Inspection vs. Appraisal for Home Buyers

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Inspections and appraisals are both important parts of the home buying process, and buyers should do both to protect their financial interest in a home — and give themselves peace of mind that they’re making a smart purchase. Inspections and appraisals serve different functions, but both give you the insights you need to avoid large financial missteps.

What is the difference between an appraisal and an inspection?

The main difference between an appraisal and an inspection is that an appraisal deals with the value of a home, while an inspection deals with the condition of the home.

Appraisal: An appraisal is a walk-through and a general assessment of a home, analyzed with the help of nearby comparable sales. The goal of an appraisal is to determine the fair market value of a property. It is conducted by a licensed professional appraiser. While an appraiser will visit a home in person, the majority of the work will be done in their office, as they compare the home’s features, location, and finishes with other comparable recent sales in the area. An appraisal usually costs around $400, depending on where you live and the size of your home.

Inspection: An inspection is a deeper dive into the condition of the specific home. A licensed home inspector will spend multiple hours doing a comprehensive review of the home’s condition, both visually and by testing functionality of major systems. After completing the inspection, they will provide recommendations to the buyer on items in the home that should be repaired or replaced before closing. A home inspection costs between $250 and $700, depending on where you live and the size of your home.

Do lenders require appraisals?

Yes, most lenders do require appraisals in order to approve financing. Lenders want to protect their investment by ensuring they’re not financing a loan for more than the property is worth.

Do lenders require home inspections?

Lenders providing conventional financing do not usually require home inspections, but they are still strongly recommended. FHA or VA loans usually do require inspections.

Do I need an appraisal and inspection when buying a home with cash?

Cash buyers often opt to do an appraisal and inspection, even though they’re not required. Some cash buyers, particularly home investors, may waive the inspection or appraisal if the home is being sold “as is” or if they are competing with other offers and want to close quickly.

Regardless of how you’re paying, an appraisal can give peace of mind that you’re not overpaying for a property, and an inspection can uncover potentially costly issues and necessary repairs.

What happens during an appraisal?

During an appraisal, a licensed appraiser evaluates the home you want to buy in person and gives you an estimate on how much it’s worth. Typically, the appraiser is chosen by the lender but paid for by the buyer as part of the closing costs.

Appraisals cost around $400, but can cost a bit more or a bit less depending on your home size and location. The appointment usually takes about an hour, and then the appraiser will complete the report back at their office.

1. Assessment of property

The appraiser will walk through the home, taking note of its condition, finishes and location — consider it somewhat like a light inspection.

2. Review of comparable sales

The appraiser will use the findings of their walk-through to identify similar homes that have sold recently in the neighborhood. This will help them decide upon a fair market value.

3. Final report

The appraiser will deliver a physical report on the fair market value of the home, including photos and descriptions of comparable sales. In most cases it’s just the lender and the buyer who will receive copies of the report. The seller may request a copy of the appraisal report, but in most cases you are not required to share it.

Ideally, the appraisal will come back higher than the agreed-upon sales price. That indicates that you’re paying less than the fair market value and your lender will approve the loan.

What if the appraisal comes in low?

Appraisals that come in below the agreed-upon sale price are commonly referred to as low appraisals. When an appraisal comes in low it can jeopardize your ability to acquire the loan you were pre-approved to get, causing a headache for buyers.

Low appraisals can happen for a couple reasons:

  • Bidding wars with multiple buyers drive the price up beyond market value.
  • There’s a lack of relevant comparables to use as a basis for the home value.
  • You’re buying in a high season (like late spring) and the only available comparables are from other points in the year.
  • The appraiser is inexperienced.

Buyers who are using financing have a few options to work around a low appraisal:

  1. Contest the appraisal: You can contact your lender and point out any glaring issues or errors in the appraisal report, then request a new appraisal.
  2. Pay the difference: To make up the difference between the amount your lender is willing to finance and the offer price, you can pay cash or ask the lender if you can restructure your financing.
  3. Ask the seller for a price reduction: If the appraisal was accurate and the home is indeed worth less than what you’re offering, you may not want to overpay. To avoid having to back out completely, consider asking the seller for a price reduction, using the appraisal report as proof the home is overpriced.

