The On-Site Appraisal Inspection
Some areas of the country, like Florida, don't have basements in the houses due to a high groundwater table that would cause flooding. These houses are built on a concrete slab and therefore there is no lower level. As you move from the lower level through the interior and up to the attic, move in a clockwise direction. This will help prevent you from bouncing around from room to room which may cause you to skip a room by accident.
Another very important item to carry is your camera. I take many photographs for each appraisal I do. If you do this then you'll have plenty of pictures to help you when you write up the report. Don't just take the minimum number of photographs that are required to do a form appraisal report. Make the extra effort and take photos of interior rooms, the lower level, the operating systems, the attic and the exterior of the house. You should also take photos of the neighborhood and anything else needed to help your client in reading the appraisal report. If you include these photos with your appraisal your clients will appreciate the fact that you provide them with more than the minimum requirements in your reports.
You have to remember to bring a 50-100 foot long measuring tape or an appraisal measuring wheel to take any pertinent dimensions. Some of the items that must be measured are: the outside dimensions of the house to estimate square footage, any decks, patios or pools, any garages, etc. You have to also bring a notepad so that you can write down the dimensions and a diagram of the exterior and the interior of the house. On the interior you'll be drawing a diagram with the layout of the floor plan to include in your written report. You don't have to measure the interior rooms, except for the basement. You measure the outside of a building to estimate the square footage. If you take measurements on the interior of the house you should add about six inches to the figures. This is done because generally you should measure from the outside of the finished walls.
I'll always start the on-site inspection in the lower level because this is usually where the operating systems are located. For an appraisal, I usually spend at least 20 minutes in the lower level of a house looking at the operating systems and for structural, water and termite problems. When doing home inspections, I spend a lot of time in the lower level of a house. Appraisers don't have to do an in-depth analysis of the condition of a house like a home inspector would. Take a good look around since the lower level is an area that can really show a lack of maintenance and problems that need to be repaired. We'll go into more detail on how to do the on-site inspection in the following pages. But for now I'll go through some of the basics.
Some signs of structural problems are large cracks in the foundation walls that are wider than 1/4 of an inch. Large horizontal cracks are very serious and must be evaluated by a licensed contractor!! Signs of water problems are indicated by efflorescence on the walls and floors. Efflorescence is the white mineral salts that are the residue left on masonry construction materials due to moisture. Another indication of water problems is rotted wood members on the floors and walls. Check the base of any stored items in the lower level and underneath the corners of any carpets or floor coverings. Signs of wood destroying insect damage are indicated by wood beams that appear hollow and decayed. Probe the wood structural beams where visible and accessible.
When you look at the operating systems, check for any signs of aging and a lack of proper maintenance. Obviously if the boiler, or any other operating system, looks like they're on their last leg then you have to take this into account when determining the overall condition of the house. Check for insulation in the ceiling and if there is any heat or air-conditioning provided to finished rooms in the lower level. Look at the main electrical panel and all sub panels to see if there is any rust on them. I'll go into more detail in the following pages to show you how to evaluate the condition of the house. If you learn this material well enough, you'll be light years ahead of the competition!!
If there are any finished rooms or structural changes noted, make sure you find out if all valid permits and approvals have been obtained for this work. If there are no permits then this could be a building code violation that has to be corrected.
Before leaving this area, don't forget to take your measurements and photographs of the basement and all operating systems. This way when you get back to your office, you can refer to them while writing up the appraisal report. Just use your eyes and common sense when you're doing your inspections and make notes on anything that affects the value of the subject property.