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.