Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Appraiser Needs Appraising

In this article, reposted from the National Post, Mike touches on what a home appraiser is, why you may need one, and how a bad one can really mess you up. "[There are] good appraisers and bad appraisers. The good ones have strong associations backing them up. And the bad ones are bad because the industry allows it — we allow it," he says. A home appraiser may look at several factors such as the area the home is built in, the value of the land, and features of the home such as energy efficient windows when assessing a home's value. Because there are no baseline qualifications for appraisers (in Canada), the level of competency can vary wildly from one appraiser to the next. It's important for homeowners to be aware of this and speak up if they feel something is wrong.

Mike Holmes: The appraiser needs appraising

Mike Holmes | Aug 20, 2012 8:00 AM ET | Last Updated: Aug 17, 2012 11:54 AM ET

Alex Schuldt/The Holmes Group Be wary of bad appraisers, Mike Holmes says.

I got an email from a homeowner who was upset — that’s nothing new. But she wasn’t upset because a contractor screwed her over, or because she got a bad home inspection. She was mad because of an appraiser.

She and her husband wanted to redo their kitchen — the previous owner of their home had done some renovations. But it was all wrong. They had bad plumbing. Bad layout. Bad tiling. Improper ventilation. And it looked ugly.

The new homeowners wanted it fixed. So they did what many homeowners do — they went to their bank for a home equity loan. But they ran into a problem.

The appraiser the bank hired decided their home’s value couldn’t support the loan. So they couldn’t refinance their mortgage, which meant they couldn’t redo their kitchen. And now they’re stuck with a bad kitchen that will probably lead to bigger problems down the road.

Was the appraiser wrong? Was their home that bad? I don’t know. I haven’t seen the house. But the homeowners didn’t think so. That’s why they emailed me. They thought the appraiser didn’t have the right skills to evaluate their home. And I’ve got to wonder.

The appraisal industry works a lot like the home inspections industry. There isn’t a single set of standards. The skills required to be an appraiser depend on the association an appraiser belongs to.

Some associations require a university degree as a first step. Others a business degree. And some don’t require a degree at all. But most appraisal associations want some kind of designation. And again, what that designation is will be different for every association.

For example, one association requires its members to have a university degree — in anything. Could be sociology or art, it doesn’t matter. Then they have to complete a university-level education program specific to appraising.

Most of the courses in the program deal with real estate and business. But what about building skills? Understanding the structure of a house? A basic understanding of construction? Knowing how one part of a home affects another? Aren’t these skills important when you’re evaluating a home? For some appraisal associations it is. But not always.

It depends on the needs of the user who hired the appraiser in the first place.

When it comes to mortgages, banks care about a home’s selling price. Why? Because if a homeowner can’t pay their mortgage the bank will have to sell their house. Banks want their money back. They want to know how much they can sell a house for. And sometimes a home’s construction has very little to do with that.

You could have a house that cost $2-million to build. But an appraiser says it’s worth $600,000. Is this fair? Where was it built? Maybe the neighbourhood’s no good, and no one wants to live there. In this case the appraiser is saying that the only way to sell the house is if it’s priced at $600,000.

Then you’ve got a market like Vancouver or Toronto. You can’t buy a house downtown for less than a million dollars. It doesn’t matter if it’s a shack. It’s all about land value.

More banks are starting to put pressure on appraisers. They’re looking to the U.S. and trying to avoid their mistakes. Inflated house prices plus record debt levels are a bad mix. They want to make sure that if an appraiser says a property is worth $500,000, they can sell it for $500,000.

But if an appraiser’s job is to know how much a house is worth, they should know about construction. That’s basic. You should know how a home works, signs that tell you if there are any huge costs, the difference in finishes, how different improvements affect the value of a home and how different climates affect materials.
I’ve heard of homeowners having to point things out to an appraiser; things like radiant in-floor heating, Low-E windows, a metal roof — even a finished basement. Or some appraisers will ignore mould, faulty electrical and HVAC. These have a huge impact on the value of a home.

Having a basic understanding of a home’s structure, materials and mechanics — and knowing how each affects value — is logical. It’s essential. How do you value something you don’t understand? It’s like being a jewellery appraiser and not knowing about different stones, cuts, metals or colours.

Are business skills important for appraisals? Absolutely. But so are building skills. You need to know the signs that tell you what a house is worth. Believe me — a fresh coat of paint can hide a world of trouble. And it can be really deceiving for someone who isn’t trained to look for the signs.

We have good contractors and bad contractors. Good home inspectors and bad home inspectors. And good appraisers and bad appraisers. The good ones have strong associations backing them up. And the bad ones are bad because the industry allows it — we allow it.

If we want to change the industry we all have to be watchdogs. If you think an appraiser is wrong, tell them. Speak to their association. You might need to point things out. They might listen. And you might help make it right.


  1. We read your recent article “No Set Standards for Home Appraisers” with some interest. We would like to provide some context as it relates to the Appraisal Institute of Canada (AIC). Founded in 1938, the AIC is the premier real property valuation association in Canada with over 4700 active and practicing members across the country. The AIC grants the AACI and CRA designations to professional appraisers in Canada and abroad.
    The article criticizes the appraiser without having seen the house, and goes on to say that the “appraiser the bank hired couldn’t support the loan”. In truth, the appraiser’s professional and ethical responsibility is to provide an independent assessment of the value of the property. While the homeowner in the article is disappointed in the outcome, it does not mean the appraiser was wrong.
    The valuation process takes into account a number of elements including the physical characteristics of the dwelling, interior/exterior finishes and systems, the quality of the improvements, as well as any deficiencies or impairments. Market conditions and comparable sales are two of a number of key factors inherent to the process.
    Contrary to your assertions, construction skills and knowledge are fundamental to the education AIC members receive and our Professional Development programs regularly focus on new and emerging construction practices.
    The AIC has established ethics and standards to help ensure members fulfill their obligations to their clients and to ensure they maintain their skills.
    The AIC encourages members of the public to engage qualified appraisers that are members of a professional association. The public can find AIC members on the “Find a Real Value Expert” on the AIC’s home page at

    Keith Lancastle
    Chief Executive Officer
    Appraisal Institute of Canada

    1. Hi Keith,

      Thank you for the information. Just for clarification, this website is not affiliated with Mike Holmes or any of his corporate entities in any official capacity. This is just my own personal blog, and I was reposting an article I found interesting related to Mike Holmes. (I'm not even Canadian!) But thanks the feedback! Raquel