I have Google Earth and I know how to use it

Originally published in Appraisal Today, thank you Ann O’Rourke for allowing me to republish

I have Google Earth and I know how to use it

Seriously though, as a reviewer, it is one of the first tools I reach for when I look up the property that is the subject of the appraisal I am reviewing. Assume all reviewers do. We use it to make sure that the property does not back up to, side against, or face some type of externality such as a major 8-lane freeway, massive shopping mall or toxic waste facility. Hopefully the appraisal that has one of these externalities addresses it. Sometimes the appraisals go to great length to discuss externalities and any effect on marketability and value. Sometimes there is a sentence or two. Sometimes crickets.

Yesterday I pulled up GE on the house that was the subject of an appraisal I was reviewing and it backed up to a bunch of buildings. Looked possibly to be a school, but the street view maps took me around the side and to the entrance of what turned out to be a large condominium complex. Absolutely no big deal, but there wasn’t one single word related to this in the appraisal. I asked a group of appraisers whether they would make a comment if their subject property backed up to a condominium complex, and the responses ran the gamut from “of course”, to “no way, it is already covered in the neighborhood check boxes”.

While the check boxes for the neighborhood include multi-family, they do not include condominium, and in this instance, there was nothing in the appraisal even hinting that there was a mixture of single-unit uses in the area. This property didn’t raise a red-flag insomuch as backing to a freeway, commercial shopping center or toxic waste facility, but it did raise a question and warranted a bit more research. This is fine as it part of my job, but as someone who actually reads the reports in front of me, I was just left confused as to why it wasn’t even mentioned. I was even more confused by why so many appraisers say that it is not worth mentioning.

Maybe it is being old fashioned, but I grew up with the understanding that an appraiser was the eyes and the ears of the client, and that anything that would likely raise a question for the client should be addressed. Of course the freeway, mall and toxic waste facility are givens, but wouldn’t anything that was literally in the backyard also be something that would get questioned? How many minutes does it take out of the process to write a few sentences about a condominium complex? Couldn’t it be as simple as saying “The subject backs up to the XYZ condominium complex and has a seasonal view of some of these buildings. There is no negative effect on marketability or value of the subject property related to its location adjacent to this residential use” or some such rot?

While it is easy to overlook potential concerns due to the amount of reporting we have to do (and remember, there is no such thing as a perfect appraisal), stepping into the mind of the client and asking yourself “what would the client be concerned about” is a very useful exercise. While the client may not care about the house backing to a condominium complex because it is a residential use like the subject, they may care about it backing to the complex if for some reason it does affect marketability and/or value. It is up to us, as appraisers, to report and analyze what it is we see, and although we can never catch every little thing, our value is partly measured by our ability to communicate and to analyze these nuances.

Remember, reviewers have Google Earth and other tools at their fingertips, and most use them.

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