Home Buying · Home equity · home selling · Uncategorized

What is an “appraisal gap”? and why does my agent keep talking about covering it?!?!

Does the phrase “appraisal gap” strike terror in your heart? Or leave you scratching your head? What about hearing tales of “appraisal guarantees” that are often needed when you’re a buyer in this seller’s market?  If you’re a buyer or seller and you’re not spending every waking (and sleeping!) moment thinking about the real estate market, you may be confused about what these terms mean for you, and they may feel a little scary. Knowledge is power, so let’s talk about what an “appraisal gap” is and what an “appraisal guarantee” means for a buyer or a seller. 

If you’ve watched any of my market update videos you’ve heard one thing reiterated and that is that we are in a historically strong sellers market.  We have a lot of buyers competing for every home and that means that we nearly always have multiple offers and those offers are often for well over list price as buyers do whatever they can to beat the competition. 

On the surface you may wonder “how can that be a problem”? if you’re paying with CASH it’s not a problem, you can pay any price you choose to pay for something as long as you can show that you have the funds available to do it. This is a big reason why cash buyers have an advantage right now, the price is the price and the seller doesn’t have to worry about the bank’s appraised value. 

However 80+% of people are NOT cash buyers, they have to get a mortgage for their home purchase and as part of that loan the bank will hire an independent appraiser to look at the property and determine if it’s worth the amount they are loaning you for it. They don’t want to be stuck with worthless collateral to sell if you default on your loan. This evaluation of value is called an “appraisal”.

Sometimes your mortgage lender’s appraiser says the house IS worth less than you agreed to pay. This is known as an appraisal gap or a low appraisal.

I sometimes hear buyers with high loan approval amounts suggest that it might be a good strategy to buy a lower priced home and just throw a large amount of money at it because they can qualify for a loan of that size, but that still doesn’t eliminate the issues around homes appraising for the value of the loan.  And really, appraisals exist for this very reason.

Options as a buyer

What are your options as the buyer if you’re worried that the appraisal will come in lower than what you have offered? after all – Sellers want to get the price you’ve offered in the contract whether or not the appraiser says it’s worth that amount as loan collateral. 

The option that has been most successful with sellers is writing appraisal gap coverage or an appraisal guarantee into the contract for the purchase of the house.  We are seeing this happen about 45% of the time now and it is getting to be more common as the market continues to be tight.  

What this essentially means is that you will put a larger down payment on the home which bridges the gap between what you’ve offered and what the bank is willing to loan and preserves your ability to finance the purchase and close on the home. 

A typical home purchase contract has an appraisal contingency: wording that says the buyer can call off the deal if the property appraises for lower than the buyer offered. But in hot real estate markets, where buyers outnumber sellers, some buyers waive the appraisal contingency. These buyers either pay cash for the home or gamble that they have money to pay the difference between the appraised value and the price, however much that may be.

rather than waiving the Appraisal contingency entirely, offering to cover the gap on a low appriasal is the middle path. You’re offering some amount that you will make up via a larger down payment.

Take the example of the $120,000 offer on the $100,000 home that has a $10,000 difference between the purchase price and the appraised value:

  • If you had offered to cover an appraisal gap up to $10,000, you would proceed with the purchase, bringing that extra $10,000 as a larger down payment.
  • If you had offered to cover an appraisal gap up to $5,000, you would be entitled to withdraw your offer and get your earnest money deposit back. That’s because the difference between the offered price and the appraised value is greater than the $5,000 appraisal gap coverage.

At this point, the seller may wish to negotiate with you to keep the transaction in tact and they may agree to lower the price by the remaining $5000.00 difference, or they may choose to go to the next buyer.

You’re more likely to succeed when offering appraisal gap coverage if you include proof of funds to do this as well.

