Interview with an Appraiser: The Subjective Side of Determining a Home’s Value (Part 2)

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About This Episode

You’ve worked with dozens, or maybe hundreds, of appraisers in your real estate career. But how well do you REALLY know what an appraiser does? This week on The Walkthrough™, veteran appraiser Jamie Owen is back to talk about what he looks for when he visits and appraises a home. Does a pool always increase a home’s value? (No.) Are cracks in the driveway a problem? (Not always.) What are the more subjective aspects of appraising a home’s value, and how should you approach challenging an appraisal? This is part two of a two-part series.

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Links and Show Notes

Full Transcript

(SPEAKER: Matt McGee, Host)

Matt: As a kid, I was fascinated by some of the big mysteries of the day.

[sound effect: mysterious music]

The Bermuda Triangle was huge, UFOs were even bigger. I watched all the TV shows and read all the books about UFOs. There was the D. B. Cooper mystery, and then whatever happened to Jimmy Hoffa? Well, now I’m a grown-up, and I work in real estate, and the mysteries we have today are things like…

  • Why won’t the listing agent return my call?
  • Does it really help to bury a statue of St. Joseph in the yard?
  • And how did the appraiser come up with that number?

[sound effect: mysterious music]

Appraisals have been one of real estate’s great mysteries, especially over the last couple of years. Well, we’re trying to solve that mystery today, or at least make it more understandable. We have a veteran appraiser answering all of our questions, and a few of yours, too. It’s Part 2 of “Interview with an Appraiser.” This is The Walkthrough™.


Matt: Well, hello there. How are you? My name’s Matt McGee. I’m the managing editor of HomeLight’s Agent Resource Center. I’m also your host every week right here on The Walkthrough™. Actually, this week, I am your co-host. I’ll tell you a bit more about that in just a minute.

In any case, welcome to The Walkthrough™. This is a weekly podcast. We have new episodes come out bright and early every Monday morning. This is the show where you’re gonna learn what’s working right now from the best real estate agents and industry experts in the country. At HomeLight, we believe in real estate agents. We’re here to explore how great agents grow their business, stand out from the crowd, and become irreplaceable.

So, I was talking to my wife a couple of weeks ago about her experiences with appraisers over the years. She’s been licensed I think it’s 18 or 19 years now and has worked with all kinds of different appraisers. Well, at the end of the conversation, she kinda summed it up by saying she thinks she has a love-hate relationship with them, and I guess that’s totally understandable, isn’t it?

Appraisers have a lot of influence on every transaction. They can make or break a sale. And then to complicate matters, what they do and how they do it has always been a bit of a mystery. Well, we’re in the middle of a two-part series that we hope is removing some of that mystery. And by we, I mean, we. Our producer, Lisa Johnson Smith, is co-hosting this series with me.

Back when we scheduled the interview, I thought, “You know, if we’re gonna talk to an appraiser, we should have someone on the show who has worked with an appraiser.” Well, Lisa’s been a licensed agent since 2004 and has worked with countless appraisers over the years. So, Lisa, over to you.

Lisa: Our guest for this series is Jamie Owen. He is a certified appraiser who works in the Cleveland, Ohio area. He got into the business in 1998, and he’s done more than 8,000 residential appraisals in his career. He also blogs about appraisals, and he has a podcast called “Home Value Stories” where he teaches consumers how appraisals work. Well, last week in Part 1, Jamie gave us about a five-minute walkthrough of exactly how he does an appraisal, from the time he gets a job until the time he submits his report. And if you missed last week’s show or you just need a reminder, here’s some of what Jamie said.

Jamie: Before I even get to the property I’m pulling, single-family homes, if it’s a single-family home that I’m appraising, seeing what the market trends are for all the single-family homes in that market area, or maybe a specific neighborhood. So, I’m gonna measure that trend, and then I’m also gonna look at trends of homes that are competing with the subject property, the property we’re appraising. So, there’s several trends that we’re looking at. And so, that’s really the first part of the appraisal is the market analysis.

Lisa: We also talked last week about how wide of an area will he use, and how far back in time will he go when he’s looking for comps. How does he account for the passing of time between when a comp is sold and when he’s doing the appraisal? And we also talked about some neighborhood factors that can influence a home’s value.

