Looking for the cheapest appraiser? Be careful, not all appraisers were created equal. Hiring the cheapest appraiser will often lead to a poor quality appraisal that could have serious consequences. I can’t tell you the number of times I get a call from a homeowner and the first thing they say is, “Hi, how much do you charge for an appraisal?” I don’t blame the homeowner for asking this question. It is certainly a valid one. But is it the most important one? The old saying “You get what you pay for” holds true in the appraisal profession just as it does everywhere else. Here are important qualifications and attributes you should be looking for when considering which appraiser to hire:
- The Consultation: One of the biggest complaints I hear from my clients about past experiences with appraisers are regarding the appraiser being in a hurry. I hear things like, “The appraiser was here for 10 minutes, barely asked me any questions, and then a few days later emailed me a report. I had no idea what I was looking at or how they determined what my house is worth.” To me, it is imperative that you understand the information I have provided you in the report. I believe (and my clients agree) that this is what separates me from most appraisers. When you hire me there is a consultation that takes place before and during the initial inspection. But equally important is the consultation that takes place when I deliver the appraisal report. I am happy to take as much time as necessary to go over the report in as much (or little) detail as you like to ensure that ALL of your concerns have been addressed.
- The Inspection: This is where I gather the information about your home. With today’s technology such as a laser measure, computer research and digital cameras the inspection need not take a long time. However, I am careful to note all of the features and characteristics of the house. My background in construction allows me to see things others might miss. I will also speak to you about any recent updating or repairs you have completed and ask for a ballpark figure on the costs of any major remodeling projects you have tackled in the past few years.
- Appraiser Experience and Licensure: Often times an appraiser just starting out doesn’t have a client base and is eager for work. They offer much lower fees in an effort to get work. In California, if you only have a Trainee license you must have someone who has a Certified Residential license review your work and sign off on it for you. Despite the fancy designations (MAI, etc..) oftentimes an appraiser will be overqualified too. There are commercial appraisers that dabble in residential work when business gets slow, but do you really want to hire someone who’s primary recent experience has been appraising gas stations, golf courses or fast food franchises? I recommend finding someone with a minimum of 5 years of experience as a Certified Residential appraiser. I have more than twice that minimum.
- Geographical Competency: When appraisers are slow and looking for work, they are sometimes willing to appraise properties outside of their normal area of expertise. This can lead to a poor appraisal report due to a lack of familiarity with individual neighborhood’s individual characteristics and locational amenities. I typically stay within 20 miles of my office. Should the need for a referral arise I have developed a network of experienced professional appraisers to which I can refer my clients in areas in which I am not the expert.
- Ask the appraiser for their full name and license number during the initial phone conversation: Check the California State Bureau of Real Estate Appraisers website to see if they have been disciplined. This will be a red flag that they have cut corners in the past or possibly worse. I am a huge advocate for using technology and systems to reduce the appraisal turnaround time. But cutting corners on the steps that are integral in producing a detailed and well supported appraisal report is a big way to cut costs and produce quick and dirty reports. When an appraiser gets caught he winds up as one of the more than 330 names on the States “Disciplinary Actions” list. Lenders will not hire any who’s name appears on this list, why should you?
These are just a few of the things you should keep in mind when hiring an appraiser. Can you find someone to complete your appraisal for a slightly lower fee than I will charge? Absolutely. But when you are dealing with an appraisal that is valuing what is likely your largest single investment, do you really want the cheapest option?