The appraiser's perspective: Too much of a good houseCharlie W. Elliott Jr., MAI, SRAappraisals
The phone rings and there is a concerned mortgage lender on the
other end. She is calling the appraiser about an appraisal on a
property in the pipeline for one of her loans, scheduled for
closing this month. At this point, we will put the call on hold and
get back to it shortly. In the interim, we will explore some of the
details of the property, which is the subject of the appraisal.
The home is a to-be-built log home package, designed to sit on
60 acres of beautiful land, about one hour from the city. The
setting is great. It is right on top of a small mountain and has
streams, pastures and hiking paths, which is just perfect for the
young doctor who fell in love with the rural setting. The doctor is
a good credit risk with a significant income but has little cash.
He spared little in the planning of the home, opting for expensive
features such as high ceilings, tile floors, granite countertops
and a four-car garage for his four-wheel toys. The contractor has
proposed to charge the doctor $700,000 to construct the 5,000-sq.
ft. home on the site, which is under contract for $150,000. The
doctor is excited about the land, since it is in an area where
there is little development and which should offer a lot of peace
and quiet. He will need an $800,000 loan to go with the $50,000 in
cash that he has.
Now, back to our telephone call that we put on hold. The lender
has a concern in that the appraiser only appraised the property for
$600,000. As you will recall, the projected cost of the project is
to be $850,000 and the loan request is $800,000. She begins by
asking the appraiser if there could be some mistake. The appraiser,
realizing that the time has come for professional diplomacy, states
that the home on the proposed site will no doubt be a beautiful
project. He also states that unfortunately, he does not believe
that any mistake has been made. He says that in his opinion, based
upon the facts of the case, the property has a market value
substantially lower than the projected cost. He further elaborates
on all of the research he did and how he derived data from the
market, which directed him to the conclusion that he came to. He
offered the following facts:
When preparing his cost approach, he confirmed the value of the
vacant land, through comparable sales, to be $150,000 the same
amount as the under-contract purchase price. He further confirmed
that the contractor's proposed price of $700,000 was competitive
for the area and that it was reasonable, given the specifications
for the project. After adding the two together, he agreed that a
reasonable estimated cost of acquisition and construction would be
Sales comparison approach
He then stated that finding comparable sales just like the subject
was difficult in that the subject is located in a rural area where
similar properties are difficult to locate. However, he did find
the following information:
The most expensive sale of a residence in the entire county in
recent years was sold within the past six months for $600,000. This
was a home of conventional construction consisting of 6,000-sq.
ft., of comparable quality to the subject, in somewhat closer
proximity to town and sitting on a five-acre site worth about
$25,000 per acre. This sale computes to about $100 per square
He also found a log home of comparable quality containing
3,000-sq. ft. of floor space on two acres in the vicinity of the
subject, which had sold for $325,000 or about $108 per square foot.
This house had been built at a price of $150 per square foot four
years earlier, had been on the market for one year and only had one
Multiple listing service records show that there are very few
sales of expensive homes in the area and that the average home sale
price there over the past year is $125,000. Many of the homes there
are manufactured homes. The economic base of the area is generally
agricultural and there are few high-paying jobs.
The appraiser then proceeded to inform the lender that while the
cost derived from the market confirmed the proposed cost of the
project, adjustments had to be made to the cost approach,
representing functional obsolescence, which reduced the value of
the property to $250,000 below the estimated cost to build. He
further said that when properties of similar construction and
utility sell for less in a market than the cost to construct, the
lesser of the two determine value.
The situation described above occurs quite often in today's
market. In a few words, the problem stems from an owner building a
home that is too expensive for the market in which it is. When the
appraiser used the term "functional obsolescence," he was right. To
be more specific, there are many forms of functional obsolescence
that properties may suffer from. In this case, the proposed
property is experiencing super adequacy or what some would term
overbuilding for the neighborhood.
This can best be explained by going back to the basic reason for
having the appraisal. It is performed to determine market value in
case it becomes necessary to sell a property in order to help
satisfy a debt. If a new or typical buyer in a market would not be
willing to pay as much as the initial owner, then it cannot be sold
for what it cost; therefore, the market value of the property is
less than its cost. Sometimes, individuals with expensive taste are
said to have a desire to build a monument to themselves. Could this
be the case with our doctor?
In such cases, all is not necessarily lost. This problem can
quite often be remedied by the owner either scaling back the
magnitude of the project or by investing more money in the down
payment and getting a smaller loan; however, making a large down
payment does come with its risks to the owner, since he will be
confronted by the same value constraints if and when he decides to
sell the property.
Charlie W. Elliott Jr., MAI, SRA is president of Elliott
& Company Appraisers, a national real estate appraisal company.
He can be reached at (800) 854-5889, email@example.com or
through the company's Web site at www.appraisalsanywhere.com.
Previous columns he has written for The Mortgage Press can
be seen on the Elliott & Company Web site.