The Uniform Appraisal Dataset

This article first appeared in Appraisal Today. Thank you Ann O’Rourke for publishing!


The Uniform Appraisal Dataset (UAD) was designed to help bring some uniformity into the appraisal process related to mortgage work. After all, appraisers were not very uniform in the way they described condition and quality.  This applied not just to condition and quality ratings, but to a myriad of other factors such as view and location, down to how basement finish was identified. The Collateral Underwriter (CU) was designed in part to synthesize all of this information and also to identify areas where appraisers differed markedly from each other, as well as even within their own work product.

We had a lot of angst at the outset of CU related to reusing quality and condition ratings, and possibly changing them from one report to another. This was a valid concern because it is one of the factors that does get measured within the CU.  Since the UAD has been required since 2011 for mortgage related work intended for Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, we would expect, five years after the fact, that appraisers would be well versed with what the specific ratings entailed. As both a reviewer and appraiser in the field, I find this is unfortunately far from the truth. The truth seems to be, that confusion related to the requirements is still rampant, and my contention is, that it is not the appraisers who are at fault, but the definitions themselves. There are simply too many grey areas. Either that, or education has not been sufficient in helping appraisers understand what is expected. It is a good possibility however, based on the continued widespread variances, that the definitions themselves are too vague.

Let us take a look at quality for a Q4 and a Q5 house. The ratings in the 1004 form show:

Q4 Dwellings with this quality rating meet or exceed the requirements of applicable building codes. Standard or modified standard building plans are utilized and the design includes adequate fenestration and some exterior ornamentation and interior refinements. Materials, workmanship, finish, and equipment are of stock or builder grade and may feature some upgrades.

Q5 Dwellings with this quality rating feature economy of construction and basic functionality as main considerations. Such dwellings feature a plain design using readily available or basic floor plans featuring minimal fenestration and basic finishes with minimal exterior ornamentation and limited interior detail. These dwellings meet minimum building codes and are constructed with inexpensive, stock materials with limited refinements and upgrades.

Q4 indicates stock builder grade and may feature some upgrades. Q5 indicates basic finishes and inexpensive, stock materials with limited refinements and upgrades. Both say stock, but Q4 says it may feature some upgrades. What are these upgrades? Are they upgrades to cabinetry, or are they upgrades to the building itself? Does taking a standard high-volume production build quality for the starter market, but adding higher-end cabinetry bump the quality level up?

What about condition? Probably the two ratings that are utilized the most are C3 and C4, which are as follows:

C3 The improvements are well maintained and feature limited physical depreciation due to normal wear and tear. Some components, but not every major building component, may be updated or recently rehabilitated. The structure has been well maintained.

*Note: The improvement is in its first-cycle of replacing short-lived building components (appliances, floor coverings, HVAC, etc.) and is being well maintained. Its estimated effective age is less than its actual age. It also may reflect a property in which the majority of short-lived building components have been replaced but not to the level of a complete renovation.

C4 The improvements feature some minor deferred maintenance and physical deterioration due to normal wear and tear. The dwelling has been adequately maintained and requires only minimal repairs to building components/mechanical systems and cosmetic repairs. All major building components have been adequately maintained and are functionally adequate.

 *Note: The estimated effective age may be close to or equal to its actual age. It reflects a property in which some of the short-lived building components have been replaced, and some short-lived building components are at or near the end of their physical life expectancy; however, they still function adequately. Most minor repairs have been addressed on an ongoing basis resulting in an adequately maintained property

Given the scenario that follows, the C3 and C4 ratings are most likely in play, and the difference between the two are that on C3, that some components may be updated or recently rehabilitated and well maintained, and on C4 they are adequately maintained and functionally adequate. What about quality ratings for this same property?

Because this is a question that seems to engender different answers, I asked this question through SurveyMonkey:

If the subject property is a solid Q5 or Q4 production house, but the owners have installed a new high quality kitchen and bathrooms, does the quality rating change?

Figure about a 10-year old house and all sales were built the same initially.


I purposely limited the responses to three choices because I did not want to get too many options, or otherwise there would be little consensus from the respondents. The choices included 1) that recently installed new high-quality kitchen and bathroom changed the quality, 2) that it did not change the quality but changed condition, and 3) that it did not change quality but was addressed as a line item adjustment. At this writing, there were 442 responses, which is more than sufficient to have a good sense of appraiser’s opinions.


20.36% of the respondents considered it an upgrade of quality

54.52% considered it a condition rating change

25.11% considered it a line item adjustment

In essence, 79% of the respondents considered it did not change quality but was either a condition change, or warranted a separate line-item adjustment.

So, what is the answer?

Strictly speaking, the UAD language indicates it is a change of quality, but in the minds of appraisers and/or users, is it? If “once a manufactured home, always a manufactured home” is true, how does swapping out a higher quality kitchen and/or bathroom from stock raise the quality of the whole house? How does changing a kitchen and bathrooms affect the structure of the house? Does it do anything other than change condition? If it is condition, how is this different than installing a new kitchen and bathrooms of stock quality in the stock quality house? Would it be best addressed as a condition item, but also as a line item because one aspect of the house is now atypical for the quality of the typical house by this production builder?

I do not have the answers, throw this out for discussion, because as proposed at the beginning of this article, the UAD ratings are too vague, and open to interpretation. Perhaps now is the time to drill down to what is truly expected within the various ratings and start a discussion on how upgrades to some non-structural elements to a house could, or could not, affect the overall quality rating of the building. Hopefully this brief article spurs on discussion of these ratings, and helps ferment more consistency between appraisers who do mortgage related work, since we are all judged by the actions of our peers in our market and we want to be judged fairly.

As in all things appraisal, when in doubt, disclose. Write more, explain more. It certainly helps mitigate those grey areas to inform the intended users why one condition or quality rating was chosen over the other options.

I have Google Earth and know how to use it

This post was originally published in Appraisal Today magazine and is republished with permission.

I have Google Earth and know how to use it

Seriously though, as a reviewer, it is one of the first tools I reach for when I look up the property that is the subject of the appraisal I am reviewing. Assume all reviewers do. We use it to make sure that the property does not back up to, side against, or face some type of externality such as a major 8-lane freeway, massive shopping mall or toxic waste facility. Hopefully the appraisal that has one of these externalities addresses it. Sometimes the appraisals go to great length to discuss externalities and any effect on marketability and value. Sometimes there is a sentence or two. Sometimes crickets.

Yesterday I pulled up GE on the house that was the subject of an appraisal I was reviewing and it backed up to a bunch of buildings. Looked possibly to be a school, but the street view maps took me around the side and to the entrance of what turned out to be a large condominium complex. Absolutely no big deal, but there wasn’t one single word related to this in the appraisal. I asked a group of appraisers whether they would make a comment if their subject property backed up to a condominium complex, and the responses ran the gamut from “of course”, to “no way, it is already covered in the neighborhood check boxes”.

While the check boxes for the neighborhood include multi-family, they do not include condominium, and in this instance, there was nothing in the appraisal even hinting that there was a mixture of single-unit uses in the area. This property didn’t raise a red-flag insomuch as backing to a freeway, commercial shopping center or toxic waste facility, but it did raise a question and warranted a bit more research. This is fine as it part of my job, but as someone who actually reads the reports in front of me, I was just left confused as to why it wasn’t even mentioned. I was even more confused by why so many appraisers say that it is not worth mentioning.

