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Guide to Home Appraisals for Mortgages

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There are many factors that can lead to a mortgage denial when you’re trying to buy a home. One of the most common things that can stand between you and an approval is an issue with the property’s appraisal.

But what is an appraisal? And why do home appraisals matter so much during the home buying process? This guide answers those questions and more.

What is a home appraisal?

An appraisal is a written estimate that details a professional appraiser’s opinion of a home’s value. When you buy a home, your mortgage lender will more than likely require a home appraisal before approving the loan.

“Appraisers are reporters of the market,” said Stephen Wagner, 2019 president of the Appraisal Institute in Chicago. “They interpret the actions of buyers and sellers in the marketplace.”

All 50 states require appraisers to be certified or licensed to provide appraisals to mortgage lenders who are federally regulated, according to the Appraisal Institute. Appraisers receive their credentials after passing an examination administered by their state’s appraisal board.

When choosing an appraiser, government-sponsored enterprise Fannie Mae has specific requirements for mortgage lenders. They need to select from professionals who not only meet the certification or licensing requirements, but also have experience in and knowledge of the local real estate market and the specific property type being appraised.

Many appraisers use the Uniform Residential Appraisal Report, the most common form used in real estate appraisals.

What do appraisers look for?

Before visiting a property, an appraiser gathers upfront information related to the property. Once they begin the appraisal assignment, they typically review the property’s:

  • Amenities
  • Condition
  • Interior
  • Structure
  • Upgrades

But not all appraisal assignments look the same, said John Brenan, vice president of appraisal issues with The Appraisal Foundation in Washington, D.C.: “Some require an appraiser to personally inspect the interior of a home. Some only require an appraiser to personally inspect the exterior of the home.”

The homebuyer doesn’t have to be present for the appraisal. In many cases, a real estate agent will provide access to the home if necessary, he added.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires appraisals for FHA loans to be more in-depth than those for conventional loans. Appraisers hired by FHA lenders must establish an unbiased opinion of a home’s value and determine whether it meets the FHA’s minimum property standards — by inspecting the home’s foundation and major systems, for example.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs follows a similar process for VA home appraisals. The appraiser must determine the value of the home and review the property’s condition to assess whether it meets the VA’s minimum property requirements.

Appraisers typically determine a home’s value by using one of three common methods:

  • The sales comparison approach, which involves reviewing recent home sales and homes currently for sale that are similar to the property being appraised. The appraiser makes adjustments to the home’s value based on its condition, features and quality.
  • The cost approach, which involves calculating what it would cost to build that same house on a similar lot, minus depreciation. This method can be helpful for appraisals on relatively newer homes, according to Brenan.
  • The income approach, which involves taking the rental income of the property being appraised, or a comparable property, to determine a value that would provide the rate of return that the typical investor would require for a similar home. As Brenan noted, this approach is typically used for commercial property appraisals.

The most commonly used method for real estate transactions is the sales comparison approach. When using this approach, appraisers consider several factors, according to the Appraisal Institute, which include:

  • Conditions of the sale
  • Economic characteristics
  • Expenditures made immediately after the purchase
  • Financing terms
  • Location
  • Market conditions
  • Non-property components of value
  • Physical characteristics
  • Property rights being transferred
  • Use and zoning

Homebuyers usually pay for an appraisal as part of their closing costs. An appraisal fee can run about $300 to $400, but it can vary depending on the state, property type, loan type and the complexity of the appraisal assignment. For example, the VA has a state-by-state fee schedule for home appraisals. The appraisal fee is $450 in Georgia and $525 in New York.

There isn’t a “shelf life” on appraisals, Brenan said. However, each lender has guidelines it follows that dictate how old an appraisal report can be for mortgage lending purposes.

Why appraisals matter to the homebuying process

An appraisal establishes a home’s value. This number is important to your mortgage lender because it affects the loan you need to purchase the home.

Lenders rely on a house appraisal to determine whether the sales price makes sense and to calculate the homebuyer’s loan-to-value ratio.

