When I first bought a house, I assumed that the appraisal process consisted of the mortgage company hiring an appraiser, the appraiser writing a report, then the lender making a decision about your loan application. Because it was supposed to be a neutral process I didn’t think there was anything I could do to make sure things went well. However, I recently discovered that, although you cannot try to influence an appraisal, you can ask the appraiser questions to ensure they are qualified to provide an accurate appraisal report and minimize the chances of a sale falling through.
What questions should you ask your appraiser? Your appraiser should be asked the questions below so their local knowledge, work experience, and professionalism can be established before the appraisal takes place. This will prevent an under-qualified appraiser assessing the home and ensures that your mortgage lender will receive an accurate report.
It is not standard practice for a buyer or seller to interact directly with an appraiser. In fact, there is a fine legal line between contacting an appraiser to ask questions and attempting to influence them, which would be illegal. Therefore it would be more usual have your real estate professional attend the appraisal and ask these questions on your behalf or to ask your lender these questions, changing the wording slightly so that you are asking about the appraisal process in general and not about a specific appraiser.
Which questions should we be asking? What do the answers tell us? Why is this information valuable, and how can the responses we receive influence our home buying? Read on and find out everything you need to know.
Before you continue, check out the Appraiser Questionnaire. I created this for you so you will be able to better make the decision to request a different appraiser or not. It will help you tremendously when you reach this step in purchasing your home.
How The Appraisal Process Works
When you ask a lender for a mortgage, they will want to ensure that the property is worth the price you are proposing to pay. The lender will need to ensure that, should you be unable to pay them back for any reason, that they will be able to resell the house and recoup their money. This is why an appraisal is carried out.
Mortgage providers, buyers, and sellers could all potentially benefit from influencing the assigned value of the property in question, and for this reason, the appraiser must, by law, be a neutral party.
The Federal Housing Administration, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac established regulations to prevent lenders from being affiliated with appraisers after the financial crisis of 2008. This happened because, so it was claimed, lenders sought inflated appraisals in order to lend more money, fuel price increases and bidding wars, and maximize profits.
How Does The Lender Get A Neutral Appraisal?
The lender will usually contact an appraisal management company, which you will sometimes see referred to as an AMC. These companies maintain rosters of qualified appraisers and when a request is received the AMC appoints a local appraisal professional to carry out the work. This minimizes the possibility of one party in the transaction having an appraiser selected who is sympathetic to their needs.
The appraiser will then arrange for a convenient time to visit the property and carry out their assignment. When they have completed the paperwork for the appraisal, the report will be sent directly to the lender.
Why You Should Be Asking These Questions
In an ideal world, lenders would always ensure they had the best qualified professional for the job in order to receive the most accurate appraisal possible.
In reality, some lenders will opt for the cheapest option available, or they may use an AMC who doesn’t carry out due diligence when selecting an appraiser for a particular request.
As a result, the person who turns up to carry out an appraisal may be the best person for the job, or they may be:
- Licensed to carry out appraisals but not certified for more complex work.
- A part-timer or freelancer who does not have the opportunity to learn from fellow professionals and so has a limited or out of date knowledge base.
- Unfamiliar with the neighborhood
- Using out of date comparables
- Including short sales, repossessions, and bankruptcy sales in their assessment of local market values
- Under pressure to carry out multiple appraisals, each day, very quickly
- Unaware of the way in which unusual elements of a particular property could influence value.
It is imperative that you aim to reduce any possible issues with an appraiser before they begin work on the property in question. Any attempt to interfere once the work has already started could, theoretically, be construed as an attempt at influence, which would be illegal.
Asking The Lender Questions
Borrowers and real estate professionals not only can but should ask a lender about their process for hiring an appraiser before they move ahead. By asking these questions before the appraisal process begins you are merely carrying out due diligence on your mortgage company.
In fact, some people would argue that, because they have a fiduciary relationship with their client, mortgage brokers have an obligation to ensure the best-qualified appraiser is chosen and should, therefore, be questioning every lender’s process.
If a loan officer or other official representative of the lender cannot answer the questions below, then it could be an indicator that the bank is uninterested in obtaining an accurate appraisal and is more concerned about the cost and the speed of the process that the quality of the final report.
21 Questions To Ask Your Appraiser
Don’t forget to download the free checklist, 21 Questions To Ask Your Appraiser
This is an easy to follow list designed to help you remember what you need to ask your appraiser.
Rather than write one list of questions for you to ask your realtor to ask your appraiser and a similar list to ask your lender about the appraiser or appraisal process I have produced just one list. The questions have been written in the way you would ask them if you were speaking directly to an appraiser so if you are asking them of your lender, just change the phrasing slightly.
1) What Is Your Contact Information?
A surprising number of people do not think to get the contact details of the appraiser carrying out the work. If you have questions about the final report, you will want to know who you should be asking and how to get in contact with them.
