Once you’re under contract to purchase a home, the real work starts for your lending team. One of the first steps for your lender is ordering a VA appraisal on the property.
The VA appraisal is an assessment of the property’s value and condition by an independent VA appraiser. It’s required for every VA purchase loan. But don’t mistake the appraisal for a home inspection. These are two different things, and appraisals aren’t as in-depth or detailed as a home inspection.
Unlike the appraisal, a home inspection isn’t required when you’re buying a home. But nearly all buyers choose to invest in one.
In fact, once they’re under contract, many buyers start with a home inspection to get that in-depth look at the property and its potential (or existing) problems. If you’re satisfied with the inspection and still want to move forward with the purchase, then you’ll move on to having the lender order the VA appraisal.
At that point, your loan team will send a request to the VA, and they’ll assign one of their independent appraisers in your area.
The purpose of the VA appraisal is two-fold. The first is to make sure the home is worth at least what you’ve offered to pay for it. The second is to make sure the property meets both VA and lender guidelines.
Let’s take a closer look at each.
1) Establish an Appraised Value
The first purpose of the VA appraisal is to establish a “fair market value” for the property. A lender is going to finance whichever is less between the appraised value and the purchase price of the home. Appraisers will look at recent comparable home sales, or “comps,” to help determine the property’s value.
VA appraisers look for at least three homes similar in size, age and location to the one you hope to buy. It can be tough to find good comps for unique properties like log cabins, A-frames and even homes on large acreage. Lenders will usually need at least one good recent comparable home sale in order to move forward on a loan.
2) Minimum Property Requirements
The VA wants to ensure that homes are safe, structurally sound and free of health hazards. In pursuit of that goal, the VA appraiser conducts a health and safety check of the property. Homes need to meet the agency’s Minimum Property Requirements, which we’ll cover next in more detail.
VA appraisers will look at the property’s interior and exterior and assess the overall condition. They’ll also recommend any obvious repairs needed to make the home meet the MPRs. Remember, this isn’t a home inspection, and the VA doesn’t guarantee the home is free of defects.
The Minimum Property Requirements have an important purpose, but they can also be frustrating for unprepared buyers and sellers. That’s why it’s so helpful to have a good understanding of the MPRs before you start the house hunt. By knowing some of the red flags and working with a VA-experienced real estate agent, military buyers can target homes that are likely to clear the VA appraisal.
Here’s a look at some of the major MPR issues:
This is by no means an exhaustive list. Properties may need to meet more localized requirements, too. Again, it’s important to understand that the VA appraisal isn’t the same thing as a home inspection. A home inspection is a more detailed and granular look at the property. Home inspections can uncover defects, problems and possible looming issues that appraisals might not. You’re not required to get a home inspection, but we strongly encourage you to do so.
The appraiser compiles the comparable sale and property condition information into a report that’s uploaded to the VA’s secure web portal within 10 business days on average, although it can be more or less depending on where the home is located and other factors. The appraisal report will have an estimated value for the property and list any repairs needed to bring it up to VA guidelines. Lenders don’t have any control over the VA appraiser’s timeline or their analysis.
Homebuyers are responsible for paying for the appraisal upfront. Costs can vary by state, but the fee is typically about $425 for a single-family home. You can essentially seek a reimbursement for this as part of your closing costs negotiation with the seller.
Appraisers have an important job, but they don’t actually have the final word on the property.
The VA requires every appraisal report to be reviewed by either a VA staff appraiser or a lender’s Staff Appraisal Reviewer (SAR). Many lenders don’t have their own SARs and must submit their appraisals directly to the VA for review.
Veterans United employs about 100 Staff Appraisal Reviewers because of our focus on VA lending.
A lender’s SAR is not an appraiser. The SAR’s job is to review the appraiser’s report to make sure the estimated value makes sense and that the property meets VA and lender guidelines. SARs can ask for clarification or corrections from the appraiser.
It’s actually the lender’s SAR who ultimately issues the final appraised value of the home, in what’s known as the Notice of Value (NOV). Once the lender receives the appraisal report, the Staff Appraisal Reviewer is generally expected to issue the Notice of Value within five business days. This timeline can stretch beyond five days if the SAR needs to obtain additional information from the appraiser.
The Notice of Value will also list any issues that need to be addressed or verified before the loan can close. Common examples include:
Repairs required in the Notice of Value must often be completed and reinspected before the loan can close. In some cases, lenders may allow you to put money in an escrow account and make repairs after closing. We’ll talk about this more in the next section. Policies and requirements can vary by lender.
Sometimes a home’s appraised value comes in lower than the purchase price. If this happens, talk with your real estate agent and your loan officer about how best to proceed. Sellers may be willing to lower their asking price to fit the home's value.
In a perfect world, the appraised value of the property matches or exceeds your purchase price, and no repairs are necessary to bring the home up to MPR standards. But that’s the best of all possible worlds. You’ll have some decisions to make if the appraised value falls short of the purchase price or if repairs are necessary.
Take a careful look at the appraiser’s findings, and talk with your agent and lender about the best way to proceed.
Let’s take a closer look at two common appraisal problems and potential solutions:
Challenge 1: Appraisal comes in low
A low appraised value can create serious problems for eager homebuyers. Your VA loan amount can’t exceed the appraised value (plus allowable costs and fees). So you have a problem if the home you agreed to purchase for $200,000 only appraises for $150,000.
An appraisal with a less drastic deficit often presents buyers with a few options. Here’s what you can do if your appraised value falls a bit short of your purchase price:
Challenge 2: Repairs are necessary to meet MPRs
The appraisal may also require that certain repairs be made before your loan can move forward. Extensive damage or finicky sellers can be VA loan deal-breakers, so aim for homes in good condition.
There are a few ways to handle required repairs:
The VA appraisal process is one of the most important parts of your homebuying journey. Talk with your loan officer if you have any questions about what to expect.