Are Realtors & AMC’s Killing the Home Valuation System?

Are Realtors and AMC’s Killing the Home Valuation System? In a word, YES!

Are Realtors and AMC’s Killing the Home Valuation System? In a word, YES!

Many Appraisal Management Companies are now demanding that appraisers change the square footage details listed within their reports. Why? Because they saw a different number on Zillow® or in public records. How have we gone this far wrong?

Appraisers generally turn first to their own files for square footage details. Next, they turn to the MLS, which is touted as “the most trusted source of real estate information in the world.” Then, if there are no other options (like in the many areas where the MLS does not report any square footage details), appraisers are forced to turn to local tax departments to get their square footage details. And often, those details change home values, dramatically. In many states the governing real estate authority clearly states that agents should NOT rely on the information in tax records. Anyone who has ever worked around the real estate industry knows just how unreliable tax numbers can be. Those square footage numbers were created by and for the tax department, NOT to be used in the real estate industry.

Companies like Zillow® and Trulia®, etc, most often get their square footage details from those same public records, that everybody else seems to know are unreliable. Then, along comes these appraisal management companies, where unlicensed people are trying to dictate what highly trained experts decide to use as a source for their square footage details. This only makes a declining system worse!

It’s time to stop this madness! It would seem to be in everyone’s best interest to have the most accurate real estate information system humanly possible, so our real estate and appraisal industries can function consistently and fairly. In order to achieve that goal, every house listed in MLS must be measured by a licensed appraiser, and the square footage details listed (by level) within the MLS. Then, we can get back to having fair property comparisons and quality appraisals.

All the talk about liability and agents not wanting to report square footage is just an excuse. If they are going to be compensated as experts, and best represent the home-buying public, they should demand the best possible information. It’s time for the National Association of Realtors® to create this one new rule. Consumer protection would increase dramatically, overnight. This is not rocket science. We live in a price-per-square-foot world and without accurate square footage details, our system simply doesn’t work. If you think price-per-square-foot doesn’t matter, check out any online home valuation service or look at any agent’s CMA. One of the main pieces of data – price-per-square-foot.

Size does matter, and it’s time to put consumer protection back in the home valuation process.

Hamp Thomas
Latest posts by Hamp Thomas (see all)
Image credit flickr - Marlon E
Hamp Thomas

Hamp Thomas

Hamp Thomas, founder and president of the Institute of Housing Technologies. He is also the president of Carolina Appraisers & Real Estate. Leading expert on residential square footage and its influence on the home valuation process. Instructor, Appraiser, Realtor and Author. He is the author of “How to Measure a House” based on the ANSI® Guideline; the American Measurement Standard, Death of an Industry-Real Estate Appraisal, etc. & offers continuing education courses (for agents and appraisers), and numerous other real estate courses, webinars, and YouTube videos.

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9 Responses

  1. Avatar Jon says:

    We can’t talk for Realtors, however we as an Appraisal Management Company AND Appraisers we know how the system works with appraising. We don’t feel national AMCs are worthy of any discussion as they slow pay, low pay, put unrealistic demands on files and in general they are NOT appraisers and don’t have a clue on the appraisal process.

    We all need to work and I know appraisers accept low paying jobs to make ends meet and that is a sad day to say the least. We pay top dollar to our appraisers and someday the national chains may just squeeze us out of business for greed!

    • Retired Appraiser Retired Appraiser says:

      The only good AMC is a dead AMC. You are part of the problem and even more so than the idiot appraisers who sell their bodies to the lowest bidder.

  2. Avatar Divedude says:

    Square footage posted by realtors often includes porches, finished area in basements, etc. for the purpose of making the property more attractive to potential buyers. This is the same reason MLS photos cannot always be trusted to reflect the true condition of a home. AMCs’ will try to get the appraiser to match realtor and public records if you let them. How many of these people besides the appraiser do you think actually measure the home?

  3. Avatar Curtis D. Harris says:

    I disagree! I believe that would only make it only more confusing. I always use the assessors numbers unless I am more that 100′ sq/ft off. Then I ask why?

