Complimenting Liability

There is a natural tendency for me to want to compliment a home before I leave simply because I want to be polite. However, I have often wondered whether complimenting a home could potentially be used against me.

While I have never had this happen to me personally, there are a couple instances that I can imagine where a compliment may be used against me. Suppose, for example, that I tell the homeowner that they have a lovely home, but then report a value that was lower than they were expecting. I sometimes worry that they may say something along the lines of, “He told me that my home was lovely and then reported a value that did not reflect that statement.” I also worry that complimenting a home could potentially create a conflict of interest because I am supposed to be an unbiased third party and complimenting the home could appear as though I am taking the side of the homeowner.

Honestly, I don’t have a good answer for this yet, but I would love to hear your opinions on this subject. Perhaps it merely comes down to finding creative ways to compliment the home in a way that won’t be misinterpreted and possibly used against you. What are your thoughts?

For more information on this subject, please download and listen to The Appraiser Coach Podcast Episode: 222 Is Complimenting The Homeowner’s House Being Biased


12 thoughts on “Complimenting Liability”

  1. I do thank the homeowner for access to their home. However, I never mention any reference to being lovely as I only rehash what I have seen .They can tell me if I missed any updates in particular.

  2. I have often considered this dilemma as well. By my nature I like to put people at ease while I’m in their home however I realize there is a potential impact of every word that I say. I don’t believe it creates any real ultimate liability to complement a property however I have had some challenging conversations after the report didn’t come out where they expected. I don’t really know the answer either. One hates to be a cold tactician around home owners however it is the safest bet I suppose. Another dilemma is when they offer you a bottle of water on a hot Texas afternoon!

  3. Off subject topic- Could you please explain your position regarding the end of our profession as we know it. Making a living doing residential real estate appraising appears to be over with. The news of Fannie Mae with the new forms, no appraisals needed for homes under $400,000 and the reported fees for Property Data Collectors (anyone can do) being extremely poor. I had a good 27+ years in the business, but this is now looking to be a much lower-paying profession and would be part-time at best. I know the profession is changing, but these are huge blows to our profession. I think It will be hard to make a decent living with doing private work, relocation, and the NEW or non-existent mortgage appraisals. Please share your thoughts. Thanks.

  4. I’m a strong proponent of observe, analyze, and report. Keep it strictly neutral in person to person interaction and in the report itself. You never know whose ire you might draw with a stray comment.

  5. This is a good topic. I often compliment a home for the reasons stated above, to put the homeowner at ease and make the appraisal inspection less formal and cold; it’s often easier to get information from the owner if they are at ease. I have also had several negative reactions, including a horribly nasty email that castigated me thoroughly for being so nice at the inspection while mentioning completely inappropriate comparable sales I could have used. Neutral is better, but I probably will continue to engage the homeowner with minor compliments if for no other reason than to keep any conversation away from the home’s value.

  6. Thomas Boyle is right on. I’ve heard many more stories from users of appraisal services that stated the appraiser was ‘cold and not engaging’ and as a result the user of the service, associated that appraiser characteristics with not fully grasping some ‘feature’, ‘quality’ or ‘amenity’. Balance yes, but I find being complimentary and engaging with a homeowner far out-weights the potential for being abused by those comments later.

  7. I also agree with Thomas above – I have always tried to say something nice about the property to put the home owner at ease and just be polite while doing the appraisal inspection. I haven’t had it bite me yet but have heard back from many lenders over the years about how polite and nice the appraiser was and what a thorough job was done during the inspection. I don’t know the correct answer to the question, but will always lean toward saying something nice to the home owner about their Home, it has served me well for more than 20 years!

  8. I usually like to ask people about their hobbies, personal lives, or personal property this makes the conversation about things they enjoy and not about the house and also makes the appraiser seem less cold as others have said. They have a fish on the wall-ask them about fishing, sports car in the garage ask them about that. There is always a holiday coming up. Ask the homeowner if they have big plans for Labor day weekend, big plans for Christmas, etc. If you find a cool unique feature in a house instead of complimenting them on it ask them how they like it or how they enjoy it instead of saying how you think its nice or cool. I see you have cork floors in the bedroom? How do you like them? Have they been holding up well? You have another full kitchen in the basement, do you use that all summer or is it just for certain occasions? This also gives us valuable information as to buyer motivations. I asked buyers for years how they liked their jetted tubs in their master baths. 95% did not even use them other than when they first purchased the property. Now walk in showers are taking over and the jetted tubs are going away as a desirable feature. If you’ve asked them about what they are doing for the holiday, etc, then at the end of the inspection you can usually say something like have a good weekend up north or have a good time visiting with your brother this weekend.

  9. While working as an investigator for the state of Utah I wrote an article for the quarterly news letter that somewhat addresses what is being discussed. If interested it is found here.

    In this article I mention some studies that Malcolm Gladwell talks about in his book “Blink”, and included this statement as a part of the article.

    “Gladwell also points to another researcher, Wendy Levinson, who looked at a group of physicians, half who had been sued and half who had not. Levinson reviewed conversations between the doctors and their patients. The outcome: doctors who took less time and were less personable with their clients tended to get sued, while doctors who spent a little more time with patients, explained the process, and offered the patients an opportunity to ask questions generally were not sued. Levinson’s research did not show a difference in the quality of information provided by the two groups of doctors, but the difference generally was in how one group of doctors spoke with patients.”

    My conclusion from working as an investigator and stated in the article is “USPAP does not require you to be courteous or even nice, but Gladwell’s case studies show a best (appraisal) practice would encourage both.

    Thank you Dustin for your Blog and thoughts as well as a forum to hear other appraisers thoughts and experiences

  10. I agree – being professional first AND polite second shouldn’t (knock on wood) hurt anything or anyone. EVERYTHING has positive and negative traits….”You have a really nice property here Mr. & Mrs. Homeowner, now all I have to do is find three or more sale/listing properties exactly/similar to yours to compare it with” (oh, that’s how you do that?). Working in rural markets I always research and have a WIDE range of potential MLS print outs with me which helps to explain to curious property owners why I’m taking photos of their house AND a chance to pass out another business card AND possible hear additional info that MLSs listings fail to mention. IF, IF I show homeowner/borrower these MLS print outs (which they can basically find themselves online nowadays) more often than not they’ll comment “Oh yea, we considered/looked at that one and it was very nice on the exterior but in terrible shape on the interior and had rental units close by” – thanks, nice to know because the listing only had two photos and little to no write up. Better yet, I also research for private/non-MLS sales as well and when a homeowner/borrower knows a little something about that property two miles down the road – it can make a good day even better!

  11. Chris Shoemaker

    It looks like the takeaway here is to be engaging in some way. Personally, I cannot see any reason why being complementary to the property is an issue as long as it doesn’t lead to a value discussion. I rarely, if ever, do so, but I do always try to engage the homeowner in some kind of conversation. I regularly hear something to the effect of, “The last appraiser we had didn’t say 5 words the entire time. It was creepy.” It is important for appraisers to remember that what we do is incredibly invasive. We are entering a stranger’s home, walking through and probably taking pictures of every room of the house – their kitchen, their bathroom, even their bedroom. This is not a normal thing we do! For many of us, it’s our everyday world so it seems normal. But I am also told with some regularity by a homeowner that they’ve never been through this before. It behooves us to keep this in mind and remember that this is a big event for most people and that they may be nervous both about the process and about having a stranger in their home. It seems to me that putting them at ease can only be a positive.

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