Contributory Market Value Riddle


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Contributory Market Value Riddle
By Tim Andersen, MAI

What do you do when the market indicates that an amenity may have no contributory market value- even if there was a substantial cost to install and maintain? You work harder.

Recently an appraiser called and presented just this conundrum on a refinance appraisal assignment. The subject property had no pool. A comparable sale, literally the same model home, built in the same year, just across the street, and sold only two-months ago, had a small pool, patio, screening, and so forth, as is common with pools. None of the other comps had pools. My first response was to drop this comp and use one without a pool so no adjustment would be necessary. However, this comp with the pool was essentially identical to the subject in every way, except for the pool. Typically, an appraiser does not abandon a comp like that.

First, we looked back in time to determine if that comp had traded before the pool was installed, and then traded again after it was installed. The difference would have been one indication of the market value of the pool. However, we found that the pool was a builder amenity that was there from day one so the developer’s premium for the pool was of no use. The house was 10 year’s old at the time.

Next, we estimated the cost new of the pool, et al, and deducted what we considered to be a market-oriented amount of physical depreciation. This is a reasonable step to solve such a problem and has some small market support due to the fact that the costing service is one of national repute. Be we all know that cost is not value- despite the use of the word “price” in the definition of market value, so we tabled that process to see if we could find a better way to extract a pool adjustment. Besides, our research showed this was really not the way to arrive at an adjustment.

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We went to a nearby analogous neighborhood and looked at the sales prices of houses similar to the subject without a pool, versus those in that neighborhood with a pool. It was possible to extract an “adjustment” from this procedure, but there were problems. The comp’s neighborhood is a private, equity-type, gated community- the same as the subject’s, but the differences were great too-in amenities, cost of monthly maintenance and the equity-membership to join the club that anchored the community, and so forth. The two neighborhoods were so different in these ways that an “apples-to-apples” comparison between the subject neighborhood and the analogous neighborhood was essentially impossible. So we tabled that “adjustment” too.

We specifically avoided interviewing brokers who worked the subject neighborhood for the simple reason brokers get paid to sell real estate, not analyze it.

Finally, we went back to MLS. To have sufficient comparable data we started with sales as far back as 18-months prior to the appraisal’s effective date, and then limited the search criteria to sold SFRs (the development also has condos and zero lot-line residences with and without pools). These data criteria were too wide for that analysis to indicate a reasonable conclusion. So, we went back to the MLS and limited the search even further by limiting the sales to those of sold 3br/2ba 1-story residences with two car garages. The results were one sale with a pool and 12 without. We concluded this comparison was not accurate since there was only one sale with a pool.

Then we kept the same limiting criteria but changed one criterion from sales to listings. This analysis returned some data we could use. But this analysis returned some surprising data. Basically it told us that a pool had a value from between zero, for a “typically-sized” house/lot combination, to a maximum of $12,000 for one of the few larger properties- the original developer premium notwithstanding. The sizes of the sites in the subject’s part of the development top out at about 8,000 square feet, with the “typical” lot less than 7,000 square feet. Therefore the market was telling us that a pool despite, its cost new, is not all that valuable in this neighborhood. So the next step is to determine why this is so, if possible.

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We have resorted to broker interviews before in an attempt to answer questions like this. They were all pretty much in agreement that since the social and private golf club around which the development is constructed has an Olympic-size and -quality swimming pool, a kiddie wading pool, two hot-tubs, and a pool reserved for adults- all at the main clubhouse, a pool at a private residence in this community is not all that valuable. This is true since an owner in this development is already paying for a pool- the ones at the clubhouse. Plus, those community pools are far superior to one installed on a site.

To summarize, we had one depreciated cost estimate of a pool, etc., one indication of a pool’s value from an analogous, yet clearly different community, and one indication of a pool’s value from the subject community via a comparison of listings. These all show that a pool here is not all that valuable. So, what did we do?

First, we sat on the issue for 24-hours so we could cogitate on the matter to see if we had forgotten anything or made any other mistakes in our analyses. Yes, that upset the AMC but stuff happens and the AMC had to put up with it. We concluded, after our waiting period, we had not erred.

