Valuing the House Before You Sell It: How to Get a Home Appraisal in 7 Simple Steps

Looking to get a home appraisal as part of your preparations for selling the house? A professional appraisal is one method for valuing a home if you’re totally in the dark about its worth or have a unique property that’s difficult to price. However, there are more efficient ways to find out a home’s value, and a buyer will have to order a separate lender appraisal as part of the closing process regardless of any appraisals you’ve obtained in the past.

So if you do opt to spend the extra money on an appraisal upfront, you want to make sure it doesn’t lead you astray with a bad opinion or the time, preparations, and expense required for this process won’t be worth it.

So let’s go through the pros and cons of a seller’s appraisal—then we’ll break down the steps of how to get an appraisal you can trust will be an accurate reflection of what your house could fetch on the open market.

A computer on a tv stand in home for home appraisal research.
Source: (Christian Bouvier/ Unsplash)

Should you get a home appraisal before listing the house?

There are both positives and drawbacks to getting a home appraisal before selling the house or deciding whether the time is right to put your home on the market.

Pros of getting a seller’s appraisal:

  • Accurate home appraisals can help you price the house right from the start.
    An accurate appraisal will help you lock in an asking price to get you all the way to closing. If the appraiser has taken into account all the relevant factors that impact your home’s worth, your home is more likely to appraise for the purposes of a buyer’s financing down the line. A professional opinion of your home’s value can also streamline price negotiations during the offer stage and give the seller leverage to hold their ground on price.
  • Special selling circumstances call for a home appraisal.  
    In the event that you’re splitting up or selling property during a divorce, you’ll want to get the value of the property upfront with an appraisal. This will give you a better idea of whether one party wishes to buy the other out, or can help you agree on a fair list price when tensions are high.
  • Generate ideas for home improvements and upgrades that add value.
    Getting an appraisal can help you pinpoint home renovations specific to your property that will add value to the house and help you sell it for more money when the time comes.

Cons of getting a seller’s appraisal:

  • You’re on the hook for the out-of-pocket expense.
    You’ll be paying for the appraisal on your own, which can cost between $300-$500, unlike the typical appraisal commissioned by the buyer prior to sale.
  • A home appraisal won’t typically be necessary to price the home correctly.  
    Your real estate agent will help price your home as part of their service package using what’s called a comparative market analysis that takes into account similar recently sold properties in your area.
  • Potential for error.
    An inaccurate appraisal could throw off your pricing strategy and delay the home sale.
  • Buyers won’t always trust an appraisal obtained by the seller.
    It’s possible that the leverage an appraisal gives you during negotiations will be mitigated by a buyer’s distrust of valuation that comes from someone they didn’t hire.

If, after evaluating these pros and cons you decide that getting an appraisal is right for you, follow this step-by-step process to get a home appraisal with a high degree of accuracy.

A man speaking to a woman about home appraisal referrals at an outside cafe.
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Step 1: Ask for referrals and advice—and do your homework!

If you had a toothache, it’s unlikely that you’d just call the first dentist that pops up online. You’d do your research to make sure the dentist had good reviews and the level of experience you’re looking for.

The same logic should be applied when you set out to get a home appraisal. Taking the time to carefully select the right home appraiser and thoroughly vet them will pay off—an inexperienced appraiser who doesn’t know the area or your property type might as well be drawing numbers out of a hat to come up with your home’s valuation.

“Most of my clients are referrals,” says John Grichine, chief appraiser at Northstar Appraiser in Orange County, California, who has been working in this business since 2003 and has appraised thousands of homes over the years. The best sources of referrals to good appraisers, he says, are friends and colleagues who have recently had their homes appraised and real estate agents with experience in the area where the home is located.

Gary Naeyaert, a highly-rated top real estate agent in Lansing, Michigan, agrees. “Many types of business relationships do matter. The level of trust increases if you have a past relationship.”