Matt: Yeah. That was a great start to this series for sure. Well, today is just as great, I think. In Part 2, we’re gonna transition from the neighborhood to the home. So, listen for Jamie to talk about what he looks for when he’s walking through the home. We’re gonna ask about things like pools, a great view, even cracks in the driveway. What impact can they have on a home’s value? We’re gonna talk about what parts of his job are objective and which are more subjective. We’ll talk about challenging an appraisal, and we have a couple of great questions from the agents in our Facebook Mastermind group.

Lisa: If you missed Part 1, I definitely suggest you go back and listen when you get a chance, but you don’t need to hear that before you listen to today’s episode. So, let’s get started. Here’s our “Interview with an Appraiser.” It’s Part 2 of our conversation with Jamie Owen.


Matt: What happens at the house? Once you get to the property, I assume things like the number of beds, the number of baths, the number of garages, those are probably most important for determining comps and determining value. But what else are you looking at?

Jamie: Things like the finishes in a home, the upgrades, does the home have, like, beautiful new kitchen cabinets? They’re all square now instead of the rounded with all the new amenities, granite or quartz countertops, or things like that. So, finishes in the bathroom, we pay attention to those. What’s the flooring, and what’s the condition of all of that, too? I’ve seen some homes with new kitchens but they just weren’t done well, and that can make a difference. Just the quality of the work may make a difference, so we take all that into consideration.

Lisa: Jamie, how much of that is subjective, though?

Jamie: A lot of it is subjective to some degree, right? Everyone may look at that a little bit differently. And that’s where it’s a little tricky. You might have one appraiser that, for whatever reason, they look at that as a remodeled kitchen because the doors were painted, they got new poles on there and new countertops. So, they may say it’s renovated. Another appraiser may say, “Well, that’s not really renovated. That’s more updated.” So, there is some subjectivity to those things to be sure.

But I think most appraisers who’ve been appraising for a number of years, they’ve seen enough homes. They know how to compare one home to another. But you’re right, there’s some subjectivity to that, no question. There’s some subjectivity with the buyers, too. That’s why there’s really no one value that covers a property. The value would be in a range, and it really depends on the buyer.

You may have one buyer that goes in and says, “Well, that kitchen is totally renovated,” even though the counter, it was just painted, and another buyer that’s like, “That’s not renovated. That’s updated.” So, it also kind of is the same way with the buyers. So that’s why there’s always a range with value. The probable sales price, even though we have to give you one, the truth is I like to give a range, “Here’s my best opinion of value. What’s the most probable sales price?” But it’s probably between here and there.

Matt: You were talking about condition. I know one of the things when my wife is listing a house, she will very often–if the house is of a certain age, very often recommend that the seller repaint at least a portion of the house, and potentially re-carpet at least a portion of the house. Those are the kinds of things that, at minimum, can have a positive impact on value.

Jamie: Yeah. Definitely. Just market appeal. You walk into a place and it’s clean and fresh. Even if it’s not totally renovated, just that clean, fresh feeling walking in, I think it can make a difference with buyers, no question. In this market, even though buyers aren’t as picky as they used to be because they can’t be because there’s just not much out there, it still makes a difference if they’re looking at this house vs. another house. I think it helps with the marketability aspects. And those are things we note, too, as appraisers.

Lisa: What, Jamie, can have a really negative impact? For instance, what about cracks in your driveway? Are those huge issues or little issues?

Jamie: Yeah. That’s a great question because it really depends on the market, what buyers expect. There are homes I’ve appraised and there’s some cracks in the driveway, but it’s not to the degree that it’s a functional problem, but they’re just concrete cracks. And then I’ll drive past the homes I’m gonna compare it to and I look at their driveways, and guess what? They’ve got some cracks, too. Probably not a big deal.

But on the other hand, if you’re in maybe a new development or some area where all the homes are new and then we’re appraising a home, it’s new, but all of a sudden, you’ve got these strange cracks in the driveway, I think then, yeah, that could have an impact on value. So, it really depends on the home we’re appraising and what buyers expect. That’s really what it comes down to with anything. It’s what buyers expect, what are they willing to pay? And that’s what we’ve got the joyous job of trying to determine.

