An appraiser takes into account more than just your home’s square footage, geographic coordinates, and number of beds and baths to inform their opinion of value. So not knowing what goes into a home appraisal is like taking a test you didn’t study for—it’s going to happen either way, but the more you know, the better your chances for a high score.
1. Your floor plan doesn’t flow.
Appraisers know that today’s buyers put a premium on open layouts for the main living areas. Open floor plans connect the kitchen and the family room, an ideal setup for entertaining and social interaction. Plus, homes with a breezy, wide-open flow naturally feel larger and allow sunlight to bounce between spaces.
Most houses built before 1990 feature closed-off layouts with dividers between the main rooms that can date even well-kept older homes. If your house is newer, bucks the normal layout for older houses, or has been remodeled to knock down a few walls, know that the open layout will be in your favor when the time comes to get your home appraised.
It’s not a one-time perk either: a 2017 study showed that homes with open floor plans appreciate at a rate of 7.4% faster than their closed-off counterparts.
If your home has more doorways than open walkways, that doesn’t mean you’re going to get gouged on your appraisal. Think about what benefits an open plan has, and figure out how you can apply those to your current space. Ways to do this might include:
- Painting your walls with a warm, sunny tone to give the illusion of light.
- Arrange furniture in a way that promotes natural pathways and flow.
- Hang mirrors or large pieces of art to make the space appear large and luxurious.
- Swap out opaque window treatments for sheer ones (like these gauzy panels from Bed Bath Beyond) and put up floor-to-ceiling length curtains.
These tweaks obviously won’t magically transform your floor plan, but they can go a long way in making it appear a lot more modern when the appraiser comes to look around. Any preparations you do to show the house at its best will help you make a good impression.
2. Worn mortar between the exterior bricks of a home.
Anything that could indicate structural issues in a home is a major red flag for real estate appraisers checking out the property’s long-term sustainability. Lenders won’t be as enthusiastic about investing in properties if they think there’s a chance that a house’s framework may be compromised.
When mortar (usually in the foundation or walls) is cracked and worn, the chances of water seeping through is raised significantly. In cold climates, this can create especially serious damage when water that’s seeped into the structure freezes and expands, compromising the integrity of the mortar. This can cause cracking, crumbling, and other issues that can affect your appraisal.
If this sounds like your home, it might be time to call up a masonry specialist. These carpentry professionals can fix mortar issues with a process known as repointing or tuckpointing, which involves cutting away old mortar to a uniform level and refilling the joints with fresh mortar.
This work not only makes a home exterior appear fresher, it also adds security to the structural integrity of your home and won’t raise any red flags for appraisers.
Plus, the cost of hiring a mason to repoint your home (which will run between $400 and $670) is a whole lot less than you’d spend to fully repair your brickwork, which costs homeowners an average of $1,353.
3. Your driveway has seen better days.
If you have to warn guests to take it easy coming up a bumpy driveway, you may want to consider a little bit of outdoor home improvement before having your home appraised for a sale.
An easy way to figure out if your driveway will pass muster is to take a look at the other driveways in your area. Are you surrounded by smooth asphalt while you’ve got a mess of cracks, potholes, or loose gravel? Then it will be in your best interest to bring in the pros for a quick re-do before an appraiser comes to visit.
There are a number of ways to approach this fix, depending on your budget. At the very least, you should repair cracks and sketchy spots in your driveway and/or walkway. While you’ll want to make sure your driveway renovations don’t go above and beyond what’s normal in your neighborhood (a common mistake, according to appraisal experts from HGTV), a few touch-ups where they’re needed can help to make sure your home reaches its maximum value potential.
All in all, it’s important to make sure that the entire outside of your home looks to be in top-notch condition.
4. Foul odors coming from the inside.
Pets can add a ton of value to the life you live inside your home, but not so much when it comes to the value of the home itself.
Since we spend so much time in our homes, we don’t always know what our environment smells like. This condition, which is known as being “noseblind”, is why you might not even be aware that your house smells like a litter box until you notice someone crinkle their nose. Don’t let that someone be your appraiser.
