If you’re searching for drama, don’t limit yourself to Netflix. Instead, tune in to the real estate market, where the competition among buyers has never been fiercer. And with homes selling for record highs,1 the appraisal process—historically a standard part of a home purchase—is receiving more attention than ever.
That’s because some sellers are finding out the hard way that a strong offer can fizzle quickly when an appraisal comes in below the sales price. Thus, many sellers favour buyers who can guarantee their full offer price—even if the property appraises for less. For the buyer, that could mean a large down payment or extra cash on hand to cover the gap.
Whether you’re a buyer or a seller, it’s never been more important to understand the appraisal process and how it can be impacted by a quickly appreciating and highly competitive housing market. It’s also crucial to work with a skilled real estate agent who can guide you to a successful closing without overpaying (if you’re a buyer) or overcompensating (if you’re a seller). Find out how appraisals work—and in some cases, don’t work—in today’s unique real estate environment.
An appraisal is an objective assessment of a property’s market value performed by an independent licensed appraiser. Mortgage lenders use appraisals to lower their risk of loss in the event a buyer stops paying their loan. It provides assurance that the home’s value meets or exceeds the amount being lent for its purchase.
In certain circumstances, an appraisal can be avoided. For example, when a buyer purchases mortgage insurance because they have a down payment of less than 20%. In that instance, the mortgage insurance would cover the lender’s loss in a case of default. Or, if a buyer makes a large down payment, a lender may waive their right of appraisal.2
Additionally, sometimes a lender will use an automated valuation model (AVM) to estimate a property’s value. According to the Appraisal Institute of Canada, “AVMs are computer programs that provide real estate market analysis and estimates of value.” If the sales price falls comfortably within the AVM’s range of value, a lender may skip the formal appraisal.3
However, in the event a formal appraisal is required, it will need to be conducted by a licensed and authorized appraiser. In most cases, the appraiser will analyze the property’s condition and review the value of comparable properties that have recently sold. Using this information, they will determine the home’s current market value.Mortgage borrowers are usually expected to pay the cost of an appraisal.2
APPRAISALS IN A RAPIDLY SHIFTING MARKET
Problems can arise when the appraisal comes in lower than the sales price. And while low appraisals are not common, they are more likely to happen in a rapidly appreciating market, like the one we’re experiencing now.4 That’s because appraisers use comparable sales (commonly referred to as comps) to determine a property’s value. These could include homes that went under contract weeks or even months ago. With home prices rising so quickly, today’s comps may be lagging behind the market’s current reality. Thus, the appraiser may be basing their assessment on stale data, resulting in a low valuation.5
According to Kevin Lonsdale, Executive Director of the Canadian National Association of Real Estate Appraisers, the best valuations should be based on “data, not emotion. This emotional process where people are outbidding each other creates a disconnect and that then becomes a comparable six months down the road. It’s very difficult to value properties based on what the market wants to pay for them.”6
HOW ARE BUYERS AND SELLERS IMPACTED BY A LOW APPRAISAL?
In a balanced market, a financing condition is a standard inclusion in a home purchase offer. It enables the buyer to make the closing of the transaction dependent on their ability to secure a mortgage. And in many cases, the loan is contingent on a satisfactory appraisal, wherein the value of the property is at or near the purchase price.
But in today’s market, sellers often hold the upper hand because the current demand for homes exceeds the available supply. That’s why many buyers are choosing to exclude the financing condition altogether, as a way to sweeten their offer in a competitive bidding process.5
However, this approach can leave a buyer vulnerable if the appraisal comes back lower than expected. Without a financing condition, the buyer will be obligated to come up with enough cash to bridge the gap between the contract price and the appraised value—or be forced to walk away from the transaction and potentially lose their deposit.
It may seem, then, that a buyer carries the sole risk of a low appraisal. However, the sellers will have wasted time and money with little to show for it. And they run the risk that the market may have cooled or interest in their home may have waned by the time they relist.
Sellers should keep this in mind when evaluating offers. The offer price should never be the sole consideration. We weigh a range of factors when advising our clients, including a buyer’s conditions, mortgage qualifications, financial resources, and deposit size, among others.
According to Lonsdale, overheated blind bidding in Canadian real estate means that there is additional pressure on everyone involved in the transaction. With a tight timeline, there’s not always enough time for proper due diligence, putting stress on the transaction and on the buyer and seller involved.6
MITIGATE YOUR RISK WITH THE BEST REPRESENTATION
There’s never been a market quite like this one before. That’s why you need a master negotiator on your side who has the skills, instincts, and experience to get the deal done...no matter what surprises may pop up along the way. If you’re a buyer, we can help you compete in this unprecedented market—without getting steamrolled. And if you’re a seller, we know how to get top dollar for your home while minimizing hassle and stress. Contact us today to schedule a complimentary consultation.
2. Mortgages.ca -
3. Appraisal Institute of Canada -
4. Teranet–National Bank House Price Index™ -
6. Personal Interview: Kevin Lonsdale, Executive Director, Canadian National Association of Real Estate Appraisers. 4 Jun 2021.