Smoke Detectors & Appraiser Responsibilities

Michael Ford

Michael Ford

General Certified Real Estate Appraiser at Michael F. Ford Appraisal
Over 28 years appraising all property types and interests, in Southern California real estate. VP/Chairman National Appraiser Peer Review Committee, American Guild of Appraisers, #44OPEIU/AFL-CIO. - Michael Ford on e-AppraisersDirectory
Michael Ford

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Smoke Detectors Scope Creep & Appraiser Responsibilities

Smoke / CO detectors are not “market-measurable”

Dear Mr. Lunsford,

We have been asked to write to you by an appraiser that just received your most recent communication concerning your new requirements for fee panel appraisers to inspect, photograph and opine as to operability of Carbon Monoxide (CO) and smoke detectors.

The American Guild of Appraisers through its affiliated union sponsors represents our own appraiser members as well as the real estate appraisal interests of our combined fraternal families more than thirteen million union members, retirees and their families. We believe this to be an issue of concern for our membership.

Unless your new requirement is in direct response & compliance to a government sponsored entities (GSE) newest requirements, we respectfully submit that it is ill advised and creates increased liability to both you, your client and the appraiser.

The American Guild of Appraisers (AGA) supports sound management policies. Typically these are limited to assuring Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP) compliance and prompt & reasonable payment to appraisers. We believe AMCs should distinguish between necessary client specific requirements, and those that they are offering solely to promote what they feel are more competitive services. We discourage micromanagement trends and or processes that result in unnecessary scope creep beyond the scope of work deemed necessary by the professional appraiser to perform, complete and deliver a report of a USPAP compliant appraisal. Ultimately USPAP holds the appraiser accountable for determining what is required under it and what is not.

As you should be aware, real estate appraisers deal with and analyze significant conditions that affect value and marketability. The presence (or absence) of a $35.00 combined CO/smoke detector-alarm has no measurable or demonstrably documental significant impact on either due to its comparatively low cost. It simply is not “market-measurable”.

The potential increased liability comes from an appraiser who is not an expert in varied communities jurisdictional code compliance requirements offering what ultimately is deemed to be a professional opinion about an element that they are not necessarily experts in. Knowingly relying on or hiring someone who is not an expert to confirm, verify or opine as to functional adequacy for such an item increases rather than reduces your firms potential liabilities if (God forbid) there should ever be a fire or death due to faulty hard wired installation, smoke inhalation or suffocation. One of the very first questions attorneys will ask an appraiser on the witness stand is to describe what it is that makes them an expert on such detectors. The second question would be to ask questions about the science of how such systems operate and a whole host of prosecutorial-style questions about mounting methods, locations and power sources that very few appraisers are qualified to answer. As the agent for the client, YOUR firm will be held accountable for who they hire to assume this unnecessary responsibility. If these items are a necessary client required reporting item then we recommend that you or your clients hire experts that are properly trained to deal with all aspects of them.

Different fire departments have offered differing opinions as to where combined units should be  placed since the ‘gasses’ involved have different specific gravities and are subject to different optimal mounting requirements. Smoke is lighter than air, and carbon tends to be nominally heavier than smoke and possibly ambient air (I believe). My own research tends to suggest that a CO detector should be placed on a wall not more than about 4 to 5 feet above floor level. Conversely smoke detectors are most commonly mounted on ceilings at or near their highest accumulation point (peaks). For economy reasons many if not most units sold are the combined type.

Now the real issue is whether the local governmental agency (county or city) has adopted International Building Code (IBC) or whether some other code standard is applicable. Determining this requires time (and additional compensation) for an appraiser.

Are you now offering an appraisers hourly equivalent compensation for the additional scope of service your firm is requiring? We recommend an additional fee of from $100 to $150 for our members for this item alone to assure adequate time is spent verifying local code requirements that are in effect as of the effective dates of value in addition to the visual inspection of apparent condition.