Maybe it is being old fashioned, but I grew up with the understanding that an appraiser was the eyes and the ears of the client, and that anything that would likely raise a question for the client should be addressed. Of course the freeway, mall and toxic waste facility are givens, but wouldn’t anything that was literally in the backyard also be something that would get questioned? How many minutes does it take out of the process to write a few sentences about a condominium complex? Couldn’t it be as simple as saying “The subject backs up to the XYZ condominium complex and has a seasonal view of some of these buildings. There is no negative effect on marketability or value of the subject property related to its location adjacent to this residential use” or some such rot?

While it is easy to overlook potential concerns due to the amount of reporting we have to do (and remember, there is no such thing as a perfect appraisal), stepping into the mind of the client and asking yourself “what would the client be concerned about” is a very useful exercise. While the client may not care about the house backing to a condominium complex because it is a residential use like the subject, they may care about it backing to the complex if for some reason it does affect marketability and/or value. It is up to us, as appraisers, to report and analyze what it is we see, and although we can never catch every little thing, our value is partly measured by our ability to communicate and to analyze these nuances.

Remember, reviewers have Google Earth and other tools at their fingertips, and most use them.

Why adjust?

This article was originally published in Appraisal Today,Appraisal Today. A hearty thank you to Ann O’Rourke


Some appraisals can take a narrow range of unadjusted sales prices, for example the range of $115,000 to $122,000, which is a spread of 6.09%, and through the process of analysis, it widens from $96,000 to more than $132,000 (spread of 37.5%). In case you think this is made up, it was a real world example, which spurred this short article,

This begs the question, if proper analysis of the units of comparison were applied, why would the range widen?

Sometimes it is due to the mechanical act of extracting adjustments from the market and putting them in the grid, without actually analyzing whether the adjustments extracted are actually valid. Alternatively, if there are a number of adjustments to be considered, do some of them weigh each other out? This means does the smaller house that is highly upgraded; possibly have more worth than the larger but dated house? If condition is not adequately accounted for, it is easy to see how the adjustments could make the dated house look more appealing, when in reality the market may well be more concerned with cosmetic condition than anything else. Because of the way buyers actually buy in the market place, it is critical that the appraiser step back from the process and look at the big picture to see if the value opinion ends up passing the curb test. The curb test is that of asking yourself, either whether you could see yourself paying that amount for the property, or if you would feel comfortable lending your own hard earned money for a buyer purchasing that property. If the answer is “heck yeah” then probably either it is too good a deal, or you are just that good. If the answer on the other hand is “heck no” then the value opinion is likely too high. Just right refers to that sweet spot where you consider that the price you would pay is fair to you as buyer, or lender, but also fair to the seller where it would be attractive enough to sell without any duress

What is the purpose of the adjustment process?

We make adjustments for the units of comparison that buyers recognize in the market, and through this process, narrow a range of unadjusted prices to something tighter, from which we reconcile. If for some reason the range actually broadens, there is a piece of the puzzle missing. This means we have to step back and reanalyze the processes and our adjustments; or perhaps even, our comparable choices. This is the very reason “bracketing” with a superior property and an inferior property is an important application. The unadjusted sales price of the inferior property sets the logical lower limit of expected value. The superior property also sets an upper limit of the expected value opinion. As soon as the appraised value is higher than superior, or lower than inferior, we know that there is something off in the analysis. If there are also similar properties to the subject included in the analysis, these become benchmarks for a generally expected value range.

Think of the way that buyers normally purchase property for a minute. Although there are some buyers who try to quantify everything, most do not. Most buyers simply like one house over another, and they do so because of location of the property, the site, the overall size, the flow/design, the condition and the amenities. Buyers will opt for the property that best meets their needs and is to their liking, for the most advantageous price. They will expect to pay less for a house that something that is superior to it and more than something inferior to it. Of course there are exceptions, such as the buyer who is under pressure to buy because they have sold their house and need to move, today. Or the buyer who wants to locate next to the grandchildren, or any other myriad reason that does not appear rational in the market as a whole. Often it is those very sales that throw off the appraisal in terms of widening the adjusted sales price range. Sellers also sometimes have undue motivations, which could cause them to sell at a lower price than expected, such as divorce, death, or other mitigating circumstances. Sometimes a seller will have an undisclosed sweetener, which might induce a buyer to pay more than expected, like that fancy new Mercedes that the buyer took a real fancy to that was parked in the garage of the otherwise vacant house. Verification of any unusual buyer circumstances with a party to the transaction is very important in this instance (it is in most, but when something is off in the adjusted range, this is often the best place to start reanalyzing). A conversation with the agent who sold the property will often uncover why the buyer paid what they did, such as the need to move, or even lately, having been outbid on so many prior offers that the buyer would simply have paid whatever necessary to buy the house.

Because houses are purchased and sold by humans, and humans do not always make rational decisions, understanding the “why” of a transaction can be critical. Because humans are making the purchasing decisions, it is important to understand what drives buyers to certain properties over others. Conversations with agents in the field are critical in understanding shifting buyer sentiments. So too is visiting builder models and seeing what the builders are installing in newly built properties. The builders are reacting to buyer desires and demands, and are a good source of information. Open Houses are also an excellent source of information, not only from the standpoint of seeing your future comparable sale, but also in listening to what buyers are saying while they are at the property, and talking with the agent if no one is there. A house with a much desired feature may sell for far more than others, and will skew the adjusted sales price range if the desired feature is not adequately analyzed or even isolated.

Market fluidity also affects sales prices. At times when there is an abundance, buyers have many options and can become very picky about features and condition of houses, and this will be shown in what they pay. Conversely, when the market is tight, and there is little to no inventory, buyers may pay far above what would be considered rational. This is one reason that we need to be aware of supply and demand.

After everything is considered and analyzed, there is no good rational reason for the unadjusted range of $115,000 to $122,000 to widen to the degree it did ($96,000 to $132,000). When this happens, step back from the process and ask what is missing. Pick up the phone and call the agents involved in the sales to get buyer motivations. Next time the adjusted sales price range widens, start asking if the various factors involved in the sales that were used in the appraisal report were adequately addressed –because through the very process of adjusting, the range should narrow, not widen.

Grouped data analysis

This article is reprinted with permission from Working RE. The original can be found here

Extracting an Adjustment – One Way to Measure
By Rachel Massey, SRA, AI-RRS

Because I often get calls from both Realtors and homeowners asking how much a certain feature in a home is worth, I thought a brief discussion of one method of extracting an adjustment from the market might be worthwhile.

This method is described in detail in The Appraisal of Real Estate, 14th Edition (as “grouped data analysis” starting on page 398) and is not a new technique, but one that appraisers may find useful in their daily practice. It can work well because if the appraiser uses care in the isolation process, the sheer number of sales will provide a range of answers, which can then be used for extraction, and support of that particular adjustment.

Instead of writing about theory, I think a simple example from my market is a good starting point. I work in a market where there are usually enough sales to use this method, but it can be useful even in markets where data is more limited. I have to go back two plus years for most of my studies to get enough data points for an adequate sample. This is not perfect but it does work for me when determining certain adjustments, such as basement finish, basement versus no basement, garage stalls, and swimming pools. I have not found it to be very effective with gross living area and it has had mixed results with bathroom counts. There are drawbacks to using it, mainly that the underlying site value is not extracted, but if the sales that are used for the study are relatively similar, the volume of sales generally resolves the issue.

The following show two different examples of an extraction for basement finish; one in my main market big-city area, related to a generally newer house in the $400,000 +/- price range, and the other in an outlying district about ten miles away, in the under $200,000 price range. Both use the same methodology and show substantial differences in results, which is why an appraiser cannot just provide a number or a percentage when asked. Instead, the appraiser has to look at the market.

