What is an Appraisal                              

    A home purchase is the largest, single investment most people will ever make. Whether
    it's a primary residence, a second vacation home or an investment, the purchase of real
    property is a complex financial transaction that requires multiple parties to pull it all off.

    Most of the people involved are very familiar. The Realtor is the most common face of the
    transaction. The mortgage company provides the financial capital necessary to fund the
    transaction. The title company ensures that all aspects of the transaction are completed
    and that a clear title passes from the seller to the buyer.

    So who makes sure the value of the property is in line with the amount being paid? There
    are too many people exposed in the real estate process to let such a transaction proceed
    without ensuring that the value of the property is commensurate with the amount being

    This is where the appraisal comes in. An appraisal is an unbiased estimate of what a buyer
    might expect to pay - or a seller receive - for a parcel of real estate, where both buyer and
    seller are informed parties. To be an informed party, most people turn to a licensed,
    certified, professional appraiser to provide them with the most accurate estimate of the
    true value of their property.

    The Inspection
    So what goes into a real estate appraisal? It all starts with the inspection. An appraiser's
    duty is to inspect the property being appraised to ascertain the true status of that
    property. The appraiser must actually see features, such as the number of bedrooms,
    bathrooms, the location, and so on, to ensure that they really exist and are in the condition
    a reasonable buyer would expect them to be. The inspection often includes a sketch of the
    property, ensuring the proper square footage and conveying the layout of the property.
    Most importantly, the appraiser looks for any obvious features - or defects - that would
    affect the value of the house.

    Once the site has been inspected, an appraiser uses two or three approaches to
    determining the value of real property: a cost approach, a sales comparison and, in the
    case of a rental property, an income approach.

    Cost Approach
    The cost approach is the easiest to understand. The appraiser uses information on local
    building costs, labor rates and other factors to determine how much it would cost to
    construct a property similar to the one being appraised. This value often sets the upper
    limit on what a property would sell for. Why would you pay more for an existing property if
    you could spend less and build a brand new home instead? While there may be mitigating
    factors, such as location and amenities, these are usually not reflected in the cost

    Sales Comparison
    Instead, appraisers rely on the sales comparison approach to value these types of items.
    Appraisers get to know the neighborhoods in which they work. They understand the value
    of certain features to the residents of that area. They know the traffic patterns, the school
    zones, the busy roadways; and they use this information to determine which attributes of a
    property will make a difference in the value. Then, the appraiser researches recent sales
    in the vicinity and finds properties which are ''comparable'' to the subject being appraised.
    The sales prices of these properties are used as a basis to begin the sales comparison

    Using knowledge of the value of certain items such as square footage, extra bathrooms,
    hardwood floors, fireplaces or view lots (just to name a few), the appraiser adjusts the
    comparable properties to more accurately portray the subject property. For example, if
    the comparable property has a fireplace and the subject does not, the appraiser may
    deduct the value of a fireplace from the sales price of the comparable home. If the subject
    property has an extra half-bathroom and the comparable does not, the appraiser might add
    a certain amount to the comparable property.

    Income Approach
    In the case of income producing properties - rental houses for example - the appraiser
    may use a third approach to valuing the property. In this case, the amount of income the
    property produces is used to arrive at the current value of those revenues over the
    foreseeable future.

    Combining information from all approaches, the appraiser is then ready to stipulate an
    estimated market value for the subject property. It is important to note that while this
    amount is probably the best indication of what a property is worth, it may not be the final
    sales price. There are always mitigating factors such as seller motivation, urgency or
    ''bidding wars'' that may adjust the final price up or down. But the appraised value is often
    used as a guideline for lenders who don't want to loan a buyer more money that the
    property is actually worth. The bottom line is: an appraiser will help you get the most
    accurate property value, so you can make the most informed real estate decisions.


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