What to expect from a home inspection

Scheduling a home inspection is one of the first tasks you’ll want to do after the contract is signed between you and the seller. Although, in some low-inventory markets, buyers sometimes hire an inspector prior to making an offer. It’s up to you to pick a home inspector you trust, and most people ask their agent for a recommendation, get a referral from friends or family members or search online reviews.

Since the goal of a home inspection is to get a comprehensive report of the condition of the home you’re buying, a home inspection takes between three and four hours, sometimes more. Unlike an appraiser who does a visual check of the home, your inspector will both examine and test functionality of your home’s key systems, including:

  • Plumbing
  • Roof condition
  • HVAC
  • Foundation
  • Appliances
  • Drainage
  • Water damage and mold

However, a home inspection may not find every potential issue in the home, especially if they are hidden or seasonal, so buyers should discuss any exclusions with the licensed home inspector both before and after the inspection itself.

Who attends the inspection: Usually, the buyer and their agent will both attend the inspection. This allows you to have the inspector walk you through any red flags in real time, while also giving you the chance to familiarize yourself with how the home’s systems work ahead of moving.

What happens after the inspection: After completing the on-site inspection, your inspector will provide a written report that highlights their findings, including photos.

Specialized inspections for buyers to consider

While inspecting the home’s major systems and features is standard practice, your inspector may recommend a second, more specialized inspection if they notice issues including:

  • Radon
  • Pests
  • Septic
  • Lead paint

Why home inspections are important

The few hundred dollars you’ll spend for a home inspection is a small price to pay for the opportunity to confirm that the home you’re about to buy is free of major — and costly — issues. It’s no wonder 83% of buyers reported having an inspection done, according to the Zillow Group Consumer Housing Trends Report 2019.

Risk of not having an inspection: While some buyers opt to waive their inspection contingency to make their offer appear stronger, this means they’re essentially buying the home “as-is,” and any issues discovered after closing will fall 100% to the buyer to repair, even if they were present before closing.

Why disclosures aren’t enough: In most states, sellers are required to disclose underlying issues in the home that they know exist (specific disclosure requirements vary by state). While disclosures are an important protection, they only cover un-repaired issues that the seller knows about — there’s no guarantee that the home is free of other underlying issues or that the repairs were made correctly. A home inspection is simply the best way to find out about any potential problems in the home.

If you buy a Zillow-owned home, you’ll have the peace of mind that comes with knowing the home went through a pre-listing home evaluation process and was renovated by local professionals to make it move-in ready. Of course, you’re always welcome to do your own inspection, too.

How are home inspections and appraisals similar?

Despite having two different processes and requiring the services of two different professionals, appraisals and inspections do share some similarities:

1. Appraisers and inspectors are licensed

Both roles require licenses and extensive training. Both appraisers and inspectors act as impartial third parties, paid to provide their professional opinion.

2. Buyers pay for both inspections and appraisals

Usually, the buyer selects the home inspector they want to work with and the lender selects the appraiser. The buyer pays for both the inspector and the appraiser, unless otherwise negotiated.

3. Appraisal and inspection both occur during escrow

The home inspection usually happens within the first week after your offer is accepted — the sooner the better, so there’s time to fix any issues flagged in the inspection report or renegotiate with the seller. The appraisal also happens during the escrow period, usually a week or two before closing.

4. Appraisal and inspection results allow for negotiations

Assuming you’ve structured your offer to include contingencies for both the appraisal and inspection, you’ll be allowed to renegotiate your offer based on the findings. If the appraisal comes back low, you’re allowed to renegotiate with the seller to figure out how to cover the difference between the appraised price and the offer price. Similarly, if the inspection report uncovers significant repairs, you’ll have a period of time where you can request repairs or credits, or back out of the deal without losing your earnest money.