For the first example, I went back over two years and narrowed my market data to houses between 2,000 and 3,000 sq. ft., built between 1990-2010, on the west side of my market area, and then downloaded all these sales to Excel and segmented the sales between houses with finished basements and those without. The results included 37 sales without finished basements and 62 identified with finished basements. Here is what it looks like on a spreadsheet:

I then looked at median and average sales price differences and median and average amount of basement finish, and came up with between $21,647 and $24,500 difference in price, favoring those with the basement finish and between $24.24 per sq. ft. and $27.75 per sq. ft. of basement finish. This provided me with some support for whatever adjustment I considered most reasonable. This would be anywhere from $21,500 to $25,000 based on sales price differences, or between $24 and $28 per sq. ft. of finished space, if used in that manner.

From experience, I know that basement finish typically costs around $40 per square foot in this market, which suggests that both physical depreciation and functional obsolescence are playing a role here, since the difference is more than what would be expected from physical depreciation alone.

For the second example, I used data from another proximate market with my target properties between 1,200–1,700 sq. ft. in size and built between 1985-2010. I also went back just over two years. I had 48 sales without basement finish and 36 with basement finish, and the median difference in price was $8,953; the average price difference was $14,420. Here is what it looks like on a spreadsheet:

The median size of finish was 625 sq. ft. and the average size of finish was 703 sq. ft., supporting adjustments per sq. ft. of $14.32 to $20.51. This means I could be comfortable using adjustments anywhere from $9,000 to $14,500 for the basement finish as a whole, or between $14 and $21 per square foot if I chose to address it that way. This data gives me something to work with and in the end, I use my experience in the market and what the comparables are telling me for my final determination, but I have support for whatever I do.

As you can see, there are differences in price between the areas and the sizes, as would be expected. Cost remains about the same to complete. Each appraisal may be different, and the numbers presented in these two examples could change depending on how far back the appraiser goes when collecting data and what they set as the perimeters for the data search. I offer this to fellow appraisers as a simple study showing how I often go about trying to extract an adjustment from the market.

Ranking and Reconciliation

Republished with permission from Working RE

Ranking and reconciliation

Road to Supporting Value: Ranking & Reconciliation
by Rachel Massey, SRA and Tim Andersen, MAI

Because the Sales Comparison approach and both the Income and Cost approaches are meant to reflect the actions of knowledgeable buyers and sellers active in the marketplace, a brief discussion of ranking andreconciliation is beneficial. The acts of ranking and reconciliation help set the stage for the appraiser’s opinion of value.

We appraisers tend to get caught up in the minutia of the adjustments, as well as supporting our adjustments, as is appropriate. This means we sometimes miss the big picture, and get way too caught up in the details. It is a rare buyer who breaks out each unit of comparison in a dollar amount. Instead, the typical buyer (of residential property at least) expects to pay more for a property than those that are inferior to it, and less for a property than those that are superior to it. This is just common sense and serves as the foundation of ranking properties relative to the subject.

When we are at the point in the appraisal process of analyzing sales that we consider to be the best representatives of comparison to the subject, we should also look at the larger picture and analyze the sales as a whole. Ideally, we have gathered sufficient and meaningful sales data to have properties both inferior and superior to the subject, as well as ones that are generally similar. It is not always possible to attain this data but in most markets it is generally not too difficult.

The process of analysis and summarization of the sales that we use in our reports should guide the intended user to follow us to a very logical conclusion. The following is a type of real-world example, imperfections and all*:


Comparable sale 1 is a similarly sized, ranch-style house with an updated roof, windows, kitchen, and bathrooms. It has a quiet location off a main road, but does require some travel along gravel roads. This house is superior to the subject in the following manner: It is larger and includes an additional half bathroom; has a deck, a finished basement, and a newer kitchen. It is inferior to the subject in that it lacks a breezeway and the quality is not to the same level as the subject.

Sale 1 is similar to the subject in location because its quiet location is offset by the greater distance to town than the subject. Overall, sale 1 is slightly superior to the subject due mainly to size, bathroom count, and basement finish and it sold for $208,000, setting a logical upper limit of the value range.

Comparable sale 2 is noted in the MLS as being newly remodeled, but the selling agent indicates the house needed work, and the exterior of the house is not in good shape. The house has an addition off the back, which may not flow as well as a house built this size to start. This house is located in a different school district from the subject, right at the district border. In our opinion, there is no marked difference in value between the districts in this location and buyers will consider both equally. The house is inferior to the subject, due to overall condition and its location, which is closer to the other community, which is not as good. The road tends to be very busy at certain times of the day. There is a commercial property across the street and south by only a couple of lots, and an animal hospital/dog play park just a few lots south. As an inferior property, this house sets the logical lower end of the value range and it sold for $153,000 in September 2014. As the market has been increasing, and we can measure an increase of approximately 5% from the date of contract to the effective date of our report, the expected value of this house were it to go under contract as of the effective date is $161,000.

Sale 3 is a good comparable property of similar overall quality and appeal. This house is superior to the subject in that it has an extra half bathroom and two fireplaces as well as being larger overall. It is inferior to the subject in overall cosmetic condition and is more dated cosmetically. The location is closer to the subject community and the road does have traffic, although not as much as the subject’s location. The features that are similar, other than style, are that it has a breezeway and updated furnace and A/C (equal to furnace and electrical). Overall, this property is similar due to the size and amenities such as the deck and fireplaces being offset by the inferior condition. This house sold when the market was about 3% lower, with an approximate value on today’s market in the same condition of $183,000, setting another benchmark in value for the subject.

We have also included information about a pending sale that is located in close proximity to the subject and is similar in age, site size, and overall appeal. This house is superior to the subject in having an additional half bath and being slightly larger. Due to having electric heat, and a more dated decor, it is slightly inferior to the subject overall; it is listed for sale for $184,900 and went under contract within 37 days on the market. We expect the house to sell within 3% of the list price based on the list price to sales price ratios found in this market place. This pending sale provides good evidence of current market activity.

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This type of ranking description is not extensive, but it provides the client and intended users a good place to start to understand some of the appraiser’s logic in arriving at a value conclusion. The appraiser has already indicated that the subject has a logical lower limit of value of $153,000 and an upper limit of value of $208,000. This is a relatively wide spread, however, of 35.95 percent based on the unadjusted sales price range. Through the adjustment process, such as with the use of paired-sales data, grouped paired-sales data, regression, depreciated cost, sensitivity, and more, it is logical to conclude this range should narrow considerably as a result of the adjustment process. Consider the following reconciliation of the three sales that were addressed above:

We have included three closed sales in the analysis. The closed sales present one inferior (sale 2), one superior (sale 1), and one generally equal (sale 3). Looking at these sales without any adjustment for any of the units of comparison other than changing market conditions, the superior property sold for $208,000, presenting a logical upper end of the value range. The inferior property sold for $161,000 (accounting for the changing market conditions only), providing a logical lower end of the value range. The similar property sold for $183,000. Together these sales provide a means to indicate that even without adjusting for anything other than changing market conditions, the subject would have a low range of $161,000, high range of $208,000 and a logical price range around $183,000.

After applying the units of comparison that we considered most relevant, namely market conditions, site value, condition, size and bathroom count, the adjusted sales price range narrows significantly from a low of $179,000 to a high of $186,500. The most similar sale adjusts to $179,000, and a similar competitive offering is for sale for $184,900 and expected to be close to list price. All of this information causes us to consider the most likely value for the subject at $183,000, which is the appraised value. This takes into account both the adjusted and unadjusted sales prices of the comparables as described above.

