How to fight back against lowball valuations

How do you fight back when an appraiser – often from another city working for a low fee on behalf of a big bank – wrecks your sale, purchase or refinancing with a lowball valuation? More

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How to fight back against lowball valuations

Posted 11/21/11

How do you fight back when an appraiser – often from another city working for a low fee on behalf of a big bank – wrecks your sale, purchase or refinancing with a lowball valuation?

It’s a serious problem in markets across the country. For example:

• Homebuilder John Nolde of Richmond, Va., recently sold a new, green-certified house for $199,500, only to see an out-of-area appraiser cut the value to $169,000, a figure below Nolde’s own combined construction and land costs.

• Southern Methodist University business school professor William Maxwell had his four-bedroom Dallas home appraised at $790,000 for a refinancing last year, but when he went to sell it earlier this year, the appraisal came in at $730,000. Maxwell said the appraiser, who was not from the immediate area, “had never walked into a single house in this neighborhood,” and knew little about local pricing trends. He pulled his house off the market.

• Gary Crabtree, an appraiser in Bakersfield, Calif., sought to sell his mother’s condo this summer for $155,000 – a price he says was supported by extensive documentation of recent comparable sales. Within two days he got a full-price offer, but an appraiser assigned by the bank valued the condo at $147,000. When his buyer switched to a second lender, Crabtree says the assigned appraiser “came from 126 miles away.” Since Crabtree knew the appraiser was “geographically incompetent,” he “spoon-fed” the second appraiser the original comparables. Voila! The valuation came in at the full $155,000 listed price and the sale closed in mid-October.

Disagreements over real estate values are nothing new, but agents, builders and sellers say current market conditions – plus recent changes in federal rules that effectively encourage banks to use in-house or affiliated appraisal management companies – are magnifying the problem.

In a recent survey of members, the Massachusetts Association of Realtors found that more than half of agents said sales had been hampered by appraisals that came in low. Polls by the National Association of Realtors also have documented widespread frustration over faulty valuations, and the association ranks them among the major causes of contract cancellations.

So what can you do to lessen the chance that a botched appraisal will torpedo your transaction? Here’s a quick guide.

• Be proactive. Federal rules allow you to provide the appraiser your own comps – recently sold properties of a similar size, condition and amenity levels in your immediate market area. Your realty agent can help you pull them together before the appraiser arrives. Or for a fee of $200 to $300, you can hire an experienced local appraiser to assist you.

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