Source: zillow.com

How Long Does It Take to Close On A House?

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The closing process on a home purchase can take anywhere from a week to 60 days, depending on the property type, whether or not you’re buying with a mortgage and what type of loan you’re taking out. The closing process includes two distinct periods:

Escrow is the period of time between when you and the seller sign the contract and the day you close.

Closing day is the day you sign all the paperwork, get the keys and become the official owner of a home.

How long does it take to close on a house with cash?

Part of what makes closings take so long is the financing requirements, so buying with cash can expedite the process. If you’re buying with cash, you can close as few as seven days after contract execution, assuming you’re willing to waive contingencies. However, only 23% of buyers purchase their homes with all cash, according to the Zillow Group Consumer Housing Trends Report 2018.

How long does it take to close on a house with a mortgage?

Buyers who use conventional financing to purchase a home can expect to close 30-45 days after the contract is signed. Special loans, such as first-time home buyer programs, VA and FHA loans can take longer to close because the requirements are stricter.

The escrow process timeline

After you’ve made an offer on a home and both you and the seller have agreed on terms (including price and closing date) and executed the contract, you’re officially in escrow. These are the steps that are usually part of the escrow process, and how long each step typically takes. Keep in mind that the escrow process and timeline can vary based on your market, lender, property type, financing type and the overall complexity of the transaction. You should also note that some of the steps below happen concurrently.

  1. Execute the contract and confirm closing date
  2. Open the escrow account (a few days)
  3. Complete inspection and repair requests (1-2 weeks)
  4. Mortgage application and underwriting (5-20 days)
  5. Appraisal (1-2 weeks)
  6. Acquire homeowner’s insurance and title insurance (1 day)
  7. Get loan approval, commonly called “Clear to close” (1 day)
  8. Do a final walk through (1 day)
  9. Attend your closing appointment and close on your new home (1 days)

According to Zillow Consumer Housing Trends Report 2019, 57% of buyers who attained a mortgage said one of their concerns was being unclear on how the mortgage process works. To make sure you fully understand the steps, stay in close contact with your real estate agent, real estate attorney (if you have/need one) and lender. They’ll be able to answer any questions you have and provide documents you need to sign, so be available to turn those requests around as quickly as possible.

The process of buying a house with cash

If you’re buying a home with all cash and still including common contingencies (like a home inspection contingency), your process will be the same, except you won’t have to do a mortgage application or wait for loan underwriting and approval. Some cash buyers opt to waive contingencies, which can speed up the process.

How long after the appraisal can you close?

Assuming there are no issues with your appraisal, the lender will send the “clear to close” about a week before the agreed-upon closing date. If you’ve requested a longer escrow period and a later closing date, you may get your “clear to close” well in advance of your closing date.

What causes delays when closing on a house?

Your closing date will usually be agreed upon with the seller during offer negotiations. But, your closing date could get pushed back a few days (or even a few weeks) based on unexpected setbacks. Here are some of the common issues that can lead to a delayed closing.

Buyer financing

Most of the time, delayed closings are related to finalizing your mortgage. This can be anything from appraisal concerns to missing financial documentation to an inexperienced loan officer.

Changes to your creditworthiness

If you’ve made large purchases, taken out another loan that negatively impacted your debt-to-income ratio or had a significant change in your income between the time you were pre-approved and closing, your lender may need to re-evaluate your credit profile, which can take time.

Low appraisal

If your appraisal comes in at or above the contracted sale price, it should be smooth sailing. But, a low appraisal could leave you needing to renegotiate with the seller or come up with enough cash to cover the difference between the home’s appraised value and the sale price.

Title issues

If the seller has any unresolved liens or judgments on the home, or if any other ownership disputes are uncovered during the escrow process, the closing can be delayed while these issues are resolved.

Homeowner’s insurance

In order to close, you must have proof that you’ve secured a homeowner’s insurance policy on the property you’re buying. If you miss this step or don’t have the correct documentation, your closing could be delayed.

