March 04, 2018

Real Estate Agent vs. Appraiser: What's the Difference?


Real estate agents and appraisers play a critical role in buying and selling property. While their roles occasionally overlap, they frequently arrive at different conclusions about the same pieces of property. In this article, we break down the similarities and differences between real estate agents and appraisers.

What Is a Real Estate Agent?

Real estate agents help clients buy or sell commercial or residential property. These agents typically work with brokers, who are licensed to manage real estate companies or brokerages. Some agents are brokers themselves but prefer to work solely as agents, as they may not want the added responsibility and workload of managing a brokerage. Those who work as agents typically earn a portion of the commission for the properties they sell or help clients purchase.

Depending on the transaction, real estate agents may represent either the buyer or the seller. Many specialize in one specific side of real estate, marketing themselves as either buying or listing agents.

A buyer’s agent works closely with clients to determine what they desire from their eventual purchase and how much they're willing (or able) to spend. The agent may coordinate with the mortgage provider to ensure the buyer's ability to make the purchase. Agents who represent sellers (often referred to as listing agents) assist clients in determining the market value and the best possible asking price for a given property. Both buying and listing agents also support with the closing process, helping clients navigate the complicated paperwork and hurdles associated with closing a real estate deal.

Real estate agents must be certified to legally represent buyers or sellers. Licensing differs considerably from one region to the next, and for that reason, agents are limited to only buying or selling property in the state or states in which they are certified.

Many real estate agents seek further certification as a realtor®. These agents maintain active membership with the National Association of Realtors® and commit to upholding its code of ethics.

What Is a Real Estate Appraiser?

A real estate appraiser closely examines property to determine its value at the time of sale or development. To determine market value, the real estate appraiser physically inspects each property and gathers the following data:

  • Measurements of all structures
  • Photographs of the interior and exterior of the property
  • Information regarding the property's intended use
  • Information on the architectural quality of all buildings
  • Property characteristics that might impact the value (such as the presence of a noisy road)

The appraiser must also closely examine current market conditions in the property's geographic region. This may include analysis of "comparables," or similar properties in the area that have recently sold and are believed to be close in value to the property in question. The appraiser is also responsible for verifying any legal descriptions of the property contained in public.

Most real estate appraisers examine one property at a time, focusing on a single situation before moving on to the next. Although they typically have offices from which they base their operations, they can frequently be found out in their communities, inspecting properties. Throughout the appraisal process, professionals keep close record of their observations and gathered data in order to verify and support final value estimates.

Can Real Estate Agents Complete Appraisals?

Real estate agents - particularly those representing sellers - often complete detailed estimates. These comparative market analyses are intended to help sellers determine how much buyers can be expected to pay for their particular home. Agents take many of the same considerations into account as appraisers, including recent sales in the area and property characteristics that might encourage or discourage buyers.

Real estate agents representing buyers are often not comfortable providing the detailed estimates they offer sellers. They may lack close access to the properties in which their clients show interest. Thus, buyers may be more inclined to hire professional appraisers - especially if they're relying on a mortgage to finance their purchase.

Ultimately, while real estate agents can offer a valuable perspective on a given property's purported value, only the appraiser can provide an official appraisal. Sellers may be satisfied to work solely with a real estate agent, but most buyers eventually hire both an agent and a separate appraiser. These parties may communicate about a given property, but the agent cannot attempt to influence the appraiser's final valuation.

Some professionals are certified as both agents and appraisers. These individuals must act only in one capacity at a time; they cannot simultaneously represent a client and complete an objective appraisal.

The Key Difference Between Real Estate Agents and Appraisers

Real estate agents and appraisers often gather and examine similar information, with both looking to the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) for information on comparables. Appraisers enjoy access to public records, but the key difference lies not in the information they gather, but how they use it.

Real estate agents promise to represent their clients' best interests. They desire the best possible listing for their clients and will use gathered market information to this end.

Appraisers are paid outright - not on commission - and they do not have a vested interest in serving the client's needs beyond providing a thoroughly completed estimate. In fact, they must clearly indicate that they are third-party professionals and not advocates for either buyers or sellers.

Despite examining similar records, real estate agents and appraisers may arrive at different conclusions, purely because their goals and perspectives differ considerably based on the nature of their interactions with clients. Both estimates are worth considering, and both professionals play a valuable role in real estate purchases.