When you’re selling your home, the appraisal is a crucial step in the process. The appraisal gives a third-party assessment of a home’s fair market value, which has implications on how much a mortgage lender will let a buyer borrow to make an offer. That has direct impact on the final amount you can sell your home for and how much a buyer is able to pay.
An appraiser is independent by law. Their job is to get the most accurate valuation of a home as possible. That said, appraisers are human and their experience in your home can influence their findings.
The appraiser checks that various aspects of the house are in good condition, and there may be additional criteria and things to look out for based on mortgage type, or how you're financing your home purchase: FHA loan appraisers and VA loan appraisers may scrutinize additional aspects of the home. To get the best appraisal possible, you should prepare accordingly.
First, the appraiser conducts research on comps or comparable properties that recently sold. Then, the appraiser visits the home and goes through using the lender- and underwriter-approved forms. Once they’re done, they’ll complete the process in a matter of days.
Most appraisers used the same forms written and approved by major mortgage underwriters like Fannie Mae and government regulators like the Federal Housing Authority (FHA). These forms ask about housing trends, neighborhood demographics, utilities, home measurements, property site characteristics, property condition, and more.
Generally, expect an appraiser to check:
Appraisers look at what’s readily accessible to them. Most are not electrical or plumbing experts so they won’t do an in-depth examination of your home’s systems. Likewise, home appraisers won’t open your fridge, cabinets, or drawers to see what’s going on in there. They aren’t interested in violating your privacy.
That said, some things are “subject to flags,” which means the appraiser is concerned about part of the home and wants a specific professional to inspect the issue before finalizing appraisal. Some of these problems may include:
Depending on the type of loan a buyer is using, home appraisals have some different requirements. It’s important to understand the differences in the process going in. The process outlined above is how it looks for buyers with conventional loans. If you're getting a loan backed by the Federal Housing administration the appraisal process will be nearly the same as that for when you get a mortgage loan that isn't backed by the government, but there may be a few more things to taken into account.
The FHA and USDA require appraisers to conduct additional inspections to meet U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) guidelines. In addition to the conventional loan checks, FHA appraisers will also check:
These appraisals require a little more work on an appraiser’s part as they have to take a closer look at some key elements of the property condition. It’s a little closer to a home inspection than the conventional loan appraisal.
For loans backed by the Department of Veteran Affairs, the rules are again a little different. VA appraisals differ from other appraisals in a few ways:
Like FHA and USDA loans, VA loans require appraisers to do a more “inspection-like” review of a property in addition. VA appraisers will check for minimum property requirements, that include:
Appraisers don’t work on behalf of the buyer or seller. Rather, they assist mortgage lenders to ensure that the amount they lend to a buyer doesn’t exceed a home’s true present value. But it also ensures that both buyer and seller can agree on a fair, unbiased price for a home.
Appraisers are busy, especially in busy home buying periods. The time it takes between scheduling an appraisal and getting the final report can be more than 30 days. Real estate timelines can be finicky and some people want to move faster than others.
That said, if you’re a little more flexible, you might find an appraiser is more flexible too. If a homeowner is only available on weekends, it’s going to take a while to get an appraiser to come by the house. Even if the appraisal doesn’t risk delaying closing or derailing the sale, it’s still an inconvenience that neither buyer or seller want to deal with. Rearranging your schedule to fit an appraiser’s can help you expedite the process and save precious time.
Though you may be anxious to have the appraisal done and over with, the process does take time. The lender usually orders the appraisal as soon as all the contracts are signed, but in busy markets, it can take the appraiser a few days to get out to the home. Do your best to be patient and know that a delay doesn’t necessarily mean that things have gone wrong. The report takes anywhere from three to five days to generate.
Appraisers are good at their jobs but they’re human, and everybody makes mistakes from time to time. If you want to make sure that an appraiser has the most up-to-date information to support your listing price, there are several resources you can use to get an online estimate.
One useful tool is an Automated Valuation Model (AVM). These digital models use algorithms to estimate the value of your home based on current market trends. They’re unable to use the same kind of specific details that an appraiser can, but they’re a good baseline from which to understand your home’s potential value. All you have to do is Google the term to find one.
If you’re working with an agent, you can ask them to perform a Comparative Market Analysis (CMA). This official analysis examines ten comps with information available to agents to get a ballpark figure for your home’s value.
Finally, in some areas, you can get a pre-listing appraisal or even a pre-inspection. This involves inviting an experienced home inspector or even real estate agent to perform an informal appraisal.
Appraisers can’t use information that’s more than three months old, but previous appraisals, blueprints, or home sketches count as evergreen materials. If you have them, these documents can help appraisers make benchmarks for their own measurements and give zoning information and other details that can help an appraiser out.
Likewise, because appraisers look for value-adding features, it’s a good idea to have an itemized list of upgrades you’ve made, including the dates of the work, the type of work done, the cost (with receipts), and the permits you got for them.
Some other good physical or digital paperwork to have includes:
When you’ve lived in a home for an extended period of time, countless little things could go wrong. Little bits of required maintenance won’t necessarily impact the value of your home, but there’s a psychological benefit to fixing what you can.
Minimizing the bits of peeling paint, chips in the roof, and cracks in the wall will keep an appraiser from walking around and thinking, “Hmm, there are a lot of little things wrong with this home.” You don’t want an appraiser to get the impression that there’s a pattern of neglect in the home so it's important to invest in your home's curb appeal. They might start wondering if you’ve neglected major systems, too, and put a flag on the appraisal.
Painting, sealing cracks, covering exposed wiring, replacing missing outlet plates, and fixing locks can all make a positive difference in your appraisal.
As we’ve stated, an appraiser usually won’t dig deep into your home because they have a lot of ground to cover. They will, however, still need to get into the crawl space under the house, the basement, and the attic. Ensuring that these areas are accessible and that your home is free of clutter will help the appraiser make an efficient visit. And it’s always better to keep them in a good mood.
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