Logical, isn’t it? Notice how the adjusted sales price range has narrowed from 35.95 percent down to 4.19 percent? This would be typical of a well thought out and analyzed adjustment grid. All too often appraisers average these sales data rather than reconcile as to which sale has the most meaning relative to the subject and why. Remember that the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP) actually requires us to “…reconcile the quality and quantity of data available and analyzed within the approaches used…”(Standard Rule 1-6 (a). It also requires us to “…summarize the information analyzed, the appraisal methods and techniques employed, and the reasoning that supports the analyses, opinions and conclusions…”(Standard Rule 2-2(viii)) when using the Appraisal Report format.

Why is this important? It is important because it shows the logic the appraiser used to go from the general information of the unadjusted comparable sales, to the specific rationale behind the appraiser’s value conclusion. Not only that, it also reflects the way that buyers buy houses. Buyers may consider the cost of a new house as an alternative, as well as weighing the time to completion, particularly on newer houses. When buying a house, most buyers also consider the cost of renting on a monthly basis, so the income approach is also often applicable to the formation of a credible value opinion when buyers in a particular market could rent just as easily as they could buy. At the very least, knowing that their mortgage payment would be in the range of a rental payment is at the forefront of many buyers’ minds, in particular after the recent mortgage crises.

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Recall that standards rule 1-6 requires us, when developing a real property appraisal, to reconcile two areas of our analyses. First, we reconcile the quality and quantity of data available and analyzed within the individual approaches. This means that we discuss the analyses of construction costs, depreciation estimates, site values, comparable sales, comparable rentals, and availability of data, ability to confirm the data, and so forth. Then we reconcile between the various approaches to value that we have applied in the appraisal process. Please consider this language as one example:

Because there were sufficient data from reliable sources, the appraisers were able to analyze the subject using all three of the standard approaches to value. While the Cost approach indicated a value conclusion approximating that of the Sales Comparison approach (after adjustments), it is best used as a secondary method on a house of this age. There was plenty of comparable sales data by which to form a value conclusion. All were relatively close to the subject. Since the houses in the subject’s neighborhood are generally not purchased and sold as investments or income producing properties, the Income approach was not able to yield a reasonable indication of value. For this reason, its details are in the workfile, but the appraiser has omitted it from the report as neither applicable nor necessary to the formation of a credible value opinion.  

Next, Standards Rule 1-6 requires us to reconcile the applicability and relevance of the approaches, methods, and techniques we use to arrive at a credible value conclusion. As we pointed out earlier, this is nothing more than a process where we assign a specific weight to the conclusion of a specific approach. Typically, the more comfortable we are with the value conclusion of a specific approach to value, the greater weight that approach receives in this reconciliation. Consider this language:

For the reasons cited above, the appraiser chose to give the greatest weight to the value conclusion from the Sales Comparison approach. For those same reasons, the appraiser gave some weight to the value conclusion the Cost approach indicated. Finally, for the reasons cited, the Income approach merited no weight in the final analysis. It is for these market-supported reasons the appraiser concludes the market value of the subject property, as of the appraisal’s effective date, was $183,000. 

Notice how we ranked the sales and then provided the “why” behind that ranking? Then we ranked the data in the individual approaches, as well as the “why” of that ranking. Finally, we ranked the individual approaches and, again, explained why we did so. With this ranking we showed both the sales that merited the greatest weight in the final analysis, as well as why we concluded they merited that weight. Then, via the reconciliation to the individual value indications, we indicated (a) which was most persuasive in forming the value opinion, as well as, (b) how and why we arrived at that conclusion. These two steps are in compliance with SR1-6(a, b) as well as the Fannie Mae Selling Guide. This is the quality of appraisals and reports clients and intended users look for, and that, over time, will merit more professional fees.

*We took a real world example and cleaned up some of the language, eliminated a sale to make it more readable and to eliminate any telltale signs of the subject property.

One simple extraction

I just fielded a call from a potential client who was curious about how an appraiser would go about extracting an adjustment from the market, in this case specifically basement finish. In the discussion I explained that there is no factor that appraisers use, but that we turn to the market to try and show us what buyers are paying. Because different markets can act quite differently, I thought putting up a couple of examples of this type of extraction might be useful, both to my potential client, as well as my audience in general. The following show two different examples of an extraction for basement finish, one in Ann Arbor related to a generally newer house in the $400,000 or so price range, and the other in Lincoln school district in the under $200,000 price range. Both use the same methodology and both show substantial differences in final results, which is why an appraiser cannot just provide a number. Instead the appraiser has to look at the market. The first sample I went back two years and narrowed my market data to houses between 2000 and 3000 sqft, built between 1990-2010 on the west side of Ann Arbor (used areas 82, 83, and 84) and then downloaded all these sales to Excel and segmented the sales between houses with finished basements and without. The results were 37 sales without finished basements and 62 identified with finished basements. I looked at median and average sales price differences and median and average amount of basement finish, and came up with between $21,647 and $24,500 difference in price favoring those with the basement finish, and between $24.24 per sqft and $27.75 per sqft of basement finish. This provided me with some support for my adjustment. I don’t recall what my adjustment was, but I think anywhere between $20,000 and $25,000 is supported based on this data. That and in my experience, basements in this area cost about $40 per sqft to actually finish. Here is what it looks like on a spreadsheet: basement finish a2 400k The next example is using sales in the Lincoln school district, and in this one my isolated properties were between 1,200 – 1,700 sqft in size and built between 1985-2010, also going back two years. I had 48 sales without basement finish and 36 with basement finish, and the median difference in price was $8,953 and the average price difference was $14,420. The median size of finish was 625 sqft and the average size of finish was 703 sqft, supporting adjustments per sqft of $14.32 to $20.51. lincoln As you can see, there are differences in price between the areas and the sizes, as would be expected. Cost remains about the same to complete. Each appraisal may be different, and the numbers found here in these two samples could change depending on how far back the appraiser goes on their data research and what they set as the perimeters for the data search. I offer this to you, my readers, as a simple study showing how I often go about trying to extract an adjustment from the market. A final word of caution; I would not expect to see an appraiser put this analysis into their appraisal. They will likely do it, and say something in the report about the adjustment being analyzed through market data. This is what they likely mean, but won’t put the actual results into the report, instead they will have it in their files, be it in the office in general, or specific to an appraisal they were working on. Hope you all enjoyed this simple explanation, and if you have questions about appraisals and appraisal processes, please feel free to contact me. Easiest way to reach me is via email at rach mass at comcast dot net.

CU and Me: Let’s Be Practical For A Moment -Part 2

February 13, 2015

Editorial by Woody Fincham, SRA 

woody CU

Over the next several days I will be posting up my thoughts on the recent Fannie Mae Lender Letter Lender Letter  LL-2015-02.  This is part 2.  Part 1 is here.  

So let us dive in to looking at that Lender Letter.  Each of the quoted sections comes from the Lender Letter, which is cited above this. Following each are my thoughts on the quoted section.

“CU does not accept or reject appraisal reports or characterize an appraisal as “good” or “bad.” The CU risk score and messages pertain to risk and identify potential defects in the appraisal report. The lender is not obligated to “clear” or “override” the CU messages. The messages are meant to be used as red flag messages that lenders should use to assist with their appraisal analysis and inform their decisions based on a complete analysis and understanding of the appraisal report.[1]

I think this clarifies some of the biggest concerns to what CU is and is not.  Most large lenders and appraisal management companies (AMCs) have been using all sorts of third-party review rule sets and data pools for many years.  So this is nothing new under the sun. It really is the first time they are pulling in data that is verified by appraisers.  It has the potential to be a good thing, but it could very well be a bad thing.  It will depend on how the lenders use it in their respective review processes.  It is certainly bad for appraisers if they approach it the same way that they approached the 15% and 25% adjustment guidelines. I will not get into the old adjustment guidelines to deeply yet, but we all know that many lenders were set in stone about the 15% and 25% guidelines when Fannie Mae was not.  Yet lenders and AMCs still required adherence to those guidelines in some cases as hard and fast rules.