Matt: What about a roof? I would assume a roof is always…the condition of the roof. That’s always one of those big issues.

Jamie: Yeah. And roofs are…it’s a tough pill, those and foundation issues because all buyers expect that the home has a roof that’s functioning and a foundation that’s intact. If the roof needs to be replaced, it’s a big ticket item, but you’re not gonna get that back dollar for dollar. To say that it doesn’t add any value, I think that would be wrong, too. But it’s harder to measure just how much value a new roof is going to add, unless you’ve got some comparable sales. Like, I just did an appraisal and the homeowner asked me that. They’re like, “So, we want you to appraise this home with a new roof, even though it’s got an old roof.” And they wanted to know how much it was going to contribute.

And I actually found some sales that were very comparable and they just had new roofs put on, so that was easy. But sometimes it’s not quite as cut and dry. Foundations are even worse than roofs because if you’ve got a foundation that needs to be torn out and replaced, there’s really little, if any value for that, just because the buyers expect a home to have a foundation that’s working. So, you could drop $30,000, $40,000, or more rebuilding a wall in the basement and get zero return. Things like that are tough.

Matt: As you’re walking through the house… We were talking about the condition of the flooring, the condition of the carpet, whatever. How are you grading things? Is there a scale? Is it, like, poor, good, excellent? What’s that like?

Jamie: So, if you’re doing Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac work, they have the UAD codes.

Matt: Let me jump in here real quick. Jamie just mentioned UAD codes. Now, UAD stands for Uniform Appraisal Dataset. It’s Fannie Mae’s, and Freddie Mac’s way of making sure appraisers are submitting similar documents for every appraisal. The UAD gives appraisers standard definitions and responses to use on their reports. It keeps those reports consistent. It’s kinda like how, at least here in Washington state, every seller fills out the same seller disclosures form.

Now, what’s cool, if you kinda wanna nerd out on this stuff, Freddie Mac has a PDF online showing the dataset requirements. We’re gonna link to that in today’s show notes. It now dates back to 2011, so it may have changed somewhat in the meantime, but you can learn things like how they define updated versus remodeled. There’s also a requirement that the appraiser must describe the home’s condition as a range from C1 to C6. And that’s where we rejoin the conversation.

Jamie: A C1, “never lived in” C2 for condition, is “fairly new”, and they’ve got a rating system. And in every appraisal, there’ll be a definition explaining all of that, so that makes it clear. But as far as just walking through the home and rating the carpet and things like that, appraisers probably have different ways of doing it. For me, it’s like poor, fair, average, average good, good, or new. That’s how I do it.

Lisa: So, is there a grading score for that?

Jamie: There’s no grading score that I use anyway. Some appraisers might, but none that I know of. Our analysis is not that precise most of the time. We just don’t have enough data to make it that precise. And honestly, the market’s not that precise either. Carpet vs. hardwood, maybe we can find some support for an adjustment, but a lot of times, no. And it really depends on the buyer. Some buyers may want carpet or luxury vinyl flooring, someone else may want hardwood or tiles.

Matt: I was just gonna ask you about various amenities because those are things that some buyers will put more value on, you know, fireplace, maybe an outdoor deck, a pool, central air, things like that. How does that impact the value of a house?

Jamie: It really depends on what buyers are looking for in that market area. So, there’s some areas where it makes no difference and other areas where it makes a big difference. For instance, I appraised a home–it’s a number of years ago in a high-density area, and the entire backyard–it was a small lot and the entire backyard had a beautiful in-ground pool. I mean, it was beautiful, but there was no yard, it was just pool. That was really a detriment. Buyers wanted a yard more than they wanted a pool. And to fill that thing in was about $10,000, to remove the pool. So, that was really a detriment.