If you’re lucky, you may not have to worry about appraisal at all. The bank may waive the required appraisal if they can see market conditions support it and that the buyer is bringing 20% or more as the down payment.  This means that they look at the market data and determine that the property is likely worth the purchase price, but you will not know this until you’re closer to closing. 

Things to think about

A couple of things to add as you consider whether or not to do this on your next purchase agreement:

Think about the home you’re buying, it’s condition, price, and location and what you’re willing to do to purchase that home. You want to be doing this for a home that will hold or appreciate in value.

Because of the market conditions, home prices nationally increased over 14% year over year. Median home prices in Minneapolis and the Twin cities went up 10.9% year over year according to the Minneapolis Area Association of Realtors.

Put that into perspective with your purchase.

If you are buying a home priced at $100,000 today and prices continue on their current path, that home would be valued at $111,000 a year from now.

If you’ve agreed to make up $5000, or $10,000 in low appraisal, the likelihood that you will be “whole” in a short period of time is there.

Another consideration is whether or not you will be able to afford a home in a year or two if this continues and if interest rates continue to rise.

So, it’s a math problem. Never been a big fan of math problems, but looking at it this way really adds some clarity and perspective. 

Reach out with questions! I’m always happy to help.

Home equity

Steps to building equity in your home…

What is equity?

Equity is your ownership stake in the house. If your home is worth $300,000 and it’s paid off, you have have 100% equity in the home or equity of $300,000. Most people do NOT have 100% equity in their home, they may have put a 20% (or if it’s an FHA loan 3.5%) down payment and then owe the balance (80% or 96.5%). But that isn’t the end of the story. Beyond whatever your original down payment is, you can build “equity” in a home by doing what you can to improve the value of the home as well.

Most homes will increase in value over time and that means that beyond paying down principal, equity will increase as the home’s value increases because the value increase is YOURS and nothing to do with any debt to a mortgage company.

To use a very simplistic example: If a home’s value increases at 3% per year and the home was valued at $100,000 when it was purchased, the following year it would be valued at $103,000. You owe less on your loan because you’ve been paying down the principal AND if you were to sell your home would it likely get $3k more than it would the year before, and that money is yours.

Here are some ways to increase the equity in your home:

Pay more than you need to on your mortgage.

This is a great option if you don’t have debts that carry a higher interest rate than your mortgage (pay off the highest interest rate debt first), if your home appreciates faster than your 401K or if you aren’t tight on money month to month.

Talk to your lender to make sure that extra payments will go specifically toward principal and then consider either adding additional money to your payment or trying to make at least one extra payment per year.

Here is an example of interest savings and reduction in the life of the loan by making an extra payment, or simply paying a little more each month from Bankrate.com

Here’s an example of how prepaying saves money and time: Kaylyn takes out a $120,000 mortgage at a 4.5 percent interest rate. The monthly mortgage principal and interest total $608.02. Here’s what happens when Kaylyn makes extra mortgage payments:

Minimum every month30 years$98,888$0
13 payments a year*25 years, 9 months$82,870$16,018
$100 extra every month22 years, 6 months$70,944$27,944
$50 extra every month25 years, 8 months$82,452$16,436
$25 extra every month27 years, 8 months$89,864$9,024
*Extra $608.02 payment

Refinance to a shorter term loan.

People often only think in terms of a 30 year loan on a home, but you can finance a home for 15 years at a lower interest rate and pay off your home in half the time. Even better, those aren’t your only 2 choices – you can ask for any term that you like and that will make the rates work for you. Not every lender will have that flexibility, but the ones I work with have been offering off term loans as well.

One thing to consider with this option is that you will have a higher payment that you are obligated to make. You’ll be committed. In the first scenario that I mentioned where you pay a little more every month it’s voluntary and you can set it up to do so automatically so you don’t have to make that decision every month, but you can also stop it if your financial situation changes.

Renovate the interior.

Simple things like fresh paint and new light fixtures can go a long way to improving the value of your home and your equity in it. You don’t have to make it look like an HGTV star lives there – simply having relatively modern fixtures and a home that looks clean and well cared for goes a long way.

