Advertiser Disclosure

Mortgage

Why Lying On Your Mortgage Application Just Isn’t Worth the Risk

Editorial Note: Parts of this article were reviewed by a lender to ensure accuracy prior to publication. The overall conclusions, recommendations and opinions are the author's alone.

iStock

It’s been more than a decade since the housing meltdown when “liar loans” were frighteningly common, and unfortunately the number of borrowers who lie on their mortgage applications is on the rise yet again.Leading up to the housing crisis, unethical housing professionals took advantage of loan programs that didn’t require income or asset documents, and encouraged borrowers to lie on their applications to meet the approval guidelines. That often meant pushing homeowners and homebuyers to borrow more than they could afford.

The Dodd-Frank Act of 2010 all but eliminated liar loans in the aftermath of the housing bust, but that hasn’t stopped lying on applications from making a comeback. The crime committed when lying on a home loan application is called mortgage fraud, and with new laws making it punishable with jail time and million dollar fines, it just isn’t worth the risk.

Why people lie on mortgage applications

There are a number of reasons someone might lie on a mortgage application. The two most common are fraud for housing and fraud for profit. We’ll discuss what each is and provide some examples of how they might work.

Fraud for housing

This type of fraud is related to consumers that make up or inflate information on some part of their loan application to get a home, or keep the home they have. Examples might include convincing an employer to write a “new job letter” with a salary made up to qualify, or trying to persuade an appraiser to come in at a particular value to support a cash-out refinance.

The primary motivation for this type of fraud is to either buy a home, or access some of the equity that has been built up on a home. Home equity is the difference between what your home is worth, and the balance of any mortgage financing.

Fraud for profit

Industry insiders such as real estate agents, loan officers, attorneys, appraisers and even title companies are usually the perpetrators of fraud for profit. They use the entire loan process to steal cash and equity from both lenders and homeowners. Because of the sheer magnitude of economic damage fraud for profit schemes do to local housing markets, the FBI focuses most of its resources on them.

In some cases, home buyers may be part of a real estate fraud scheme involving real estate agents, mortgage loan officers or appraisers to acquire multiple properties in a short period of time, with the intent to immediately flip them for sale at a profit. In more sophisticated fraud rings, sellers may buy and sell houses within a certain area to artificially drive up values.

Unethical loan officers or real estate agents may try to convince inexperienced real estate investors to participate in these schemes, and in many cases they may indicate that there is no harm in a little white lie. But mortgage fraud is mortgage fraud, and you don’t want to be on the other side of the law if the FBI begins scrutinizing an application.

We’ll explore the most common types of mortgage fraud, based on recent reports and studies by Fannie Mae and Corelogic.

Seven common lies on mortgage applications

Lies on a mortgage application don’t just include things like stating you make more money than you actually do, or that you received a gift from someone who isn’t really related to you. You can also commit fraud by leaving off information like properties you own with no loans on them.

Corelogic issued a Mortgage Fraud Report in 2018 listing the most common types of fraud being found on loan applications. Although they are ranked based on how frequently they occur, any type of mortgage fraud is considered a federal crime, and will put the applicant at risk of prosecution.

Lies about your income

If you’re misrepresenting how much income you make or embellishing your employment history to try to get approved for a mortgage, you’re committing income fraud. Your income carries a lot of weight when a lender is determining whether you’ll be able to repay a mortgage loan. In fact, your debt-to-income (DTI) ratio, a measure of how much debt you have compared to your pre-tax income, is just as important as your credit history.

Your employment history is also important, and lenders prefer that you have at least a two-year history of earnings at your current job, with steady pay and no gaps in employment. However, you can get a mortgage if you’ve just started a job, or have recently received a large raise.

Dishonest borrowers and their employers may generate job letters with inflated starting salaries, or showing a large raise with manufactured paystubs. The income allows them to meet the DTI requirements on houses they otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford.

The number of applications with evidence of income fraud rose more than another type of mortgage fraud according to Corelogic’s mortgage fraud report in 2018.

Lies about living or not living the home you’re buying

Occupancy fraud is when the applicant lies about how they plan to occupy the property to take advantage of lower interest rates or down payment requirements. When you fill out an application you indicate how you will occupy the property you are buying or refinancing. You may choose to live in the property as a primary residence; on occasion as a second home (commonly called a vacation home); or as an investment property that you intend to rent out to tenants to earn income.

Interests rates and down payment requirements are the lowest on primary residences, which may motivate an applicant to lie about living in a property, even if they are really going to rent it out.

