When you're selling or refinancing your home, it probably will be appraised to determine its current market value. The appraiser will look at factors such as square footage, materials, amenities, and condition, and evaluate these factors against comparable properties, or “comps,” that have recently sold in the area.

Key Takeaways

  • Clean and uncluttered rooms convey the message that a home is well-maintained.
  • Minor cosmetic improvements can make a big difference.
  • Avoid big expensive improvements. They don't pay off.

The appraisal process is meant to be objective, but appraisers are human. Good curb appeal and clean, uncluttered rooms send a message of a well-maintained home. And they can be achieved without a great deal of time or expense. 

Spruce It up 

Make sure your home looks its best when the appraiser arrives. You can take your cues from professional home stagers who prepare properties to show to buyers.

De-clutter, make minor repairs, and touch up the paint if necessary, suggests Marie Graham, who runs a staging business called The Refreshed Home in Westchester County, N.Y.

You’ll need to do these tasks anyway if you’re putting your home on the market, so you might as well get started. Even if you’re refinancing, you won't want your dirty dishes or messy desk immortalized in the appraiser’s photo archives. 

Tidy Up the Yard

The appraiser is probably taking notes before even knocking on your door. Unless your yard is a total disaster, investing in elaborate landscaping is usually a waste of money. But a minor clean-up is worth a weekend or two.

M. Lance Coyle, a Dallas-based appraiser and former president of the Appraisal Institute, suggests removing any dead trees or bushes that detract from your home’s appearance.

Graham says she often advises staging clients to make simple cosmetic fixes such as repairing walkways, sealing driveways, and putting numbers on mailboxes. 

Point out Major Improvements 

If you recently replaced the roof or installed a new patio, mention it to the appraiser, Coyle says.

But don’t make major improvements now in hopes of increasing your home’s appraisal or resale value. Few such projects ever recoup 100% of their cost.

For example, a major kitchen renovation costs close to $68,000 on average but returns only about 59% of that, or roughly $40,000, according to Remodeling magazine’s 2020 Cost vs. Value Report. 

How to Interact with the Appraiser

Offer to answer any questions the appraiser may have, but resist the urge to trail him or her from room to room.

If you know of similar homes in the neighborhood that have recently sold, don’t hesitate to call them to the appraiser’s attention, Coyle says. The appraiser may not be as familiar with the area as you are and could miss a comp that would work to your benefit.

Look for credentials such as MAI or SRA, both of which are conferred based on an appraiser’s education and experience. If the appraisal comes in lower than you hoped, you can gauge whether it was due to your unrealistic expectations or possible appraiser inexperience or incompetence. 

Know Your Rights 

If you hire the appraiser to determine your home’s value, the appraisal belongs to you. If you’re refinancing your mortgage and the lender hires the appraiser, the lender is required to provide you with a copy–possibly for a reasonable fee–of the appraisal and any other home value estimates.

Review the written appraisal for errors. Check whether the comps the appraiser chose are reasonably similar to your home.

If necessary, you can appeal the appraisal with your lender or ask it to order a second appraisal.