“It’s very common for people to believe that their house has to look like it does on HGTV to appeal to an appraiser,” says Chris Norton, a top-selling real estate agent in Trenton, New Jersey. But that’s a myth. In fact, your efforts to tackle a full makeover of your house could backfire (you won’t recoup your spend on most major home-remodeling projects). Instead, we’ll show you how to increase your property value for an appraisal by focusing your time, energy, and money on a few key high-impact projects, some of which require no demolition at all.
1. Investigate neighborhood trends, then update your house to match the area
Homeowners tend to get laser-focused on their own property, when they should take a look around at the competition instead, explains San Diego appraiser Sidney Loiseau. In his decade-plus of experience appraising homes, he finds this to be one of the most commonly overlooked “projects.”
Before an appraiser even steps foot on your property, they’ll gather a list of comps to compare your home. They’ll use the price of similar homes sold nearby, and adjust based on features and qualities of your home. If homes in your area are selling with new hardwood floors, updated appliances, and fabulous curb appeal, you should consider taking on similar projects to fetch the same value. “How the market reacts to that property is a direct correlation of how they’re going to react to your home,” says Loiseau.
So spend a few Saturdays browsing the area — online and in person. Take notes on what you see. Updates, features, and finishes common for your area should serve as a roadmap for making improvements to your own home. If you don’t shop the competition, you could be missing out on trends and projects that attract high appraisal value in your area.
2. Improve your curb appeal and take amazing care of your yard
“They say don’t judge a book by its cover, but we all do,” Loiseau says, speaking for the appraiser community.
“If I see the curb appeal of the property is well put together, then I can assume the rest of the house will follow suit.”
A good first impression is hard to beat, and curb appeal can return more bang for your buck than nearly any other project. You don’t need fancy topiaries or expensive fountains to make a difference, either. Simply keep the yard manicured and tidy (if you’re dealing with bare patches, grubs, brown spots, or weeds, consult HomeLight’s guide to fixing up a troubled lawn).
Add a few low-maintenance shrubs, trees, or bushes to the property, and mulch your garden beds liberally. 75% of top real estate agents across the country agree that homeowners who invest in landscaping can increase the property’s overall value by 1% to 10%.
According to Mike Ford, a Southern California-based general-certified real estate appraiser since 1986, 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. Just make sure you turn off the sprinklers for the appraiser’s onsite visit and avoid watering the lawn right before they arrive. They’ll need to assess the outside of the house and would like to avoid tracking mud into your home in the process.
3. Update your flooring for a consistent flow between rooms
Your flooring sets the tone for your entire home, and when in doubt, hardwood is king. The National Association of Realtors 2019 Remodeling Impact Report estimates a 106% ROI on new hardwood flooring in a home. If you’re lucky enough to already have hardwood but your boards are scratched and dinged, you can refinish them for $2,600 to fetch a 100% return on investment, according to the National Association of the Remodeling Industry.
The Uniform Residential Appraisal Report asks appraisers to specify the materials and condition of the floors. “There’s an expectation of some type of finished flooring,” says Ford. If he can see the carpeting tack-strips, for instance, “I’m certainly making some notes in regard to the flooring. Likewise, carpeting that is visibly worn or has a noticeable odor, such as from pets, mold, or smoking, “can be a real impediment to value,” Ford says. Market conditions and your price point will determine how much an appraiser knocks off.
Whatever flooring style you go with, choose the same look throughout the home. “People want to see a flowing house, with consistent flooring throughout,” says Loiseau.
4. Compile a comprehensive list of upgrades
If you’ve put time and energy into upgrading your home, now’s not the time to be modest. Don’t assume the appraiser will notice every fixture updated or siding replaced. Instead, provide the appraiser with a comprehensive list of upgrades you’ve done in the last four years. Include dates of projects and the associated costs.
You can guarantee an experienced appraiser will do their research beforehand — which includes pulling your property’s MLS listing. That means including specifics, like finishes and new appliances, will give the appraiser a full picture of what to expect and an idea of how they can price updates before they’ve set foot on your property. “I honestly believe the lion’s share of the appraisal work is done ahead of time,” says Norton. “They’re looking for surprises on the property.”
5. Get a pre-listing inspection to tackle deferred maintenance
When Loiseau works on appraisal consulting projects, he likes to throw clients a curveball when it comes to increasing appraised value: “I always tell people to get a home inspection report. It’s going to help you identify big and small problems on the property.”
A pre-listing inspection can increase a property’s value because it uncovers issues with that home that were previously invisible to the owner. That might lead you to make a decision like repairing the roof (which a buyer could ask you to replace before they’ll close on a home) rather than splurge on that fancy backsplash for the kitchen which the new owners might gut upon move-in anyway.
6. Fix chipped and peeling paint
While an appraiser doesn’t care whether your house is red, blue, or orange (i.e., the color of your paint) they will pay attention to the condition of your paint. Is it chipped, peeling, or otherwise not as it should be? Chipped or peeling paint, especially on the exterior of your home, can invite wood rot and other structural issues and is especially problematic on homes built before 1978 when people still used lead-based paint.
An appraiser isn’t going to know whether your home contains lead paint or not. But they will have to note that it’s in bad shape for certain loans (such as FHA, VA, and USDA) and then you’ll be required to have it properly fixed by scraping the surface and applying new paint, according to Riverfront Appraisals, a 5-star appraisal firm in Kentucky. This can be the case for conventional loans, too.
If you’re under a time or budget crunch, you don’t need to repaint the entire home, “Just touch things up where you know you need to,” Loiseau says.
Header Image Source: (Frans Van Heerden / Pexels)