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Residential Real Estate Appraisals | Electronic Appraisals

Keep Up With Fast Changing Home Values



Pay too much, and you lose money when you sell. Pay too little, and you'll probably want to know why someone is willing to sell below market.

Either way, it's important to know exactly what a property is worth before buying.

Real Estate Appraiser

In addition to determining a home's value, a real estate appraisal will provide such information as square footage, lot size, and rebuilding cost. While residential real estate appraisers - who typically charge from $300 to $500 - are not property inspectors, they will point out problems requiring repair. And they will discount the value of the property by the estimated cost of repairs when documenting the real estate appraisal.

Residential real estate appraisers also make observations about the neighborhood, including property value trends and how long it typically takes to sell a house in the immediate area. Such information comes in handy if you want a second mortgage or anticipate selling your home.

Most mortgage lenders require a real estate appraisal before making a loan. And since you pay for that real estate appraisal, you are entitled to a copy of it. Ask for it and keep it for your records.

If you don't feel comfortable with a value given by the real estate appraiser, experts say, get a second opinion.

A second real estate appraisal adds another dimension, says Joe Alexander, associate director of the National Association of Real Estate Appraisers. "You are going to get a weighted average of the two. If one appraiser missed something or had a different opinion of value, there is a benefit in having an average of the two."

Electronic Appraisal

You can also turn to On-Line Appraiser! Electronic appraisals rely on analysis sales information gathered from public records. All real estate sales are recorded in your local county government offices, so the final sales price of a home is public record. on the Web for assistance at considerably less cost.

Multiple Listing Service MLS

Another solid source of information for property valuation is the Multiple Listing Service known as the MLS. You can access this information online to see similar houses that are listed for sale.

Tax Collector

Now, watch out for the tax collector. Every county in every state has a tax assessor's office. That office has access to the same property-value information that you do.

But keep in mind that values for tax assessments are typically lower than the real market value. "Many states do not have market-value assessments, but use statistical information to do mass appraisals," says Edward Crapo, president of the International Association of Assessing Officers. "That means that they tend to use middle tendencies of the average sales price in any given area."

In states where market value is used, tax assessors make adjustments that real estate appraisers don't. For example, property values are usually discounted by "the normal cost of a sales transaction, such as real estate commissions," says Mr. Crapo.

If you are ever unhappy with a property assessor's valuation of your property, you can make some noise.

"There are three levels of tax appeals in most tax-assessment offices," says Crapo. "These are basically an informal hearing, a semi formal judicial process, and, finally, an actual court procedure."

Homeowners can be somewhat intimidated by the process, he says, but they should know that most tax assessors make the first level a relaxed procedure.

"Preparation is the most important part of the initial step. Homeowners should do their homework and bring hard information about their property as well as similar properties," he says. "Is it properly classified on the zoning books? Is it the right piece of property?"

The appeal process is surprisingly successful at the first level. Nationwide, Crapo estimates that 20 to 30 percent of reviews at the first level favor the appellant.

The chances of prevailing, however, diminish sharply at the next two levels of appeal.

"The second step, involving a formal hearing, involves the assessor justifying his position and a hearing judge rendering a decision one way or the other," he says. "By this time, the assessors have solidified their position and the appellant is much less successful at this level. The chances of a favorable ruling diminish even further when it gets to a formal judicial process."

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