On the other hand, other neighborhoods, buyers want pools. So, in those markets, if you don’t have a pool, or if you have a pool, it’s gonna add some value. If you don’t have a pool, you might get a little less. And it’s the same with patios, and decks, and all sorts of amenities. It really is buyer-driven. So, that’s what we really have to look into is, is there support for that? Are buyers willing to pay more for those things? And then we have the burden of trying to support that analysis. So, we’re looking for support in the market for it. So, it really depends, which is the answer to every appraisal question. It’s true. We’re not trying to be greasy or slimy, it just depends. We’re not trying to be evasive. It really does depend.

Lisa: Jamie, what about views? You know, everybody has their own idea of what a good view is. Some people would consider a water view great, others would want a view of mountains, or the desert. How do you place a value on those?

Jamie: Well, usually, it’s by comparable sales again. So, we’re gonna try to find sales with a similar view. And like in Northeast Ohio, there’s trees everywhere. We don’t have a tremendous amount of properties with amazing views, but along Lake Erie we do, and people pay big bucks for the lake frontage, or even for lake views. So, it really goes back to trying to find comparable sales with a similar view. And so ideally, if all the sales we’re using have similar views, we’re not going to adjust anything for it.

Lisa: So, if two houses are next door to each other and one has that view of the lake and the other one does not, is that one without the view gonna substantially be less?

Jamie: It could be if it does not have a desirable view and the other one’s got a…or if the other one has a more desirable view, yeah, there could be a value difference. So, we have to just look into that and investigate it. Same with condos downtown. You might have one with a better view of the downtown area or the lake, so that’s where we really have to dive into the analysis and see if we can find comparable sales and see if there is a difference. Sometimes there is no difference, but we’ve gotta try to find evidence if we’re gonna make an adjustment for that.

Matt: Have you ever been looking at a house, Jamie, and just found something about the house, or in the house, or on the property that you have a sense that it adds value but you can’t find the comps for what the number should be, for what the adjustment should be?

Jamie: Yes. And those are really tricky because if you talk to a bunch of agents and they say, “Yeah, there’s some value there,” but there’s just no evidence for it, it is a judgment call. It’s hard to extract an adjustment for some things like that because then you have to ask yourself, “Okay, if there’s no other homes like that, is it an over improvement for homes in that market area?” So, it could be an over improvement, and buyers may not pay a whole lot more for that amenity.

I have made adjustments for things where there was nothing else like it, but it is difficult. And usually, on something like that, if there’s no other market data, we’ll do a depreciated cost where we’ll apply the depreciation of the home. We’ll apply that to that amenity. And I don’t like doing that. I’d rather find some market support. But after talking to agents, they may say, “Yeah, there’s value there, there’s just nothing that’s sold in many years that is like it.” So, it’s more of a judgment call on the appraiser’s part. But we have to be ready to defend why we did what we did.

Matt: We were talking a little bit earlier about how the grading of the condition of a house, of a property can be subjective. I think our listeners would love just your thoughts on objectivity vs. subjectivity. Are there other areas of what you do that tend to get more subjective?

Jamie: Even choice of sales is a little bit subjective, although you should be able to look at these sales and see if they’re comparable or not. Whether an appraiser chooses to make an adjustment for something, that’s subjective. USPAP does not require that we make adjustments. Adjustments are there to help the reader for comparison purposes mostly.

Lisa: My turn to jump in. Jamie just mentioned USPAP. It’s an acronym that stands for Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice. This is a set of ethical and performance standards for certified appraisers, and they have to follow these standards if they’re involved in federally-related real estate transactions. We’ll link to more info about that in today’s show notes. Now let’s get back to the conversation as Jamie continues to talk about subjectivity and objectivity in appraisals.

Jamie: I will say time is a more important adjustment because you’ve gotta measure that change, but there’re some adjustments that appraiser may look at the data and feel like there’s no support, and another appraiser may look at that and say, “Well, I wanna make an adjustment for it because the data I’ve looked at, I feel like I should.” And then, of course, there should be support for that.

There are some areas where there might be some subjectivity. For instance, there’s an area outside of Cleveland, and it’s a very high-density area, neighborhood, and a lot of appraisers–in fact, me too for a long time–I was calling that suburban thinking, “Well, that’s a suburban area for Cleveland.” But the truth is it’s urban. Density-wise, it’s urban. You go one mile into where everyone’s calling that neighborhood urban and it’s urban. But we get in our mind, well, it’s suburban because it’s a suburban part of Cleveland. But in reality, when you look at the density, it’s urban. So, things like that can be a little bit subjective.