[An appraisal], as described by Wagner, “is a risk mitigation tool at that point, to make sure that somebody’s not paying too much for a property or that the lender isn’t going to lend too much against the property.

Put another way, a home appraisal is designed to ensure that the collateral for a mortgage — the house — is adequate enough to justify the loan amount, Brenan said. The appraisal also helps establish value in the event of a foreclosure sale, should the lender need to take the property back because the borrower defaulted on the mortgage.

Aside from mortgage approval, other reasons you might need an appraisal include:

Can you skip a home appraisal?

In certain circumstances, you may be able to sidestep the home appraisal requirement when getting a mortgage to purchase a home.

Conventional mortgage borrowers may be able to get what’s called a property inspection waiver (PIW) mortgage, which is a loan that goes through the underwriting process without an appraisal. It’s also known as an appraisal waiver mortgage.

With a PIW mortgage, the lender can use existing information about the property’s estimated value to originate a loan, rather than ordering a new appraisal. However, the homebuyer would need to supply a 20% down payment in most cases.

How to dispute a home appraisal

An appraiser’s opinion of value isn’t necessarily the end of the line, Brenan said.

If you’re not happy with your appraisal — for example, the home value comes in lower than expected — you have the option to dispute the appraiser’s findings.

Let’s say you’re looking to buy a home priced at $300,000 but the appraisal comes in at $250,000. After your lender has given you a copy of the appraisal report to review, you can request another appraisal if you’re not satisfied with the results. It’s helpful to provide any evidence you may have that disputes the appraiser’s findings, such as a recent comparable sale or missing square footage.

Keep in mind that your lender isn’t obligated to honor your request. But if it does, you’ll be responsible for the additional appraisal fee.

“If the borrower or a real estate agent or whoever wants the appraiser to consider additional information, go through the lender, share that information,” Brenan said. “The appraiser will review it and notify the lender if it warrants any type of change.”

If your lender decides to stick with the original appraisal or no changes occur after it’s reviewed, a few things can happen. Using the example above of an appraisal coming in lower than the sales price, you would either need to come up with the difference in cash or renegotiate with the seller on a lower price. Otherwise, the loan could be denied.

It’s also important to remember that although a house appraisal is part of your homebuying process and you’re responsible for paying the fee, you aren’t the appraiser’s client. In terms of a home purchase or refinance, the lender is required to order the appraisal and can’t accept an appraisal ordered by a borrower — “that is to avoid any possible bias or undue influence,” Brenan said.

Home appraisal vs. home inspection

While they both involve taking a critical look at a home, an appraisal and inspection aren’t the same.

An appraisal examines the elements and features that help determine the value of a home. But an inspection evaluates the home’s structure, interior and exterior to assess its condition and recommend any necessary repairs. Unlike appraisals in most cases, home inspections can be optional. Inspection fees range from about $300 to $500, though it can change based on a number of factors, such as the size and age of the home.

An appraiser is generally looking for things that impact value, such as the quality, design and floor plan, Wagner said.

“Appraisers do not inspect properties to the depth and level that a home inspector might, wherein as a home inspector is … testing plumbing and electrical and kind of almost seeing behind the walls, if you will,” he explained.

The bottom line

A home appraisal provides benefits for both homebuyers and mortgage lenders, Wagner said.

“In addition to valuation issues, they may find out things about the property that they might not have otherwise been particularly aware of,” he said.

For example, a home could be advertised as a certain size, but the appraisal showed that it’s actually smaller or larger than marketed.

“There’s a number of aspects of the physical characteristics of a property that may come to light that were not obvious to the buyer at the outset,” he said.

Lastly, since an appraiser is analyzing market information to arrive at a home’s value, there’s not much of a need to worry about bias.

“The appraiser is the independent, impartial, objective party in the entire transaction,” Brenan said. “The appraiser is the only one whose compensation does not depend on whether the deal goes through or not.”

The information in this article is accurate as of the date of publishing. 

