How Do Valuations of Property Work?

By Austin Kilham · July 21, 2023 · 5 minute read

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How Do Valuations of Property Work?

Whether you’re a first-time homebuyer or you’re thinking about putting your home on the market, it’s critical to know the value of the property. Property valuation also comes into play in home financing, property taxes, real estate investing, and home insurance. But who does the valuation, and how do they determine the value of a home?

The answers to both questions will depend on the situation. Read on to learn more about property valuations, including what they are and why they matter.

What Is a Property Valuation?

Broadly defined, a property valuation is a method of determining how much a property is worth for purposes of pricing it for sale, qualifying for a mortgage, or determining a property tax bill.

Someone selling their home, for example, may use a property valuation to determine how much their house is worth and how much they can charge on the open market.

If you are applying for a mortgage, the lender will typically do a home appraisal to determine if the price you are paying for the house reflects its actual fair market value. Insurance companies and local tax authorities also do property valuations.

Typically, property valuations are done by an independent third party, such as a licensed appraiser. The lender, buyer, seller, tax authority, or insurer generally cannot have any relationship with the appraiser so that the valuation is unbiased.

The value of a property is determined by many factors, including its location, its size, the condition of the inside and outside of the building, and the current real estate market.

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Types of Property Valuations

There are several different types of property valuations. Here are some of the most common you may encounter.

Appraised Value

When you are looking to qualify for a mortgage to buy a home, your lender will usually need to know the appraised value of the house you want to buy. The appraised value of a home is determined by a licensed appraiser who thoroughly evaluates the property’s size and features, market conditions, and comparable sales data. Typically, a lender will offer a loan for no more than 80% of the home’s appraised value (though some lenders and loan programs will allow you to borrow more).

💡 Quick Tip: When house hunting, don’t forget to lock in your mortgage loan rate so there are no surprises if your offer is accepted.

Assessed Value

The assessed value of your home is used in determining your property taxes. Depending on where you live, a municipal or county tax assessor will perform a property value assessment based on a number of factors, which may include sales of similar homes, square footage, current market conditions, and findings on a home inspection.

Local tax officials will use your home’s assessed value to calculate your property taxes. The higher your home’s tax-assessed value, generally the higher your property taxes will be. It is important to note that assessed values may not always accurately reflect the property’s market value, as they can vary depending on the jurisdiction’s assessment practices.

Recommended: Are Property Taxes Included in Your Mortgage Payments?

Fair Market Value

Fair market value of a property refers to the price at which a property would change hands in the open market between a willing buyer and a willing seller in an open market, not under any pressure to buy or sell. Put another way, it’s the amount you could expect to buy or sell a property based on the current real estate market. This value is considered the most objective and widely used in real estate transactions.

Recommended: The Top Home Improvements to Increase Your Home’s Value

Actual Cash Value and Replacement Cost Value

Actual cash value and replacement cost value are methods used by home insurance companies to determine how they will pay out when you file a claim. Actual cash value takes into account depreciation and wear and tear when determining a property’s value. Replacement cost value estimates the cost of rebuilding or replacing a property with a similar one, considering current construction costs.

What If You Get a Low Appraisal?

If you’re buying a home and the lender’s appraised value is as much as the agreed-upon price or more, the lender will likely move forward with the home loan, assuming that the other aspects of the property and your application are in order.

If the appraisal comes in under the agreed-upon price, the lender may reduce the amount of the loan it’s willing to offer.

At that point, you or the sellers can dispute the appraisal with the lender or ask for a second look. If the value is still too low, there are a few different routes:

•  You can try to get the seller to reduce the price.

•  You can agree to contribute the difference in cash.

•  You and the seller may agree to split the difference.

If the purchase agreement contains an appraisal contingency, you are protected in the case of a low appraisal. This means that If you can’t get the seller to adjust the price or come up with the difference in cash, you can walk away from the sale and get your earnest money deposit returned to you.

Property Valuation Methods

There are different ways to assess the value of a property. Which method will be used will depend on the situation.

Sales Comparison Approach

The sales comparison approach determines a property’s value by comparing it to recently sold properties with similar characteristics in the same area, also known as “comps.” Appraisers make adjustments for differences in size, condition, and amenities to arrive at an estimated value. The sales comparison approach is the one most often used by realtors in determining the value of a property for sale.

Income Approach

The income approach is primarily used for investment properties that result in a stream of income, such as rental apartments or commercial buildings. It estimates the property’s value based on its income potential, taking into consideration factors such as expense statements, rental rates, vacancy rates, and market conditions.

Cost Approach

The cost approach evaluates a property’s value by estimating the cost required to rebuild or replace it on its current plot of land. This appraiser determines the replacement cost by considering the cost of materials and labor, then subtracts depreciation and adds in the value of the land to determine the property’s worth. This method is often used by insurance companies.

💡 Quick Tip: A appraisal waiver, which saves the borrower the cost of the appraisal and uses an AVM instead.

There are commercial AVM providers, including Freddie Mac and Equifax®, as well as free AVMs available online, such as Zillow’s “Zestimate.”

Because AVMs are based on existing data, the property valuations they produce are only as good as the information available. An AVM may be inaccurate if the data is outdated or incorrect.

The Takeaway

Understanding property valuations is essential for navigating any kind of real estate transaction, whether you are on the buying, selling, investing, or financing side of the deal. There are many different types of home valuations, including appraised value, assessed value, fair market value, actual cash value, and replacement cost value. There are also different ways of doing property valuations, such as the sales comparison approach, income approach, and cost approach. For a quick valuation, you can even use an online computer-generated valuation tool or AVM.

Whatever approach you take, a property valuation can help you confidently make informed decisions and negotiate effectively in the real estate market.

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How do you determine the value of a property?

The value of a property is typically determined by an independent licensed appraiser who considers factors such as the property’s location, size, condition, amenities, and recent comparable sales data in the area.

What are the 4 ways to value a property?

The four primary ways to value a property are:

•  Market comparison approach This approach compares the property to similar recently sold properties in the same area.

•  Income approach With this method, an appraiser estimates the value based on the property’s income potential.

•  Cost approach This valuation strategy involves evaluating the cost to replace or rebuild the property on the same land.

•  Appraised value With this method, the value of a property is determined by a qualified appraiser through a comprehensive evaluation.

How does valuation work?

Valuation of a home typically involves inspecting the property, analyzing relevant data, and applying appropriate valuation methods (such as the market comparison approach or cost approach).

Appraisers will generally assess factors such as location, condition, amenities, recent sales, and market trends to determine the property’s value. A comprehensive report is then prepared, detailing the value, data, and reasoning behind the valuation. Valuation serves as a crucial step in real estate transactions, providing objective estimates of property worth.

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Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

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Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.


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