    Commercial Appraiser

    • Why would you use the assessors numbers at all? If your numbers and assessor numbers do not agree, I hope you are not one of those appraisers that ‘adjusts’ the stated dimensions of your own sketch to fit, resulting in a misleading appraisal report.

      MANY times assessors routinely include ALL covered area under the roof; including entry porch cut-outs. OUR job is to provide an accurate estimate of living area (or building area or rentable area).

      In Los Angeles County, the assessors office makes no serious effort to verify additions are permitted, but they DO include known additions in reported living area. Their application in doing so is unreliable. Many owners report PERMITTED additions have NOT been included in reported GLA even ten years after the event.

      I AM the reliable source-not the assessor.

  4. Hamp Thomas is to be applauded for trying to churn up work for us, but he’s missed the mark on everything else.

    I’ve done too many reviews where the appraiser has simply measured incorrectly. Either rounding outside allowable ANSI guidelines, or simply not knowing how to measure accurately.

    If the ‘concern’ is amcs or title cos taking issue with different measurements;, it is easily avoided by following good appraisal practices.

    When my taped area totals differ from the public record sources or mls data, I disclose it and attempt to identify the cause. Its not always possible, but in the end, either way I make a definitive statement as to why MY measured and calculated area totals are the more reliable.

    Lets not shift our own responsibilities in this era of finger pointing. It is NOT the job of mls to provide accurate taped totals. many MLS have been sued successfully over this very thing, and are not about to put anything down on their own volition EXCEPT “assessor” or “appraiser”. When they put the latter down, I give it the LEAST reliability, since they don’t indicate who, or when (or why).

    There are practical reasons for not hiring appraisers to do as Hamp suggests. Is the listing agent going to pay $200+ out of his or her own pocket? Is the home owner? Its all the agent can do to get the owners to sign the listing in todays competitive environment.

    IF this is really an issue, then contact local boards and offer to TEACH agents how to properly measure; and which areas are legitimately included and which are not. While you are at it, explain how in many states (CA) condos are ALWAYS measured on an interior basis, even when they are stand alone townhouses.

    We have REAL issues to deal with where we need NARs help. lets not alienate them or squander opportunities with foolishness.

    As an appraiser haven’t we ALL learned how and when to simply tell and AMC or title company “No”? No one; and I mean NO ONE is going to tell me to change measured, permitted, legal living area that I have personally measured and calculated.

  5. Jon, I hope the big boys don’t squeeze you out either. IF the AMC models are to work at all, then localized smaller AMCs that know the costs of getting good work in their area are critical.

    If you are who I think you are, then I also know we can always go back to you guys and say we need a higher fee, explaining why, and we may (usually) get it or at least have an honest discussion on why not. Again, if your company initials are GS, I also know I need never fear being blacklisted for declining a low fee assignment.

  6. Avatar Fred says:

    Mr. Thomas,
    I will go you one better. When I prepare an appraisal report and the measured square footage of the subject property differs from what is in the assessor’s records I am subsequently instructed to explain why there is a discrepancy in the square footage. I know I measured the house and I used my appraisal program to sketch the house. That is how I arrived at my square footage. I have absolutely no idea how the assessor’s office developed their square footage information over the past 75+ years. Was it taken from the building plans, was it provided by the builder, was it provided by the homeowner, did one of their appraisers measure it, did they get the wrong size information about an addition? It beats the heck out of me how they get their gross living area information because the best I can get from anybody is they get it from “various sources”. Our county is notorious for having the wrong information so the people at the assessor’s office freely state: “Do not rely on our information. It may be wrong. It is intended to be used just by our staff and only for taxation purposes”. Watch for this step from the comparable square footage to the subject property square footage to happen to you. We have lost all control over not only appraisal fees but now the appraisal process too.

  7. Avatar Alison S says:

    Have one AMC that keeps sending a generic word doc with a different lot size than the local tax records, with a demand for revision/explanation/comment. Just a generic document, not a survey, a branded document, nothing.


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Are Realtors & AMC’s Killing the Home Valuation System?

by Hamp Thomas time to read: 2 min