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Crissinda Ponder
Crissinda Ponder |

Crissinda Ponder is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Crissinda here

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Mortgage

The Pros and Cons of a Credit Union Mortgage

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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Though banks are better known, their not-for-profit cousins known as credit unions still command a significant chunk of the mortgage market. During the first quarter of 2019, credit unions originated 8% of mortgages in the United States, according to credit union consulting firm Callahan & Associates.

Often overlooked, credit unions can be a good option when shopping for a mortgage. Joining a credit union can make it possible for you to reap benefits such as lower origination fees or a more competitive interest rate.

This article will explore whether homebuyers might get a better deal from a credit union mortgage and the implications a relationship with a credit union might bring.

How is a credit union different from a bank?

Although credit unions fall under the umbrella of financial institutions, they differ from commercial banks in several key ways.

Banks are typically owned by their shareholders, credit unions are not-for-profit organizations owned by their members. This often translates to better rates and terms on their financial products.

While banks can serve the entire nation, credit unions tend to be community-based institutions that play a significant role in serving people in a local area.

“Credit unions are a really important part of the financial services fabric,” said Barry Zigas, director of housing policy at the Consumer Federation of America in Washington, D.C.

On the other hand, credit unions typically don’t offer the same suite of products that a larger bank is often known for. While you can take advantage of a checking, savings or individual retirement account, for example, you may find it challenging to access financial planning or investment services.

Below we highlight how credit unions stack up against banks.

Credit UnionCommercial Bank
  • Not-for-profit organization
  • Member-owned
  • Typically have higher yields on deposit accounts
  • Typically have lower interest rates on credit and loan products
  • Membership is based on an affiliation or geographical location
  • Smaller branch and ATM networks
  • Federally insured up to $250,000 through the National Credit Union Administration
  • For-profit organization
  • Shareholder-owned
  • Yields are usually lower on deposit accounts
  • Interest rates on credit and loan products are usually higher
  • Anyone can establish a relationship with a bank
  • Larger branch and ATM networks
  • Federally insured up to $250,000 through the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

Getting a mortgage from a credit union

One of the main differences when applying for a mortgage through a credit union rather than a traditional bank is that you must be a member of the credit union before you can attempt to borrow money.

Credit union customers own “shares” in the institution, typically via a $5 deposit held in a particular savings account.

In order to become a member, you must meet the membership requirements outlined by the credit union you’re interested in joining. Credit union members have a common bond, which could be any of the following, according to the National Credit Union Administration:

  • An employer.
  • A geographical location where those interested in joining live, work, worship or attend school.
  • A group membership, such as a homeowners association or labor union.

Family members of credit union customers are also often eligible to join.

One of the key reasons for choosing a credit union: You may be able to save money on lender fees, said Bruce McClary, vice president of communications at the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. A credit union may also be more flexible with credit score requirements than a bank and may offer lower mortgage interest rates.

However, since credit unions are small organizations, there’s the risk that your credit union’s name or ownership could change. Your credit union could also sell the rights to service your mortgage to a third party, which may impact your customer service after your loan closes.

“Even though you may be saving money on origination fees and you may not be paying as many other fees with your mortgage — so it might be more affordable at the onset — you may end up having to deal with a servicer that you weren’t dealing with before, rather than dealing with your credit union,” McClary said.

It’s important to note that bank-originated mortgages can also be sold and handed over to other servicers, so this issue isn’t unique to credit unions.

Still, developing a relationship with a credit union over time — as in, the organization’s representatives are very familiar with you and your finances — could work in your favor when you decide to apply for a mortgage, McClary said.

“Being a member of the credit union might actually put you in an advantage in terms of approval or maybe in terms of negotiating terms of the mortgage in the application process,” he said.

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Pros and cons of a credit union mortgage

Consider the following benefits and drawbacks of a credit union mortgage before you choose this type of lender for your home purchase.

Pros

  • Potentially lower origination fees and other lending costs.
  • Mortgage rates may be lower.
  • A greater sense of community, since the institution is member-owned.
  • Potential for more negotiating room during the mortgage lending process.
  • Shared branching benefits, which allow you to use the services of an outside credit union.