2) Who Do You Work For?
An appraiser who is self-employed is not automatically a bad choice. Many of them are high-quality professionals who carry out their duties with skill and integrity.
Some freelancers have limited opportunities for sharing experiences and learning from others. For this reason, their response should be considered in the context of their other answers. If there is any uncertainty about their experience you can ask some additional questions such as:
3) Do you work from a home office or from a company office?
4) Are you a member of any professional or appraiser networking organizations?
5) How do you keep up to date with the latest updates in appraisals?
Also, your real estate agent may be aware of appraisal companies that have a less than stellar reputation. If the person sent to appraise the property in your transaction is from an organization known to provide low appraisals, this will give you all the opportunity to veto them, before the visit happens.
6) Are You A Fulltime Appraiser Or Do You Have Any Other Employment?
Another, similar warning flag would be a part-time appraiser who has other employment. Appraisals demand focus and attention to detail which is difficult to achieve if you are bouncing back and forth between many jobs.
The only time you should be comfortable with a part-time appraiser is when the person in question is a well respected, experienced, local appraiser who has chosen to do fewer professional hours or if the market in your area is such that there are not enough appraisals to support a full-time career.
7) Where Is Your Office?
In the appraisal world, there is a concept known as “geographic competency.” As you would imagine this term is in reference to an appraisers experience in a specific area. Good appraisers can sometimes provide inaccurate appraisals because they are not familiar with your town, or neighborhood.
It is not critical that your appraiser lives or works in your neck of the woods, but they do need to bell informed about the nuances of the specific location and general locale of the property. Subtable follow-up questions for this point include:
8) How many appraisals have you carried out in this neighborhood in the last ninety days?
9) Do you have a specific geographical area you work in?
10) Where does the bulk of your work take you?
11) How Long Have You Been Appraising?
Yes, everyone has to start somewhere, but if you are relying on a favorable appraisal to secure your mortgage, do you really want to be part of their learning process?
A relatively new, fulltime appraiser may have more experience in your local area or your particular type of property than someone who has been working for longer. For this reason, so do not use the answer to this question alone to weed out inappropriate appraisers.
Instead, if you are concerned about the years of experience, you can follow up with questions such as:
- How many appraisals have you carried out in the last year?
- Do you specialize in a particular type of property?
However, unless they do possess an exceptional level of experience, it is preferable to have an appraiser with at least five years of experience for general appraisals and ten years experience for specialist properties or situations
12) Do You Specialize In A Particular Price Range Or Type Of Property?
This is especially important in cases where you have a property with unusual features or at an uncommon price point.
The answer speaks to the appraiser’s experience with properties similar to your own. If you are wanting to buy a waterfront property, a home with a spectacular view, a high-end, expensive home or other distinctive features, you will want to ensure the appraiser has appropriate professional experience.
13) Are You A Member Of The Local Multiple Listing Service?
The multiple listing service, or MLS, is a database of the properties that are currently listed and have recently sold in a particular geographic area. Managed and maintained by the National Association of Realtors many people assume there is just one national MLS when, in fact, there are actually over 700 separate MLS databases.
The detailed property information on these databases is not available directly to the general public. It can only be used by real estate professionals who apply for access and pay an annual membership fee.
A good appraiser will have access to the local MLS in order to view the most up to date information on the price for which other, other homes in the area have sold.
14) How Many Appraisal Visits Do You Carry Out On An Average Day?
The appraisers visit to a property can be as short as 15 minutes, or it may take several hours. It all depends on the size and state of a property.
Yes, your appraiser may want to look in your closets if they are built in closets, or poke about in your kitchen cupboards. They are not looking to see how well dressed you are or how much you like to cook. They are checking the quality of the fixtures and fittings and assessing how well maintained the home is.
Having said that, the visit is only part of the process. An appraiser does additional “behind the scenes” work such as researching comparable sales in the area.
The appraiser’s answer to this question should be considered alongside their responses to the previous questions. The number of properties assessed a day, alone, will not tell you all you need to know.
Because someone who works from home, as a one-person operation, who is not local, has no particular size or type of property they specialize in and does upwards of five or six appraisals a day may be a form filler who is more concerned with getting through as many jobs as possible per day.
In the meantime.
An appraiser who works with others, is local, specializes in smaller homes, and has many years experience may get through five or six high-quality appraisals every day because they do not have to spend as much time on the physical visits and background research in order to give an accurate value.
15) Are You Licensed, Or Certified?
Residential appraisers can be either licensed or certified. A licensed appraiser is the lowest level of certification a state can give. These individuals are usually either entirely new to the career or have not bothered to increase their level of expertise, and they may only appraise more basic properties for lending purposes.
A certified appraiser is the higher level of state authorization. Once certified an appraiser can work on more expensive and more complex properties.
