Some or all of the mortgage lenders featured on our site are advertising partners of NerdWallet, but this does not influence our evaluations, lender star ratings or the order in which lenders are listed on the page. Our opinions are our own. Here is a list of our partners.
Sometimes when you're trying to buy a home, your mortgage lender's appraiser says the house is worth less than you agreed to pay. This is known as an appraisal gap or a low appraisal. You may have to pay the difference in cash or renegotiate with the seller to keep the deal alive.
An appraisal gap resulting from a low appraisal can happen under any market conditions. It's more likely to occur while home prices are rising rapidly, but it can happen even when home values are falling.
» MORE: How a home appraisal works
Mortgage loans from our partners
What happens when the appraisal is lower than the offer?
When facing an appraisal gap, you have the following options:
Pay the difference in cash between the appraised value and the amount of your offer.
Walk away, if you have an appraisal contingency in your purchase contract.
Renegotiate with the seller.
Request a review of the appraisal if you find inaccuracies.
Apply with another lender in hopes that it will hire an appraiser who values the property in your favor.
This article is mostly about that first option — paying the difference. The next option — walking away — is the least risky. Like a little black dress, it will forever remain in style.
The last three options for dealing with an appraisal gap can save money and preserve the deal, but might be impractical when home buyers outnumber sellers. This imbalance, called a seller's market, leaves home buyers with a weak negotiating posture.
Some real estate agents reserve the term "appraisal gap" to refer to an appraisal gap coverage clause in the purchase contract. When referring to the difference between the appraised value and offer price, they may prefer the term "low appraisal."
How to deal with a low appraisal
Pay the difference in cash
If the seller won't reduce the price, it’s going to take a bigger down payment than perhaps you had expected — enough to cover the difference between the appraised value and the price.
A bigger down payment would be necessary because mortgage lenders won’t let you borrow more than the home is worth. To confirm whether the property is worth what you offered, the lender hires an independent third party to assess the property's value. The appraiser is that third party. To home buyers' chagrin, appraisers sometimes conclude that properties are worth less than the offer.
Cash buyers don't have lenders peering over their shoulders, so they don't need appraisals, says Chuck Vander Stelt, a real estate agent in Valparaiso, Indiana, and founder of quadwalls.com. The ability to buy without an appraisal gives cash buyers an advantage in a competitive market.
Most buyers need mortgages, though. The appraisal is important because the loan amount is based on the appraised value. If the property appraises for $300,000 and the loan requires a 5% down payment, then the maximum loan size will be 95% of the appraised value, or $285,000.
But what if you had made an offer of $330,000 for a house that appraises for $300,000? The lender will advance you $285,000 based on the $300,000 appraisal. That's $45,000 less than the price, and you'll have to bring every penny of that amount to closing. This situation can be stressful if you expected to make a 5% down payment of $16,500, only to find out that you'll have to scrounge up another $28,500 because of the low appraisal.
Example of an appraisal gap
Difference between price and loan amount:
Mortgage loans from our partners