Home sale contingency

If your contract says you can’t close until your previous home sells, your closing could be delayed if it takes longer than expected.

Slow repair requests

If you’re going back and forth with the seller on repairs needed based on the home inspection report, both the negotiations and the repairs themselves can slow down your closing timeline.

Unsatisfactory walk-through

Right before closing, you’ll do a final walk-through of the property. If the home isn’t in the same condition (or a better condition, if you negotiated repairs) than when you made your offer, you may delay closing until issues can be resolved.

Tips for staying on your closing timeline

Even if you’re buying with a mortgage (and you’ll be among the 77% of all buyers who are), you can help expedite the closing process by being prepared, responsive, diligent and decisive both before and during the escrow period.

Get pre-approved

Before you even start searching for homes, take the time to get pre-approved so you’ll know ahead of time that you’re eligible for a loan in the amount you need. Not only will it help you prevent delays during the escrow period, but it will make any offers you submit look more legitimate in the eyes of sellers, since they know you can pay for the home.

For a pre-approval, you’ll need documents that verify your income, like paystubs, bank statements and tax returns. You’ll also want to make sure your credit report is error free, as your lender will run your credit as part of your pre-approval.

Schedule the inspection as soon as possible

As soon as your offer is accepted and the contract is executed, schedule your home inspection. In some states, you are required to schedule the inspection within 7-10 days. After you receive the inspection report, you will have a few days to review and request repairs or credits from the seller. Keep in mind, the seller will have a few days to respond as well.

Buyers of Zillow-owned homes can have peace of mind that the home has been recently updated by licensed contractors. Of course, you’re still able to do your own independent home inspection.

Have a backup plan in case of a low appraisal

Appraisal reports can vary, and very rarely do two professional appraisers value a home exactly the same. If the home you’re buying appraises for less than the sale price, your lender won’t let you finance the home using the full sale price. If your appraisal comes back low, you have two options: either make up the difference in cash, or renegotiate the sale price with the seller. If you’re in a hot market where sellers have their pick of multiple offers, you shouldn’t expect the seller to lower their price to accommodate a low appraisal.

Hire an experienced lender

Find an experienced lender that is familiar with the intricacies and requirements of your market for a seamless and transparent closing process. Opt for an online lender to further optimize your experience. In fact, 15% of buyers who used a mortgage to finance a home in 2019 obtained their mortgage through an online lender. Though, younger buyers are more likely to choose an online lender option.

Be quick to respond to documentation requests

It’s likely that your lender will need updated financial documents, signed disclosures and other information as they prepare your loan for closing. Your title or escrow company may need you to complete certain tasks, too. Respond to all requests as quickly as possible to keep the escrow process moving forward.

How long does closing day take?

Closing day — that is, the day you go to the closing agent and sign your final paperwork to buy the home — typically takes between 1.5-2 hours if everything goes smoothly, but you’ll want to leave ample time in your schedule in case it takes longer.

During your closing appointment you’ll sign documents (a list of typical documents is below) and pay your down payment. Your lender will also wire the balance of the sale price at this time. The title or escrow agent will facilitate the closing appointment, but you’ll want your agent and/or attorney to be present as well. In closing attorney states, the attorney may facilitate the closing appointment. Be sure to bring your ID, a cashier’s check, proof of insurance and your purchase and sale contract.

Buyers usually must attend this meeting in person, whereas sellers can sometimes sign their paperwork ahead of time.

What documents do buyers usually sign?

  • Promissory note
  • Mortgage/deed of trust
  • Escrow disclosure
  • Signature affidavit
  • Initial mortgage payment
  • Appraisal acknowledgement
  • HOA documents (if applicable)
  • Certificate of occupancy (new construction only)
  • Equal Credit Opportunity Act disclosure
  • Truth-in-Lending disclosure
  • Mortgage fraud statements

Source: zillow.com