Fighting a “Low Appraisal”

A friend of mine, who is an agent, called me the other day complaining about an appraisal that was completed on one of her listings. The appraiser (from a neighboring county) arrived at a value almost $45,000 under the contract price. She asked me if I could take a look at the appraisal and provide any insights that I might have.

It’s not unusual for values to come in lower than the contract price; and we all know that value and price are two separate things. However, there was such a large discrepancy, it warranted a closer look. After reviewing the appraisal, I did notice some issues that were of concern.

I recommended that the she ask for a Reconsideration of Value. A Reconsideration of Value is a formal request submitted to the lender asking their appraiser to consider additional information and/or sales data that might aid the appraiser and cause them to change their opinion of value.

Here are the steps that I suggested she take:

  • Go through proper channels.  The appraisal is the property of the Lender who ordered the appraisal.  You will have to submit your request for Reconsideration of Value to the Lender, usually in writing.  The Lender will then decide whether or not the request has merit.  If so, they will forward the request to the appraiser for review and response.  Do not contact the appraiser directly.  Remember that the appraiser’s client is the Lender; not the agent, the Seller or the Buyer.  The appraiser can’t act on your request or revise his report without permission from his client, the Lender.  Please note that the Lender can use their discretion and may deny your request without even presenting it to the appraiser.
  • Practice the 3 “Ps”.   Be Proactive – initiate the request promptly.  Be Professional – don’t get bogged down in personally attacking the appraiser or his skills, present your case in a professional, well-supported manner.  Be Polite – appraisers are people, too.  Really, we are.  You will get further with your request if you simple practice good manners and politeness.
  • Support your request with good sales information and insights.  Simply saying that “the value is not high enough” will not cut it.  Be prepared to provide additional comparables and explain why they are more appropriate that those used in the report.  If you have comments about the comparables used in the report, be specific and detail exactly why the comparable used in the report was not the best one available.  If you work frequently in a certain market and have intimate knowledge of sales in the area, use that information to support your point.  “Comp 3 was a nasty divorce situation and they needed to sell quickly.” Or “Comp 2 is actually 500sf larger due to a finished attic that is not noted in the public records.” Good, well-supported information will go a long way.  And, if you are going to provide additional sales, make sure that they are truly comparable.  Don’t just look for sales that will support your price. The appraiser and the Lender will see right through that. If your property is 3 bedroom Rancher, don’t include the 5 bedroom Colonial as a comp, even if it is located across the street. They’re just not comparable.
  • Be Specific. If you want to know why the appraiser made or did not make a certain adjustment or did or didn’t use a certain comparable, address it directly and specifically in your request. “Can the appraiser explain why he only made a $5,000 adjustment for the subject’s inground pool?” Or “Why did the appraiser elect not to use the sale at XXX Main Street, one block away?”
  • Keep it Short & Sweet. Don’t write a novel. Don’t get emotional. Get to your point, present your case coherently and concisely, provide supportive information and then, move on.

I hope these steps will help you if you ever find yourself in this kind of situation. Should you ever need any assistance with contesting an appraisal or submitting a Reconsideration of Value, please feel free to contact our office. We will gladly do what we can to advise you.

The Coyle Group, LLC is a Residential & Commercial Real Estate Appraisal firm serving the Greater Philadelphia Region and New Jersey.  215.836.5500


What is an Absorption Rate?

The Absorption Rate measures the relationship between a real estate market’s supply and demand.  The total number of available homes (inventory = listings and pending sales) is divided by the total number of homes sold in the previous month.   The resulting number represents the number of months it would take, at that same pace, to sell the entire inventory of homes.  It this does not take into count the number of houses which will eventually come on the market in addition to those already for sale.

Knowing your area’s Absorption Rate (AR), can help you track trends.  Understanding your market and where it is headed is very important for both sellers and buyers.  It allows buyers and sellers to understand better why some homes may sell faster than other and to develop effective pricing strategies.

Calculating an AR is not difficult but you will need access to the following information:

  • How many listings are currently on the market in a given area? Be sure to include both active and pending homes.
  • How many homes sold last month?

