10 things real estate appraisers or home inspectors won’t tell you.
Apprasiers. We’re working under a cloud. There are about 80,000 real estate appraisers in the U.S. and they play a key role in most home sales: Until they weigh in with a determination of a property’s value, the buyer typically can’t finalize a mortgage. (Appraisers also play roles in property-tax appeals and home-equity lending, among other transactions.)
The profession got a reputational black eye, however, during the housing boom and bust. In numerous instances, including federal lawsuits against real estate data companies, appraisers were accused of fudging their numbers so that unscrupulous lenders could approve loans for unqualified buyers. “Appraisers were no more innocent than lenders or their CEOs,” said Phil Huff, CEO of Platinum Data Solutions, a real estate appraisal data company in Aliso Viejo, Calif. “They share the blame, too.”
As a reaction to such allegations, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Protection Act of 2010 required more state and federal supervision of appraisers, and put more pressure on lenders to work through appraisal management companies, or AMCs. These independent firms are designed to keep appraisers and lenders from getting too cozy, explains Sam Heskel, manager of appraisal firm Nadlan Valuation in Brooklyn, N.Y.
But appraisers say that new rules have made the process slower and more complicated for consumers—and that they haven’t stopped some appraisers from yielding to pressure from banks.
The home inspection. The house is fine, but I could make it look bad.
As the housing market recovers, more buyers and sellers are getting reintroduced to one of the most nerve-racking rituals in real estate: the home inspection.
An inspection, which usually occurs after a buyer has made an offer, is meant to be an objective analysis of a home’s condition. Twenty years ago, 75% of purchased homes were inspected; today, it’s 95%, according to Bill Loden, president of the American Society of Home Inspectors, a Des Plaines, Ill.-based industry trade group.
Inspections aren’t a big financial burden: A review of a 2,000 square foot home typically costs around $450, with the buyer footing the bill. But what can make an inspection so stressful is that a long list of trouble signs, without proper explanation, can sabotage a deal. And real estate pros complain that some of the inspectors themselves are overzealous. Many of the nation’s 25,000 inspectors used to work in construction, or still do, and their expertise can lead them to bombard buyers with encyclopedic lists of minor problems.
A thorough pro will look at the foundation and the framing to make sure nothing is cracked, warped or rotting, and examine the roof for problems with shingles and gutters. Inspectors should also look for plumbing leaks and make sure the water heater, wiring, heating systems and fireplaces are safe.
So what constitutes going too far? A less helpful inspector might dwell on things like surface mold, chipped paint or other superficial problems, or present buyers with a long litany of issues, with no context about their relative importance and no estimate of the cost of fixing them.
The trick is finding an inspector who can relay the critical information and put it in context, says Dave Moersen, of HomeCheck Home Inspectors in Gaithersburg, Md., who’s a veteran of more than 4,500 home inspections. “I used to think this job was 95% technical knowledge and 5% communication, but now I think it’s the other way around,” says Moersen. “Homeowners just want answers.”
Bohdan Mastykaz, a Redfin real-estate agent in Miami, says the best inspectors take pictures and include them in their report to the buyer: “Pictures make everything black and white, and it’s far less subjective that way.” DANIEL GOLDSTEIN PERSONAL FINANCE REPORTER.
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