Portland Area Real Estate Appraisal Discussion

The Trouble with Appraising Split Entry Homes
March 18th, 2016 2:28 AM

Split Entry Home in Portland.jpg
My wife and I purchased our Portland area split entry home over ten years ago.  At that time, our real estate agent told us, “Buyers usually only buy one split entry home.”  I do not know if that statement is true, but it says something about the local perception of split entry homes and how they can be a unique appraisal problem.

A split entry, split (for short in our area), or two-story bi-level home is one where there is a small entry landing between two levels of the home.  This should not be confused with a split level home (typically called tri-level in the Portland area) where the entry leads to a main kitchen, living, and dining area of the home and you can either go up or down half levels to access the bedroom or garage levels.  On split entry homes, there is usually a half stairway that leads down into a daylight basement and garage or up to the main living area of the house, directly from the entry landing of the home.

The reason that split entry homes can sometimes be difficult to appraise, particularly if there are not many other splits in the area, is that they are functionally different than most homes.  Therefore, comparisons to other types must be made with caution.  Here is a list of negative aspects related to the marketing of split entry homes.

1.    Since the garage is usually on the lower level and the kitchen is usually on the upper level of a split entry, a simple trip to the grocery store means that all the groceries must be carried up a full flight of stairs to the kitchen level.

2.    Answering the front door on a split entry home can be difficult.  Imagine standing in a typical four by seven foot split entry landing where the door swings into the middle of that space.  Inviting your guests to also step into the roughly three feet by three feet that remains between the door and the base of the stairs can be challenging and awkward.

3.    The lower levels of split entry homes are often dark and cold because of concrete floors, partial concrete walls, and smaller windows.

4.    Split entry homes typically have the kitchen, living, dining, and bedrooms all on the main level.  For this reason, split entry homes can often feel small on the main level in relation to the total area and the relatively large lower level family rooms.

5.    Split entry homes frequently have uneven or less usable yards with retaining walls or steep slopes because the dirt excavated for the basement usually gets piled up and redistributed on one side of the home.  Also, split entry homes are often the best use of a sloped site.

Split entry homes offer positive aspects like lower build cost per square foot, ducting that is usually within the heated envelope, window privacy on the elevated main level, cool basements in the summer, and good separation of living.  However, in Portland, the negatives usually outweigh the positives; consequently, caution must be used in the appraisal process.  Here is my list of tips for appraisals of split entry homes.

1.    Select split entry homes whenever possible as comparable sales.  If none are available, the best alternatives in the Portland area are usually ranch homes with a daylight basement that also have a lower level garage or choose tri-level homes of similar vintage.  Recognize that split entry homes might be perceived functionally inferior to many alternatives. 

2.    Be aware that typically split entry homes are built as a way to get the most finished area for the lowest cost.  Therefore, split entry homes often lack other features that relate to quality.

3.    Use caution when performing the cost approach on split entry homes.  Many of the cost estimation sources will underestimate the cost of the basement on a split entry home, particularly if the user of the cost data does not understand exactly what is being estimated.  This is because the cost reflected for a finished basement will sometimes not account for the higher cost of the partly above-grade nature of the split entry basement.  For example, the added cost of partial stud walls and more and/or larger windows compared to a fully subterranean basement.

Did I leave anything out or do you want to join in the conversation?  Let me know in the comments below.

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Thanks for reading,

Gary F. Kristensen, SRA, IFA, AGA

Yes, you did leave something out. I hear split entry homes are incredible for growing giant pumpkins in the front yard. Can you confirm if this is true? :)

Posted by Ryan Lundquist on March 18th, 2016 7:39 AM
Thank you Ryan for the comment. You're correct, my split entry home is particularly well suited to giant pumpkin growing because we am on a south slope.

Posted by Gary Kristensen on March 18th, 2016 11:24 AM
I think it depends on where you are in the country as to the desirability of this type of home. We have a lot of them in the Birmingham, AL area. I have found that most of the time they sell for more per square foot than a raised ranch home with a basement. Most of the time the basement level is finished off so there is no problem with the basement feeling dark and cold. It's interesting to hear the perception these types of homes have in your part of the country. Great post Gary.

Posted by Tom Horn on March 18th, 2016 11:56 AM
Thank you Tom for your input. You're absolutely right, it is all about location in real estate.

Posted by Gary Kristensen on March 18th, 2016 12:17 PM
Nice post, in Chicago we call them raised ranches. The cons make a lot of sense and are good takeaways.

Posted by John Tsiaousis on March 18th, 2016 6:49 PM
That is interesting John that you call them raised ranches in Chicago because the post from Tom in Birmingham suggests that they use the term raised ranch differently. This just shows how different real estate is in different regions.

Posted by Gary Kristensen on March 19th, 2016 12:04 AM
Gary, Interesting post - as I continue to follow your blog I am eventually going to be educated enough to appraise houses. Keep up the good work.

Posted by Casey Lyon on March 21st, 2016 3:29 PM
Thank you so much for following Casey. I always find it interesting to hear commercial appraisers say that they could not appraise a house. To me, the home appraisal is a stepping stone to a commercial appraisal with all the same methods, just at another level. It's like Gordon Ramsay cooking Kraft Mac and Cheese. I'm sure he could do it, he just chooses not to. :-)

Posted by Gary Kristensen on March 21st, 2016 11:58 PM
Sadly for some South East Queensland home builders, the world isn’t flat. However, that doesn’t stop them wanting to build their “cookie cutter” homes exclusively on perfectly flat or gently undulating land. That option is becoming more and more unlikely in South East Queensland. Most of the level lots are developed and long gone, and the remaining pockets of land being opened up are quite hilly meaning sloping home sites. In fact, a list of suburb names in the Brisbane Statistical District alone reveals eight have the word “Heights”, twelve “Hills” and a further twenty-one contain the name “Mount” or “Mountain”. Even the Sunshine Coast has nine of the latter, and that doesn’t even take into account places like Montville, Maleny and Mapleton. Fortunately, at Civic Steel Homes, we LOVE building on sloping and steep blocks.

Posted by Civic Steel Homes on November 14th, 2017 7:47 AM


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