Working in a market as I do in Charlottesville, VA I understand where some concern would come from in the appraisal community.  Much of my personal work involves complex residential assignments.  From what I gather from those I have spoken to at Fannie Mae, and what information I have read about CU, I imagine many of my reports will become a four or five in their system.  I deal with properties that require regional research because they are status homes: essentially unique and custom to the market.  I would assume that these types of properties represent less than 5% of that MSA, and transfer infrequently.  The market is also small on the urban-side and voluminous in the rural and transition from suburban to rural type properties; acreage varies greatly.  The fact the MSA is in the Appalachian Mountains and that Fannie Mae requires segregation of finished basements from above grade living area; an overwhelming number of homes are built on slopes that have basements. I think you see that unless I am in a planned neighborhood or condominium development, it is unlikely my work product can be seen as conforming.  By circumstance, these properties will rate high in risk.

If I felt like my ability to perform work would be affected by the CU rick scores, then I would be up in arms as well.  Many of my colleagues believe that the CU risk score will affect them.  While I cannot say that it will (or will not), if AMCs/lenders decide to use the information to benchmark appraiser quality it could be a nightmare for some appraisers.  When you get to my thoughts on the 15% and 25% adjustment guidelines, later in this piece you will see more of my perspective on this.  I could be wrong, but I am not going to be overly concerned… yet. Until I see things happen contrary to Fannie Mae’s stated position, I will defer on an alarmist attitude.

“CU does not provide an estimate of value to the lender. CU provides a numerical risk score from 1.0 to 5.0, with one indicating the lowest risk and five indicating the highest risk. Risk flags and messages identify risk factors and specific aspects of the appraisal that may require further attention.”

I know many appraisers were convinced that this was not the case.  Many were positive that Fannie Mae was going to assign scores to the individual appraisers.  It is easy to see why that would be a concern, as the last major Fannie Mae policy change dealt with the Uniform Appraisal Dataset (UAD).  Appraisers are directly monitored on consistency of data for comparables with the UAD, but not with CU.

It is easy to mix it all up.  If you submit data in violation to their UAD standards, that does affect you.  The CU rating score does not.  It is relative to the report itself, not to the appraiser. With that stated, AMCs and lenders COULD use consistent high-risk scores on reports as a means to stratify appraisers as problematic from those that get lower ratings.  If this type of comparison was made a tracked, it could affect me.  I do not compete with the typical mortgage-use appraisers in my market.  Plenty stay in homogenous subdivisions and I cannot do the work that they do at the price points they do them.  If their resulting reports are lower-risk scores by the nature of the conformity these properties present versus the types of properties that I typically work with, I will be seen as an inferior appraiser.  Fannie Mae may state their position on such things but that does not mean the lenders and AMCs will not distill and extend the information they see further.

This is getting into the realm of conjecture; as such, there is not a whole lot of merit to it at all.  It does make one stop and ask questions though. I try not to worry about things that I cannot control so I will leave such thoughts alone for now.  But I will come back to the way lenders took the 15% and 25% adjustment guidelines out of context and altered the profession. I will have some more on that later, of course.

“CU’s selection of comparable sales considers the relevance of each potential comparable sale based on physical similarity, time, and distance. The selection process is not based on the relative “risk” or sale price of a comparable sale nor is there a “lower is best” approach. In fact, CU may assign a high risk score to an appraisal when the model identifies alternative sales that are potentially more relevant than the comparable sales used by the appraiser, regardless of whether the alternative sales are higher or lower in price.”

This certainly is concerning for appraisers.  Appraisers are paid to perform the research and when we do it, we can get defensive about someone questioning it.  Call it professional pride, but this can be a catalyst to incite negativity among us quickly. It is probably a good idea that appraisers write their reports with the above in mind.  Part of this may be addressed by including commentary regarding ideal and typical improvements for the shared competing market.

Since the risk flags are triggered by not using properties that are more similar on paper, commentary may need to change to deal with these items in mind.  Canned commentary certainly will not work in many situations. I know this means taking the time to write custom commentary in every report, but with enough foresight, it is easy enough to build a template that is set up as a skeleton to which specific report comments can be added. I have also suggested to a few colleagues, when asked, that they approach this similar to ERC (employee relocation) reporting.  Possibly embedding a chart of all the comparables surveyed from MLS prior to distilling then down to the comparables in the actual report. I realize this is more work, but if we start seeing lots of kickbacks on this issue, this might be a way to avoid it.

The way CU is setup, at least how it has been explained thus far, is that data is stratified by census block groups (CBG), which goes into the next quote…

“CU takes location into account using Census Block Group levels, which are subsets of Census Tracts. This is the most viable proxy for location in the absence of standardized neighborhood definitions, and more effective than use of arbitrary distance guidelines. Fannie Mae is not suggesting that appraisers use Census Block Groups to define comparable search areas, but appraisers remain responsible for indicating when comparables are from outside of the subject neighborhood and for addressing any differences.”

This has caused quite the banter in social media appraisal groups and pages. There are all kinds of issues with this concept.  The most obvious one is that appraisers do not stratify by CBGs normally.  It would be great if the software companies could create or add a way to also tag which CBGs each comparable comes from or address it in the rules set reviewer in each of the form packages.  This would at least allow a streamlined tool to allow the appraisers to comment on this item.  Perhaps even a data point that could appear in MLS data.  Most addresses are geo-coded now, so it would be an assumingly easy thing to do by over laying the CBG maps to existing maps.

Obviously, Fannie Mae chose this methodology because neighborhoods will vary market to market.  My concern with it comes from the staff reviewers at lenders and AMCs (Quality Control or QC Staff) that are not familiar geographically (geo competency) with the area. This certainly gets back to USPAP regarding writing the report at level commensurate to the intended users.  Explain away would the obvious answer, but that also require the readers and QC Staff to read the reports thoroughly.  I often hear from folks involved in QC review that they prefer cogent writing and brevity.  From some of the reviews I have personally gotten from lower-level QC staff (unlicensed appraisers); it seems many struggle with common terms in real property economics.  I struggle with dealing with those that gloss over when I use terms such as linkage, commercial zones, obsolescence, etc.

This also still sets up the appraisers to deal with non-appraisers applying arbitrary guidelines.  While distance guidelines are now going to be relaxed, in their stead I dread the likely possibility that QC Staff will want CBG differences addressed.  A bit later, I will address the sun setting of the 15% and 25% adjustment guidelines, but one has to see the possible pitfalls with CBGs that the lender-leveraged adjustment guidelines created.  QC staffs need to be well trained to deal with this.  Nothing prevents individual lenders and AMCs from requiring more than Fannie Mae’s suggestion as to how to implement the CU into their work processes.

“The risk analysis performed by CU is for exclusive use by the lender in their analysis of the appraisal report. After completing a thorough review, a lender should be able to have constructive dialogue with the appraiser to resolve specific appraisal questions or concerns. Although the lender may use output from Collateral Underwriter to inform its dialogue with appraisal management companies and appraisers regarding appraisals they supplied, the CU license terms prohibit providing these entities with copies or displays of Fannie Mae reports that contain CU findings, including without limitation the CU Print Report, the UCDP Submission Summary Report, or any other CU report. The lender must not make demands or provide instructions to the appraiser based solely on automated feedback. Also, the CU license terms prohibit using it “in a manner that interferes with the independent judgment of an appraiser.” Fannie Mae expects the lender to use human due diligence in combination with the CU feedback, and will actively follow up with lenders who are reported to be asking appraisers to change their reports based on CU feedback without any further due diligence.”

