Real Estate Appraisal during a Divorce

Real Estate Appraisal during a Divorce

You’re a spouse going through a divorce – friendly or hostile. One of you has probably moved out, and you’re both wondering what your share of the real estate will amount to. You’re going to have to deal with a division of property – usually, the family residence.

What’s the best way to find out the value of your property, so that you’ll know what you have coming?

Your attorney has probably already told you – you’ll need a professional real estate appraisal. You’ll have to have one to go through the divorce process. No mediator or judge can rule or determine how much your property is worth without one. So how does the process work?

Often, your attorney knows a reputable appraisal firm that will give an unbiased, arms-length, and stand-alone valuation of your property. He or she will arrange for the appraisal report on your behalf. Or, your attorneys may leave the choice of appraiser up to the two of you. This could be problematic. If you each have your own attorney, the best scenario may be for the two attorneys to agree to hire one appraiser.

The fee for the appraisal is paid for by the divorcing parties – usually split down the middle, unless each party orders a separate appraisal. Appraisers collect their fees in differing ways. Sometimes, it’s billed to the attorney that retains them on your behalf. Other times, it’s collected from the spouse that stayed in the home during the property visit. Ask your attorney or appraiser what to expect.

The appraisal process begins when the appraiser does a “property visit”. He or she will ask questions of the homeowner about the house. “Are there any problems or concerns with the property? “Any special circumstances I should know about?” He/she will take measurements, look into crawl spaces, check for updates to plumbing and electricity and any other amenities and do a visual inspection of the siding, roof and yard. She’s looking for features or conditions that may require a higher or lower value than is the norm for the neighborhood. Sometimes, features that the homeowner greatly values may not contribute to the home’s value in proportion to the price paid for them – such as a swimming pool or wine cellar.

Following the property visit, the appraiser compares your property with at least three similar properties in the surrounding vicinity that have sold within the last six months. The sales prices of the homes that sold determine their value. Using a standardized template, s/ he makes an itemized comparison between your house and each of the “comps”. He compares the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, square footage, existence of a fireplace or view, the general condition and so forth, making dollar-based adjustments in each category between the subject house (your property) and comparison house #1, #2, and #3. He will also provide comments and clarifications in the report, if necessary.

Finally, using his or her professional expertise and judgment, the appraiser will make a definitive analysis, giving the most weight to the comparable home that most closely resembles the subject. Thus a market-based value is arrived at for your home. Often, this final analysis is explained in narrative form.

Professional appraisers are bound to the utmost practice of fairness and objectivity through USPAP (Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice), and for members of the Appraisal Institute, the Professional Code of Ethics. Confidentially is a major requirement, as well. In no circumstance is an appraiser allowed to divulge information to either divorcing party or their attorney before the final valuation is made.

In the case where two appraisers, each representing one of the divorcing parties, arrive at two different values, then testimony is taken in divorce court regarding the appraisals. The judge will hear the opinion of each appraiser and make a judgment. It has been known that a judge will add up the two differing values, and divide the sum by two. Something like Solomon’s law, it might be said.

Self education can only help divorcing people, as well as any other segment. At an often confusing and stressful time of life, knowing the steps involved in separating one’s property in a divorce can bring a measure of comfort.

For more information on obtaining an appraisal during divorce, call or write:

Lamb Hanson Lamb Appraisal Associates Incorporated, 206-903-1500, Ex 216.
Patrick Lamb, CEO, will gladly answer your questions. He can also be reached at [email protected].