Tuesday, March 29, 2016


Here’s the current state of the market… I listed two homes this month, they were on the market a total of six days (combined), drew 86 total showings and 17 total offers.  All 17 offers over list price, and eight modified or waived the appraisal clause. 

In any other market, all 17 of these offers would have been winners.  But in this unforgiving low-inventory, high-demand environment, 15 of the 17 offers ended up as losers, with those buyers headed back to the drawing board (or the next open house) to continue their search.  

With both of these properties, our top offers were clearly beyond where these homes were going to appraise.  And since I represent the sellers, and it’s my job to get them the best price and terms possible, these deals basically now live and die with what buyers choose to do with the appraisal clause.

In short, any financed buyer is going to need a formal property appraisal.  And under traditional lending guidelines, the buyer’s lender is going to offer financing to that buyer based on the LOWER of the contract price or the appraised value.

Let me explain how this works.

Let’s say a property is listed for $285,000.  But in our supercharged multiple-offer environment, a  motivated buyer chooses to offer $300,000 for the home.  If the buyer plans on making a 10% down payment, that’s a $270,000 loan with a $30,000 down payment.

But let’s say the appraiser then does his site visit, compares the home to others that have sold in the area, and comes back with an appraised value of $290,000.  That means the lender is only going to loan 90% of $290,000 (the appraised value) instead of 90% of $300,000 (contract price).

90% of $290,000 is $261,000… but since the contract price is $300,000, that buyer would now need to bring in $39,000 instead of $30,000 for a down payment.  Is the buyer willing to do that?  And does the buyer have the means to do so?

This is the stumbling block for many transactions right now, and it’s the first topic of conversation between agents when it comes to evaluating offers. 

In the “old” days, before Denver became what it is today, a low appraisal was bad news for the seller, because 99% of the time the buyer would ask the seller to lower the contract price to match the appraisal, and with no other offers or buyers on the horizon, sellers would often capitulate.

Today, however, when a property fails to appraise, 99% of the time the seller is going to say “tough luck” (or some other variation of toughness) and the buyer is going to have to figure out how to come up with the money or lose the house.

The purchase contract states that any financed buyer has the right to get an appraisal.  The contract also further states that if the property fails to appraise, the buyer has the right to terminate the contract. 

Of course, all contract clauses can be modified by mutual agreement, and that’s where motivated buyers obtain separation from the pack.

In this environment, financed buyers basically have three choices when it comes to the appraisal clause:

WAIVE THE APPRAISAL CLAUSE – the most motivated and serious buyers will waive the appraisal clause up front.  This basically says “no matter what the property appraises for, I am willing to proceed with the contract, and make up the extra down payment required by the lender from my own funds if it fails to appraise.”  If you were selling and wanted a committed buyer, wouldn’t this be the offer you choose?  This type of offer is even more impactful when it shows up with a bank statement showing the buyer has the cash to back up his words. 

MODIFY THE APPRAISAL CLAUSE – modifying the appraisal clause says, up front, that if the property fails to appraise for the contract price, the buyer agrees to pay some fixed amount ($5,000… $8,000… $15,000… whatever number fits the buyer’s tolerance for a shortfall) above the appraised value, not to exceed the contract price.  In our example of a $300,000 contract price, let’s say the buyer agreed in the original offer to pay $8,000 above the appraised value, not to exceed the contract price.  If the property appraises at $290,000, all parties have agreed up front that the final contract price will be $298,000, with the buyer bringing in any extra funds required by the lender to cover the shortfall.

KEEP THE APPRAISAL CLAUSE – by not addressing the appraisal clause, the buyer is essentially saying if the property fails to appraise, the deal is toast unless the seller lowers the price to match the appraised value.  In this market, that’s not likely to happen.

For sellers looking at anywhere from three to 12 offers on any good piece of real estate, the appraisal clause is a critical determining factor in which offer is going to be chosen. 

As someone who lists a fair number of homes, this is where the rubber meets the road when it comes to evaluating offers.  Show me a buyer willing to write an offer representative of the market, with the fortitude to modify or waive the appraisal clause, and I’ll show you someone who is going to be under contract soon. 

Keep the appraisal clause intact, and I’ll show you a buyer who is going to see his contracts landing in the circular file again and again until all the serious buyers have come through.  Then, when prices are higher and the competition finally thins, it will be your turn, assuming you have the stomach to deal with months of rejection and you’re okay with paying five to 10 percent more than you would have paid by taking more committed action sooner. 

Which brings us back to a simple truth.  Buying a home is serious business, and it’s your job to be seriously educated.  If you believe in the law of supply and demand, that higher prices are inevitable when every home is drawing multiple offers and there is a 31-year low in inventory, that unemployment of 3.2% in the metro area and 270 people per day moving to Colorado will continue to positively impact the market… then it only makes sense that the smart move is to do whatever it takes to buy sooner rather than later.

To be jelly-legged about the appraisal clause is to say you don’t trust the market, you don’t trust the numbers and you don’t trust yourself to make a sound decision.  If that’s the case, then walking away now and signing another lease is probably the better move, because if you don’t have the fortitude to compete, it’s best not to climb into the ring.