Fannie Mae is pretty clear the impetus is not to strong-arm appraisers with the feedback and analysis done by the system.  There is a real desire to keep human beings in the mix from Fannie Mae’s side.  The possible disconnect I see will be on the competency of the QC Staff.  The way many AMCs and lenders approach QC reviews is by hiring unlicensed staff people and expecting them to understand what valuation professionals do. Each appraisal is different and finding comments buried in a 20-50 page report is arduous at best; I can struggle with it and I have performed hundreds if not well over a thousand reviews in my career. The tactic that most QC staff uses now is simply kick to out a report because they cannot find a comment, or how the appraiser addresses the issues up front, and rely on the appraiser to point it out.  There are already copious examples of appraisers stating they are often already addressed in the original report.  Unless there is some reengineering of the process, this will only get worse as now the QC Staffs will be armed with more data.

One thing that we have already seen from CU is the copying CU comments being sent to the appraisers.  I have seen several examples from colleagues where something was flagged in CU and no human review was done.  No dialogue was attempted between the QC staff and the affected appraiser.  Fannie Mae has made it clear that the CU scores and flags are meant to be dealt with by QC staff actually having dialogue with the appraiser.  Instead, what we are seeing so far is many QC Staff people are simply copying and pasting CU comments and sending them as a standalone engagement for revision or commentary for the appraiser to deal with.  That is not creating dialogue; it is asking the appraiser to the work for the QC Staff.  One would think, after reading Fannie Mae’s letter that the expectation is for the QC Staff to check the report in question before calling on the appraiser to do anything.  If the appraiser has reasonably commented or dealt with the issues of concern, they should be good to go.

Much of this is going to remain an issue with AMCs and lenders that continue to utilize the services of uneducated and undertrained QC Staff.  Large lenders and AMCs that process lots of volume expect an awful lot of their QC Staff.  Each appraisal, if written well, is stand-alone research project. It should be read and understood with the same care it was prepared.  Pulling in someone that has never read an appraisal report as an hourly reviewer and expect them to get through the jargon and concepts that are summarized in a mortgage use report is counter-intuitive.  Either the Lenders or AMCs need to start hiring competent and credentialed valuation professionals, or spend the resources needed to train raw talent.  Both aspects are expensive, and neither is an option with the current compensation structures in the mortgage and valuation overlap of space.  We will certainly discuss fee levels in depth a bit later.

“Fannie Mae does not instruct or suggest to lenders that they ask the appraiser to address all or any of the 20 comparables that are provided by CU for most appraisals. It is also not Fannie Mae’s expectation that appraisals should contain only CU’s top-ranked comparable sales. In the majority of cases, there may be no material difference between comparable sales utilized by the appraiser and those identified by CU. Before asking the appraiser to consider any alternative sales, it is imperative that the lender analyze the relevance of the sale and determine if the use of such sale would result in any material change to the appraisal report. If the lender determines that there would be no material change, then they should not ask the appraiser to make revisions. Fannie Mae expects CU to enable lenders to accept appraisals “as is” with greater confidence.”     

The previous comments I have made are applicable here, too.  The disconnect lenders had, again the adjustment ratio guidelines come to mind immediately, understandably make appraisers wince at this idea.  The biggest concern, here again, is that QC Staff must be at a level of competency to understand that suggested comparable sales are just that, suggestions.  The way this was handled pre-CU was to send an appraiser comparable sales that were not used and ask the appraiser to then comment on not using them or to possibly also include them.  Of course, the comedy often ensues when the appraiser replies back that, “Two of the three comparables you sent me to consider are already in the report.”  This type of real world scenario proves that where Fannie Mae may need to concentrate some of this reengineering of the process is on those that do review and QC work.

Not to plug the Appraisal Institute (AI), but this may be the very reason that the AI created the new review designations, AI-GRS and AI-RRS.  Review is a completely different animal than Standard-1 and Standard-2 reporting.  I understand that hiring such professionals is a higher cost, which means more cost to the consumer, but let us face it; you get what you pay for.  At the very least, if the lenders want to have a positive outcome from the QC side, it should be built around utilizing well-trained professionals and the review designations are a step in the right direction in my opinion.  And it really may not need to be at the consumer’s dime so much as maybe it should come from the lenders.  The last I looked the larger lenders have no problems posting profit reports.

I spoke with a chief appraiser with a major AMC last week.  He informed me that they have three levels of human reviewers.  The first level is a combination of using technology to flag potential issues and areas that may need more in depth analysis. If there is enough need to elevate it upwards, it is then looked at by a non-licensed staff person.   On the next and final level, a human being that is licensed is involved.  It is apparently an effective way to do things, but even their internal processes still leave some room for improvement.  When so much volume is handled by any given entity, and cost is always the biggest concern, it is impossible to hire but so much real talent.      I will come back to cost a little later when I discuss fees and compensation.

End of part 2.

Stay tuned more to come over the next week. If you have any suggestions or want to share some war stories, please send them over to

[1] “Lender Letter  LL-2015-02,” Fannie Mae, (February 2015)

CU and Me: Let’s Be Practical For A Moment -Part1

February 12, 2015

Editorial by Woody Fincham, SRA 

woody CU

Over the next several days I will be posting up my thoughts on the recent Fannie Mae Lender Letter Lender Letter  LL-2015-02.  This is part 1.  

On February 4, 2015, Fannie Mae released a new Lender Letter[1].  This was a full week and two days after they kicked off the Collateral Underwriter (CU). Many things in the residential valuation profession can create a stir, but few things create quite the clamor that a major government sponsored entity (GSE) policy change creates.  I helped co-write[2] an article on depreciated cost to support adjustments last week. As always, there are interesting comments on anything that gets published in our profession. Most have been very supportive, a few less so.

In the comments for that article, a pro-appraiser commenter was defensive of appraisers regarding the balance of how much work that can be done at such low fees for the mortgage clients.  His supposition is that the topic of the article was great but that appraisers could not possibly be expected to do that much work for the fee levels that are so common in the profession. I share that empathy for fee appraisers. I truly do.  I came up through the fee side of things, it is in my DNA and I will forever think of myself as an appraiser from that light.

I also share in the reality that some of my colleagues in the residential mortgage space are not doing much of anything to support adjustments.  Many have relied on “professional judgment” and “experience” when it comes to addressing adjustments, and sometimes that is offered in lieu of actual support.  I agree that both of these things have some merit, but often they are used in lieu of doing deductive research to support how much something is adjusted for in the grid.  They both can work when it comes to knowing something should be adjusted or not, but how much is sometimes thumb nailed or otherwise guessed at with no real support.  Before that sets off a bunch of personal barbs towards me, if you are doing your job in a manner that you are happy with, then keep doing that.

Of course if someone is reading this and my comments offend you because you do not support your adjustments; please be aware that my intention was/is not to do so.  I tend to be a bit of a purist when it comes to developing and reporting valuation services and that is for me and those that I manage.  What works for you is between you and the USPAP police.

I realize as a businessperson, there has to be a sweet spot between quality, speed and price.  That can be a hard thing to figure out.  If you focus on speed too much, quality tends to decrease. The same is true of price, if you can only get a low fee for your work; it becomes more difficult for some to rationalize not cutting corners to do it for less money.    If you focus on writing a demonstration-quality report each time out of the gate, you will go broke because you take too much time and if you charge at a commensurate level, you cannot be but so competitive. Balance is key in this space, and it will vary from practice to practice and market to market.