Appraisers can also be found using online resources. For example, the Appraisal Institute, a global organization for home appraisers that promotes high professional standards, offers its Find an Appraiser tool. This tool allows for a simple search for an appraiser by ZIP code, or an advanced search featuring attributes such as languages spoken or different professional specialities.

Step 2: Make sure the appraiser is a bonafide expert in your local market

Homeowners should always ask home appraiser candidates about their professional designations, whether they are licensed or certified in their state, and how long they have been in the business.

You will want to check the appraiser’s license and credentials, which you can do through your state’s licensing agency. Most state agencies will provide verification in writing that an appraiser is currently in good standing, which also may disclose any disciplinary actions that have been taken against them.

You should also make sure that your appraiser is as familiar with your area as possible. An appraiser who is not local may lack crucial area knowledge, says Grichine. An example he cites is that some cities in northern Orange County have equestrian trails. Proximity to these trails can add value to a home. But if an appraiser is unaware of their existence, they may fail to take these types of nuanced value-adds into consideration.

Never hesitate to question the appraiser about their experience, especially in specialized situations such as an appraisal during a divorce or to verify assets. You should also ask about an appraiser’s level of experience with properties specifically like yours in style, age, and layout, such as split levels, bungalows, historical homes, and so on.

A shower head that is leaking before home appraisal.
Source: (Jira/ rawpixel)

Step 3: Prepare the house to look its best for a special guest

If time allows, you’ll want to do some minor home improvements around the house before you get a home appraiser on the schedule. A little sweat equity and a couple of weekends can add big dollars to your home’s appraised value. So think about tackling the following items in preparation of your appraiser’s anticipated visit:

Take care of those minor repairs you’ve been putting off

Any broken items or fixtures, such as a leaking toilet, cracked floors, or missing door handles, should be first on the to-do list. These obvious issues can give the appraiser the idea that the house wasn’t kept in the best of shape, and should be taken care of right away, says Naeyaert.

Curb appeal: You only get one chance to make a first impression

Take a weekend and brush up the outside of your house. Simple steps such as pulling weeds, cleaning the exterior, and clearing the lawn of debris can have a huge impact.

Invest in improvements that add value or marketability

Some motivated sellers may want to start to think about upgrades that will add substantial appraised value to the property. One example that Grichine suggests to sellers in warmer climates is air conditioning. “In a hot area like Palm Springs, [lack of] air conditioning will hurt marketability.” And if the property hasn’t had a makeover since the Clinton administration, consider a new look: countertops, flooring and cabinets are all things you can spruce up for a high ROI!

Step 4: Schedule the appraisal and gather up supporting documents that speak to your home’s value

Now it’s the time to schedule the appraiser to come out to the house and do what they do best.

While the cost of a full appraisal varies according to location, you can generally expect to pay about $300-$500 for these services, according to both Grichine and Naeyaert.

Be sure to have documentation of all home improvements made to the property over the past 10-15 years on hand, including remodels, upgrades, and new additions.

A white sink in clean bathroom in preparation for home appraisal.
Source: (Teddy/ rawpixel)

Step 5: Lock in all the final details for appraisal day

It’s a few days before the appraiser’s visit (or the day of, if you’re a last-minute kind-of-person). What tasks should you take care of before they show up?

You’ll want to take a few hours to deep clean and declutter the house, particularly the visible portions like floors and countertops. Vacuum, give kitchens and bathrooms a once over, and wipe surfaces of any dust and grime.

This step is especially important if you haven’t regularly lived in the property over the past few months. Grichine can recall several times over the years when conditions in a house he visited were unsanitary, causing him physical discomfort including sneezing and difficulty breathing.

The house should be “show ready,” says Naeyaert, adding that although an appraiser won’t take value off of the house specifically for issues like dust or clutter, they are red flags that the owner has not taken good care of the property over the years, which could potentially cause the appraiser to examine the house with greater scrutiny.

It’s not uncommon for residents to have entry to a basement or attic blocked off, especially if children or pets are present, but every room of the house should be easily accessible. Make sure the appraiser can move around, take measurements and photos, and check off all of the details with ease.

