What Do Home Appraisers Look For In an Appraisal?

November 16, 2022
What Do Home Appraisers Look For In an Appraisal?

When you sell your old elliptical or treadmill on a website like Facebook Marketplace, the process can be as simple as writing a brief description, naming your price, listing your product, and responding to the occasional (often vague or obvious) inquiry. Selling a home, however, is a far more involved process, and will warrant both a home inspection and a home appraisal to ensure that the potential deal is in the best interest of both participating parties. 

The home appraisal process is an important one to both buyers and sellers, as a professional home appraisal can help sellers get the best price for their home — while also making sure that this price is both fair and accurate for buyers as well as their lenders. Without a home appraisal to verify the actual home’s value, sellers may be leaving money on the table, and mortgage lenders may not be willing to put the money down at all; almost all mortgage lenders require a home appraisal.1

If the thought of having to go through the home appraisal process is making you a bit anxious, don’t be! When sellers are properly prepared for an expert appraisal, the process can be seamless and genuinely advantageous. Being prepared will mean knowing what home appraisers won’t look for as well as what appraisers look for in the home — both of which Truehold has answers for below. Read on to get prepped and ready for your home appraisal!   

How Long Does a Home Appraisal Take? 

The short answer: Longer than you’d expect. On average, home appraisals can take one to two weeks from state to finish — with some appraisals in today’s busy market taking up to a month to finalize.2

How Does an Appraisal Work? 

Whereas a home inspection focuses on a home’s structural integrity and livability, and aims to uncover any potential hazards, the goal of a home appraisal is to ascribe an accurate home value to the property. Home appraisals can be initiated by either a potential seller or the prospective buyer and their lender, depending on whether a home appraisal is being used to determine a listing price (for the seller) or verify a loan amount (from the lender.) 

When a buyer submits an offer on a property, and the offer is accepted by a seller, the buyer’s mortgage lender will likely request a professional home appraisal to confirm that the property is worth at least the offer price. If the appraised value is lower, the lender may force a lower asking price, lest the deal fall apart altogether. Home appraisals can also be initiated by a homeowner looking to establish their home’s value prior to applying for a home equity loan or home equity line of credit (HELOC) or before exploring alternatives like Truehold’s Sale-Leaseback. No matter the reason for a home appraisal, however, knowing exactly what you’re getting yourself into will be paramount to your success. 

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Home Appraiser Qualifications

Home appraiser requirements vary from state to state, but all professional home appraisers must be licensed and have the necessary educational experience under their belt. Before home appraisers can begin providing their unbiased, professional opinion on a home’s value, they must take and pass the National Uniform Licensing and Certification Exam.3 With so much hanging in the balance, you can rest assured that your home appraiser will be fit for the job. 

Preparing for Your Home Appraisal

After scheduling your appraisal with a licensed home appraiser, you’ll want to begin preparing your home for an efficient appraisal with a home appraisal checklist. Note: Now is not the time to make additions to your home, spearhead major upgrades, or take on large home improvement projects. If you think you may want to tackle these projects and boost the appraisal value of your home, do so before you begin the sale and/or appraisal process. 

Preparation for an appraisal should include tidying your property so that your home is presentation-ready. Think of the real estate appraiser as maybe the first potential buyer you’re showing your home to — you want to ensure that they see the value in your home. Beyond tidying your home, take the time to touch up any minor blemishes. Scuffs, chips in the paint, and squeaky doors should all be taken care of prior to your appraisal, so a mark on the wall doesn’t also become a mark on your valuation sheet. 

You should also keep thorough documentation on hand, including summaries of all renovations and upgrades (as well as the receipts for relevant expenses) to “show your work” as to why your home is worth what you think it’s worth. 

What Do Appraisers Look for In a Home?   

Want to know how to determine your home’s value? Knowing how a home appraisal works can help you be partially prepared, but what do home appraisers look for? The following are a few major factors likely to influence a property’s value, in no particular order: 

  • The numbers (rooms and usable square footage)
  • The structure (condition and signs of damage)
  • The location (neighborhood and local market conditions) 
  • The improvements (any additions, renovations, or upgrades you’ve made as owner)

The Numbers

Your house — especially if you’ve poured time, sweat, tears, and money into making it a home — is likely very important to you, and selling your home can be an emotional process. With that said: A home appraisal is not personal in the slightest, and home appraisers will be focused primarily on the cold hard facts regarding the property. This won’t take into account the memories you’ve made in the home or the life you’ve lived within its four walls. Rather, an appraiser will stick to the numbers when valuing your home. 

Primarily, the numbers in question will be the number of bedrooms and bathrooms and the home’s usable square footage. Appraisers will then compare these figures to recent home sales in your area with similar stats to help properly value your home. Buyers in certain markets may heavily favor homes with three or more bedrooms and bathrooms, making similar homes more valuable than two-bed/one-bath options in the same area. The opposite can also be true; smaller homes may be more popular and potentially more valuable per square foot in certain areas. Your professional real estate appraiser will know what buyers and your area historically favor, thus determining where your home fits into the market. 

