The main tool in the appraiser's kit is the sale prices of homes in the area. If they can find similar houses nearby in similar condition that sold recently for, say, $300,000, they can assume that the home they are appraising is worth a comparable amount.But with sales volume falling, there are fewer homes with which to compare. In fact, sales of new homes crashed in January to the lowest level in 45 years, and existing home sales fell to a 12-year low, and even when there are recent sales figures, they often don't hold up as a reliable baseline. Appraisals are estimates of market value at a given time, and with prices in free fall, values "age" quickly.
"We just don't have a flow of transactions to be able to come up with credible values," said Jonathan Miller, president of Miller Samuel, a noted New York appraisal firm. "Closed sales are now largely irrelevant because they're so far behind the market."
In fact, Marc Savitt, president of the National Association of Mortgage Brokers, recently had a bank underwriter object that none of the appraiser's comparable homes were near enough.
"They told him they wanted comps within a mile," said Savitt. "But, the market the way it is, there haven't been many sales and there were no recent comps within a mile."