The Real Deal Miami

New addendum allows sellers, buyers to highlight energy improvements for appraisals

By Kenneth R. Harney | October 07, 2011 01:30PM

Here’s some good news for homeowners who’ve gone green and installed energy-saving features but haven’t been sure whether appraisers will credit them with higher valuations: Thanks to a new industry-issued appraisal addendum, the odds have improved that they’ll get the fairer market value they’re due.

The Appraisal Institute, the country’s largest and most influential association in its field, published the long-awaited addendum Sept. 29. It’s designed to be attached to any standard appraisal report covering a property with significant green features. Owners, sellers, buyers, refinancers and real estate agents don’t have to wait for an appraiser to use it. They can download it at no cost and ask that it be made part of the appraisal submitted to the lender.

The new addendum won’t guarantee you that the appraiser will raise your property value by the tens of thousands of dollars you spent on your solar panel array, high-efficiency windows or geothermal system. But it should guarantee at the minimum that he or she will take notice of the energy improvements and seek to come up with a value adjustment for your local market conditions.

The three-page form is a response to growing concerns that although the Obama administration and many state governments and utilities are pushing homeowners to invest in energy-conserving components, standard appraisal forms — including those used by financing giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — are not set up to give adequate recognition to those often costly improvements.

The inevitable result: Owners are frustrated at what they consider lowball valuations. Refinancers can’t get the loan amounts they seek because the appraisal report doesn’t factor in the monthly utility savings they’re getting from their solar panels. Appraisers, for their part, say local real estate listing documents often don’t spell out in detail all the energy-efficiency improvements or they get the facts wrong. For example, appraisers complain that some real estate listings claim that the house is an “Energy Star Home” when in fact there’s nothing more than a few Energy Star appliances installed in the kitchen. The Energy Star Home designation is a much higher standard: It requires qualifying under a comprehensive set of criteria for the building envelope, lighting, windows, water heating and high-efficiency appliances, among others.

The institute’s addendum runs the gamut of improvements and ratings, and goes well beyond energy efficiency. Though it has basic sections covering insulation, windows, lighting, heating, air conditioning and solar, it also covers sustainability features such as the presence of water-saving or reclamation systems, landscaping that lowers either water or energy use, and even the presence — or lack — of public transportation nearby that might help lower fuel usage.

Kenneth Harney is a syndicated real estate columnist.