Sandra Adomatis

Property Scene Investigator

There are days that the title Property Scene Investigator would be more appropriate than Real Estate Appraiser. An appraiser must be good at communication, math, reasoning, logical, statistics, listening, and investigating. After reading today's column you might add a few more skills.

In previous articles, we discussed the need for the appraiser to know the reason for the appraisal. This past week a client called to order an appraisal and I asked the usual questions. The client provided an answer to all the preliminary questions and I quoted a fee and time to complete the assignment. Then near what I thought was the end of the conversation the client said, "Be sure to send my attorney a copy of the appraisal also." Being the nosey person that I am, I asked why I would send a copy to an attorney if the appraisal were to assist him in listing the property for sale. It seems the appraisal wasn't to be used for listing the property at all; it was to assist in settlement of a lawsuit between partners. Now if I had appraised the property for use in listing the property, the client would have been surprised to realize that the issue the lawsuit was over was not addressed at all. The use is important and does affect the scope of work, amount of detail, and possibly definition of value.

Another assignment resulted in a disappointed client but one that had to accept the blame. A property owner ordered an appraisal and stated in writing it was for listing purposes. They stated they wanted to know what the property would sell for on the open market and wanted a suggested list price. The property owner took the appraisal to a lender to apply for a loan only to discover the appraisal was not acceptable. Most lenders require the appraisal to be ordered by the lender from their approved appraiser list and written using a specific appraisal form. The standard residential appraisal form used for loan purposes specifically states it is not to be used for any other purpose. Therefore, if the use of the appraisal is for something other than mortgage lending purposes the appraiser should use a different form.

After a long conversation with the property owner, it came out that the property owner thought an appraisal for listing purposes would result in a higher market value. If the same definition of market value is used, the appraised value should be the same whether the use is for a sale, refinance, or listing. However, the appraisal form may change. If the purpose is for listing, the appraiser will provide more details on competitive listings, as well as sales, and will make a suggested list price where they would not for mortgage or refinance purposes.

The property inspection can prove to be a test of the investigative skills of the appraiser as well. While inspecting a property in Indiana years ago, I saw a crack in a basement wall and sensed a musty smell. Being the nosey person that I am, I asked the property owner if the basement had ever leaked. The owner quickly replied we have never had water in our basement. That statement was quickly followed by a little girl's voice saying, yes it has mommy, don't you remember the last tme it rained real hard you had to clean all the water up off the floor. While measuring the outside of the house, I overheard mommy explaining to the little girl why she didn't tell the truth.

The property owner has the obligation to disclose the condition of the property. A property on septic is typical in this area. Once I questioned a property owner about the working order of the septic. They stated it was in good condition with no known problems. Upon completion of the interior inspection, I made my way outside to measure and take photographs. In the back yard was a tarp and a very bad smell. You guessed it; the septic was seeping to the top. This issue is important to value as well as the health and safety of the residents. Some issues aren't so obvious but could still become a major problem for the owner that is not honest with the buyer, appraiser, inspector, or real estate agent.

Then there is the appraisal ordered for the property settlement in a divorce hearing that will often put the appraiser directly in the middle of a number of things. I arrived at a house to inspect the property for a property settlement. Upon arrival, I discovered this was the first the person knew of my visit. After waiting at the door, while the two discussed the issue I was told to go ahead and measure the outside. To my surprise, about half way around the house I was drenched by the sprinkler system. You might have guessed it wasn't an accident or poor timing. Being honest with the appraiser and all involved would have saved everyone from a very awkward moment.

If you need the services of an appraiser, it is the obligation of the appraiser to ask many questions about the use and user of the report and the property. The appraiser is required by law to report the true condition of the property and the property owner is obligated to disclose known property conditions. The old saying, buyer beware, still applies. For this reason, you must be your own advocate as well as hire professionals to assist in the purchase or sale of a property.
The appraised value may not be the number you had in mind. If not, review the report and facts carefully. If there were recent sales similar to your property that were not considered, present those sales to the appraiser for their consideration. You can argue with an appraiser or your real estate agent but you can't argue with the facts. The real estate appraiser must use facts, sales, listings, rentals, and cost data to support an opinion of value.

Today's market requires professional skills to assist buyers and sellers. Crystal balls are not a good resource and they don't sell one that works in today's market. Charlotte County has professional experienced appraisers, real estate agents, title companies, and lenders to assist you in this buyer's market. Take advantage of their skills and work with them to achieve the best deal for you. If you have a real estate appraisal question email me at