Cons

  • You must meet eligibility guidelines to join the credit union and become a member before applying for a mortgage.
  • Credit unions typically have smaller branch networks.
  • There’s the risk of your credit union closing, switching owners or going through some other changes, which can affect how your mortgage is serviced.
  • Typically carry fewer product offerings than traditional banks.
  • May have limited online banking capabilities.

The bottom line

A traditional bank isn’t your only option for getting a mortgage. Depending on what your lending needs are and how much you value building a relationship with your financial institution, a credit union might be right for you.

However, if you’re concerned about mortgage servicing, be sure to check with your credit union for more information about how they plan to handle your mortgage once it’s originated.

“I think consumers who are members of credit unions should certainly go to their credit union and find out what their loan terms are, what the application process is like and maybe even ask, ‘Are these loans that you hold or are these loans that you sell off?’” Zigas said.

Zigas also recommended practicing that same due diligence with other types of mortgage lenders and shopping around.

“It’s a very competitive environment, and there’s no assurance that your credit union will actually be offering you the best possible rate,” he said.

It pays to comparison shop before you settle on a particular mortgage lender. For example, if you were looking to buy a house that required a $300,000 mortgage, you could potentially save more than $42,000 in interest over the life of a 30-year term by shopping for the best rate, according to data from LendingTree’s latest Mortgage Rate Competition Index.

This article contains links to LendingTree, our parent company.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Crissinda Ponder
Crissinda Ponder |

Crissinda Ponder is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Crissinda here

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How Credit Report Disputes Can Sabotage Your Chance for a Mortgage

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Mortgage underwriting can feel like it’s taking a lifetime when it’s standing between you and your dream home. But your lender wants to make sure that you’ll be able to repay the loan, so they’ll take the time to go over your credit history with a proverbial magnifying glass.

Before you get to underwriting, you’ll want to make sure you’re a creditworthy borrower. This means maintaining a good payment history, paying down debt and disputing any errors on your credit report.

However, credit report disputes can impact your ability to get a mortgage if they’re still pending when you’re applying for a loan. This guide will explain how and why.

Why your credit reports and scores matter

One of the first things lenders look at is your credit report, which provides information about your credit history. It details whether you’ve made on-time payments on credit cards, loans and other accounts.

The information included in this report is summed up by a credit score that generally ranges between 300 and 850. The higher your score, the more creditworthy you are perceived to be.

Although credit scores aren’t the only factor that determines whether you’ll qualify for a mortgage, your credit score heavily influences the mortgage interest rate you receive. The highest scores qualify borrowers for the best mortgage rates.

Before you begin the homebuying process, it’s smart to review your credit report and have a copy handy. You can request a free credit report once a year from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, at AnnualCreditReport.com.

It’s critical to arm yourself with this information in advance. That gives you the opportunity to dispute any inaccuracies you’ve discovered and clean up your report.

What is a credit report dispute?

Credit report inaccuracies are relatively common. Inaccurate information can happen for a variety of reasons — a credit card payment being applied to the wrong account or duplicate accounts in your report giving the impression that you carry more debt than you actually do, for example.

Not only can errors harm your credit score, but they can prevent you from qualifying for a new credit account, such as an auto or home loan. That’s why it’s important to regularly keep track of the information found in your credit reports.

When you review your credit report and find an error, you have the opportunity to formally dispute it under the Fair Credit Reporting Act This is the first step to take to get the error corrected or removed.

Fortunately, it’s easier than ever to file a credit dispute with all three credit reporting agencies online.

How to file a credit report dispute

If you’ve found an error on your credit report, take the following steps to dispute it:

  1. Provide your contact information.
  2. Identify the items in your credit report that are inaccurate.
  3. Explain why you’re disputing the info and include documentation to support your dispute.
  4. Request a correction or deletion.

You’ll also want to reach out to the creditor that is reporting inaccurate information to the credit bureaus. Let them know you’re disputing the information and provide them the same documentation you’re giving to the bureaus.