Once you have those numbers, you will need to:

  • Add the number of Active/Pending Listings together
  • Multiply the number of homes Sold Last Month by 12.  Then, divide that number by 52 for the weekly number of homes sold.
  • Then, divide the number of Active by the number of sold per week
  • This will give you the weekly AR.  For a monthly AR simply divide the weekly AR by 4.

Here’s an example for Montgomery County.  In November 2011 there were 554 settled sales.  Currently, there are 4,481 active listings and 230 pending sales.

Listings + Pendings = Actives

4481 + 230 = 4711

Homes Sold  X 12 = Annualized Sales

554 X 12 = 6,648/52 = 127.85 Week

4711 / 127.85 = 36.84 Weeks

36.84 Weeks / 4 Weeks per month = 9.21 months of inventory

The result is an Absorption Rate of 9.21 Months.  What this really means is that it will take 9.21 months for the market, at the current rate, to absorb the current inventory of homes.  This assumes that no new homes will be added to the existing inventory.

One good thing about absorption rates is that they can be tailored to specific neighborhoods and price ranges. So how can an absorption rate study assist buyers and sellers?

Narrowing an absorption rate study to a certain type of home, in a specific neighborhood, at a particular price point, enables a buyer or seller to first determine the nature of their local market (is it a buyer or sellers market) and then establish a listing or offer price, accordingly.

For instance, in Lower Merion, the overall AR for the township is 8 months.  However, if we take a look at the luxury market within Lower Merion (homes over $2MM) we see a very different picture begins to appear.  The luxury market currently has a 44 month inventory.  Meaning if you have a luxury home in Lower Merion, it could take over 3.6 years for you to sell it.  This could be a problem for someone who needs to sell quickly.  In this case, having the AR could prompt the seller to rethink their asking price.

Once we know the AR, we can determine what kind of market we are in.  That information can then be used by sellers to price their homes more effectively and hopefully reduce days on market.  For buyers, this information can help you determine if you are in a Buyers or Sellers Market and to structure your offer, accordingly.

Buyer’s Market: Over 7 months of supply
Balanced Market: 5 to 7 months of supply
Seller’s Market: Less than 5 months of supply

The AR is not the only thing you will need to determine a market’s condition.  Specific property features, condition, location and of course price will typically be more important in determining how fast a property will actually sell than any statistical formula.

If you have any questions about Absorption Rates or need assistance calculating the AR for a specific market or property type please feel free to contact us through this blog or email us at


Got UAD?

Got UAD?  If you don’t, you certainly will by September 1st, 2011. 

What is UAD you might ask?  Well, UAD stands for Uniform Appraisal Dataset.  It is the new format in which all appraisal reports will be completed if the loan is to be sold to Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.  The UAD was developed in an effort to standardize appraisal reports and to aide the GSEs (Fannie and Freddie) in better manage their loans and risk.  Since, most loans are sold to Fannie or Freddie, and since the VA and HUD have already agreed to adopt the new UAD format, almost all mortgage appraisals completed on or after September 1st will have to comply. 

The UAD will change the way appraisals are written and make understanding the reports even more complicated for the average homeowner.  Some of the changes are fairly minor; however, 0thers are more significant.  The biggest changes are in how certain data fields are populated.  Fields like Condition, Quality of Construction, Bathroom Count, Lot Size and View will see the most change.

Condition – rather than using terms like “Average” and “Good” to describe a property’s condition there will be a rating scale of C1 – C6.  Each rating will describe a specific degree of condition.  C1 will be at the high end and C6 will be at the low end of the range.

Quality of Construction – like Condition, this field will do away with descriptors like “Stone/Frame/Good” and “Vinyl/Average”.  There will be a quality range with standardized definitions from Q1 – Q6. 

Bathroom Count – the new UAD will standardize the format in which bathroom count is shown in the report.  Before, appraisers might use 2.5 or 2F1H to describe a home with 2 full and 1 half baths.  The new format will be shown as 2.1 baths.  If a property has 3 full and 2 half baths, it will say 2.2 baths.  Not that big a change.

Lot Size – lot size and acreage will be described in whole numbers.  Rather that an appraiser using 16’X 72’ to describe a lot in an urban setting they will use 1152 (square feet).  Acres will look like this, 3.2 to describe 3.20 acres.  Anything less than an acre will be in square feet.