Though the smell of your house shouldn’t technically impact the results of your appraisal, the person inspecting your home is only human. If they rush your appraisal so they can get a whiff of fresh air, they might not notice some of the smaller details that make your home unique, like the ornate tin ceiling in your living room.
You don’t want to let unpleasant odors distract an appraiser or lead them to believe that something may be amiss in your home. Mildew, cigarette smoke, and other culprits can leave behind lingering smells that can turn off a lot of buyers, and appraisers know it.
“It’s not like appraisers would make a smell adjustment in the report, but they might consider the overall condition and any items that might need to be repaired,” explained Ryan Lundquist, a longtime real estate appraiser serving the Sacramento area. “Smell propels the appraiser to investigate further.”
5. Your house is in great shape, but your shed needs work.
Even if your home is in pristine condition, a shed, garage, or other outbuilding that needs a little love can derail an otherwise routine appraisal. John Fudge, a top-selling real estate agent in the Huntsville, Alabama area, recounted an experience where a seller wasn’t prepared for the scrutiny put on his shed during an appraisal—and he paid the price for it.
“Any structure that’s on the property, an appraiser will also flag those buildings,” said Fudge.”We had one a couple of years ago where…it would have been cheaper for (the seller) in the beginning to have torn the two outbuildings down versus what he ended up having to do to them in the end to get the appraisal to go through.”
To avoid this headache, make sure to handle any repairs to your buildings before the appraiser comes to check out the property. Sheds and outbuildings don’t necessarily add a lot of value to your property, but if they’re not in great condition they can negatively impact your appraisal or, in some cases, even bring your sale to a screeching halt.
6. Bad neighbors.
A clunker of a car in the yard next to yours, heavy metal blasting from across the street, an overgrown lawn adjacent to your perfectly mowed grass: When it comes to the home appraisal, your neighbors’ problems become yours.
In fact, according to the Appraisal Institute: “bad neighbors can significantly reduce nearby property values,” and issues can range from “homeowners with annoying pets, unkempt yards, unpleasant odors, loud music, dangerous trees and limbs, or poorly maintained exteriors.”
Living downwind from a home filled to the brim with newspapers and junk mail can put you in the line of fire if it were to go up in smoke. Food waste in your immediate area can attract insects, vermin and even mold, all of which can have a negative impact when it goes into a home appraisal. Statistics show that a neighbor’s messy property can lower your appraisal by more than 5-10%.
If this sounds familiar, your best bet is to have a chat with your neighbors and explain that you’re going to be selling your home. If you have the time or resources, offer to help clean up at least the outside area if they’re open to it. It may not solve the problem, but fixing up the neighborhood aesthetic can help keep your appraisal intact.
7. Your home’s unsavory past.
This one is entirely out of your control as a seller, but it can have a severe impact on the value of even the most beautiful homes.
If something unpleasant or violent has taken place in the house you’re going to sell, be prepared to get less than the house would otherwise be worth. In fact, it’s been estimated that a stigmatized house could be worth about 15 to 25% less in the years following a traumatic event than it would otherwise.
If you’re in the unfortunate situation of having to sell a home with a troubled past, you aren’t necessarily out of luck. Instead of razing the entire building and starting fresh (an expensive undertaking), it might be worthwhile to change the interior as much as possible. It’s amazing what a fresh coat of paint and a sunny, opened-up space can do to breathe positive energy back into a home.
However, be prepared to be honest and upfront about disclosing your property’s stigmatized background. Just how open you need to be to stay out of legal trouble varies widely from state to state, but it’s best to err on the side of caution and disclose your home’s past with discretion and sensitivity. Your listing agent can help you figure out the best way to handle the situation. Chances are, buyers will find out down the road and won’t be happy that you held out the information.
Chat with your real estate agent about what goes into a home appraisal
Ultimately, the real estate agent you hire will have your best interests in mind when it comes to your appraisal. Talk to your agent about what goes into a home appraisal and what actions they recommend for your unique property. They’ll also know how your house compares to others on the block and what makes local buyers tick.
An appraisal may not be a real exam, but you’ll be glad you studied just the same.
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