Another example of occupancy fraud involves buying an investment property, but indicating it is a second home to get better rates and make a lower down payment. This is most common with out-of-state buyers who may eventually plan to retire in the location they are buying, but rent the property out until they reach retirement age.

Lying about an investment property you actually plan to live in is called reverse occupancy fraud. Current lending guidelines allow you to qualify for a mortgage using the market rent on a property you are buying as an investment property.

Buyers with a lot of liquid assets, but very little income, may commit reverse occupancy fraud so they can get the benefit of the rental income on the property they are buying to qualify.

Lies about who is benefiting from the transaction

Transaction fraud arises when one or more parties to a purchase or refinance transaction lie about why they are getting a mortgage, or try to influence people with cash or profit incentives to buy a property on their behalf.

When you buy a home, you typically sign a purchase contract agreeing to a sales price, and costs associated with the sale of the property. Everyone involved in the transaction has to agree to how much they will be paid, and disclose whether they are related to anyone who is buying, selling or representing a buyer or seller. If the parties agree to terms they believe are fair, and there is no relation either by business or family, that would be considered an “arms-length” transaction.

Lenders do allow financing on non-arm’s length transactions, but scrutinize them to make sure all the parties are working in each other’s best interests.

Reverse mortgages fraud is a type of transaction fraud that has been on the rise as reverse mortgages have risen in popularity. A reverse mortgage allows a senior citizen to access equity in their home in a lump sum, or to create monthly income and does not require a monthly payment.

A child or unscrupulous loan officer might convince an aging parent to take out a reverse mortgage with promises of investing the money, or offer them a large commission or bonus for buying a house with a reverse mortgage. The predators in these schemes are usually trying to earn large commissions, or take the cash from the reverse mortgage proceeds, and the seniors may not even be of sound mind to understand they are being taken advantage of.

Lenders perform thorough checks of contracts and parties involved, and may require higher down payments, or flat out deny a loan if they believe a non-arm’s length party is trying to coerce the borrower to take out a mortgage.

Trying to convince an appraiser to lie about a home’s value

When a home is placed for sale, the seller provides certain disclosures about the condition of the property and real estate agents agree on a fair market value. An appraiser is hired to inspect the property and determine if the agreed upon price is fair based on the recent sales of similar homes nearby.

Before the housing meltdown, lenders, borrowers or real estate agents could pick any appraiser they wanted. Unfortunately, as the housing market heated up during the boom years, appraisers were chosen based on their ability to “hit a value,” which lead to sales at inflated prices.

When the housing market collapsed in 2008, many of these homes dropped in value rapidly, resulting in loan balances being higher than their market value. This phenomenon was called “being underwater,” and resulted in a high rate of foreclosures, as homeowners found themselves with homes that were worth thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, less than their loan balances.

To prevent this problem in the future, the government passed appraisal independence requirement laws that require lenders use a random rotation of appraisers. Many lenders now employ appraisal management companies with a roster of dozens of appraisers in different housing markets, and lenders, borrowers and real estate agents risk regulatory and legal action for attempting to influence an appraiser’s opinion of value.

Not disclosing other real estate you own

Many borrowers mistakenly assume if they own real estate with no mortgage they don’t have to disclose it on the application. In other cases, they may intentionally leave the property off of their application so they are eligible for first time homebuyer programs.

Whatever the reason, this is a form of fraud, and could result in a loan denial, even if the loan is initially approved. Lenders perform a series of quality control measures, which include checking national public records databases to be sure your name or social security number are not tied to ownership of a real estate anywhere else.

Even if you don’t have a mortgage on a property, you are responsible for paying property taxes, and in most cases maintaining homeowner’s insurance. Lenders will take the annual amounts and divide them by twelve, and count the monthly payment against you when you are qualifying for a new loan.

Many of these quality control tests are done right before closing, so it’s just not worth lying on your application by omitting real estate you own, because you could end up with an 11th hour closing crisis, or worse a declined loan.

Stealing someone else’s identity to get a mortgage

According to a study by Javelin Strategy in 2017, a research based advisory firm, 16.7 million people in the U.S. were affected by some form of identity theft in 2017. Examples of identity fraud include manufacturing a social security number, or using someone’s — such as an elderly parent’s — identity to obtain a home loan.

Given how long the average loan process takes and how intensive the identity checks are, it’s the rarest form of mortgage fraud. However, if you have an elderly parent, and they indicate that they are receiving notices about past due credit that they never opened, you may want to take action immediately to determine if someone is testing the waters with their identity information.

Lying about the source of down payment funds

One of the first red flags a lender will look for on your bank statements is large deposits. Lenders want to know where the funds for your down payment came from for a few reasons.

