The Median Price Fallacy, by Brett Reichel, Brettreichel.com


Every month or so, the news media generates articles based on the latest statistics from various multiple listing services. In those articles they relate how “Median Prices” have either fallen or increased. What’s that mean? Well, a median price is one where it’s the middle price of all the sales in an area. So, let’s say we have a small city called Brettville. In Brettville last month, there were 15 sales. One sale was at $200,000, 7 were above $200,000 and 7 were below $200,000. Then the middle price, or median price for Brettville last month was $200,000.

Market analysts watch median prices for changes, and use them as an indicator of market price changes. However, median prices are not a good and clear indicator of an individual houses value, despite what most appraisal reports say today. In fact, when an appraiser uses changes in median prices as a justification for time adjustments to value, it is inaccurate analysis.

What’s a time adjustment? An appraiser uses comparable sales (comps) to determine their opinion of value on the property they are appraising. The appraiser makes dollar value adjustments on these sales when they compare them to the subject property . A “comp” might be 200 square feet bigger than the subject so the appraiser would adjust for that difference. One thing appraisers do commonly in today’s market is adjust for the difference in time between when a “comp” sold and the date of the appraisal. If a market is appreciating or depreciating at 1% a month, the appraiser would make an adjustment to the value of the comp in comparison to the subject to compensate for the difference in time.

It’s inaccurate analysis to use median price to justify this time adjustment. Why? Because median price could be affected by more cheap houses selling in an area or more expensive houses selling in a neighborhood. It could have zero to do with any change in value.

Another factor that makes median prices not appropriate for time adjustments is that different market value ranges could have different changes in value. In some of the markets, larger, move up style homes are depreciating faster than starter homes. Why? Because there are more first time home buyers in the market than move up buyers.

If you are not happy with your appraisal, review it, and read the comments. If the appraiser justifies the time adjustment with median prices, and not a matched pair analysis, you have a faulty appraisal, and valid grounds for a complaint. Don’t expect your lender to do this, your loan officer doesn’t understand, and the underwriter probably doesn’t either. But the appraiser knows what they are doing. They used to laugh at Realtors for doing this in an appreciating market. Now they’ve jumped on that bandwagon, too.

For More of Brett’s writing. Go to http://brettreichel.com

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