When we wrote that piece, it was a suggestion to ferret out support by using something many of us are familiar with but may have not used in a while.  It was also written to introduce the topic to folks that have never used it or thought to use it.  This approach was offered in because many colleagues were being pushed towards alternatives that are being sold as expensive “wonder approaches”.  Rather than seeing honest people buy a bag of magic beans, we offered another less expensive alternative.  So the article was written with empathy towards fee appraisers.

So as these few pieces roll out over the next few days, I hope that my perspective adds some food for thought.  This is certainly not an attack piece on Fannie Mae.  Fannie Mae work is an important part of residential valuation, one that is much too big to shrug off and say, “Well, smart appraisers shouldn’t do lender work.” This sentiment is simply not possible for everyone, and we need to all voice our concerns for all of our colleagues in the profession. Residential lending work is a lucrative part of the valuation profession, a low hanging fruit if you will.

This will also not be an attack piece on AMCs as they serve a function to our mutual clients.  Whether we like or dislike AMCs, they are here and will remain a part of the landscape for the foreseeable future. Instead of wallowing in the pig pen of discontent, we need to figure out how to make the best of the situation.   There has to be some sort of symbiosis attainable, so that everyone can get what they need and can reasonably attain some of what everyone wants.What I hope this is seen as is a common sense observation based on how all three entities, appraisers, AMCs and lenders can coexist. No one has the perfect answer but I hope this might add some positive discourse.



Stay tuned more to come over the next week. If you have any suggestions or want to share some war stories, please send them over to

[1] “Lender Letter  LL-2015-02,” Fannie Mae, (February 2015)

[2] Rachel Massey, Woody Fincham, and Timothy Andersen, “Depreciated Cost, a Test of Reasonableness,” (February 2015)

Depreciated Cost, a Test of Reasonableness


Rachel Massey, SRA, AI-RRS

Woody Fincham, SRA


Tim Andersen,MAI, Msc., CDEI, MAA

Originally published at

With all of the clamor and excitement that Fannie Mae’s Collateral Underwriter (CU) is creating, we started working on a new article that addresses some possible solutions. In this one, we are expanding a bit on using the cost approach as a means to develop and support some adjustments. Each of the three traditional approaches to value can be used to develop a basis of analysis in any of the approaches. As such, the cost approach can be a reliable means to develop a gross living area adjustment, or lend additional support for it. While it does not work each time, has proven successful for us many times, and as such, we do urge studying it and putting it into your toolbox of solutions for supporting adjustments.

Quantitative adjustments require some type of support. CU is not changing anything regarding this premise. Appraisers are supposed to have support within the workfile for adjustments made, and then support the adjustments with commentary within the report. This is in harmony with USPAP. Many appraisers do not address specifics on the adjustments made, let alone explain how they were developed and applied. So here is one method that can be relied on as a means to support a gross living area (GLA) adjustment. Sometimes it can be used for other items.

One aspect of Collateral Underwriter (CU) that many have been discussing concerns price/SF. In the example from the CU webinar, it is stated that if an appraiser is using $15/SF for adjustments regarding gross living area (GLA) adjustments and the comparables sales indicate $200-$300/SF, then it will be probably be flagged as a higher-risk item. So part of the advantage of using this technique will help you address this with analysis. Let us look at some improved sales now that we have an idea of what site values are for the market

Comp 1 Comp 2 Comp 3 Comp 4
Price $             308,300 $           300,000 $           295,000 $           283,000
GLA                  2,414                2,308                2,468                2,310
$/SF $               127.71 $             129.98 $             119.53 $             122.51

In this data set, we have four sales. The range of price/SF is $119.53 to $129.98. The problem with price/SF is that it deals with all attributes of the property. This can be problematic because it is inclusive of the land, which can skew the usefulness of using it as a unit of comparison. Once we get part way through this article, we will start discussing residual improvement value (RIV). RIV can be an effective defense against overall price per square foot concerns. 

Simple Depreciated Cost
We are going to walk through a case study of a file that Rachel worked on recently. Obviously, some things have been changed. Some of you will notice that the data set is anything but like what we all normally see in classroom case studies. Hardly ever do we see perfect sets of data like what often seen in most case studies in an educational offering. With that said, this may not be something to use if you are starting newly in the profession. This article is written with an experienced residential appraiser in mind.

Depreciated cost can be a test of reasonableness for some adjustments, and here it is used as a basis for the gross living area adjustment, tied to sensitivity analysis. It is not meant as a means of arriving at an adjustment, but instead as either a place to start, or a second or third approach. Because each of us have used it extensively we felt it would be a great place to help some of you establish a benchmark or test of reason to use for a gross living area adjustment, in particular as the example is from the real world.

Site Value
Site value – you really need to get a handle on site values for using this approach (while you can use the depreciation factors to get to land values, having a grasp on site values is easier with land sales). Most communities have land sales, even if they are not in the immediate area. For example, this grouping of data presented here was for a property in Michigan and there have not been a great number of land sales in the immediate area over the past few years. There have been no land sales in the subject neighborhood. There were however, enough land sales from competing areas to provide some basis from an opinion of the value of the subject site as if vacant.

The following chart shows seven sites that sold and three acreage parcels:

Sale Sold date Sold price $ To Acquire DOM Size Frontage $/SF $/FF
Comp 1 (Demo) 9/17/2014 $42,050 $51,050 673 13,068 100 $3.91 $510.50
Comp 2 2/8/2013 $67,500 $67,500 52 13,580 97 $4.97 $695.88
Comp 3 9/30/2014 $70,000 $70,000 428 14,442 166 $4.85 $421.69
Comp 4 9/30/2014 $70,000 $70,000 428 16,236 164 $4.31 $426.83
Comp 5 5/31/2013 $80,000 $80,000 2688 17,424 128 $4.59 $625.00
Comp 6 6/27/2013 $71,000 $71,000 51 19,166 127 $3.70 $559.06
Comp 7 9/30/2014 $60,000 $60,000 428 20,000 100 $3.00 $600.00
Acreage Lots
Comp 8-A 2/20/2014 $75,000 $75,000 2237 43,560 148 $1.72 $506.76
Comp 9-A 4/30/2013 $65,000 $65,000 614 43,560 202 $1.49 $321.78
Comp 10-A 10/11/2013 $67,500 $67,500 131 43,560 125 $1.55 $540.00

*Note we included a couple of acreage properties because one of the improved comparable sales was an acre property and support was needed support for a site adjustment.

In the example, we see that the smaller the lot, of course, typically the higher price per square foot (SF). This is known as increasing and decreasing returns; see definition below. While there are exceptions, this is a general rule. Comparable sale-1 is a tear down property. Because the data is actual real world data, it is not perfect as we typically see in many academic examples, but it does allow a supportable conclusion to be derived.

increasing and decreasing returns
The concept that successive increments of one or more agents of production added to fixed amounts of the other agents will enhance income (in dollars, benefits, or amenities) at an increasing rate until a maximum return is reached. Then, income will decrease until the increment to value becomes increasingly less than the value of the added agent or agents; also called law of increasing returns or law of decreasing returns.[1]

With the data shown above, we can see that price/SF averages $4.19 and the range is $3.00 to $4.97/SF in this market. Front footage (FF) averages $548.42/FF and the range is $421.69 to $695.88/FF. By establishing an estimate of land value for the comparables used in the sales analysis, it helps to develop cost-derived adjustment.