In many cases, the credit bureaus investigate disputes within 30 days, according to myFICO.com.

However, many disputes can go unresolved for long periods of time, which can be troublesome for consumers applying for a mortgage. Many loan applicants don’t realize an open credit report dispute can raise a red flag to lenders and may even prevent mortgage approval.

When to file a credit report dispute

You’ll want to file a dispute as soon as you spot an error on any of your credit reports, but if you’re thinking about buying a home in the near future, it’s best to exercise caution when filing disputes, especially right before you apply for a mortgage.

Although the dispute investigation can wrap up in 30 days, it could last as long as 90 days, so it’s best to avoid filing new disputes a few months prior to starting the homebuying process.

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How mortgage lenders view credit disputes

When a dispute is filed, credit reporting agencies are required to label the item as “in dispute.” The dispute itself doesn’t impact your FICO Score. However, your score may temporarily deflate or inflate while the disputed items are being investigated.

Mortgage lenders know credit reports with disputed items don’t paint the most accurate picture of a consumer’s creditworthiness and many require this status be removed before approving a mortgage application. This leaves some consumers with a difficult decision to make — accept costly credit report errors or delay applying for a loan until disputes have been resolved.

Here’s how lenders who provide conventional and FHA loans consider credit report disputes when determining whether a consumer qualifies for a mortgage.

Conventional loans

Both government-sponsored enterprises, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, have automated underwriting systems that alert lenders to existing credit report disputes. These entities don’t issue loans, but buy mortgages from lenders that follow their rules.

Fannie Mae’s system initially reviews all accounts on a borrower’s credit report, even those that are being disputed. If the borrower would be approved for the loan even with the account in question, the loan moves forward. But if the disputed account would push the borrower into the “rejection” category, the system will direct the lender to investigate whether the dispute is valid.

Lenders using Freddie Mac’s system are required to confirm the accuracy of disputed accounts. The borrower would need to have the accounts corrected before the loan can move forward.

FHA loans

FHA-approved lenders require borrowers with disputed delinquent accounts on their credit report to provide an explanation and supporting documentation about their dispute. If the account has an outstanding balance of more than $1,000, the loan must be manually underwritten, which means the loan officer has to review the loan application and supporting documents outside of the automated system.

The loan officer goes over the paperwork included in the borrower’s file very closely to determine their risk of mortgage default and whether they qualify for the loan program that they’re applying.

Disputed medical accounts are excluded from consideration, but disputed accounts that are paid on time must be factored into the borrower’s debt-to-income ratio.

How to remove a lingering credit report dispute

Gaining access to a new credit report with updated information is not an option for the borrower if the creditor won’t correct the information. And when a consumer files a complaint with the credit reporting agencies, the agencies will often defer to the creditor.

Just as you’ve reached out to your creditor and the credit reporting bureaus to file your dispute, you’ll want to take the same action to remove it. Contact the creditor directly and request that they update the account information to show that it’s no longer being disputed.

You may also want to reach out to Equifax, Experian and TransUnion to request dispute removal, but keep in mind they may also reach out to the creditor who is reporting the disputed account. See the FICO website for more information about contacting each bureau’s dispute department.

The bottom line

Dealing with an unresolved credit report dispute can turn into a consumer nightmare. Even if you’ve followed best practices, you may still be unhappy with the results.

Fortunately, you can still submit a complaint to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. They will forward your complaint directly to the company in dispute and work to get a response from them. Another option is to seek guidance from a consumer advocate or an attorney. The National Foundation for Credit Counseling may be a helpful place to start.

Credit reports and scores have such a strong influence on lifelong financial health, so the most effective defense is to be proactive about making sure yours are in the best shape possible. Regularly monitoring your credit profile and working to fix inaccuracies before applying for a mortgage is a good game plan to prevent major problems as you embark on the homebuying process.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Crissinda Ponder
Crissinda Ponder |

Crissinda Ponder is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Crissinda here