If you’re new to the appraisal profession, you might be nervous about inspecting your first property without a supervisor or mentor. What if you overlook something important? Once you gain experience and develop your own routine for inspecting a property, you will become much more comfortable in this role. No matter how you approach the home inspection process, the important thing is to develop a systematic, repeatable approach. It also helps to come prepared. Here are some insights on how to prepare for an appraisal inspection.
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Before the inspection
Twenty or thirty years ago, the appraisal inspection started when the appraiser arrived at the property. Today, with all the technological tools available online, the subject property inspection can begin from your desk before you even leave the office. Online mapping (aerial, satellite, GIS) can help you do preliminary research and discover areas of concern long before you visit the property. It is always advisable to obtain as much information as possible about the subject property before you begin the onsite inspection.
What to bring to the inspection
What tools and equipment should you take on an appraisal inspection? The content of an appraiser’s “toolkit” will vary from person to person. Here are some ideas to consider.
Camera: This is an obvious one. Some appraisers like a dedicated camera for their appraisal inspections; other appraisers use the camera on their smartphone. It’s a personal choice.
Measuring device: Another obvious one, but which one to use? Laser device, tape measure, or measuring wheel? This is another matter of personal choice. If you go with the laser device, it is a good idea to also carry a tape as a backup in case of technical difficulties.
Clipboard or tablet: Again, an item of personal choice. An increasing number of appraisers use tablet or smartphone devices where they can record the observations they make during their inspection. Other appraisers still use pen and paper, and there is nothing wrong with that.
Flashlight: Many appraisers use the flashlight on their phone. But sometimes it doesn’t provide enough light, particularly in vacant properties where the utilities are not functional. Consider carrying a small flashlight that fits in your pocket. You may want to keep a larger “D-cell” flashlight in your vehicle as well.
Step stool or folding ladder: This may be needed for accessing attic scuttles, particularly for FHA appraisal assignments.
Screwdriver: Why a screwdriver? It has multiple uses. It can be used to take the cover off a crawl space entry panel. It can be used to check wooden structural members for rot or insect damage. It can be used to remove an electrical outlet cover to check for insulation in the walls. (Most mortgage lending assignments do not require this, but it might be appropriate in some assignments, particularly those for litigation.)
Voltage detector: True, appraisers are not required to “test” the electrical system. But a voltage detector can be used to determine whether wires are live. This may come in handy if, for example, you encounter knob and tube wiring in the basement of an older home.
Coveralls or jacket: This is particularly helpful if you do FHA appraisal work. FHA requires that appraisers must enter the crawl space and attic, if possible. Even in non-FHA appraisals, you may need to get into a crawl space or attic, and you don’t want to get your clothes dirty. A waterproof jacket also serves the ancillary purpose of keeping you dry during an unanticipated rainstorm.
Miscellaneous: Some appraisers have their own preference for tools. For example, some take ice picks (for checking for termites or wood rot) or marbles (for checking floor level) or magnets (for determining whether old pipes are made of iron or lead). You may have your own personal tool or equipment preference.
How to stay safe during the inspection
When thinking about how to prepare for an appraisal inspection, safety is paramount. Many appraisers work alone, enter vacant houses, and walk around outdoors in neighborhoods that might be considered unsafe. You should not live in fear, but you should be aware of your surroundings and take precautions to limit the danger. Many appraisers carry pepper-spray, mace, or devices that emit loud warning sounds. Other appraisers carry weapons, subject to state and local laws.
If you are inspecting properties alone, we recommend that you provide your daily appraisal inspection itinerary to another person (colleague, secretary, family member, etc.) so that your whereabouts are known. Furthermore, it’s a good idea to provide address information to another person before entering a vacant property, and to send a code word to that person when you leave the property to verify you are safe.
If you see or hear something that makes you question your safety (e.g., hearing human voices coming from inside a closed room of a vacant house), you should leave the property and contact the authorities. Trust your instincts. If you sense danger, remove yourself from the situation.
Have questions about how to prepare for an appraisal inspection? Want additional insights on the inspection process? Our CE course, Residential Property Inspection for Appraisers, covers the ins and outs of property inspection and helps clarify your responsibilities as an appraiser.
Take a deep dive into how to prepare for an appraisal inspection with our highly-rated CE course, Residential Property Inspection for Appraisers.