Then we looked at the quantity and quality of data, as well as the reliability of those data. This latter step convinced us using the cost approach to model the pool’s contributory value was the wrong step since, as indicted, cost is not value. We then rejected the value indication from the analogous community since, despite its physical proximity to the subject community and so forth, the two neighborhoods were, at their fundamentals, just too different to make the adjustment work. So we went with the sales and listing data solely from the subject’s neighborhood.

You might rightly ask if we explained all of this in the report’s addendum. Yes we did. In fact, this article uses the appraisal report’s explanation as its model. In fact, in the report, we had XL charts showing all of these comparisons (they aren’t here since I do not have the other appraiser’s permission to use them). We showed a picture (from both MLS and GoogleEarth) showing the comp’s pool is small, as well as an aerial photo of the clubhouse and its larger and more numerous pools (from GoogleEarth). We also included a summary of the interviews with the brokers.

In the end, we used an adjustment greater than zero but less than $12,000 for the pool to account, in part, for the fact that much of the comparable data came from listings, and sales prices are typically less than listing prices. Basically this means the market views a pool in this subdivision as a functional obsolescence- and as a super adequacy, and is essentially fully depreciated (as the market data indicated) since the market really does not want pools here, given the quality of the pools at the clubhouse. The fact that so few homes comparable to the subject have pools also supports the market’s lack of acceptance toward such amenities.

The AMC and the underwriter accepted the report (after we corrected some spelling and grammar mistakes), but made only a passing remark on the pool adjustment.

Yes, getting to the bottom of this problem took more time than made the AMC happy. Yes, the other appraiser and I put a lot of time and effort into one adjustment for one sale. But the appraiser now has the knowledge and practical experience to handle this problem on his/her own in the future. The AMC and the lender have an appraisal report with its adjustments taken from the market rather than from the pages of a cost manual or some other occult place polite people don’t mention- other than to their physicians. And I got the seed for this article.

So, the take-away here is that (a) there is more than one way to support an adjustment; (b) just because a residence has an amenity does not mean that amenity has a value in-line with its depreciated cost (or any value at all, frankly); (c) there is market-support for most any adjustment if you’re willing to take the time and make the effort to beat it out of the market; and (d) in hindsight, we should just have used an older comp without a pool.


Author Tim Andersen, MAI is also author of Working RE’s Expert’s Guide to a Defensible Workfile.


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About the Author
Timothy C. Andersen, MAI is the author of the Expert’s Guide to a Defensible Workfile and has been in real estate and consulting since 1975. He is a commercial real estate appraiser, AQB-certified USPAP instructor, USPAP consultant, Special Magistrate for the Palm Beach County Value Adjustment Board, author, instructor and expert witness. As a USPAP consultant, he works nationwide as an expert with appraisers whom the state has charged with license law violations. He is an instructor with the Appraisal Institute and has worked all over the U.S. with various proprietary schools, as well as a community college. The University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis, MN recently awarded him a Master of Science degree in Real Estate Appraisal. Tim’s e-mail address is

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Comments (13)

  1. by TA Faber, Faber Appraisal, and CoFounder The Benchmark Group

    I agree with John… slap enough of them up there, even if I have to do 10 or 15, the comps adjust themselves and they let you know where you should be within 2%.

    You can debate a pool adjustment all you want the MAI way. After all, It’s the RIGHT WAY, BUT for a week or two, most of us need to make money and support a family. We love appraising, up to the point we cant feed the baby. The AI hasn’t gotten that concept.

    Lets analyze the AI way of feeding a new baby… !!!!

    Baby=2+Appraisals per week X no sleep / .25 diminished quality
    divided by how much the market cares, – 0, = no new appraiser trainees, 57% percent Certified Appraisers leaving the industry, and less revenue to the AI and State REABs,

    I’m a pilot, and In flying, we call this a death spiral.
    Get your shit in gear guys. Or else all hell is breaking loose.
    FROM GA.

    - Reply
  2. Tim, I liked the story and its underlying point which was well made though other commenters also point out other reasonable alternatives. I disagree with your conclusion & statement that the market “does not accept” pools which has a completely different connotation than if you had said the market does not recognize a specific determinable premium for them. Quibbling, I know.

