It’s not a bad time to get your house appraised. Home values across the nation recently increased an average of 19% in a single year, so even if you’ve been tracking trends pretty closely, you may be pleasantly surprised to see what your house is worth in 2022.
Follow these steps on how to get a home appraisal in preparation of selling or whatever real estate needs you may have.
Why get a house appraised?
A home appraisal is required or just plain useful in a variety of scenarios. Let’s take a quick look at some of the most common situations that may warrant an appraisal.
You plan to list your home soon
Sometimes a pre-listing appraisal is a helpful tool or supplement to a seller’s pricing strategy. For homes with unique features — like a detached in-law suite, tennis court, generator, solar roof panels, or even a basement bowling alley — it can be tougher to predict how the market will react. And you’re unlikely to find recent sales of properties with those same characteristics as a benchmark.
Home appraisers are trained to know “specific techniques that can be used to address problems such as the scarcity of comparable sales, the analysis of cost data, the possibility of rezoning and alternative uses, and the need to consider specially defined markets and values,” according to the Appraisal Institute.
That said, the cost of an appraisal is typically between $500-$600 and sometimes more in high-priced markets, so sellers have to weigh whether the cost is worth it.
A pre-listing appraisal isn’t always necessary to sell your home, and getting one doesn’t mean that a buyer’s lender won’t require a separate and independent appraisal before closing.
In addition, your real estate agent will help price your home using what’s called a comparative market analysis that takes into account similar recently sold properties in your area. And an agent’s CMA is usually free as part of their listing services.
You’re selling due to special circumstances
If you’re splitting up or selling property during a divorce, you’ll likely need to determine the value of any jointly owned real estate as part of the divorce settlement. An appraisal may also give you and your former spouse a better idea of whether one person can afford to buy out the other’s share in the home or if it should be sold.
Divorce isn’t the only special circumstance that may require an appraisal. You might need one for a home you inherited with your siblings or if you have multiple owners selling a vacation home, for example.
You want to refinance
Your lender will need a fresh appraisal to determine your home’s current value in order for you to refinance, as well as your equity — the market value of the property, minus the amount you owe on the remaining mortgage(s) and any unpaid liens. These figures factor into your refinance eligibility, insurance requirements, interest rates, and ability to qualify for a cash-out refinance.
You’ve made home improvements (or plan to)
If you’ve made significant upgrades to your home such as remodeling the kitchen or bathrooms, an appraisal can provide you with an accurate assessment of your post-renovation value. If you haven’t yet made renovations to your home but plan to in the future, an appraisal can help you pinpoint improvements that will yield the biggest return on your investment. Review our list of what hurts a home appraisal for some of the top characteristics of your home that may reduce property value.
Steps to get a home appraisal
1. Start with a free online home value estimate
No online home value estimator tool will be a substitute for a home appraisal. But a quick online price check can be a helpful starting point to orient yourself in the process.
Using recent sales records, market trends, and your home’s latest selling price, HomeLight’s Home Value Estimator provides a preliminary range of value for your property in under two minutes. Enter your address to get started. It’s fast, and it’s free.
2. Find a reputable appraiser
You should hire a licensed and certified residential appraiser with experience appraising properties in your area. Here’s how to find one.
Check with your lender
In the case of a refinance or mortgage loan, the lender will hire an appraisal through appraisal management companies (AMC). These companies provide third-party, outsourced appraisal contractors who are not affiliated with the lender or borrower. Although the lender arranges for the appraisal through the AMC, it is usually the responsibility of the person refinancing or borrowing money to pay for the appraisal fees.
Need to find your own appraiser? You can find one online. Check out the Appraisal Institute, a global organization for home appraisers that promotes high professional standards. It offers a Find an Appraiser tool, which allows for a simple search for an appraiser by ZIP code, or an advanced search featuring attributes such as languages spoken or different professional specialties.
Get a referral
Ask friends, neighbors, coworkers, a local real estate agent or others in your network for a referral. “Most of my clients are referrals,” says John Grichine, chief appraiser at Northstar Appraiser in Orange County, California. The best sources of referrals, he shares, are often friends and colleagues who have recently had their homes appraised and real estate agents with experience in the area where the home is located.
Choose a local expert
No matter what route you take to find an appraiser, it’s critical to pick someone with deep knowledge of homes and price trends in the area.
“You want someone who really understands the local market and what’s going on in your town,” says Eric Schuell, a leading real estate agent serving the New Haven Connecticut area.
He recently had a client who hired someone from Hartford to appraise a home in Milford. Although the two cities are less than an hour’s drive from each other, the appraiser lacked in-depth knowledge of the neighborhood and came up with a value that was low.
Ask the right questions
You can 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 follow up by doing your own check on 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.
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.
3. Get ready for the appraisers’ visit
Appraisers are trained to see beyond clutter and dirty dishes in the sink. So don’t stress if your house isn’t immaculate. That said, a little sweat equity and a couple of weekends’ worth of work can help to improve your home’s appraised value.
If time allows, consider tackling the following items before the appraiser’s visit:
Make minor repairs
There’s a section on the Uniform Residential Appraisal Report, the standardized form that helps appraisers evaluate a property based on its characteristics, to note where a home has “needed repairs… renovations, or remodeling.” Even if you plan to do nothing about cosmetic eyesores, address any broken items or fixtures, such as a leaking toilet, cracked floors, or missing door handles, as well as any issues that could pose a danger — if possible.
“Take care of things like broken windows, chipped paint, safety hazards like loose stair railings and any FHA-stipulated items,” recommends Schuell. He says safety hazards that haven’t been repaired can raise red flags for an appraiser who might walk out and ask you to reschedule when the problems have been fixed.
Review HomeLight’s list of required appraisal repairs for additional guidance.