Using comparable sale-1 as an example, the estimated cost looks like this:

Element SF $/SF Extension
Dwelling          2,414 $       87.85 $ 212,069.90
Basement          1,142 $       22.17 $     25,318.14
Basement Finished          1,000 $       15.00 $     15,000.00
Extras $     10,000.00
Garage            504 $       27.57 $     13,895.28
Cost New Estimate $     114.45 $ 276,283.32
Sales Price $ 308,300.00
Site Value $ (55,000.00)
Depreciated Value of Improvements (or RIV) $ 253,300.00
Minus Cost New $     22,983.32
Depreciation % 8.32%

Below, we have estimated the site value and subtracted it from each of the comparable sales. The resulting unit of comparison is much better than overall price/SF. The price /SF-RIV can be used as an indicator of the highest possible reasonable adjustment for GLA. We like this as a test of reasonableness for any adjustment made for differences in gross living area. The resulting $/SF-RIV is going to be the upper limit of how much you can adjust.

Sales Sale Price Land Value RIV GLA $/SF-RIV
Comp 1 $308,300 ($55,000) $253,300    2,414 $104.93
Comp 2 $300,000 ($60,000) $240,000    2,308 $103.99
Comp 3 $295,000 ($70,000) $225,000    2,468 $91.17
Comp 4 $283,000 ($50,000) $233,000    2,310 $100.87
What about Fireplaces and Decks, etc. is this approach right for that? Decks and other items like decks and outbuildings typically depreciate at a faster rate than the house. One would try to steer away from using this methodology with such items. We still believe that this approach can be used in measuring the top end of the adjustment range, or as a test of reasonableness, but with the caveat that the rates of depreciation may vary.Depreciated cost may offer one of the only adjustments that you need at all, if your comparable sales are all very similar. It can be difficult to support adjustments for additional features like decks and fireplaces. Sometimes those types of amenities are sometimes best dealt with using qualitative reasoning.   If you are looking at sales that all have similar external features, are of the same quality/condition as the subject it may not be required to adjust for them. These items are difficult to extract and may be summed up with qualitative reasoning. It will depend on what information you have learned about from the market.     This is an excellent area to discuss with real estate agents and ask if such features are strong considerations by buyers. It is also important to understand how the sellers are looking at such items as well.     We find that talking to both agents on a transaction can be beneficial to glean such information.     In the end, if no adjustments are supportable for such amenities, the appraiser can discuss the additional amenities present for a sale and use that in the final weighting during the reconciliation of the sales comparison approach.

We can apply these figures to the improved sales that we are using in the sales approach to get a residual improvement value (RIV). As mentioned earlier, RIV is a better indication of comparability as it allows us to compare apples to apples. It removes the land component, and other improvements not related specifically to the house itself. Just getting this far into the process with each of the comparables, and looking at the RIV/SF as a metric will assist with the concerns many are having about the CU overall price/square foot metric.

The next process is to take each sale and develop a cost approach using Marshall & Swift Residential Cost Handbook (disclaimer, huge fans here) for the appropriate quality. It is important to make adjustments for energy and foundation (bottom of the page related to the type of housing) if they apply, refinements for floor covering, heating and cooling, etc. as well as applying the quarterly multipliers to region and location. From there you should compare total cost to the depreciated remainder for an account of depreciation.

You would then do one for each of the sales in the study.

Sales Cost New RIV Total Depreciation % Depreciated Age Depreciation/yr
Comp 1 $276,283 $253,300 $22,983 8.32% 14 0.59%
Comp 2 $254,908 $240,000 $14,908 5.85% 16 0.37%
Comp 3 $264,925 $225,000 $39,925 15.07% 29 0.52%
Comp 4 $271,585 $233,000 $38,585 14.21% 20 0.71%

*Note: This type of approach utilizes all forms of depreciation. If there were cases of functional or external depreciation present for any of the comparable sales, this would need to be adjusted for as well. In this case, study, there were neither additional forms of depreciation.

This information can be valuable in terms of understanding depreciation, as well as supporting either an age or a condition adjustment (look at how sales 3 and 4, which are older houses, have much more depreciation than the newer houses overall). Since each house is depreciated between ~6 and ~15 percent, you also have supportable adjustments to make for age or condition.

You can also utilize this type of adjustment for amenities such as basements. For example, say comparable sale-1 has a finished basement that is older and not high quality. The finish costs an additional $15 per square foot rounded over and above the cost of the basement. This finish is a recreation room only and the cost new is around $15,000. The overall rate of depreciation for this property is 8.32% or $1,250(rounded). This means that logically the basement finish would now contribute about $13,750 to the property value. That may not be sufficient to stand alone, but does offer a method of support.

Additional support can be from running simple statistics such as isolating a group of sales based on some commonalities. For the following sample, we took houses in this particular market separated between houses built between 1995 and present, but excluding proposed construction. They were further narrowed to include 1,800 to 2,800 SF and no walkout basement. By doing a simple version of grouped paired analysis, we see the result was a difference between $14,843 and $15,377 between the two types, with many having bathrooms in addition to finished rooms. With an indication of $13,750 from comparable sale-1 and the paired group analysis showing a range of $14,800- $15,400, it is easy to deduce a reasonable adjustment amount.

No Walk Out # Sales Avg Price Median Price Avg GLA Med GLA Avg $/SF Median $/SF
1800-2800 SF Unfinished Basement 42 $340,559 $329,623 2392 2402 $142.37 $137.23
1800-2800 SF Finished Basement 89 $355,402 $345,000 2399 2408 $148.15 $143.27
Difference $14,843 $15,377 7 6 $5.77 $6.04

Completing a cost approach on each sale is a good exercise in terms of seeing cost in action, as well as testing depreciation. The greater the depreciation exhibited in the individual sales, the greater the difference in either condition or age, or a combination of both. So this methodology can also create support for other types of adjustments as well, such as the basement finish adjustment shown above. Many will say this takes a lot of time, and our answer is, “Yes, but it’s something that uses some commonsense and appeals to reasonableness”. We would also add that explaining this is much easier than trying to use regression analysis or find that elusive matched paired sales. Most appraisers can reasonably explain cost-based extractions to a jury or licensing board. It does not require much in the way of additional tools. Excel©, cost estimation software and appraisal software is all that is really needed.

Depreciated cost does work in many markets, so give it a try to see if it is something that will work for you. Use it in addition to some other methods of supporting adjustments. We consider it an excellent test of the reasonableness of both the value conclusion, and the elements of comparison within the value conclusion. We have each successfully used it in lending and non-lending work assignments.

Fannie Mae and CU are specifically going to target our size adjustments. In the past, many appraisers used “rules of thumb” as the basis for a size adjustment. As we are all now aware, rules of thumb do not work anymore because CU has the ability to calculate size adjustments from market sales data. The model above, while not based on CU’s sophisticated algorithm, also functions quite well in isolating the sales price of the improvements. Using this model, appraisers are able to isolate such differences within a reasonable range of values. Even more importantly, this range of values is market-derived, thus in full compliance with CU’s requirements. Be sure, too, to save all of these calculations in the workfile for future reference.   Gone are the days when we can justify out adjustments by invoking “my 30-years of appraisal experience”. Now, we must prove our adjustments. This model is one of those proofs. Finally, what we have presented here is nothing new. This well-known method has been published in numerous books and in courses. We thought presenting a “real-world” example might be helpful in showing how even without perfect results; the results can be, nonetheless, meaningful.

[1] Appraisal Institute, The Dictionary of Real Estate Appraisal, 5th ed. (Chicago: Appraisal Institute, 2010)

Depreciated Cost, a Test of Reasonableness

All Three of us worked on this piece.  I won’t post it in the entirety yet as it’s brand new today and should be given full look at through the publishing site.  But if you happen across it here, please click through to read it.