And you could have two appraisers that make a call on something that even condition-wise they could both be right, depending on how you look at it. Like with those UAD codes that I was talking about. One property might be a C4, which is just “average condition” but it might be almost a C3 because it’s as close, but you gotta make a call on it. And then another appraiser goes in there and they say, “Well, that’s a C3,” but it could be a low C3. So, C3 would be a little more updated.

So, that’s why one sale does not make the market value. That’s why we look at–we use at least three or four in every report. But we’re also looking at a lot more than three or four, we’ve just given you the best three or four we think that represent the value of that property, but we’re looking at many more than that that may not be in the report.

Matt: Jamie, we have a listener community of I think it’s like 2,200 real estate agents right now that listen to the show, and we told them we were doing this episode with a very experienced appraiser, what questions do you have? So, we have a couple of questions here. I’ll take the first one. This is from Pat Tasker who is, I believe, in the Milwaukee area, and she said, “I would like to know if there’s a list that they use with standard values like a gas fireplace is worth X, a natural fireplace is worth Y, or there’s X value per each extra bath.”

Jamie: The answer is no, we shouldn’t. But there are some that in the past–in the past, there have been those lists out there. Now, I’ve not used them myself, but I have heard of them. And the appraisers years ago would go, “Okay, this is our list. We’re gonna use that.” I don’t know of any appraisers that do that. That would get us in trouble. It’s not the way we develop those adjustments. So, the answer is no, and I hope that no appraisers are doing that. I don’t think they are, but they used to, in all fairness.

Lisa: Okay. I have another question from Jacob Scott. Jacob asks, “Can you ask them to rank most important to least important when determining good comps, bed counts, square footage, etc.”

Jamie: Oh, boy. It really depends on the property because…

Lisa: Using that again, it all depends.

Jamie: It does. It does. And I know I’m being so evasive here, but it really does because if you’re on a property that’s lakefront, the location might be the most important thing, not the size of the property, or the square footage, or things like that. But generally speaking, I’d say gross living area, lot size, condition, quality. Maybe not quite that order. Quality, condition, gross living area, those are the big ones.

Lisa: And where does location rank in that?

Jamie: Actually, location would be at the top, that’s number one. So, they have to be in the right location. In fact, if you’re looking at a comparable sales grid on an appraisal, most appraisals, that’s right there at the top. Time, location, if there are any seller-paid concessions, those are all at the top, then you’ve got size, view. So, it does really list them mostly in the order of importance. So, that’s why they’re listed that way. And things like decks, porches, patios, fireplaces, that’s at the very bottom because it’s not as important generally.

Lisa: Jamie, have you ever had an instance, I’m sure you have, where an agent will question your number or a homeowner will question your number?

Jamie: Yes. Yup.

Lisa: And so, what is the right way for an agent to disagree and make the case for an adjustment?

Jamie: Usually, in a situation like this, the appraiser was hired by the bank. So, you have to go through the bank because that’s really the only person that the appraiser can talk to about the situation unless the bank gives the appraiser permission to talk to someone else, but usually, they don’t. So, if you’ve got some comparable sales that were missed by the appraiser, and you feel really strongly that these should be considered, give those to the bank, and then they can ask the appraiser to reconsider the value based on this new evidence.

And I never have a problem with it. You sometimes expect it. Like, if the appraised value is lower than the contract price, you kind of expect that this is gonna happen. So we expect that. And usually, I’ll tell you what happens normally is when I analyze the sales given to me, most of the time, it actually supports my opinion of value. But there have been times where I missed a really good sale, and I just missed it. And I have revised my value upward. So, it does happen.

And I think if we’re an honest appraiser and we really missed something, we should do the right thing and change our value. There’s gotta be some really solid proof given to us. But you just have to go through the bank. And I will tell you, too, that sometimes the bank, they say, “No, we like the value, and we’re not even gonna go to the appraiser,” so there’s that, too. So, I think most lenders are willing to give that information to the appraiser, but it really depends on the lender.

