What to Look for When Choosing a Property Appraisal Company

We all know that age-old saying: “You get what you pay for.” And when you’re choosing a property appraisal company, there are several important factors that can prove that adage true. When you engage an appraisal firm, you place a lot of heavy responsibility into the hands of your vendor because, let’s face it, your SOV, your coverage and your rates all rely on that appraisal data. So how can you ensure you’re getting the full value of the services you purchase? And what level of service should you invest in, to be certain your organization will receive the property insurance coverage that truly mitigates risk?

Fortunately, selecting an effective property appraisal partner doesn’t have to be a giant leap of faith. Today, we’ll talk about some areas to pay special attention to when choosing an appraisal services company for your organization, so you can evaluate vendor offerings in an effective, easily comparative way.



Fresh Data: No Shortcuts

We’ve said it before, but it can never be said too often: when it comes to mediating risk and ensuring the right property insurance coverage, the difference really is in the details. When you hire a property appraisal services firm, you’ll want to make sure they’re as detail-oriented as industry best practices suggest. The Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP) contains the ethical and performance standards for property appraisal services, and it’s updated every two years to support appraisers’ efforts. State-licensed and state-certified appraisers involved in federally-related real estate transactions are required to comply with these guidelines.

So before you select a firm, make sure they’re following these best practices. Additionally, ensure they confirm their adherence to these standards in any formal proposal you receive.

When evaluating firms, you’ll also want to request a list of the COPE detail fields they collect for each property. You may find that some firms will have a more extensive list than others, and those data points can make a difference in your coverage. An omission of key information may mean you’ll discover you’re underinsured just when you need the coverage most!

It’s important to confirm, too, that your appraisal company will verify your existing building data. (This should fall within those USPAP standards we discussed.) For example, your selected partner should double-check details like building measurements. In this case, your experts should take the time to measure each building themselves, instead of just carrying the dimensions forward without verification. Mistakes happen and when you’re working in spreadsheets with multiple users, misinformation can easily get grandfathered-in over time. An effective property appraisal partner will use your existing data as a point for authentication, not certainty.



Consistent, Quality Customer Service

When choosing a property appraisal company, it’s important to know a firm’s history of customer service. How attentive are they? How quick are they to respond? Are they consistently responsive through all phases of a project, or do they only make time for customer queries on their own variable schedule?

Your property appraisal service should be a trusted partner for your organization, so communication during all phases of your project is key. Customer references and online reviews are a great way to separate those with quality service from those that become frequently hard to reach. Remember, in business as in personal interactions: people in a functional, healthy relationship shouldn’t give you the silent treatment.



Full-time Employee Appraisers or Sub-contractors

Another point of consistency you’ll want to assess is: will your appraisals be done by the company’s own full-time appraisal experts or by outsourced subcontractors? This is important because effective property appraisal companies will train their staff to use specific techniques and processes born of corporate expertise and values. These best practices create data that is evaluated consistently across the company, regardless of which appraiser performed a particular appraisal.

When a national company uses local subcontractors, however, appraisers may not be subject to corporate best practices training. Instead, they work from the training they receive through their individual subcontractor organizations. So different subcontractors in different locations working on the same customer project may approach appraisals differently, focusing on different elements and using different terminology and definitions to make their assessments. Because this data gets pulled together as the project becomes complete, the entire updated database becomes subject to a lack of uniformity and accountability.

By instead selecting an appraisal firm with a team of in-house appraisers and an overarching process, you ensure you receive high quality data with significantly greater consistency overall. And that means more accurate and consistent insurance rates for your organization.



In-house, Proprietary Software Options

Lastly, as you examine property appraisal service options, you’ll want to consider where your updated data will be stored and how it can give you the most functionality. While many organizations continue to use spreadsheets to manage property data, this method can be cumbersome, prone to inaccuracies, and time-consuming.

As a result, an appraisal firm might suggest using a risk management software system to house the refreshed data. And there are certainly a lot of benefits to that. A robust risk management software system can help with accountability, by providing a history of all updates to property data over time. It can help speed and streamline reporting. It can increase user compliance for making updates. And it can automate certain time-consuming and tedious tasks, like insurance renewal events.

What sets some property appraisal firms apart, however, is that they offer their own in-house, proprietary software system, where others are from third-party software partners. Which means when you have issues or questions with the software from a third-party partner, the appraisal services firm you hired may not have the in-house technical knowledge to solve your problems. They’re simply not the company with that software expertise.

So, if you’re thinking about purchasing a risk management software system along with your appraisal services, confirm who developed the software and who provides support once your appraisal services are complete. When you need that helping hand and data deadlines are looming, you’ll be very glad you have access to those who know the software well, because they built it.



A Property Appraisal Partner You Can Trust

Once you get the scoop on the details discussed above, you’ll soon see that not all property appraisal services are made equal. By a careful examination of the types of property data gathered, available customer service, appraiser training, and risk management software options, soon you’ll uncover the quality property appraisal partner that’s right for your organization.



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