We don’t encourage appraisers to voluntarily become involved in offering opinions outside their specific expertise but if that is a condition of doing business with or through your firm, then we will also be suggesting very strongly that they include additional language within their appraisals essentially to the following:

“The signing appraiser is not a property inspection expert nor a qualified code compliance officer. He/She has been required as a ‘special condition’ of acceptance of this appraisal assignment by the clients management agents to offer an opinion(s) as to the apparent operability of carbon monoxide/dioxide and smoke detectors. Unless there are exposed bare wires or other visual signs of damage to such detectors the appraiser is not qualified to determine proper operability or apparent defect. Similarly the fact that a ‘test alarm’ (if reachable) may function at the time of inspection is no assurance that the unit actually is capable of detecting dangerous levels of either carbon monoxide or dioxide or smoke. Further there is no assurance that the units alarm is adequate according to local code, or whether it may reasonably be expected to operate for an extended period of time, or during power outages. Few appraisers are qualified to offer opinions about locational mounting adequacy or methodology. Inspection of such units (features) are properly in the domain of qualified, licensed Home Inspectors or Local Code Compliance Inspectors. The appraiser strongly recommends that the services of such an inspector be separately contracted for if operability of carbon and or smoke alarms is/are a concern to any party having access to this appraisal, or any user relying upon it for decision making of any type. The appraiser offers no warranty or right of reliance to any party reading or relying on this appraisal report for either the adequacy or operation of any such detectors in the property involved”.

We will urge our members to adopt boilerplate language that leans toward indicating no apparent defect (unless otherwise noted) rather than to make statements that it/they “is/are” operable and whether or not (and how) it was actually tested by the home owner in their presence. We further are recommending that each of them contact their own E&O carriers and inquire about their potential liability for opining on the adequacy of emergency life and property protection equipment.

As an alternative we are also suggesting appraisers may want to ‘condition their value opinions’ by making their conclusions subject to proof from qualified building inspection contractors of Carbon / smoke detector code compliance and operability. This could result in borrowers having to pay for up to $400 or $500 (or more) for an American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) Certified Homes Inspector’s services. We distinguish between home inspection insurance (warranty) programs and those that are legitimate & competent home inspection services.

Mr. Lunsford, we have no doubt that you simply want to offer your clients the best service possible, however we respectfully urge you to reconsider this specific aspect of ‘scope creep’ and specific assignment requirement. If your lender clients or their regulators are now requiring this, you should make that clear to the appraisers. If it is simply a marketing tool for your firm, then again respectfully it is one that is misguided and abusive of appraisers’ time and professional expertise.

Lastly, Appraiser Independence Requirements do not permit anyone associated with a transaction to forbid or influence the use and type of language that an appraiser deems necessary to produce a credible report that is not misleading and that fully complies with USPAP.

Thank you for your time and consideration in this matter. We are submitting this open letter to our membership as well as various professional blogs and media contacts to generate specific appraiser response and to urge direct contact with you about those professional views.

Respectfully submitted,

Michael F. Ford, AGA, GAA, RAA, Realtor®, SCREA
Vice President Special Projects  / Chairman NAPRC
AGA, OPEIU-AFL/CIO

The above is a response to the following email from Keith Lumsford, President of USamc, a Georgia based AMC:

SERVICE REQUIREMENT ANNOUNCEMENT:
Good morning Vendors,

Going forward all Smoke & Carbon Monoxide detectors need to be identified by photos and comments. Comment on the location and if they appear to be in working order.

Thank you for your cooperation on this matter. We appreciate our partnership with you!

Kindest Regards,
Keith Lunsford, President
keith@usamc.com

Michael Ford

Michael Ford

Over 28 years appraising all property types and interests, in Southern California real estate. VP/Chairman National Appraiser Peer Review Committee, American Guild of Appraisers, #44OPEIU/AFL-CIO. - Michael Ford on e-AppraisersDirectory

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16 Responses

  1. DianaN, says:

    Mike, you are right on the money again. I’m getting so tired of stupid requests. Just did a house 175 yrs old, made mention it had normal amount of settlement and dampness (stone foundation) for a home this age. They wanted photos of the dampness & settlement. Next they will want us to climb on the roof and check for loose shingles.  Duuuuuuuuh.

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  2. Koma says:

    You know what would solve this and FHA’s new requirements? A HOME INSPECTION! Having it completed and given to us before we visit the property.

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  3. Donald Cox says:

    Good Ford.

    All except for moving production of your small car to China.

    Our product has become hidden in all the requirements made of appraisers beyond their area of expertise, that we have become agents of our client.