The first is, they want to make sure a third party is not providing funds as part of a straw-buyer scheme. A straw-buyer is usually someone with good credit and stable income, and is paid a fee to take out a mortgage on a home they don’t intend to live in, or make payments on.

The buyer may be given the down payment in cash, or as a gift by fraudulently filling out a gift letter indicating a family relationship with the buyer. Because lenders don’t generally request proof of relationship with gift funds, this type of asset fraud is hard to track, and may not be discovered unless there is a fraud investigation later.

To avoid having to document a large cash deposits, more sophisticated straw buyers schemes may involve mortgage lenders producing forged bank statements. The straw buyer may also be given small amounts of cash by a real estate agent or investor to deposit over time, making it look like they are saving up for the down payment themselves.

The other red flag with large deposits has to do with money laundering. According to a report from Accuity, a global risk insurance company, real estate money laundering schemes reached $1.6 trillion a year across the globe.

Crime syndicates and drug cartels try to make their businesses look legitimate by using the funds derived from illegal activities to make “normal” purchases, such as buying real estate. Anti-money laundering measures are designed to scrutinize any funds used to buy and sell real estate, and watch for patterns of deposits that would indicate an individual is trying to stay just under the threshold for cash deposits that might trigger a money laundering investigation.

Why it’s not worth it to lie on a mortgage application

There are a number of reasons you should avoid lying on an application. The consequences are severe, and laws passed since the housing crisis deal more harshly with incidences of mortgage fraud than in past years.

You could go to jail and be fined

Under current U.S. federal and state laws, a conviction for mortgage fraud could result in a 30-year federal jail sentence, and up to $1 million in fines.

Your loan could be called due

If a lender finds that you committed fraud, they have the right to call the entire loan balance due. If you are unable to sell the home, you could end up with a foreclosure, and the lender could sue you for any losses they incur on the resale.

Your employment options could also be severely limited in the future. Businesses take financial fraud very seriously, especially when they are making hiring decisions. If you have a conviction on your record for any type of mortgage-related fraud, your ability to get a job could be severely limited.

Financial service employment will be virtually impossible, and employers may not consider you for any position that puts you close to a source of money, even if it’s just running a cash register at a convenience store or using a computer system to input food orders at a restaurant as a waiter.

What to do if you spot fraud in your neighborhood

If someone has asked you to lie on a loan application, or you know someone in your neighborhood who has indicated that a “little lie” won’t hurt anyone, you should be aware of the proper authorities to contact. The cost of mortgage defaults due to fraud is often paid by homeowners in the neighborhood when the loans inevitably default once the scheme is discovered by authorities. In large scale mortgage fraud rings, like the ones that occurred during the housing meltdown, taxpayers can end up on the hook for bank bailouts.

You can take action by contacting the following agencies to prevent or investigate mortgage fraud:

U.S. Department of the Treasury Financial Crimes Enforcement Network: Provides information and resources on mortgage fraud.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD): Besides providing information about homeownership, you can contact a HUD counselor. They are trained to spot mortgage fraud, and may have resources for contacting the appropriate authorities in your area.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI): The FBI does investigate financial crimes involving mortgage fraud, so you can contact them if you feel there is a major fraud scheme going on in your neighborhood or town.

Final thoughts: Lying on a loan application is not worth it

Lenders have a great deal of responsibility for making sure loan applicants can repay their mortgages. Besides making sure you have the income, assets and credit to support your loan request, lenders need to verify the documentation provided is valid and verifiable.

There are a number of different reports lenders run to protect themselves from making fraudulent loans, because they can be asked to buy back a loan if an audit by a regulatory agency discovers they didn’t take proper fraud prevention measures. If any housing professional suggests that you omit or lie about something on your application, notify the proper authorities. It’s not worth risking jail time, million dollar fines or becoming unemployable because you lied on a mortgage application.

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.

Denny Ceizyk
Denny Ceizyk |

Denny Ceizyk is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Denny here

Compare Mortgage Loan Offers for Free

Home Purchase Quotes

Home Refinance Quotes

(It only takes 3 minutes!)

NMLS #1136 Terms & Conditions Apply

Advertiser Disclosure

Mortgage

How to Speed Up Your Mortgage Refinance

Editorial Note: Parts of this article were reviewed by a lender to ensure accuracy prior to publication. The overall conclusions, recommendations and opinions are the author's alone.

The saying “time is money” is even more true when you’re refinancing your home to reduce your monthly payment. The sooner you complete a refinance, the sooner you’ll be able to enjoy the benefits of lowering your payment and improving your financial situation.

