say to me, “You reconciled giving some weight to the contract price.  What approach to value is that?  I’ve never heard of a contract approach to value.”  This logic does not take into account why an appraiser looks at the contract of sale for the subject and how pending sales and active listings relate to the sales comparison approach to value.

In a real estate appraisal for a typically-financed home sale, appraisers will be given a copy of the sales contract to analyze.  The contract price is not proof of market value, but it can be an indicator of value.  The main purpose of the appraiser’s analysis is to determine to what extent the contract is an indicator of value.  Typically, if the contract price was negotiated after a property was exposed to the market and the buyer and seller are unrelated and disinterested parties, then that contract is probably a strong indicator of value for the subject.  The appraiser can give this contract price some weight in reconciliation of a final value as long as it is reasonable to do so within the context of the other value indicators.

Here are the top three things a real estate agent can do to help ensure that the appraisals do not come back slightly low. 

  1. Ask if the appraiser has a complete copy of the contract of sale with the total number of pages. Sometimes appraisers will reconcile below the contract price simply because the contract that they have does not include all of the addendums or is difficult to read after signing and copying.
  2. Point out other offers and why this offer was selected. Other offers make the contract price a stronger indicator of value, because it is evidence of increased interest in the subject around a particular price.
  3. Point out features about the property that might be difficult to find sales of properties with similar features or make this property stand out to buyers. This might help the appraiser have justification to reconcile up slightly if the sales suggest slightly below the contract.

Following these tips should help eliminate a few frustrating closings, but it is still up to the judgement of the appraiser.  Sometimes buyers pay a little too much for a property and it is perfectly acceptable for an appraiser to come in slightly below the contract price after analyzing all of the evidence.  The important thing to know is that most appraisers do not want to cause trouble and will work very hard to make sure they are right before sending off an appraisal that is sure to become a lightning rod because it is slightly below the contract price.

Did I leave anything out or do you want to join in the conversation?  Let me know in the comments below.

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Thanks for reading,

Gary F. Kristensen, SRA, IFA, AGA

Gary, great blog post! You are definitely a great resource for Portland real estate appraisal issues!!

Posted by Conrad M on January 15th, 2016 12:32 AM
Great post Gary. To not consider the contract on the property being appraised is ignoring the actions of buyers and sellers in the current market, which we are trying to measure. If the contract price is within the range of the sales and listings then it can provide support, or if it is higher or lower it can tell you that there may have been some unique motivations in this deal, which need to be analyzed. Thanks for addressing this common situation.

Posted by Tom Horn on January 15th, 2016 7:49 AM
When I am working on a sale if I have difficulty supporting the sales price I generally call the listing agent to ask for additional information and/or ask if they are aware of sales outside of MLS that might help. This does a couple of things, it creates what I think is "good will" and also says I am willing to hear more information. I would rather be upfront and look for more information BEFORE I finish the report. I rarely get a dispute after I turn in the report if I have talked to the listing and/or buyers agents.

Posted by Renee Williams on January 15th, 2016 8:43 AM
Conrad, Tom, and Renee, thank you so much for following and your support. Tom, you're right, a low contract in relation to your comparable sales could be telling the appraiser that they're missing something. Renee, talking with the agent is a great idea, but as appraisers we need to be careful not to disclose our opinions to people other than the client (I'm sure that you're very careful :-)

Posted by Gary Kristensen on January 15th, 2016 9:41 AM
Sometimes the public thinks if an appraiser brings the value in right at the contract price, there is funny business going on. But the appraiser could very well simply be saying, "The buyer and seller got it right. Their contract is a solid representation of value. The contract price falls nicely within the range of values in the competitive market." Well done, Gary.

Posted by Ryan Lundquist on January 19th, 2016 8:23 AM
Thank you Ryan for the comment and that is a great point about public perception. Early in my appraisal career, I felt uncomfortable about coming in right at the contract price because I was afraid that readers of the report would think that.

Posted by Gary Kristensen on January 19th, 2016 9:13 AM
I like the post, a couple of other value indicators I consider are property value trends, are they trending up or down? Supply and demand, is there an over supply, shortage or is it in balance? Days on the market to contract, did it go to contract in a very short time or was it on the market for a long period? How many showings in that period? You covered this one multiple offers & why this one was selected? Are there comparable listings similar in price? of those are there contracts pending? The answers to these questions tell the story if the appraisal value should be at the contract price or less than the contract price.

Posted by John Tsiaousis on January 21st, 2016 6:00 PM
Thank you John for adding. Those are all great things that a real estate agent can convey to an appraiser to help make sure that the appraiser does not come in slightly below the contract price.

Posted by Gary Kristensen on January 22nd, 2016 12:05 AM


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