Frequently Asked Questions
When do you need an Appraisal?
Every year, countless people in Canada buy, sell or refinance their own slice of the Canadian Dream! Most, if not all, of these transactions include a requirement of an appraisal. It has become an understood and accepted part of a real estate transaction. ”Let’s bring in the expert and make sure we’re not spending too much on this property.”
But is this the only reason to get an appraisal? Are there other times when the services of a certified, licensed, independent real estate professional might come in handy?
What is an appraisal?
A home purchase, for the average Canadian, is the largest, single investment most people will ever make. Whether it’s a primary residence, a second vacation home or an investment, the purchase of real property is a complex financial transaction that requires multiple parties to bring it all together.
Most of the people involved are very familiar. The Realtor is the most common face of the transaction. The mortgage company provides the financial capital necessary to fund the transaction. The lawyer ensures that all aspects of the transaction are completed and that a clear title passes from the seller to the buyer.
So who makes sure the value of the property is in line with the amount being paid? There are too many people exposed in the real estate process to let such a transaction proceed without ensuring that the value of the property is commensurate with the amount being paid.
This is where the appraisal comes in. An appraisal is an unbiased estimate of what a buyer might expect to pay – or a seller receive – for a parcel of real estate, where both buyer and seller are informed parties. To be an informed party, most people turn to a licensed, certified, professional appraiser to provide them with the most accurate estimate of the true value of their property.
How Does The Inspection Work?
So what goes into a real estate appraisal? It all starts with the inspection. An appraiser’s duty is to inspect the property being appraised to ascertain the true status of that property. The appraiser must actually see features, such as the number of bedrooms, bathrooms, the location, and so on, to ensure that they really exist and are in the condition a reasonable buyer would expect them to be. The inspection often includes a sketch of the property, ensuring the proper square footage and conveying the layout of the property. Most importantly, the appraiser looks for any obvious features – or defects – that would affect the value of the house.
Once the site has been inspected, an appraiser uses two or three approaches to determining the value of real property: a cost approach, a sales comparison and, in the case of a rental property, an income approach.
What is the Cost Approach?
The cost approach is the easiest to understand. The appraiser uses information on local building costs, labor rates and other factors to determine how much it would cost to construct a property similar to the one being appraised. This value often sets the upper limit on what a property would sell for. Why would you pay more for an existing property if you could spend less and build a brand new home instead? While there may be mitigating factors, such as location and amenities, these are usually not reflected in the cost approach.
What is the Sales Comparison?
Instead, appraisers rely on the sales comparison approach to value these types of items. Appraisers get to know the neighborhoods in which they work. They understand the value of certain features to the residents of that area. They know the traffic patterns, the school zones, the busy throughways; and they use this information to determine which attributes of a property will make a difference in the value. Then, the appraiser researches recent sales in the vicinity and finds properties which are ”comparable” to the subject being appraised. The sales prices of these properties are used as a basis to begin the sales comparison approach.
Using knowledge of the value of certain items such as square footage, extra bathrooms, hardwood floors, fireplaces or view lots (just to name a few), the appraiser adjusts the comparable properties to more accurately portray the subject property. For example, if the comparable property has a fireplace and the subject does not, the appraiser may deduct the value of a fireplace from the sales price of the comparable home. If the subject property has an extra half-bathroom and the comparable does not, the appraiser might add a certain amount to the comparable property.
In the case of income producing properties – rental houses for example – the appraiser may use a third approach to valuing the property. In this case, the amount of income the property produces is used to arrive at the current value of those revenues over the foreseeable future.
How Do I Prepare for an Appraisal?
For homeowners, a real estate appraisal is the linchpin to buying or selling their home. It allows the property transactions to occur among the buyer, seller, real estate agent and mortgage lender.
Before an Appraiser arrives, there are a few things you should do. Although the appraiser is not a house keeping inspector, tidy up the home so as to present it in the best light. Make it easy for the appraiser to inspect all rooms, inspect the hydro panel, read the labels on the hot water tank and heating system, and inspect all outbuildings.
To facilitate the appraisal process, it’s beneficial to have these documents ready for the appraiser:
- The most recent Municipality Property Assessment from MPAC
- A plot plan or survey of the house and land (if readily available)
- Date the property was purchased by the current owner
- Written property agreements, such as a maintenance agreement for a shared driveway
- List of personal property to be sold with the home if the home is being sold
- Title policy that describes encroachments or easements
- Brag sheet that lists major home improvements and upgrades, the date of their installation and their cost (for example, the addition of central air conditioning or roof repairs) and permit confirmation (if available)
- A copy of the current listing agreement and broker’s data sheet and Purchase Agreement if a sale is “pending”.
- Information on “Homeowners Associations” or condominium covenants and fees.
- A list of “Proposed” improvements if the property is to be appraised “As Complete”.
- Once your appraiser has arrived, you do not need to accompany him or her along on the entire site inspection, but you should be available to answer questions about your property and be willing to point out any home improvements.
Here are some other suggestions:
- Accessibility: Make sure that all areas of the home are accessible, even to the attic and crawl space
- Housekeeping: Appraisers see hundreds of homes a year and will look past most clutter, but they’re human beings too! A good impression can translate into a higher home value
- Maintenance: Repair minor things like leaky faucets, missing door handles and trim