View – the appraiser will have to use one of a number of abbreviations or acronyms to illustrate certain view attributes. They will also have to make a determination as to whether or not the view is “N” (Neutral), “B” (Beneficial) or “A” (Adverse).  So the UAD complaint View field describing a home with a residential, golf course location may look like this “B, Res, GlfCrs”.

Below is a guide that describes the Condition and Quality rating scales, Bathroom Count and some of the new abbreviations for View as well as other fields.

This new format may be confusing at first.  If you have any questions about the UAD or appraisals, please feel free to contact one of the appraisers at our office.

Please note that the UAD will not effect the way appraisals are completed for Divorce, Tax Appeal, Estates/Probate, Pre-Listing valuation, Commercial valuation, QRPTs or for determinations of Fair Market Value.


Potential 32% Reduction!

A property owner in Whitpain Township contacted our office about doing an appraisal of his property for tax assessment appeal.  As we do with all of our assessment appeal clients, we ran the public records on the property and searched for any prior MLS data on the house.  This gives us a preliminary understanding of the property.

In this case, the house was a 5 year old 1 story rancher.  Not very common in this particular market where 2 story colonials are the norm.  The public records indicated that the house was over 5,100 square feet…large for a rancher.  Digging a little deeper we found that 2,000 square feet of the listed gross living area (GLA) was contained in the finished basement. 

Why does that matter you may ask?  Well, from an appraisal perspective, below grade living space is generally not valued the same as above grade living space; nor, is below grade living space included in the overall GLA calculations.  So, again from an appraisal perspective, the actual above grade GLA for the property is really about 3,100SF with 2,000 of finished basement. 

This matters when an appraiser is reporting the Fair Market Value (FMV) of a property.  FMV is the basis for a property’s assessment. 

 While an assessor, for the purpose of assessment, may value below grade living space the same as above grade space, an appraiser does not.  The reason being is that when appraising for FMV the appraiser takes into consideration the actions, preferences and trends within a given market.  In this case, Buyers within this market will generally not value below grade living space (no matter how nice) the same way they would value above grade living space.   For example, Buyers might be willing to pay $125 per square foot for above grade space but only $50 per square foot for finished basement space. 

The property we were looking at had an Assessed Market Value of $889,300.  They were being taxed as if their home was worth $889,300!  Their annual taxes were in excess of $14,000.  That’s a lot for a modest rancher.

Our initial search of recent sales showed no sales of 1 story ranchers in the prior 12 and 24 month periods.  So, we expanded our search to include any and all sales within the subject’s municipality and school district.  What we found was that the average sale in the prior 12 months of all homes in this area was right around $600,000.  Keep in mind that these sales are all 2 story colonials, some much larger than our rancher.   Without having done an appraisal of the property and only using broad averages of the market we were able to present the following scenario to the property owner. 

If the property were to appraise at the market average of $600,000 and this amount was agreed to at the assessment hearing, the homeowner could potentially reduce their assessment by 32.5%.  They would save approximately $4,550 per year in taxes!   Keep in mind that the average is based on available 2 story colonial sales.  Chances are that the actual appraised value of the rancher may be less than the average resulting in a deeper assessment reduction.

So as tax appeal season approaches property owners should take a good look at their assessments and the public data available on their property.  They should check for errors in the public records, especially incorrect square footage, room count and exterior features such as pools.  These are often incorrect in the public records and, if left unchecked, could greatly affect your assessment and tax burden. 

Real estate agents and other professionals that work with property owners, now is a great opportunity for you to offer a value added service to your past, present and potential clients.  Offer to conduct a review of their assessment card and public records.  If you notice something out of the ordinary you can bring this to their attention and instruct them on how to proceed.

If anyone has any questions about their assessments or how to proceed with a tax assessment appeal, please feel free to contact our office at 215.836.5500 or email .


FHA: Hazards & Nuisances

From time to time when inspecting properties in and around Philadelphia, we come across homes that have less than desirable locations due to external influences.  External influences are conditions locate on or beyond the premises of the subject property that may have an adverse (or positive) affect on the value or marketability of the home.  An example of a positive influence is a property located on a golf course or on the beach.  But the focus of this post will be negative external influences and hazards.

