Dividing assets is one of the most difficult issues that can trouble a couple who has decided to end their marriage. The problem can be especially difficult for a couple who owns substantial assets. Valuing the family home can be especially difficult both because the home is likely to be the couple’s most valuable asset and because the home has enormous emotional significance to both the couple and their children. One way to ease the valuation process is the use of a professional real estate appraiser to provide an expert opinion of the property’s fair market value. Understanding the appraisal process can help both parties reach an agreement on how to divide this crucial asset.
Hiring an appraiser
Choosing an appraiser can be the most important aspect of the appraisal process. Most professional appraisers subscribe to the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP), a code of regulations that insures that a competent appraiser will follow certain ethical and procedural rules that have been adopted by the entire appraisal industry. An appraiser who does not subscribe to the USPAP code is probably not reliable and should not be hired in the absence of significant recommendations from other appraisers or attorneys.
Beginning the appraisal process
The appraiser begins the appraisal process by visiting the property to be valued (the “subject”). The appraiser will conduct a careful inspection of the subject, including making measurements of each room, photographing both the interior and exterior of the house, noting any special features, and evaluating the physical condition of the subject. The appraiser will also note the extent to which the subject appears to vary in value with surrounding properties.
Comparison approach to value
Appraisers can use one of three approaches in reaching their opinion as to value. The replacement cost and income approaches are rarely used for residential property (although the income approach to value can be used for properties that contain residential units). The most common approach to value is the comparative market valuation. In using this approach, the appraiser gathers information about the sales prices of houses that have recently changed hands. The sale prices can be obtained from public records. The appraiser then compares the features of the comparable properties with the features of the subject. After making these comparisons, the appraiser forms an opinion as to the fair market value of the subject. In forming this opinion, the appraiser assumes that the fair market value will the price to be paid by a willing buyer to a willing seller.
The appraiser will then prepare a written report using the standard form prescribed by USPAP regulations. The report is given to the party who ordered the appraisal and to the court. Depending upon the nature of the case, a copy may also be given to the other party. In any event, the parties both have a reliable estimate of the value of the family home. Anyone with questions about the appraisal process may wish to discuss them with an experienced divorce attorney.