An appraisal is an unbiased professional opinion of a home's value. Appraisals are almost always used in purchase and sale transactions and commonly used in refinance transactions. In a purchase and sale transaction, an appraisal is used to determine whether the home's contract price is appropriate given the home's condition, location, and features. In a refinance, it assures the lender that it isn't handing the borrower more money than the home is worth. 
If you're refinancing a conventional mortgage, a low appraisal can prevent you from doing so. The home needs to appraise at or above the amount you want to refinance for your loan to be approved. However, if your existing mortgage is an FHA mortgage, you can refinance without an appraisal through the FHA Streamline program – a great option for underwater homeowners.
These appraisers also perform valuations on commercial property ranging from single to multiple tenant office buildings, shopping centers, retail, industrial, malls, hospitals, health care facilities, warehouses, and hotels to multi-family apartment buildings, co-ops, senior housing, condominium developments, and even vacant land, agricultural, and golf courses.  Regardless of the property type or local zoning, they'll determine the highest and best use of the project and assess the value using the actual or projected cash flow from the property's rent roll and financial statements, using both cap rates for capitalizing year one net operating income (NOI) and discounted cash flow (DCF) of multiple future income streams.  If you're a commercial lender, investor, builder, contractor, architect, or agent, you'll want to use these appraisers to conduct a feasibility analysis of any income producing real estate project you may be considering.  They can also help consult on construction costs and projected absorption rates.  They generally produce a commercial narrative appraisal when engaged for any commercial assignment.
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