    Our original purpose was to help a client protect himself, with an independent view of VALUE.

    don

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  4. Jman says:

    appraiser of 34 years and your comments are spot on! Also watch for anyone asking you to agree with HUD 92541 on new construction. Same type of issues. 

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  5. Bye Bye AMC's says:

    Tired of these AMC’s trying to control my professional life and put all the liability on our shoulders. How about they start a management company for let’s say, lawyers, doctors etc instead of living off of the fees they steal from appraisers? They are nothing but bottom feeders who figured out a way to make money off of someone else’s hard work because they can’t make any with their own skills…or should say lack of skills

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  6. Bryan says:

    That does it – I am joining AGA!!  When is the last time you saw something like this from AI??!

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  7. DianaN. says:

    Good move Bryan.

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  8. Helmut Schmidt says:

    There is a certain insanity that comes out with these posts on this site.  First of all, there is a tremendous lack of brevity. Few are going to read this rambling screed.  Second of all, the formatting is almost crazier than SOMEONE TYPING IN ALL CAPS BECAUSE THEY ARE NUTS.   Thirdly, the tone is just needlessly confrontational.  It reads like an impetuous wife who is MAD and just IS NOT going to take it anymore.

    Why not calmly explain that smoke alarms have nothing to do with market value and that appraisers are not qualified to render an opinion?

    This in many ways shows why appraisal needs to revert to a system similar to the legal profession. If the author if this article was a general appraiser, and had experience appraising things other than single-family homes, he would know that requests like this are not atypical.  For a practicing general appraiser, explaining things like this is a fairly regular professional activity.

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    • Helmut read the authors ‘qualifications’ regarding “if the appraiser were a general certified appraiser” or ever appraised anything other than residential property.

      My minimum fee for C&I work of any kind is $1,500. Most run in the $2,500 to $3,500 range. At those fees I explain anything the client or sound appraisal practices dictate. What I don’t do is accept additional liability for things outside my area of expertise. Do you? Stand alone business valuations are charged at rates generally in a range from $3,500 to $7,500.

      As for brevity-read it or not. Your choice. Re CAPS I double checked and can’t find what you are referring to though as the Blog Editor has mentioned before their software does sometimes capitalize portions at posting.

      In checking the ASC National Registry I find no ‘Helmut Schmidt’ as a licensed or certified appraiser. The AppraisersBlogs are written and intended for appraisers (though of course all are welcome to read and comment).

      The focus and method of communicating is usually directed toward other appraisers rather than news or magazine editors; or English majors.

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    • DianaN. says:

      Helmut, get a life and stop putting down hard working legit. appraisers.

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  9. D. Hobbs says:

    Sorry Helmut, YOUR wrong ! This blog is one of the ONLY news sources that tells it like it REALLY is for the boots on the ground, residential real estate appraiser. We are tired of these AMC’s, there idiot CEO’s  and the “valuation team idiots” creating more work and more liability for no additional  compensation just to justify there existance.  This blog is one of  only a  few news sources that hasn’t either thrown us under the buzz ( whoops) I mean bus, gotten in  bed with the parasite AMC’s for their own financial gain or simply SOLD OUT ! Thanks Appraiser Blogs for all you do and keep up the great  work !

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  10. The request to state if the smoke detectors appear to be in working order is common but too vague.
    1. Define appears? Visual inspection? What are we looking for? Other than a green indicator light, how can we tell if a detector is working by looking at it?
    2. Working order? This is a vague and dangerous term commonly used for utilities, air conditioning systems, and now smoke detectors. An electrician wouldn’t flip a light switch and declare the electrical system in good working order, so why would I? I don’t own a copy of the NEC and wouldn’t know where to begin.

    For any appraiser asked to offer an opinion on smoke detectors or any other system, if you must comply then include the details of the request, the steps you took to comply, and how you arrived at your conclusion. Don’t state that the smoke/carbon detectors are working properly. State that you pressed the test button and heard an alarm (or did not). State that you did not use any method other than a simple press of a button, and cannot attest as to the function of the alarms in an actual emergency. State that you recommend inspection by a qualified inspector. Don’t assume responsibility for something outside your area of expertise. Charge accordingly.

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Smoke Detectors & Appraiser Responsibilities

by Michael Ford time to read: 6 min
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