FHA realizes that these conditions exist.  When an FHA Appraiser notes a Hazard and/or Nuisance at a property, they must “indicate whether the dwelling or related property improvements is located within the easement serving a high-voltage transmission line, radio/TV transmission tower, cell phone tower, microwave relay dish or tower, or satellite dish (radio, TV, cable, etc)”

Other external influences that are considered to be Hazards & Nuisances by FHA are:

  • Airports
  • Railroad tracks and other high noise sources
  • Flood zones
  • Lead based paint
  • Radon
  • Overhead high voltage transmission towers and lines
  • Operating and abandoned oil and gas well, tanks and pressure lines
  • Water towers
  • Insulation materials
  • Lava zones
  • Avalanche hazards

Here are some pictures of Hazards & Nuisances that Coyle Group appraisers have taken over the years.  If you ever have any question as to whether or not your property affected by a negative external influence, please feel free to call our office. 



Assessment Appeals 101

Spring only officially began less than a week ago but, it’s not too early to start thinking about appealing your tax assessment.  Sure, you might think “the deadline for filing an appeal is still months away”…”there is plenty of time to work on the appeal in the Summer”…”geez, it’s not even Memorial Day, why worry about an appeal now?”  

Well, you would be surpized at how many people do begin thinking about their property tax appeal this early in the game.  It ususally occurs to folks when they receive their real estate tax bill in January and February. 

It’s this time of year that we receive hundreds of phone calls and emails from property owners who what to know if appealing their assessment is feasible.  One thing we’ve noticed is that many property owners have a fundamental misconception about their property taxes and how to go about appealing them. Most people think that they can appeal their taxes. Unfortunately, we can’t appeal our taxes. Sorry, folks, no such luck.

However, it is your right as a property owner to appeal your assessment. Your assessment is the underlying factor upon which your taxes are calculated. Given that most properties are taxed on an “ad valorem” basis, meaning the tax is based on the value of the real estate, your assessment should represent the current fair market value of your property.

Now, most counties in the Philadelphia metro region (including Montgomery, Bucks, Delaware, Chester, Berks, Lehigh & Northampton) have not been reassessed in years (it’s very costly to do a countywide reassessment). What this means is that the assessments may present an inaccurate representation of current fair market value. Now, as a means of trying to keep the assessments current with the real estate market, equalization rations have been developed in an attempt to make the assessments echo the current market. These ratios don’t always succeed in reflecting the market, especially the turbulent markets of the past 3-4 years. As a result, the assessment of a given property may be over stated, which translates into taxes that may also be overstated.

So, it stands to reason, if real estate values are declining your assessment should mirror those declines…right? This is done by filing a tax assessment appeal with your county board of assessment. Along with filing the necessary appeal paperwork, it is your responsibility to demonstrate that the assessment does not reflect the current fair market value of your property. The best way to do this is to present an appraisal report to the board at the time of your hearing.

Appraisals should be completed by a state certified appraiser (or licensed appraiser depending on the state) who is familiar with your area. In Pennsylvania, for instance, only a certified appraiser can provide an appraisal of your property. Anything completed by someone other than an state certified appraiser is not an appraisal.  Real estate agents and brokers cannot provide appraisals in Pennsylvania.

The deadlines for filing a tax appeal are usually in Bucks, Delaware and Chester Counties August 1, 2010 and September 1, 2010 for Montgomery County.  If you reside in any other Pennsylvania counties, please check with your county tax assessor’s office to confirm your county’s deadline. Remember, if you miss the deadline, you miss the opportunity to appeal and will have to wait another year (paying the same high taxes).

For more information or to see if you are a candidate for tax assessment appeal, please contact The Coyle Group. 

Note:  Be sure to visit our site from time to time over the next few months as we present a series of posts that relate to Tax Assessment Appeals and property tax reduction.

The Coyle Group provides appraisals for tax assessment appeals in Montgomery, Bucks, Delaware, Chester, Lehigh, Berks and Northampton Counties.  Call us at 215.836.5500 for more information.