Lisa: So, best supported by just comps.

Jamie: Yeah. Comparable sales, yeah. And they really should be equally comparable or more comparable than the ones the appraiser used because if they’re not, then why would the appraiser even use them? Because then it’s like you’re just trying to hit a number, right? So, if the appraiser used the best sales, and you’re giving them sales that are less comparable, there’s really no…it’s not gonna help.


Lisa: So, there you go, a two-part series that began with a request from our Facebook Mastermind group. I hope we removed some of the mystery about how appraisers do their job. But if–if we missed something, if there’s a question you wish we had asked, you can ask Jamie yourself, and we’re gonna tell you how you can do that in just a moment.

Matt: Yeah. And Jamie, just gotta say, this was a really great conversation. Thank you so much for making the time to spend with us and for sharing with us how you do what you do. All right. Take a look at today’s show notes. We have links to Jamie’s website, to his blog, and to the podcast that he does about home appraisals. You’re also gonna find a link to those UAD specifications we mentioned. So, if you wanna nerd out about how appraisers write the reports, take a look at that. There’s also a link to the USPAP that Jamie mentioned, the appraiser’s ethics and performance standards.

All right. It is time for our takeaways segment. Here’s what stood out from Episode 98, Part 2 of our “Interview with an Appraiser” with Jamie Owen.

Takeaway number one: When making price adjustments and assigning value to things at the house, Jamie looks at the amenities, things like countertops, flooring, or new cabinets in the kitchen. He said it’s not just what those amenities are, but it’s also their quality and condition. So, your client might repaint the walls or redo the cabinets, but if it’s not quality work, you’re probably not gonna add any value.

Lisa: Takeaway number two: Later on in the conversation, in response to a listener question, Jamie said the most important factors for finding comps include things like location, condition, gross living area, and lot size. On the other hand, things like decks, porches, patios, and so forth, are all less important.

Takeaway number three: There are big issues and little issues in every home. The biggest things are the foundation and roof. Now, every buyer expects those to be functional. Something like cracks in the driveway, though, are probably a little issue, but if it’s a newer home in a newer neighborhood where all the other homes don’t have cracks in the driveway, then it could be a big issue.

Takeaway number four: Appraisers use UAD, that’s the Uniform Appraisal Dataset. It gives them a standard set of terms and definitions to use in their appraisal reports. For example, one part of the UAD asks them to grade the condition of the home on a scale from C1, which means “new and never lived in” down to C6, which means “substantial damages in need of repair.”

Matt: And takeaway number five may be the biggest takeaway of all, is that there can be a lot of subjectivity in appraisals. When we were talking about that grading system, remember, Jamie said there’s not a lot of difference between C3 and C4. He said one appraiser might grade a home as a C3, but another might come in and call it a C4.

At the same time, when we were peppering Jamie with questions about all those different amenities–Does this add value? Does that add value? Does this take away value? Pretty much every time, Jamie said it’s all about going back to the comps and seeing what they reveal. That’s how they minimize the subjectivity. And those are your takeaways this week.

All right. How did you enjoy this two-part series? We would love to hear from you, get some feedback. There’s a couple of different ways you can do that. Number one, leave a voicemail or send a text. The number to use is 415-322-3328. You can send an email. It’s walkthrough[at] Or Lisa just mentioned a few moments ago that if we missed something or if you wish you could ask Jamie a question, you can.

Jamie has been gracious enough to join our Facebook listener group. So, if you’re not in there yet yourself, go to Facebook, do a search for HomeLight Walkthrough™, click Join, you’ll be in the group. You can ask Jamie a question, you can leave us any feedback. We would love to hear from you that way as well.

That is all for this week. Thanks to Jamie Owen for joining us. Thanks to Lisa Johnson Smith for co-hosting, and thank you for listening. My name’s Matt McGee, and you’ve been listening to The Walkthrough™. At HomeLight, we believe in real estate agents. We’re here to explore how great agents grow their business, stand out from the crowd, and become irreplaceable. Go out and sell some homes. We’ll talk to you again next week. Bye-bye.


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