16) Do You Have Any Professional Designations In Addition To Your State Authority?
An appraiser who cares about their career and the quality of their work will often take steps to become better than the basic standard required by the state.
There are many options for professional designations available, the majority of which are available through the Appraisals Institute. This international organization, based in the USA, standardizes education, practices, and ethics in the real estate appraisal field.
To receive a professional designation from the AI, an appraiser has to meet specific requirements, demonstrate professional standards, complete further education and exams, and adhere to a strict code of ethics.
The AI also have in-house training courses that appraisers must complete in order to receive specialized designations
17) Have You Ever Been Disciplined?
A patchy history or a record with disciplinary actions could indicate an appraiser who cuts corners, does not adhere to the expected standards, or has some other issues with the quality of their work.
18) When Will The Report Be Ready?
Lenders are required, by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, to tell borrowers they can have a copy of the appraiser’s report, as well as any other documentation the process generates. You must receive the report at least three full business days before the scheduled closing so that you have an opportunity to review and consider the report.
Asking for a report date from your appraiser ensures you know when the paperwork will be ready and reduces the possibility of the appraiser leaving the data languishing in a “to-do” pile until they get around to finishing the report.
19) How Much Is Your Appraisal Fee?
Many of the AMC’s do not look at who they have available and the details of the property so they can send the best appraiser for the job. For them it is all about volume, getting as many appraisals done in as short a time as possible. These companies may send bland group emails to all of the appraisers on their books. The job then goes to the one who answers first, or the appraiser with the lowest price, or the person who can do the job most quickly.
By asking about their payment, you can see how much of the appraisal fee is going to the person doing the job and how much is going to the AMC. An appraiser who is only receiving a small percentage of the price you are paying for the appraisal is likely to be working for a company that values quantity over quality.
What Is The Number 1 Question To Ask Your Appraiser?
If you have an average house in an average neighborhood, then the number one question to ask your appraiser is:
20) How many appraisals have you carried out in this neighborhood in the last ninety days?
This will give you a feel for their level of local knowledge and how many appraisals they carry out in a fixed period.
If you have a home with a specific quirk that affects the price or property with acreage, vacant property or a specialized commercial or industrial unit, then your number one question to ask your appraiser is:
21) Do You Specialize In A Particular Price Range Or Type Of Property?
It goes without saying that if you have a more “specialized” property, you will want an appraiser with matching specialized experience to carry out the work.
What Can You Do If You Disagree With The Appraisal?
The idea of asking some, or all of these questions before the appraiser begins their visit is to ensure you get the most appropriate professional for the job and minimize the possibility of an appraisal that is way out of line with the market value.
If you do end up with an appraisal that may derail your purchase, then you have to ask yourself two things.
- Is the market price of the property genuinely too high?
- Is the appraisal value of the property genuinely too low?
If the market value or the proposed purchase price for the property has been driven up in a bidding war, or due to low housing stock in the area there is little you can do except negotiate on the price.
If you believe the appraiser has based the price on incorrect information or has made a factual error which has caused them to arrive at an incorrect appraisal value then the process is:
- You, or your real estate professional, should prepare a written document highlighting what you believe to be the errors and submit it to the lender.
- The lender will review the documentation and, if they agree there has been an error, they will forward the details to the appraiser.
- The appraiser will determine if the errors are significant enough to have affected their opinion of the appraised value.
- If the errors have not affected the value, then no further action will be taken, and the appraisal will stand.
- If the errors have affected the appraisal, then the appraiser will produce additional documentation to address the mistakes and supply a revised appraisal value.
The critical point to remember is that you must provide evidence to show there was an error in order to have the appraisal reviewed. Just believing it is too low or too high is not enough.
Do Sellers Have Any Control Over The Appraisal?
Just as the buyer and the lender should not have any influence over the appraiser or the appraisal, the seller should not have any direct control either.
An appraisal is about the square footage, the number of rooms, the standard of maintenance, the neighborhood, etc. It is not about your choice of paint color or other subjective items. However, there are some things a seller can do in order to ensure the appraiser is seeing the real value of the property.
When your real estate broker draws up your sellers contract, you can ask them to include your right to approve who the buyer uses as a mortgage provider. Some lenders have been known to try and purposely underestimate a properties value. Your real estate professional will be aware of any local lenders who have been known to do this. They will alert you and you can then avoid dealing with them.
Your realtor can also ask all of the questions a buyers realtor can ask, before the appraisal. If the lender is using an AMC, you can request a senior residential appraiser with specific experience working in your area.
Other things a seller can do to try and make sure the appraised value is not significantly less then the market value are the same things you did when preparing your property for viewing.
Ensure the property is clean, tidy and well kept.
If an appraiser sees your home as dirty, untidy and unkempt, they may assume that the seller does not care for the house and that regular maintenance and upkeep has been lacking. This could affect the appraised value.