Revisiting House Styles When Appraising Properties

On September 1, 2011, the new Uniform Appraisal Dataset (UAD) standards go into effect on conventional mortgage loans with Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.  The aim of the new UAD standards is said to improve upon appraisal data consistency and quality for mortgage loans with government-sponsored enterprises.  Under the UAD, appraisers are instructed to name the architectural style in the "Design (Style)" field.

According to the Field-Specific Standardization Requirements of the Uniform Appraisal Dataset Specification:

“The appraiser should enter an appropriate architectural design (style) type descriptor that best describes the subject property. Valid descriptions include, but are not limited to, ‘Colonial,’ ‘Rambler,’ ‘Georgian,’ ‘Farmhouse’. Do not use descriptors such as ‘brick,’ ‘2 stories,’ ‘average,’ ‘conventional,’ or ‘typical’ as these are not architectural styles. Design style names may vary by locality. The appraiser should report the name of the design style that is applicable within the local market area.”

Think about commonplace adjectives used when trying to describe a house's style.  The word traditional is actually nondescript when it comes to style.  Whose tradition?  Even colonial by itself is historically inaccurate unless you’re dealing with a building from the Colonial period; you're more likely to find a larger quantity of Colonial Revival houses.  But there again, are we talking Spanish Colonial Revival or French Colonial Revival?  The intent of the UAD’s architectural style description provision should result in greater specificity. 

Appraisers and trainees may want to brush up on architectural styles with a couple excellent books to supplement reference materials from the Appraisal Institute and other industry associations.  A Field Guide to American Houses by Virginia and Lee McAlester remains an amazing resource twenty-seven years after its original publishing in 1984.  Crisp black-and-white photography, renderings, and regional maps accompany the meticulously researched narratives in Field Guide.  The McAlesters documented the vastness of American house design styles, from the ornate to the modest. 

The Abrams Guide to American House Styles by William Morgan is a relatively new companion on the scene.  Published in 2004, the well-researched Abrams Guide offers full-color photography by Radek Kurzaj, line drawings, and a glossary.  The paperback is convenient to take in the field or keep by the desk.

Here is an additional resource in your local markets: historic district design guidelines.  Often these guidelines are available for free download from the municipality website where the subject property is located.  Even if the property and comparables fall outside of the boundaries of a historic district, the styles of architecture nearby are sometimes the same or similar.

Happy house "design (style)" spotting.

- September 2011