Should You Pay More than the Appraised Value of a Home?

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When the home prices were rapidly rising, most people comfortably made high offers without worrying about the appraised value. Most of the time, the appraisals would meet the target. Now, partly due to falling prices and partly due to the new appraisal system, 20-30% of appraisals are coming in low, leaving buyers to wonder whether they should pay the purchase price or the appraised value.

Should You Buy a Home for More than the Appraised Value?

The simple answer is no. Of course, there are exceptions. If you’re buying a distressed home by a major architect at a bargain and planning to fix it up, you may well want to pay more than appraised value because it will be worth much more once it’s restored (assuming you do it properly). However, odds are good you’re paying all cash in that scenario, and may not even get an appraisal.

99.9% of home buyers aren’t in the situation, which means that 99.9% should not pay more than the appraised value, especially in a declining market.

Why You Shouldn’t Pay More

Paying more than the appraised value essentially means that you’re paying more than the house is worth. You’re losing money right out of the gate. Given that home prices in many areas may still slide downward, why would you willingly lose money on day one?

In addition, lenders will base your loan on the appraised value, not the purchase price. If you opted for 20% down, then the lender will only lend you 80% of the appraised value, which means you’ll have to produce extra cash to make up the gap between value and price. The other option is to find a different type of loan, but that will cost you much more in interest.

What If the Appraisal Is Wrong?

This does happen. If you feel the appraisal is wrong, you can get a second appraisal or appeal the first one, especially if inaccurate comps were used. However, you should carefully research the factors behind the appraisal. If the square footage is wrong, make sure that the actual square footage matches that listed on the property records at the assessor’s office. If it doesn’t, you could be dealing with an unpermitted addition. Although it would appear to increase the home’s value, it could actually cost you a bundle to correct defects in unpermitted construction.

How to Handle a Low Appraisal

In the event that an appraisal comes in low, you can do one of the three things:

  1. Make up the difference in cash.
  2. Ask the seller to renegotiate the sales price.
  3. Cancel the deal.

Personally, I would choose either two or three. With two, I would ask that the purchase price be reduced to the appraisal price. Some sellers will offer to split the difference. I wouldn’t do that, because even if you split it, you’re still overpaying. The seller may insist that they “need X dollars from the sale.” That may be true, but if the home appraised low, they’re not going to get it. They can either accept less or stay in the house.

I know it’s difficult if you really love a house, but you have to be prepared to negotiate hard or walk away if the appraisal comes in low. In this market, it doesn’t make sense to go into a home in a position of weakness.

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