MAKE SURE APPRAISER KNOWS YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD
Is the appraiser from within a 10-mile radius of your property? "This is one of the first questions you should ask the appraiser," says Ben Salem, a real estate agent with Rodeo Realty in Beverly Hills, California.
He recalled a recent case where an appraiser visited an unfamiliar property in nearby Orange County and produced an appraisal that Salem said was $150,000 off. "If the appraiser doesn't know the area intimately, chances are the appraisal will not come back close to what a property is really worth."
You can request that your lender send a local appraiser; if that still doesn't happen, supply as much information as you can about the quality of your neighborhood.
PROVIDE YOUR OWN COMPARABLES
Provide your appraiser with at least three solid and well-priced comparable properties. You will save her some work, and insure that she is getting price information from homes that really are similar to yours.
Websites including Realtor.com, Zillow and Trulia offer recent sales prices and details such as the number of bedrooms and bathrooms in a home.
KNOW WHAT ADDS THE MOST VALUE
If you're going to do minor renovations, start with your kitchen and bathrooms, says G. Stacy Sirmans, a professor of real estate at Florida State University. He reviewed 150 variables that affect home values for a study sponsored by the National Association of Realtors. Wood floors, landscaping and an enclosed garage can also drive up appraisals.
DOCUMENT YOUR FIX-UPS
If you've put money into the house, prove it, says Salem.
"Before-and-after photos, along with a well-defined spreadsheet of what was spent on each renovation, should persuade an appraiser to turn in a number that far exceeds what he or she first called out."
Don't forget to highlight all-important structural improvements to electrical systems, heating and cooling systems - which are harder to see, but can dramatically boost an appraisal. Show receipts.
TALK UP YOUR TOWN
If your town has recently seen exciting developments, such as upscale restaurants, museums, parks or other amenities, make sure your appraiser knows about them, says Craig Silverman, principal and chief appraiser at Silverman&Co. in Newtown, Pennsylvania.
DISTINGUISH BETWEEN UPSTAIRS AND DOWNSTAIRS
Many homeowners covet that refinished basement, but that doesn't mean appraisers look at it the same way. "Improvements and additions made below grade, such as a finished basement, do not add to the overall square footage of your house," says John Walsh, president of Total Mortgage Services in New York. "So they don't add anywhere near as much value as improvements made above grade."
According to Remodeling magazine, a basement renovation that cost $63,000 in 2011-12 will recoup roughly 66 percent of that in added home value. That's not as good as an attic bedroom, which will recoup 73 percent of its cost. Even similar bedrooms typically count for more if they are upstairs instead of downstairs.
Even jaded appraisers can be swayed by a good looking yard. "Tree trimming, cleaning up, a few flowers in the flower beds and paint touch up can all help the appraisal," says Agnes Huff, a real estate investor based in Los Angeles.
That advice holds true indoors, too. "Get rid of all the clutter in your home," says Jonathan Miller, a longtime appraiser in New York. "It makes the home appear larger."
GIVE THE APPRAISER SOME SPACE
Don't follow the appraiser around like a puppy. "I can't tell you how many homeowners or listing agents follow me around in my personal space during the inspection," he says. "It's a major red flag there is a problem with the home."
And while you're at it, make the appraiser's job as pleasant as possible by giving your home a pleasant smell. At a minimum, clean out the litter box. Baking some fresh cookies and offering him one or two probably won't sway your appraisal, nor should it. But it couldn't hurt.
By Lou Carlozo - (Reuters)