Tag Archives: collateral underwriter

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 woody@woodyfincham.com.

[1] “Lender Letter  LL-2015-02,” Fannie Mae, https://www.fanniemae.com/content/announcement/ll1502.pdf (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.

balance

Balance

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 woody@woodyfincham.com.

[1] “Lender Letter  LL-2015-02,” Fannie Mae, https://www.fanniemae.com/content/announcement/ll1502.pdf (February 2015)

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

http://www.appraisalbuzz.com/depreciated-cost-test-reasonableness/ (February 2015)

Depreciated Cost, a Test of Reasonableness

By

Rachel Massey, SRA, AI-RRS

Woody Fincham, SRA

and

Tim Andersen,MAI, Msc., CDEI, MAA

Originally published at http://www.appraisalbuzz.com/depreciated-cost-test-reasonableness/

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)