Full or Desktop Appraisal. What’s Best for You?


Here at Real Estate Appraisals Austin we offer several different types of appraisal services to meet the needs of our diverse client base. Naturally this prompts some questions regarding the differences in these services. One of the most common inquiries we receive is; “What is the Difference Between a Full and Desktop Appraisal?”

The answer is pretty straight forward; a full appraisal includes a site visit in which the appraiser walks the property first-hand whereas a desktop does not. All other aspects of the appraisal are the same; the form, the methods to value, comps, etc. Note that for Austin commercial property appraisals we do not offer desktop appraisals but we can do limited scope assignments.

Where it gets a little fuzzy is when you need to know which service is better suited for your appraisal needs. This depends on a few things including what you are using the appraisal report for as well as certain features of the real property to be appraised.

Let’s take a look at some of the benefits and drawbacks to the Desktop appraisal service first.

Benefits of a Desktop Appraisal

Faster – Without the need to schedule a site visit, the appraisal report can be completed and delivered much faster, usually within 24 hours after being ordered.

Cheaper – Since the appraiser doesn’t need to spend time traveling to the property, performing the site visit, and then travelling back, the cost for a desktop is a good bit lower than a full appraisal.

Can Be Just as Accurate – For a desktop appraisal, the accuracy of the data available to the appraiser determines how accurate the final report will be. If tax records, photos and any other supporting documentation provided by the client accurately represent the property, then the desktop service is usually just as accurate as a full appraisal.

Drawbacks to a Desktop Appraisal

No Measurements – For a desktop appraisal the appraiser is relying on the county tax records for calculation of living area and square footage, unless other documents are provided. These records can often be inaccurate, especially is additions or multiple stories exist.

Unseen External Influences – Without seeing the property site first-hand, there could be possible external influences nearby that the appraiser might not locate with just a desktop appraisal. Is there a poor view from the back yard? A stone quarry nearby that causes excessive noise? Does a nearby landfill pollute air quality? These would be impossible for the appraiser to discover without a first hand view of the site.

Photos Must Be Provided – We always request that the client send us photos of the property for a desktop assignment; unless of course they tell us to just “assume” a certain condition. This sounds easy enough but most people aren’t photographers nor do they know what angles an appraiser is looking for. In general, we need photos of all sides of the home, the street both ways, the view from 360 degrees around the lot, then interior photos of all rooms that show floor to ceiling. This can be a lot for a homeowner to do and often the photos still do no quite “work” for our needs.

High Variation Market Areas – Markets that have a great deal of variation between properties pose a unique problem for a desktop appraisal. This would include neighborhoods with all custom builders, very old neighborhoods with a mix of ages and styles, areas with few sales, and unique properties.

Only for Private Use – A desktop appraisal can only be used as a “private use” instrument. If an appraisal is needed for a lender/bank, most IRS issues, legal matters, or other “formal” situations then a desktop will not be appropriate.

So with that covered, here is a list of times when a Desktop appraisal WOULD be appropriate and should be considered for all the reasons listed.

When is a Desktop Appraisal Most Appropriate?

Tract Homes – Neighborhoods built mostly by big name “brand” builders such as DR Horton, Morrison, Meritage, Lennar, etc. usually prove to be perfect candidates for desktop appraisals. This is due to the fact that build quality, age and styles are usually very similar amongst all the comparable sales.

Acting Listings – Houses that are currently listed for sale on the market by a Realtor are also good candidates for a desktop appraisal. A real estate agent has already performed a good deal of due diligence confirming listing information, taking photos and checking for any possible errors with public records.

Newer Homes – Recently built homes generally have all their public information accurate and up to date, given that they were just constructed. If anything is in question, the builder can always be contacted to confirm.

Condos – Likewise, condo associations usually keep very good records. I’ve also noted that county records are much better at listing accurate living area for condos than they are for single-family homes.

Investment and ARV – Another situation that lends itself well to desktop reports are investment or “After Repair Value” appraisals. In the first situation the property is usually in poor condition so seeing it first hand isn’t completely necessary. Furthermore, investors like Realtors have performed their due diligence and confirmed much of the property’s information already. The ARV appraisal is performed making a “Hypothetical Assumption” that certain repair, renovations or remodeling has been performed. This type of work doesn’t really require a first-hand view of the property either since we are assuming that it will look totally different.

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