Pets should be kept out of the way—put cats in a carrier and either crate dogs or take them out for a walk. Always “let the appraiser know” that they’ll be entering a house with a pet, says Grichine, adding that he likes dogs, but appreciates a warning.

The same goes for human members of the household, too. Naeyaert strongly suggests clients leave the property during the appraisal. Ask the appraiser how long they expect the process to take—an appraisal can typically last anywhere from 15 minutes to a couple of hours. Homeowners should expect the appraiser to visit every room of the house and take lots of pictures, which they will evaluate from their office.

A popular tip homeowners may hear is to bake cookies the morning of an inspection and leave them out for the appraiser. Both Grichine and Naeyaert say that this gesture never hurts, but that the value of a home is unlikely to be affected by a plate of snickerdoodles.

Step 6: Obtain and review the appraisal report with your real estate agent

If a client is working with an agent, the appraisal and report will usually go directly to them rather than the homeowner, says Grichine, adding that customers rarely look at his actual report.

Naeyaert agrees. “The report is chock-full of numbers and photos. It’s very dry, and not consumer friendly,” he says.

Asking to meet with the appraiser and go over the report will set a motivated client apart from the crowd. Homeowners can advocate for their property and make sure the appraiser has taken factors such as improvements made to the home, school districts, and features such as proximity to parks or other recreational facilities into consideration.

A satisfied man in front of computer after reading appraisal report.
Source: (Jason Strull/ Unsplash)

Step 7: Use the value to inform your pre-listing plan or get a second opinion if you’re not happy

The report is complete! There’s one of two ways this could go:

You are satisfied with the appraisal:

In this scenario, the value of the home is a number you are pleased with. This doesn’t always mean that this number meets or exceeds your expectations—in some instances, the client wants the dollar figure to be low, says Grichine. For example, if the assessment was done primarily to determine taxes on the property, the client will want a lower figure, he says.

If you are satisfied by the figure the appraiser presents you with, reach out to your real estate agent and talk through the next steps. They will want to kick off the house’s pre-listing plan and do groundwork for selling the house, such as gathering paperwork and writing a listing for the property.

You are dissatisfied with the appraisal:

In this scenario, you are not happy with the value the appraiser established for your property.

If the amount is lower (or higher) than you expected, look into potential causes of the disparity between the appraised value and the price range you estimate your house to be worth.

Factors that can bring a home’s appraised value up or down include the year the house was built, upgrades and remodeling projects completed over the years, and the home’s general condition. While you might consider your house’s original kitchen and bathrooms from 1972 to be adorably retro, in reality they’re value detractors until you invest in updating them.

Additionally, the house will ultimately be “advantaged or handcuffed” by the neighborhood it’s located in, says Naeyaert. For example, a study by an urban planner found that if a property is near a billboard, homeowners can expect the appraisal to come in up $30,826 less than a home just 500 feet farther away.

Also, “if the house is out of sync with the neighborhood, it can cause a huge difference in the appraisal,” Naeyaert says, recalling a client who had added multiple rooms onto his home, making it about twice the square footage of other houses in his neighborhood.

“Will he get twice as much money as his neighbors? No,” he says.

While homeowners can try to get a second opinion if they are dissatisfied with an appraisal, Naeyaert warns that he’s only seen two houses out of 60 he’s sold in the past two years fetch a dramatically different price from what the first appraisal came out to.

“You can get a second opinion, but it’s not a regular occurrence, and not necessary in many cases. It would be a lot to pay for [multiple] appraisals,” says Naeyaert.

Ultimately, if the number comes up low, “you can stick [the appraisal] in a drawer and tell no one about it,” says Naeyaert. And an appraisal can’t put a dollar amount on how much a home’s occupants have enjoyed living in it, loved their home, or the memories they’ve built there. “It’s just an opinion,” he says. “One person’s opinion.”

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