Homeowners Can Have a Say in Appraisals

You enjoy the comforts, perform the chores and pay the costs. Who knows more about your home than you, the owner?

Home Appraisal
Home Appraisal

Sorry to say, but when it comes to how much your home is worth, you're not the ultimate authority -- a licensed or certified appraiser is.

Everyone's heard about the housing crisis, but an owner can be surprised when an appraisal reveals just how much the home's value has been affected, says Pat Vlasis, owner of American Way Financial, a mortgage brokerage in Oak Lawn, Ill.

Vlasis relates this typical scenario: "A woman wanted to refinance her mortgage, taken out when her home was appraised at $360,000. She asked to refinance just her original mortgage amount, and I didn't see any problem because she had taken a loan that was less than 80 percent (of the $360,000 value). But then she decided she wanted a bigger loan with some cash out. I told her she couldn't because the (new) appraisal came in at $295,000."

Informing, not influencing
Appraisers have the last word, but they will consider input from homeowners who are refinancing or from real estate agents when a home is being sold.

In fact, new appraisal rules should make it easier for homeowners who are refinancing to see exactly how the appraiser arrived at the appraised value, says T.J. McCarthy, who serves on the Illinois Real Estate Appraisal Licensing Board. These new rules stipulate that mortgage borrowers be able to see the appraisal report at least three days before they're scheduled to close on the loan.

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"An appraiser can reconsider a value conclusion if they learn they had an omission, like they missed reporting an extra bathroom," he says.

Owners can also provide information on homes used as "comparables," pointing out, for instance, that the home is slightly bigger than others in the neighborhood.

Valuing a home isn't an exact science, but appraisers try to make it as objective as possible by carefully plotting the prices of similar, nearby homes.

These days, a scarcity of sales, as well as more low-priced, foreclosure-related sales, make finding comparable values especially challenging, says McCarthy.

The new set of appraisal rules, called the Home Valuation Code of Conduct, aim to limit influence on appraisers from lenders and other parties who would profit if a transaction at a certain price point proceeded.

But appraisers, who gather sales data from public records and other sources, should be willing to talk with homeowners who are intimately connected to the neighborhood.

"Any competent appraiser is open to considering additional data," says Jim Amorin, current president of the Appraisal Institute, a global membership association of professional real estate appraisers.

The key for appraisers is knowing the difference between influence and accepting legitimate, additional information about properties -- like a lender saying, "I really need this to appraise at X amount," he says.

Getting through
Ironically, while giving mortgage borrowers more access to appraisals, the new appraisal code may make it more difficult to communicate with an appraiser, McCarthy says.

Indeed, Vlasis says that as a mortgage broker, the new rules no longer allow her to see the actual appraisal report or talk with the appraiser. Only lending companies actually funding the mortgage have that privilege.

McCarthy is expecting to hear directly from many borrowers who disagree with their appraised valuations -- but he won't immediately talk with them. "Even though the borrower is paying for the appraisal, it's the lending company, which is my client," says McCarthy. "I'll urge (homeowners) to get permission from the company to speak to me."

Read more: "But my house is the best one on the block!"