Don’t Rely on the Public Records…

Don’t Rely on the Public Records…When It Comes to Reporting Gross Living Area Accurately.

Just today, I had a situation where I was asked to appraise a property in the Graduate Hospital area.  As it turns out, the homeowner informed me that I was the second appraiser to look at the property.  This was a For Sale By Owner, as well.  The owner also stated that the reason that a second appraisal was ordered was because the first appraiser “muffed-up” the sketch and got the GLA all wrong.  Apparently, the calculations on the sketch were a couple hundred square feet smaller that what was recorded in the public records.  I could feel my eyes beginning to roll backwards.

The homeowner was hanging her hat and the potential sale of her property on the Philadelphia public records.  Geez.  She was very insistent that the other appraiser had no idea what they were doing.  The idea that the public records could be wrong never crossed her mind.  She’d been living in a house of certain size for 10 years and no one was going to tell her different.

So, I went about my inspection, making sure to measure twice.  Upon getting back to my office I drew the floor plan up using my sketch software.  As luck would have it I must have “muffed-up” the sketch, as well.  My calculations were some 200 SF smaller than what was reported in the public records.  Imagine that, two, seasoned, professional appraisers made the same mistakes and arrived at almost the exact same GLA for her home?!?!

The lesson here is it’s never a good idea to rely solely on the public records when it comes to matters of GLA.  Think about it.  Where does the information in the public records come from?  Did an assessor measure the property?  Did a developer provide the info when submitting plans?  Was it taken from an architects rendering?  Who knows?

If you really want to know the accurate GLA of a property, you have to measure it…whether you measure it yourself or use a measuring service!  It’s not difficult to do and can help you avoid all sorts of headaches and misunderstanding.  If you have any questions about how measure a house or about our Home Measuring Services, just let me know.

The Coyle Group’s team of Philadelphia Real Estate Appraisers are a leading provider of appraisals for Estate/Probate, Divorce, Bankruptcy, Tax Appeal and Pre-Listing. If you need a guest speaker at your next sales meeting, please give us a call. We would welcome to opportunity to speak to your group and field any appraisal related questions you may have. For more information please visit our website at You can also contact The Coyle Group at 215-836-5500 or



Main Line WOW!

As an appraisers in the Philadelphia market, we often find ourselves looking at properties on the Main Line.  Every now and then we have an opportunity to visit a property that is truly exceptional.  Below are a couple of photos of a mansion that we were asked to appraise in Bryn Mawr.  The house, although it looks like it’s been there for 80 years or more, is only around 15 years old.  The family and architects that built this residence paid incredible attention to detail.  Every element of the house was perfectly executed, from the stone with elegent limestone accents right down to the slate and copper roofs; and even the courtyard.  The interior finishes and scale of the residence are just as impressive as the exterior.  This is easily on my Philadelphia/Main Line Top 10 List.

   The Coyle Group - ML MansionThe Coyle Group ML Mansion 2


For more information on the valuation of Unique & High Value homes and condominiums in Philadelphia and along the Main Line please visit .  You may contact The Coyle Group directly at 215.836.5500 or by email

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If You Had $1,000,000

Each year I like to take a look at the area to see what $1,000,000 can buy you in Philadelphia and the surrounding suburbs.  Here’s what I found…

In Philadelphia, $1MM can get you this stylish, luxury Contemporary in Chestnut Hill with 5 bedrooms, 4.5 baths and 4,336 SqFt of living space.  It also gets you a location on corner of Germantown Avenue, not very private.




The search in Bucks County takes us to Buckingham Township, where for $1MM you can have this 5,364SqFt Colonial with 5 bedrooms, 5.5 baths, an in-ground pool, 3 car garage, finished walk-out basement on 2.39 acres.  Not bad!




The million dollar offerings in Delaware County took us to Haverford Township.  There, a cool million can get you this 100-year-old stone residence designed by Fred Bissinger.  It features 3 bedrooms, 2.5 baths, with 2,597SqFt of living space and an in-ground pool.




 In Montgomery County a $1MM can get you into this nice stone Cape situated on 2.24 acres on the Main Line, in Gladwyne.  The house boasts 4 bedrooms, 3.5 baths and approximately 4,369SF of living space.  You also get a three car detached garage and access to the award-winning Lower Merion schools.




 Chester County, offers the most bang for the buck by far!  If you want a little fixer upper you can grab this place in Chadds Ford, a 231 year old farmhouse on 14.9 acres that includes barns, stone walls, a pool and pond.  The main house had 4,539SF, 6 bedrooms and 4.5 baths.  There is also a 3 bedroom 2 bath guest house.  If you happen to have an additional $1.85MM laying around you can also buy the adjacent 56 acre parcel for a little more privacy!


What Makes a Divorce Appraisal Different?

Let’s face it, going through a divorce is an emotionally challenging time for everyone taking part.  It involves many difficult decisions about the kids, investments and marital assets, including who gets the house.  When it comes to the house and other real estate, the two most common choices are selling and dividing the proceeds, or one party can “buy out” the other.  In either case, one or both parties will order an appraisal of the residence and other real estate holdings.

