A property appraiser is a person who determines the value of a particular piece of property. An “appraisal” is the process by which the appraiser sets the value of the property that is in question using market values and other mechanisms. Appraisals usually relate to real property such as a home or dwelling place, although it can include items of personal property such as jewelry. 
Appraisers can be hired if the value of the property is in dispute or cannot be easily calculated. They often work in solo practice, although there are appraisal firms (“revaluation firms”). An appraiser can also be specially designated by the court if a judge deems it necessary. 
The appraiser is required to render a neutral, unbiased conclusion as to the price of the property. The appraisal profession has its own set of ethical and licensing standards that appraisers must abide by. The final valuation is written in a detailed report, which can also help conclude whether the property value has increased or decreased over time. 

What is the difference between an appraiser and an assessor?

An appraiser almost always focuses on determining the value of a single piece of property at a time. They are usually have their own clients and are hired by private individuals who are seeking to arrive at an accurate valuation of the property.
In contrast, an assessor determines the value for multiple properties, such as an entire neighborhood or commercial zone. They are typically hired by the government for the purposes of zoning, planning, and keeping records of economic statistical data. 
Thus, if the value of a single home is in question, you will usually be consulting with an appraiser, not an assessor. 

When is it necessary to hire an appraiser?

An appraiser is commonly hired in the following situations:
  • Disputes- the monetary value of the property has been challenged or is difficult to determine
  • Prevention of fraud- hiring an appraiser can help prevent fraud or abuses such as overpricing
  • Judicial appointment- sometimes a judge will appoint an appraiser to determine the value of the property in dispute. This can occur if the parties cannot agree on a private appraiser
  • Wills/Estate matters- An appraiser can be helpful when dealing with the distribution of property according to a will. The value of property is often subject to change from the time the will is created up to the actual distribution of the estate
  • Other types of property interests- An appraiser can also determine the value of non-physical assets such as loan amounts, investments, or property tax amounts.     

What should I do before I decide to hire an appraiser?

The first thing you should do is to check their background and credentials to make sure that they are properly qualified and licensed. Check to see that they are not working in tandem with any other parties such as a real estate broker or agent. Often times scams are accomplished because both the real estate agent and the appraiser are “in on” the scheme, which allows them to artificially increase the property price.
Next, you may wish to document the item of property in question, even before the appraiser arrives. For example, if you need a home appraised, you may wish to take pictures and make copies of any relevant documents such as a deed or title. That way you have documentation of the property in case any further issues arise.
Sometimes an insurance or loan company will provide their own appraiser. There are no specific laws guaranteeing which appraiser can be hired, so the loan company is often free to refuse a loan if you do not wish to work with the appraiser provided. You can still employ your own private appraiser, but the loan company will likely use the figures provided by their appraiser.
If this is the case, you can request an injunction or court order from a judge to appoint an appraiser. This is called filing a “Motion to Appoint Appraiser”, which usually involves a brief hearing. You may also wish to consult with a lawyer for the hearing.

Do I need a lawyer for appraisal matters?

Disputes over the property values are important and should be approached with care. You should obtain the services of a property lawyer if you feel that there are issues with an appraiser. An experienced attorney can help provide you with advice and protection regarding your property interests.