Improve curb appeal
A recent survey of top HomeLight agents found that buyers will pay 7% more for a house with great curb appeal. In fact, agents estimate that clients can yield an ROI of 238% for investing an average of $3,467 on curb appeal projects, including:
- Attend to basic yard care (cut grass, weed control, fertilization)
- Spread three cubic yards of bark mulch (including delivery)
- Tidy the landscaping (shrubs, walkway, and flower beds)
You can’t necessarily put a price on curb appeal through quantitative appraisal methods, but appraisers do take it into account qualitatively when reconciling that final value.
Got time? Invest in high-ROI projects
If you’re getting an appraisal with the goal of selling your home down the line, you may want to think about upgrades that will add substantial appraised value to your property. An example Grichine suggests to sellers in warmer climates is air conditioning.
“In an area like Palm Springs, lack of air conditioning will hurt marketability,” he shares.
And if your home 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. Review HomeLight’s guide to 25 high-ROI home upgrades for more ideas.
4. Gather relevant documents
You’ve refreshed your home, made essential repairs, and scheduled an appointment with your appraiser. Now it’s time to gather key documents that will help the appraiser come up with an accurate assessment of your property’s value. 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.
If you’re ambitious enough to do your own house comps research, feel free to share your findings with the appraiser. Just make sure the comps you select are similar in size, location, and characteristics to your own home.
5. Make final preparations for the onsite visit
It’s a few days before the appraiser’s visit (or the day of, if you’re a last-minute kind-of-person). Be sure to handle the following tasks before they show up:
Deep clean and declutter
As we stressed earlier, appraisers aren’t going to mark you down for a messy space. But it’s still wise to spend a few hours deep-cleaning and decluttering 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.
Provide easy access to all areas of the home
It’s not uncommon for residents to block entry to a basement or attic, 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.
Secure or remove pets
Keep pets 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.
Feel free to stay
Homeowners are welcome to be home for the appraisal and make sure the appraiser has access to what they need. It can be helpful to have someone there to answer questions or fill in information gaps, though you don’t need to follow the appraiser around the house.
Chatting up a storm could also cause the appraisal process to take longer than it needs to, and you don’t want to overwhelm the appraiser with a hard sell of what you believe your home to be worth.
If you’re represented by a real estate agent, it’s custom for the agent to attend the appraisal and optional for the seller to do so. An agent will have more experience in these scenarios and can assist. If no one can attend the onsite visit, then be sure to leave your list of upgrades and any other relevant materials in a visible place.
6. Pay the appraisal fee
The price of a full appraisal varies according to location, but you can generally expect to pay between $500-$600. However, getting an appraisal costs significantly more in some markets. For example, according to data from Closing Corp, appraisals generally cost a lot more in the Pacific Northwest (or really, anywhere out West) compared to the South. Some of the most expensive markets to get an appraisal include:
- Alaska ($784)
- Washington ($728)
- Hawaii ($719)
- Oregon ($719)
- Montana ($674)
Typically, a home appraisal fee covers:
- The appraiser’s expertise
- The onsite home inspection, which can take anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours
- The appraiser’s analysis of recent comparable sales (or application of other appraisal methods, such as the cost approach or income method)
- The appraisal report, summarizing how the appraiser arrived at an independent opinion of value
- Any management fees that might be associated with procuring the appraisal
7. Review the appraisal report
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.
If you are the one to receive the report, the appraised value of your home will likely be listed in a section labeled “Reconciliation,” on the appraisal report. Look for the bolded text that reads:
“Based on a complete visual inspection of the interior and exterior areas of the subject property, defined scope of the work, statement of assumptions and limiting conditions, and appraiser’s certification, my (our) opinion of the market value, as defined, of the real property that is the subject of this report is $_______, as of ________.”
It’s there (circled in red below) that you’ll find what the appraiser has determined your home to be worth.
Your appraisal is complete – what’s next?
You’ve reviewed your appraisal report and you’re a happy camper. Or maybe you’re not. Read on to learn what to do in either scenario.
You are satisfied with the appraisal
In this situation, you’re pleased with the dollar value the appraiser came up with for your home. This doesn’t always mean that the 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.
You are dissatisfied with the appraisal
If you’re unhappy with the results of your appraisal, you can submit what’s called a reconsideration of value, but your chances of success with this route are low. You’ll likely need to show that your home’s condition or quality was undervalued in a substantial way, or introduce new comps to prove your case.
That said, appraisers rarely change their original opinion of value — unless they make a material error. This can happen, as was the case for one real estate agent who noticed that an appraiser had listed her client’s three bedroom house as a two bedroom on the report. But it’s rare.
According to Mike Ford, a longtime certified general appraiser in Southern California, an appraiser can back up their opinion of value around 85% to 90% of the time. He shares that often appraisers prove the new comparables proposed by the agent are not similar enough to the property to use.
Ready to get your house appraised?
Maybe you inherited a property with your siblings and are arranging for a sale or buyout. Or perhaps you’re ready to list your home, but after 20 years of ownership and several renovations, you wouldn’t begin to guess how to price it nowadays. You should now have a good idea of how to get a house appraisal if you need one.
If you want a quick ballpark idea of your home’s value, you can always input your address into a Home Value Estimator for a fast and near-instant check as a starting point.
Remember to contact a licensed and certified appraiser who really knows the area. You’ll skip this step if you’re borrowing money or refinancing; the lender will arrange for a third-party appraiser.
Improve your curb appeal and fix broken items around the house before the appraiser’s visit, and be sure to have a list of upgrades at the ready.
Expect to pay several hundred dollars for the appraisal, a cost that will vary depending on where you live, the size of your home, and other factors.
We hope your appraisal goes smoothly!
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