Desktop Appraisal vs In-Person Appraisal | Differences Defined

Desktop Appraisal vs In-Person Appraisal | Differences Defined

It is more common nowadays for desktop appraisals to be used to assess the value of a home instead of an in-person appraisal. While there are differences between a desktop and an in-person appraisal, they might not be as large as you initially think. To help you, let’s take a look at desktop appraisals and compare them to the more traditional in-person assessments.

Desktop Appraisal vs In-Person Appraisal | Differences Defined

What is a Desktop Appraisal?

A desktop appraisal is completed without the appraiser visiting the property in person. As the name implies, they will remain at their desk using information from the multiple listing service (MLS), as well as tax records, to assess the value of the home. They are looking for homes that have as many similar characteristics as possible and are located close by.

The desktop appraisal will still be carried out by a certified appraiser who is qualified and experienced in assessing fair market value. So it’s not the lender, real estate agent, or an unlicensed appraiser completing the appraisal.

What is an In-Home Appraisal?What is an In-Person Appraisal?

An in-person home appraisal is what’s traditionally done, which involves the appraiser physically visiting the property. They will take measurements, photos, and assess the condition of the home.

The appraiser will ensure that the home is in good structural condition without any safety concerns. Any major upgrades that have been added to the home will also be noted. Some government-backed loans require the appraiser to test utilities and check that appliances are working correctly.

An in-person appraisal can take 30-60 minutes, depending on the size of the home. Comparable research will also be completed back in their office to complete the appraisal.

What are the Differences Between a Desktop Appraisal & In-Person Appraisal?

There are, of course, many similarities. In both cases, the home appraiser will need to gather comparable data from the MLS and tax records. This will mean finding at least three similar homes that have recently sold nearby. Desktop appraisal requirements are really no different than an in-person appraisal.

The big difference, however, between the two methods of appraisal, is how much they rely on other sources. Without an in-person visit to the property, the appraiser will be fully relying on other information. This means they will be looking at photos from the MLS listing, rather than being able to explore the home as they see fit. They will also be reading the description in the MLS for any additional information.

This adds a limitation to the appraiser’s report that could change their valuation of the property. This could mean the appraiser will miss some of the upgrades or improvements that have been made to the home, or some of the problems. There will be fewer details in the appraiser’s report, but it should still offer a fairly accurate assessment of the homes value.

The potential of a desktop appraisal being performed is another big reason why home sellers need to hire a top Realtor who is going to present their home in the best light. This means professional photographs and a detailed MLS description. A few crooked photos with an iPhone probably aren’t going to help in this type of appraisal nor is a basic description. However, professional photographs and a detailed description listing all of the renovations and new items, like a roof or windows could mean the difference between the home appraising or not appraising.

Who Decides on the Type of Appraisal Required? 

First and foremost, the buyer’s lender will order the appraisal through a third-party servicing company who then hires the appraiser.

Who Hires the Home Appraiser?After the mortgage crisis over a decade ago, lenders can no longer hire their favorite appraiser, Bob. So now the servicing company receives the order and they hire the appraiser, which can definitely slow down the appraisal process.

However, before this is done the type of appraisal needed will have to be determined. This will be done by the lender’s automated underwriting system. It will decide if a desktop appraisal or a property inspection waiver (PIW), no appraisal, is an option. So for those wondering “how to get a desktop appraisal,” a system decides, not a person and there aren’t any special desktop appraisal companies.

If neither is an option then an in-person appraisal will be required. Buyers will pay for the appraisal, typically upfront, and the average cost for an appraisal is between $400-$700.

Do Desktop Appraisal Cost More or Less?

Typically, a desktop appraisal fee will not be more or less than an in-person appraisal. Oftentimes, a buyer will pay their lender for the appraisal upfront, the lender will order the appraisal, and then it will be determined if a desktop or in-person appraisal will be performed. Therefore, the cost of the appraisal won’t suddenly change.

The only thing that will change is the turnaround time for the appraisal to be returned to the lender. This type of appraisal is usually returned days if not weeks sooner than an in-person appraisal. The reason is, an appraiser doesn’t need to coordinate with the listing agent and seller to view the property nor do they need to schedule a time to drive and view the property. That can easily save 3-5 days in the appraisal process.

Is a Desktop Appraisal a Bad Idea?

Whether a desktop appraisal is a good or bad idea will depend on your situation. If the home is located in an area where there are few comparables for the appraiser to draw their conclusions from, there could be more problems finding an accurate value. This often means that homes in rural areas are less likely to get an accurate assessment without an in-person appraisal.

Is a Desktop Appraisal a Bad Idea?Also, when a home is in particularly good condition or has a lot of upgrades, this might not be fairly represented in the appraiser’s report. Since they haven’t been to the property themselves, only relying on photos in the MLS and the listing agent’s description, there might be many things missed.

If the home is in an area that has seen more volatility, with frequent foreclosures, the desktop appraisal of a home might provide disappointing results.

If the property is in average condition, this type of appraisal is more likely to find an accurate value. Also, if there are plenty of comparables in the neighborhood, this type of appraisal will be easier.

Final Thoughts

Desktop appraisals offer many advantages to lenders. They can be completed more quickly without needing to make arrangements with the homeowner or Realtors. Though despite these advantages, this type of appraisal isn’t always going to produce the best results for home sellers or buyers. If there aren’t many comparables, or if the home is in either very good or very poor condition, an in-person appraisal is likely to be better. So for those wondering “Is a desktop appraisal better?” the answer is not always, it depends on the property, its condition, and recent sales.

With that being said, an in-person appraisal may not produce better results than a desktop appraisal. Unfortunately, appraisals as a whole will vary greatly because every home appraiser and the adjustments they make will be different. Appraisals are considered an “art” not a “science” because there are no set adjustments appraisers need to make. One appraiser may adjust square footage at $40 a square foot and another may use $80 a square foot. So never assume one appraisal over another is going to be better because it may not be.

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About the Author

Top Wellington Realtor, Michelle Gibson, wrote: “Desktop Appraisal vs In-Person Appraisal | Differences Defined”

Michelle has been specializing in residential real estate since 2001 throughout Wellington Florida and the surrounding area. Whether you’re looking to buy, sell, or rent she will guide you through the entire real estate transaction. If you’re ready to put Michelle’s knowledge and expertise to work for you call or e-mail her today.

Areas of service include  WellingtonLake WorthRoyal Palm Beach, Boynton Beach, West Palm Beach, Loxahatchee, Greenacres, and more.

Desktop Appraisal vs In-Person Appraisal | Differences Defined


Michelle Gibson Wellington Florida REALTORMichelle Gibson of the Hansen Real Estate Group Inc is a full-time REALTOR who has been specializing in Wellington Florida real estate since 2001. This veteran of the real estate industry has expertise in technology, marketing, and social media.


Hansen Real Estate Group Inc. is a full-service real estate brokerage specializing in residential real estate. As a customer-focused, quality organization, we achieve success one client at a time. Call 561-333-0446 or e-mail me today at [email protected].

Michelle Gibson and Hansen Real Estate Group Inc fully support the principles of the Fair Housing Act and the Equal Opportunity Act. Accessibility Statement


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