Now that consumer confidence has risen back to the point it was when Lehman Brothers failed, and the spring market has begun, we're starting to see some action. The new problem is that the houses under contract are not always "appraising out". That means that, when a buyer goes to get a mortgage, how much the bank will lend depends not only upon his or her credit score and income, but on an appraisal ordered by the bank before granting the loan. Most banks have an approved list of independent appraisers, who are sent out to examine properties with mortgage applications, and value them by comparing them to other similar properties that have recently sold. Therein lies the rub. What's a comparable property? What if nothing nearby has recently sold? What if the appraiser is from out of the area, and doesn't know which streets or neighborhoods are considered prime? All of those factors come into play, and sometimes the appraiser goes back to the bank with a value far below the sales price, even when there have been multiple offers of around the same amount on the property (which almost guarantees that the sales price is at least very close to the true value, since no buyer knows what another is offering).
When that happens, one of three things usually occurs: the bank orders another appraisal, which differs, and its internal processes allow the loan to go forward at the requested amount; the buyer backs out, due to inability to get a mortgage, and the property goes back on the market; or the parties renegotiate the sales price downward. In the current market, any of the three can happen. On a hot property, the first alternative is most likely. If the buyer does back out, it often sells again just as quickly. As Realtors, we hate to see the sale fall through, in part because someone looking won't necessarily know why it's back on the market, and it may decrease the desirability of the property (of course, to be honest, it also means that we are selling it twice for the same fee). This is particularly infuriating when we believe that the appraiser made a mistake. Some banks are more interested than others in taking a second look, and often local banks are more confident of values within their smaller footprint.
Whatever happens, it's just another bump along the road of selling property in today's market.