The Structure

Though a home appraiser is less concerned with the ins and outs of your home’s structure than a home inspector, they will want to ensure that your home is structurally sound and free from potential hazards which could pose a threat to you or a potential buyer. Things that you may have grown used to, like slow water leaks, tilted or off-center bedroom doors, or cracks along the wall or ceiling, can raise serious red flags to home appraisers as they may be a sign of deeper structural issues lying in wait.4

Generally speaking, a home appraiser will not hold a microscope on smaller issues in the same way a home inspector might. So what do home appraisers look for if they aren’t focused on every little detail? Mostly: Clear signs of neglect, failure to complete regular home upkeep, the materials used to build the home, and signs of extensive water or termite damage, rot, or mold. Your home’s appraised value may be dramatically impacted should these issues surface during a home appraisal. That should be the least of your worries, however, as mold or rot from water damage popping up during a home inspection might limit your home’s likelihood of selling at any price.5 

The Location

“Location, location, location” is often considered the #1 rule in real estate, with realtors and potential buyers alike reciting the phrase ad nauseum — sometimes with little knowledge of the truth behind the phrase.6 In the case of a professional home appraisal, location can have a huge impact on value; home appraisers will therefore take great interest in the area your home is located. Why? Because location can majorly influence buyer behavior, and thus have a large impact on the true value of your home. As a whole, most buyers place value in a home’s proximity to local amenities, the safety of a given area, and recent developments that could impact a location’s future desirability. Home appraisers will gauge an area’s current desirability by looking at recent home sales, meaning that market conditions also carry significant weight in determining property value.7

Two features of a home’s location that buyers often overlook are the neighboring homes themselves and the patterns of occupants — and these can end up having a huge impact on a home appraiser’s final decision. For example: If neighboring homes are primarily rentals or foreclosures that sit vacant, an appraisal may be lower than a similar home settled near buyer-owned homes. When surveying your home’s location, home appraisers will pay attention to your home’s distance from schools and public transportation; but they’ll also look to your neighbors to establish a clearer picture. 

The Improvements

Considering the importance of location, market conditions, and sales of similar properties, there’s seemingly little homeowners can do to influence their home’s appraised value. But through improvements, renovations, and additions, homeowners can seize some control over their property value and do their best to increase their return on investment. Needless to say: If you’ve worked to leave your home better than you found it, the home appraisal is the time to show off your hard work. 

We should note that home appraisers won’t be concerned with the new towel rings you installed in the bathroom, nor will your carefully curated home decor move the needle on your home’s appraised value. Rather, home appraisers will shift their focus to major upgrades — like energy-efficient appliances, additional bedrooms and bathrooms, amenities, and visual lifts like new fixtures and lush landscaping. Home appraisers will factor these additions into your home’s appraised value, so be sure to log any and all significant upgrades (as well as your expenses for each) and refer to them come time for the appraisal. 

Don’t know how to increase your home’s value? If you’re looking for some of the best ways to improve your home’s value before having it professionally appraised, check out our resources for some tried-and-true value-boosting tips from the Truehold team. 

What Hurts a Home Appraisal? 

Several times throughout this article, we’ve reiterated that home appraisals and home inspections are two distinct processes. While this is true, some of the same factors that can “hurt” a home inspection can also hurt a home appraisal — namely, the discovery of water, termite, or structural damage. However, there are also several cosmetic details that won’t concern a home inspector but can negatively impact a home’s appraised value, including: 

  • Curb appeal
  • Niche or personal renovations
  • Architectural style

In addition to these factors, the core tenets of a home appraisal outlined in the paragraphs above can negatively impact your home’s value. Fewer than three bedrooms in an area where four-bedroom homes are more highly desired? Your appraised value could dip. Seeing slower home sales in your area relative to the rest of the country? This could also have an impact. To ensure that your home is appraised for every dollar that it’s worth, eliminate any potential detractors (within your control) prior to your appraisal.

Reap All the Benefits of a Home Appraisal

The home appraisal process can be a daunting, weeks-long process, but with some anticipation and preparation, this step can be the key to realizing your home’s true value and ensuring that your hard work pays off. Whether you’re hoping to use your home’s appraised value to set a fair asking price, finalize the sale following an offer, or tap into your home’s equity, make the most of this useful tool by being ready for your home appraisal.  

If you’ve found this article helpful but still have questions about the home appraisal process or the importance of this step, Truehold is here to get you properly prepared for your home appraisal, home inspection, and beyond. To learn more about how to get the most out of your home — and begin seeing your years-long investment pay off — request your free Info Kit from Truehold.  

Sources:

1. Investopedia. No-Appraisal Mortgage. https://www.investopedia.com/terms/n/noappraisal-mortgage.asp 

2. Opendoor. How Long Does a Home Appraisal Take?. https://www.opendoor.com/articles/how-long-does-an-appraisal-take

3. The Appraisal Foundation. How to Become a Real PropertyApprasier. https://www.appraisalfoundation.org/imis/TAF/Resources/Aspiring_Appraisers/How_to_Become_a_Real_Property_Appraiser/TAF/Copy_of_Become_RP_Appraiser.aspx?hkey=e156deb3-275f-46b6-9775-177c043ca399 

4. Groundworks. 8 Simple Signs Your Home Has a Foundation Problem. https://www.groundworks.com/resources/signs-your-home-has-foundation-problem/ 

5. The Appraisal Foundation. National Uniform Licensing and Certification Examination. https://www.appraisalfoundation.org/imis/TAF/Standards/Qualification_Criteria/National_Uniform_Licensing_and_Certification_Exam_for_Real_Property_Appraisers_/TAF/AQB_National_Exam.aspx 

6. HomeLight. A Homeowners Guide To Selling a House With Water Damage. https://www.homelight.com/blog/selling-a-house-with-water-damage/#:~:text=Are%20you%20required%20to%20disclose,about%20any%20known%20property%20issues

7. Investopedia. The Factors of a "Good" Location. https://www.investopedia.com/financial-edge/0410/the-5-factors-of-a-good-location.aspx 

8. Moving.com. Why Location Is so Important in Real Estate. https://www.moving.com/tips/why-location-is-so-important-in-real-estate/#:~:text=One%20of%20the%20reasons%20why,dry%20cleaners%2C%20shopping%20and%20entertainment

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