There are steps you can take to move the process along more quickly. We’ll discuss these as we explain how to speed up your refinance.

Why speed is important in a refinance

Interest rates change on a daily basis. Once you lock in your rate, the clock begins ticking. If you don’t complete the refinance within the lock timeline, you could end up paying extension fees or end up having to re-lock at a higher rate.

Rate locks are usually priced in 15-day increments, although different lenders may offer other timelines. The shorter the lock period, the better your rate should be. If you can complete your refinance within one of the shorter lock-in periods, you’ll end up with a lower rate, lower costs or both.

Tip No. 1: Know what you want to accomplish with the refinance

If you’re objective is to save money every month on your payment, the refinance process can be incredibly fast. The simpler your goal is for the refinance, the easier it will be for the lender to approve your loan.

If a lender sees that you’re saving money and improving your financial situation with a lower down payment — and that you have made all your payments on time — it already has a pretty good idea that you’ll make a new lower payment on time.

However, if you’re applying for a cash-out refinance to consolidate debt, that may be a red flag that you are overextended on credit because your job or income is unstable, prompting lenders to request more proof of income to make sure you can repay your loan.

Tip No. 2: Pick a streamline refinance option

One of the benefits of government-backed loan programs, such as those offered through the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and Veteran Affairs (VA), is the ability to refinance under “streamlined” guidelines. These refinance programs don’t require any income verification, and they usually won’t require any appraisal.

They also don’t require a full credit report, and they only verify that you’ve made your current mortgage payments on time with a mortgage-only credit report. Because lenders don’t have to underwrite your income or an appraisal, the refinances can be completed very quickly.

If you have an FHA or VA loan and have made seven payments on time since you took out your mortgage, you are probably eligible for a streamline refinance option. The VA streamline program is more commonly called a VA Interest Rate Reduction Refinance loan (IRRRL), but it features the same income and appraisal flexibilities as the FHA streamline refinance.

Tip No. 3: See if you can get an appraisal waiver on conventional financing

When market values go up — as they consistently have for at least the past five years — conventional lenders may begin to offer appraisal waivers. Although you’ll still need to document your income and assets, conventional lenders may be able to offer you a waiver of your appraisal, which will significantly speed up your refinance process. It will also save you the cost of an appraisal, which is usually $300 to $400.

You may hear your loan officer talk about a property inspection waiver (PIW) or an automated collateral evaluation (ACE). These basically amount to a computerized system accepting the estimated value you input on your loan application as the appraised value for your refinance.

Appraisal waivers are usually only available on rate-and-term refinances, which are refinances paying off the balance of your loan to save money. If you are looking for a cash-out refinance to consolidate bills or make home improvements, chances are you’ll need a full appraisal.

Tip No. 4: Fill out an accurate and complete application

Take the time to fill out your loan application accurately. Be sure to provide contact information for your employer, your homeowners insurance company and a complete two-year history of your employment and addresses.

If you’ve applied for new credit accounts in the past 60 days, have a current statement handy in case the balance and payment haven’t yet appeared on your credit report. These may seem like minor things, but they can cause major delays if you don’t disclose them properly at the beginning of the loan process.

Tip No. 5: Have your basic paperwork ready to provide

Depending on the type of refinance for which you are applying, there may be very little your lender needs. However, there are some basics you should have handy to speed up the process, just in case.

  • Current month of pay stubs: If you aren’t doing a streamlined government refinance, this is usually the bare minimum a conventional lender will need.
  • Last year’s W-2: If you have high credit scores (above 720), you may not have to provide a W-2, but it depends on the type of income you receive. If you get overtime and commissions on top of a base salary, expect to provide two years’ worth of W-2s.
  • Current mortgage statement: This is needed to show that there are no late fees accruing. It also provides a snapshot of your current loan balance for your loan estimate preparation.
  • Two months of bank statements from a checking or savings account: Some lenders will only require one month. If you’re adding the closing costs to your loan balance, you may not need any bank statements at all.
  • Copy of your current homeowners insurance policy: Whether you include your homeowners insurance in your monthly payment or not, the lender will need this to calculate your total qualifying payment. It will also need to switch the lender information to show who your new mortgage company will be.
  • Current property tax statement: Again, this is required regardless of whether you have an escrow account. Your property taxes will need to be current, and the lender will need the yearly taxes to calculate your total qualifying payment.
  • Copy of your driver’s license or picture ID: This is needed to confirm your identity at your application and then again at your closing.

