This is a buyers market, you are right on. Check Foreclosures and pending foreclosures in that neighborhood, and you might get an even better deal on a house. Let me know if I can help show you how to do that.
In The Field Training
The bulk appraisal is normally done at a desktop, not by visiting the property, although some tax appraisers actually do go out and view the exterior of the property. It is rare that they go inside to see what the amenities of the house are. So, they might appraise the same size house based on exterior dimensions and the same apparent features, when one has granite countertops and wood floors, while the other has Formica and carpet.
You can use the appraisal district values only as a rough guide, not the final answer.
The bank's appraisers, on the other hand, do go inside. The current problem with bank appraisers is FEAR. After so many bad loans were made in California, Nevada, and Florida, a lot of people blamed appraisers for overvaluing properties. So, they're afraid of having an appraisal questioned now. In some cases the bank appraiser's value is lower than the appraisal district's value -- so what is the truth?
Ask your Realtor for guidance. They know what the market is paying and can suggest an offer to make on the house. Visit both properties and see for yourself which you think is worth more. Sometimes it's a surprise to see the interior condition and wonder what the seller was thinking.
The appraisal district's website may or may not be reflective of the current market value of the property. Remember that the appraisal district assesses the home ONE time a year, whereas the market value may change every month (in the current housing market we are in). So do not use the district's website as your basis of the value. Your Realtor should be able to give you comparable sales of other homes in the area and that will give you a more realistic value of what each home is worth! Hope that helps!!