Finding the right house to buy is never easy; selling a home today is also challenge. It’s best to prepare yourself for obstacles that could cross your path so that you’re prepared should they arise.

In some markets, one in three transactions doesn’t close. This is a high ratio compared to the fallout ratio in previous years when the housing market was stronger and financing options were plentiful. In past years, most transactions fell apart over inspection issues. The biggest hitch today is financing, which is not to say that property defects don’t come into play.

For some time, lenders have tightened up on their qualifying criteria, making it more difficult for buyers to obtain the financing they need to close a sale. Recently, appraisals have become problematic, particularly in low-inventory, higher-priced neighborhoods.

There are three components to lender approval. The borrower must be financially qualified. This requires a good credit score, sufficient cash for a down payment and closing costs, as well as verifiable income. The lender also needs to approve a title report on the property to confirm that the seller has marketable title to the property. And, the lender needs an appraisal of the property to confirm that the buyer is not overpaying.

Previously, lenders’ underwriters required three comparable sales in the area that occurred within the last six months to validate the purchase price. Due to the soft housing market, lenders now want to see comparable sales information on listings that sold and closed within the last three months. The listing inventory in some areas was very low from December 2008 through March 2009, making it difficult for appraisers to come up with enough comparable sales information to satisfy the lenders.

To complicate matters, some appraisers and lenders automatically lower the appraised value by a certain amount if the property is in an area that is deemed as a declining market. This can result in an appraised value that is lower than the price the buyer and seller agreed to in the purchase contract.

HOUSE HUNTING TIP: What can you do if an appraisal comes in under the negotiated price? Your agent should talk to the appraiser to find out which properties were used as comparable sales. Your agent might be able to provide the appraiser with comparable sale information that can support the contract price, particularly if the appraiser is from out of area. …CONTINUED

The most accurate appraisals are done by appraisers who know the local market well. Unfortunately, changes in the lender’s practices are resulting in more appraisals done by appraisers from outside the local area. Many lenders no longer have their own, in-house appraisers; many are relying on large nationwide appraisal services to provide appraisal services.

If the appraiser can’t be convinced that the appraised value is low, and the buyers and sellers want to make the transaction work, it requires a compromise.

Let’s say a listing sold for $1 million, but appraised for only $950,000. One way to resolve the problem is for the buyers and sellers to split the difference. In this case, the sellers lower their price by $25,000 and the buyers put an additional $25,000 cash down.

For the cash-strapped, this is not an option. In this case, the sellers would have to lower the price by $50,000 to keep the deal together. Some sellers might be willing to carry a second mortgage as long as it doesn’t exceed the lender’s loan-to-value (LTV) limit and the loan isn’t due for at least five years.

THE CLOSING: Check with your lender before attempting to negotiate a seller carry-back; some lenders won’t allow it.

Dian Hymer is a nationally syndicated real estate columnist and author of "House Hunting, The Take-Along Workbook for Home Buyers" and "Starting Out, The Complete Home Buyer’s Guide," Chronicle Books.


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