If you do choose to do a more extensive update, kitchens and baths are where you’ll see the biggest return. This assumes that you choose a style that is not super trendy or likely to appeal to only a small subset of buyers. Keep things relatively classic and as high quality as you can afford.

Add curb appeal.

Many buyers make their decisions within seconds of seeing a house. You may not be a gardener, but taking care of the exterior of the home goes a long way. No chipped or faded paint. Flowers in pots or well maintained beds. Make your entryway look inviting by having a fresh paint job on the door & quality fixtures. Keep trees and bushes pruned back away from the house and the lawn well cared for and not overgrown. It’s weird that free or inexpensive things like trimming trees and planting flowers can have an impact, but value is also about perception. Square footage is one thing, but condition is another.

Any deferred maintenance on the exterior makes alarm bells ring loudly to buyers and appraisers.

Why does equity even matter?

Well, it doesn’t, unless it does to you. One reason it could matter is if you’ve purchased a home with less than 20% down and want to get out from under PMI. If you are able to increase the value of your home over time or with improvements, you can have the property reappraised and potentially get rid of PMI. If you had an FHA loan you would be required to refinance, but the same theory applies. And, hey! If you had an easy time making your mortgage while paying PMI, pretend you still have it and throw that $100/month at your mortgage principal instead.

Some people want to be debt free, and home mortgages are typically the largest debts we carry. Ridding yourself of a house payment as soon as possible as well as reducing interest payments is a good thing if this is your goal.

Or maybe you use your home as a form of savings account in addition to whatever else you’re doing and plan to sell it when you retire and use the proceeds to buy your beach bungalow or cabin. Or you have kids that will be going to college and you want to be able to use some of the equity in your home to pay for it.

Whatever your goals are, these are a few ways to help you get there.

Home Buying · Home equity

Should you buy a fixer? Here are 4 things to consider FIRST.

HGTV makes it look really easy and smart to buy a fixer but before you do, think about the following things:

Give the location and the price a really hard look. This is where your agent will come in and help you make a clear-eyed decision based on actual data to see if what looks like a good purchase actually IS a good purchase.

You’ll want to have a clear sense of what other homes in the neighborhood have gone for and what the homes offered. How updated are they? How far would this home have to go? Is it cosmetic changes or do you need to shore up the foundation? And even if the foundation is the problem – is it priced where this would make sense to invest in it?

Look for instant or inexpensive ways to create equity. Is the worst thing about the house the flocked wallpaper and shag carpet? If it’s mostly surfaces that need refinishing, and you’re good with a paint brush and can pull up old carpet, your cost for the return will be really low. A fresh coat of paint goes a really long way. One thing that I have considered in the past is what would make the most impact – floors & walls are enormous parts of the home and resurfacing those pieces can really make a big impact on value. MOST people can’t seem to look past bad decorating. If you can – BONUS!

If there are projects that will require professional help – make sure that they are projects that will bring you good return on the cost of having to hire out. Going back to surfaces – having wood floors refinished is a good return. In Minneapolis we have to have our homes inspected for energy efficiency and paying for insulation will increase the price that the home commands, in addition to paying dividends in reduced energy costs. And there are a lot of incentives provided by the city and energy companies in the form of rebates and low interest loans to help home owners achieve the highest efficiency possible. If you live in Minneapolis you know you want low bills and a snug home.

Lastly – evaluate your ability to live in or with chaos. It can be hard at times if you’re living in a construction site. Even if you’re not and you’re trying to manage the project from outside of it, make sure that you can handle set backs, messes, etc. It always looks so much worse before it gets better.

If you’re curious about a way to do this while having someone else help pay – check out my video on house hacking. 🙂

Comments or questions? I’d love to hear from you. If there is a video that you’d be interested in seeing or a topic that you’re curious about, let me know.