    I have to wonder about the total value though where the difference between 0-$12,000 was considered to be demonstrably insignificant in the first place.

    Let’s turn the amenity around though and keep ALL other factors the same. Instead of a private pool what if it was an (owned) solar energy system using PVA? No significant sales comparables with similar amenity. Surrogacy DEFINITELY a requirement. Net savings per month of $150. Sandy Adomatis, SRA and the AI’s very own Green Queen would disagree with the zero value; and I suspect the approach used.

    I think your bigger lesson to all of us is two fold: (1) You DO have to work harder, & (2) There more than one way to skin a cat and as long as the result is “reasonable” among your peers, you are fine. There is a trend these days to assume that anything other than paired sales or regression based adjustment is akin to reaching up into the proctologists area of expertise, and respectfully it should NOT be. Real estate markets DO include subjective decisions which cannot always be specifically quantified or proven as “scientific”. A five minute phone call to your local RE agents office could have saved you many hours of research and produced just as valid a result.

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  3. It’s gratifying to see an MAI finally learn how to perform a sales comparison analysis. The approach is not to “develop an opinion of value” as much as it is a report on buyer response.
    One rookie mistake, however, is deciding not to speak with principals. Agents certainly are biased in the middle of a sale but once escrow closes, you would be surprised how insightful, candid and objective some of them can be. To discount this source is short-sighted.

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    • Lol Joe, you hit on my only criticism as well! All in all though, pretty good article and trainee hand holding through the process. I AM curious about what the fee was to have an MAI WITH trainee do this assumed fnma conforming loan limit assignment?

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  4. I applaud the effort put forth to determine the contributory value of the pool; however, I am surprised, that at no time did you once mention the possibility of actually attempting to interview or ask the purchaser if he or she might share with you how the pool affected their offer in the negotiation process? This may not represent how the entire market preceives pools within the neighborhood; however, it would have given you what affect on price the pool had on this particular sale. I understand if this was not an option or if the purchaser was not open to an interview; however, your story for the search for the contributory value of the pool didn’t even mention this as a possibility?

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  5. …and I’m sure when you accepted the assignment that you quoted the AMC a certain fee thinking it wouldn’t be so lengthy. And I’m sure when you attempted to raise your fee, they declined. Working with AMCs is so exhausting. If a plumber or electrician, after quoting a job, encounters some type of other problem while fixing the original issue, he brings the client in, they discuss the issue, and they talk about how much more it will be to fix.

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  6. I am curious why you did not interview the buyer or the buyer’s agent in the pool sale transaction? Their input could have helped cut to the chase as far as how they views (and valued) the pool. Was there something else about the property that attracted them? Were they specifically looking for a pool home or did this home meet other property requirements and the pool just happened to be there? Do they plan to keep the pool or demolish it in the future? A simple phone call can put you on the track and keep you from spinning your wheels.

    - Reply
  7. Tim,

    All of that to say that the pool’s contributory value was somewhere between $0-12,000? You spent a lot of time explaining everything to us, but then you didn’t tell us what contributory value you came up with or what adjustment you made for the pool. I suppose it’s the process you used that is important and not the final value, but it sure would have helped to let us know what value you actually derived from all of that work instead of such an ambiguous range of $0-12,000.

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    • Im more curious as to what the final Opinion of Value was! My W.A.G. based method’s (similar to the proctologists) best guess is it was between $300K and $500K leaning closer to the lower end. At the lower end a full $12K adjustment is still only 4%. At the higher end its only 2.4. So IF it was a mid range adjustment we are talking about something that at most was 2% to as little as 1.2%.


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  8. Regarding the contributory value of the inground pool. The newer comparable with the inground pool should have been used on the assignment. If the comparables were as applicable as they sound, the appraisal grid itself would reflect a difference for the inground pool IF IT HAD CONTRIBUTORY VALUE. If the comparables were relatively close in style, GLA, amenities, and lot size, an appraiser would view the indicated values across the bottom of the grid itself and determine if the pool had contributory value, OR NOT. There are times the appraisal grid itself works out the contributory value out for you and one of our fine appraisal instructors in the Lancaster County area of Pennsylvania has made it a point to teach us that method. John Rothermel, Fleetwood, Pennsylvania

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