Because I am a real estate appraiser, a friend or family member will often ask, “What do you think my home is worth?” I usually reply with something like, “That would take some research to figure out” and then move the conversation away from value. An appraiser cannot just give an opinion off the top of their head, even if they are certain of accuracy, because appraisers are professionals who are required to maintain detailed work files anytime they offer an opinion of value.
An appraiser’s value opinion can be in the form of a range, a single number, or even as seemingly innocuous as providing some home sales that we think are “comparable.” The Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP) says that appraiser work files must contain information about the client and users, copies of the appraisal reports, summaries of oral reports, signed certifications, and, “…all other data, information, and documentation necessary to support the appraiser’s opinions.” Here is a list of some items that are important for an appraiser to have in their work file:
1. A copy of the signed engagement letter.
2. Appraisal inspection notes and photos.
3. Documentation of correspondence with the client.
4. Support for highest and best use.
5. Comparable search results, including land sales.
6. Documentation of data verification or other correspondence.
7. Support for or lack of adjustments, including market conditions.
8. Cost estimate data.
9. Copies of public and other data accessed online.
10. A copy of the completed written appraisal report or summary of oral report and certifications.
An appraiser’s work file (electronic or paper) should have sufficient documents that a peer could review the appraisal report and work file, follow the appraiser’s steps, and reasonably come to the same value conclusions. Having a sound work file keeps appraisers out of trouble with regulators, helps to defend appraisers in court, and encourages a high level of public trust as a profession. Without a detailed professional work file, appraisers would merely be fortunetellers.
Above is exactly what the 2014 thru 2015 USPAP Ethics says about the appraiser’s work file in the Record Keeping Rule.
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