A divorce appraisal is not the same as your typical appraisal used for lending purposes.  Some of the differences are:

  • The divorce appraisal is likely to have a retrospective date of value, meaning the value of the property will be based upon a date in the past (perhaps the filing date, the date of marriage, the date of separation or the date of purchase) rather than the current date.
  • In some cases the appraisal will provide both a retrospective value as well as a current value.
  • Occasionally, in a divorce situation, the appraiser may be called upon to testify is count as an expert witness.  As a witness, the appraiser may not be an advocate for either side of the proceedings, regardless of who may have hired him.  The appraiser may only testify about the appraisal and the data/analysis contained therein.
  • Since a divorce appraisal is not related to financing or lending, it does not have to comply with Fannie Mae guidelines (or UAD Guidelines).
  • Typically, a divorce appraisal is completed on non-Fannie Mae forms such as the GPAR forms or it is written in a narrative format.
  • In completing a divorce appraisal, the appraiser is bound the same confidentiality and USPAP requirements that he would be in completing a lending appraisal.  That means that the appraiser cannot share information about the appraisal with any party other than his client and/or his client’s attorney, unless legally required to do so.

If you are going through a divorce or are an attorney or mediator and are in need of a divorce appraisal, market research or just have a general real estate value related question, please fee free to call 215.836.5500 or email 


Zillow vs Appraiser

It seems that Zillow is every nervous homeowner’s best friend (and in some cases their worst enemy). Hardly a week goes by that I don’t hear “Zillow told me my home is worth (fill in the blank).” 

The Zestimates that homeowners often present to appraisers can produce some interesting (and misleading) results.  So much so, that I thought we could do a comparison of 12 randomly selected appraisals that were completed by our office and match them up against their Zillow Zestimates.  Keep in mind that the appraisals have the benefit of a full property inspection by a human being.   Zillow uses public records and complex algorithms.  Here are the results. 

Lafayette Hill house Appraisal: $600,000 Zillow: $529,000


Oreland house Appraisal: $230,000 Zillow: $209,500


Gladwyne house Appraisal: $585,000 Zillow: $633,500


Roxboro twin Appraisal: $206,000 Zillow: $186,300


Conshohocken house Appraisal: $350,000 Zillow: $279,600


Blue Bell house Appraisal: $335,000 Zillow: $314,900


Chestnut Hill twin Appraisal: $300,000 Zillow: $334,200


East Falls twin Appraisal: $411,000 Zillow: $427,100


Center City condo Appraisal: $755,000 Zillow: $634,200


Penn Valley house Appraisal: $585,000 Zillow: $561,000


Rittenhouse Square townhouse Appraisal: $1,900,000 Zillow: $898,700


Chester Springs home Appraisal: $1,000,000 Zillow: $871,700


As you can see there are some pretty significant deviations between the appraised value and the Zillow Zestimate.  In one case, Zillow was off by more than 111% (this seems like a fluke) but, in other examples as close as 3.77% (not bad!).

Bottom line, Zillow is a tool…a starting point.  It’s wonderful for neighborhood data, graphs and general sales information.  It’s probably not the best place if you’re looking for assistance with making definitive decision.

If you have any real estate appraisal related questions, please feel free to contact us…215.836.5500 or




Also, take into consideration, that while the FHA may be OK with these conditions, most Buyers in the Philly region are not.  Would you be OK purchasing a property with either of these situations present?   

As more and more Buyers use FHA financing, Sellers and their Agents will have to educate themselves on the FHA repair guidelines and requirements.  This can be a daunting task.  As of today, the HUD Handbook, also known as Valuation Analysis for Single Family One-to-Four-Unit Dwellings (4150.2) is comprised of nine chapters and four appendices, totaling hundreds of pages.  And, it seems like the handbook is revised or updated on a weekly basis.  

When marketing your home, try to position it to appeal to the widest range of buyers.  If your home’s sale price is at or under the current FHA program limits for the Philadelphia region ($420,000) then you would be wise to make sure that your home is compliant with the FHA guidelines and be prepared to repair any FHA required repairs or inspections.  

If you don’t know the FHA Guidelines 4150.2 and how they apply to your situation, you may want to consider hiring an FHA Appraiser to visit your property prior to listing.  In addition to providing a Pre-Listing Appraisal, the Appraiser could point out potential FHA issues that might affect a potential Buyer’s ability to obtain funding as well as issues that could be addressed ahead of time…essentially taking them off the negotiating table and possibly speeding up the selling process.   

For answers to any other FHA related questions, please feel free to send us an email or just post to this site.   


Q: What do these two pictures have in common?  

A: They are both acceptable property conditions under FHA Guidelines.  Now, local laws and zoning may take issue with heaving concrete sidewalks and blood stained flooring surfaces but, not HUD/FHA.  In Mortgagee Letter 2005-ML-48, these conditions were cited along with a list of other “minimum property conditions that no longer require automatic repair.”


Solar Panels – A Positive or Negative?

Recently, one of our appraisers was visiting a house in a suburb of Philadelphia.  The homeowner was very proud of the fact that the house was entirely “off the grid” in terms of electrical power due to the installation of solar panels.  In fact, the property owner was receiving money from the electric company for energy he generated and sold back to them.  Money back from the electric company…not a bad deal!

The initial investment to install the solar panels was roughly $40,000, less State and Federals rebates credits, the net outlay was around $15,000.  Weigh that against the monthly savings and the money received for selling power back to the electric company for as long as you own the house.

One issue that came up during the appraisal was how to value the panels. There is very little market data that would indicate that solar panels add any measurable value to a property.  Another issue was whether or not the market recognizes this feature as a positive or a negative.  Some would argue that the aesthetic appeal of the house is adversely impacted by the panels to such a degree that any value the panels may add would be offset.  That being said, would panels be more acceptable if they were installed in the yard rather than on the roof?

As more and more homes with this technology are built, sold and resold in the Philadelphia region, we will have a better understanding of the value, if any, that solar panels have on a house.  Until then it’s really a matter of personal preference.

What’s your opinion?  Are solar panels a Plus or a Negative?