When you buy a house, your lender will require an appraisal on the property before they will complete your loan. Why is an appraisal necessary? Because the bank wants to know that they are not loaning more than the property is worth.
What’s an Appraisal?
Appraisals are completed a week to ten days before the closing. Even though lenders require appraisals, you get to pay for them. The cost is $400 to $500.
Appraisals are conducted by – believe it not – appraisers! These are professionals who specialize in determining the “actual value” of properties. The actual value is based on past sales, features, condition, location, and other factors. Appraisers attempt to remove biases and simply look at facts and numbers.
Appraisers vs Real Estate Agents
Instead of “actual value,” real estate agents determine the “market value” of properties. Market value is the price that buyers will pay for a house in the current market. Market value is based on supply and demand, marketing plans, buyer emotion, and market trends. If a market is active and buyers are frenzied, they will often pay higher prices than past sales appear to support.
What to Look For in an Appraisal
From a buyer perspective, your objective is for the appraised price to be at least as high as the purchase price; anything higher is a bonus. You don’t want it to come back lower than the purchase price. The reason is that lenders loan you money based off the appraised value.
For example, if you are buying a $200,000 house with an FHA loan (borrow 96.5%), and the appraisal comes back at $195,000, then the bank will only loan you $188,175 not $193,000.
If the appraisal comes back too low, you have a couple of options. First, make up the difference out of your own pocket. In the previous example, that means you come up with $11,825 down payment (5.9%) rather than $7,000 (3.5%). Another option is to have the seller lower the purchase price to match the appraised value. Your third option is to terminate the contract and walk away.
Think of your appraisal as a reality-check on the price you agreed to pay the seller. It’s nice when a third party agrees that your new home is a good value – or warns you that the house is over-priced.