Tip No. 6: Apply with a digital or online refinance lender

You may see advertising or have a loan officer tell you about a digital or online refinance process. This generally means the lender doesn’t need any income or asset documentation to approve your loan, allowing the refinance to finished quickly.

That doesn’t mean they aren’t accessing your personal information in another way. New technology allows lenders to access your income and employment history through online databases. It can see your assets with “view-only access” to your banking accounts.

You generally have to work for a large employer to be eligible, and your bank accounts need to be with a large bank. You also need to be comfortable with giving your lender your log-in credentials for your bank for “read-only” access.

Tip No. 7: Stay at your current job

Your income and employment will be verified during the loan process and right before closing. Switching from a salaried to a commission position, or changing employers, will create delays in the process or prevent you from being able to complete the refinance at all.

Tip No. 8: Don’t make large deposits into your checking or savings accounts

If you are increasing your loan amount to cover your costs, you may not need to provide any bank statements at all. If you do need to provide bank statements, the first thing the lender will look for is large deposits.

If you received a large cash gift from a relative, or recently sold an asset such as a car or coin collection, avoid depositing the funds until after your transaction is complete to avoid having to provide documentation and explanations.

Tip No. 9: Provide only asset documentation you need for the loan

Refinance lenders only need enough documentation to approve your loan. If you have an extensive portfolio of stock funds, 401(k) plans or several different asset accounts, you don’t need to disclose them if you aren’t going to be liquidating them to complete your refinance.

Tip No. 10: Communicate any changes to your loan officer immediately

Sometimes a new job opportunity is too good to pass up, or a car breaks down requiring you to buy a new one. The most important thing is to immediately notify your loan officer of any changes to your employment, credit or assets so they can develop a game plan to prevent any unnecessary delays finishing your refinance.

Things that could slow down the refinance process

Sometimes situations can arise that you have no control over in the refinance process. You’ll need to make quick decisions to keep the refinance moving if you run into any of them.

Your appraisal comes in lower than estimated

A low appraisal could affect the viability of a refinance. This is especially true with conventional mortgages, where the interest rates are influenced by how much equity you have. Even a 5% difference in your estimated value could result in a higher rate, higher costs or both.

You can also dispute a home appraisal by providing recent, similar sales you think better represent your home’s value. If your value comes in lower, reach out to your loan officer to have a new break-even point analysis done to make sure the refinance still make sense. This calculation divides the total closing cost of your refinance by the monthly savings to determine how long it takes to recoup the costs. Getting your refinance done quickly isn’t beneficial if it takes you longer to recoup the costs than you plan to live in the home.

One caveat: Don’t give the appraiser your opinion about what you think your home is worth. There are very strict laws in place to make sure appraisers have the independence to evaluate your home’s worth without any pressure from an interested party. An appraiser can refuse to complete your appraisal, creating delays and potentially causing the lender to decline your loan.

Some states consider it a felony to influence a home appraiser, so it’s best to let the appraiser do the inspection, then dispute the value with recent sales if you don’t agree with the appraiser’s opinion.

You have a second mortgage you want to keep

If you have a home equity loan or a home equity line of credit (HELOC), you may want to keep it open and just refinance your first mortgage. This will require an extra approval process called “subordination” or “resubordination.”

Your second mortgage lender will need to agree to being “subordinate” to your new first mortgage. That means your first mortgage lender wants to have first rights to foreclose on your home if you default.

Home equity loan and HELOC lenders will usually have a process in place to approve subordinations quickly, but some have long turn times that may force you to lock in your mortgage for a longer time period.

Final thoughts about speeding up your refinance

Be sure to shop around to get the best rate possible. Once you’ve found your best deal, lock it in and be prepared to act quickly with any documentation requests from your loan officer and loan processor.

Taking all these steps will help speed your refinance up so that you can begin enjoying the benefits of a lower rate and monthly payment.

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.

Denny Ceizyk
Denny Ceizyk |

Denny Ceizyk is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Denny here

Compare Mortgage Loan Offers for Free

Home Purchase Quotes

Home Refinance Quotes

(It only takes 3 minutes!)

NMLS #1136 Terms & Conditions Apply

Advertiser Disclosure

Mortgage

Guide to Home Appraisals for Mortgages

Editorial Note: Parts of this article were reviewed by a lender to ensure accuracy prior to publication. The overall conclusions, recommendations and opinions are the author's alone.

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.”

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

Compare Mortgage Loan Offers for Free

Home Purchase Quotes

Home Refinance Quotes

(It only takes 3 minutes!)

NMLS #1136 Terms & Conditions Apply