November 16th, 2011 11:38 AM by Eileen Denhard
The appraiser was due in an hour. The beds were unmade, breakfast dishes in
the sink and toys scattered about the playroom. Would she care?
I got moving — and cleaning. At 34 weeks pregnant, that's not so easy.
After all, I know lowball appraisals can kill deals.
They can also kill a refinancing application, which we are in the midst of
for our 1920s Georgian-style house in Queens. If an appraisal comes in too low,
it's not worth refinancing, or you might need to put in a whole lot more
We don't know how ours turned out yet, but after talking to a handful of
appraisers, I felt great regret at not doing more to plan and prepare. Here are
some tips based on those conversations.
Caution: Some of the advice — like home valuations themselves these days —
might seem contradictory. But what all the appraisers agree on is the importance
of keeping the look, feel and condition of the property as updated and cared-for
1. Spruce up the house. Appraisers say that you don't need
to deep-clean under couches and that a few dirty dishes won't hurt your home's
value. But rats, cockroaches and that car you've been tinkering on might.
"Things like overgrown landscaping, soiled carpeting, marks on walls — those do
affect value and are part of the property's overall condition rating," said Dean
Zibas, the president and chief appraiser for Zibas Appraisal in San Clemente,
Calif. In other words, think broom clean, not set design for a home-decorating
2. Curb appeal also matters, so mow the lawn, hack those
weeds and trim those hedges. This can also help offset your house from unfair
comparisons with foreclosures nearby. "In today's climate, I can't stress
enough: condition, condition, condition," said Doreen Zimmerman, an appraiser in
Paradise, Calif. "An hour or two, for the most part, will set your home apart in
the actual picture that the lender gets from the appraiser versus the actual
picture that the appraiser will provide of the (foreclosure) down the
3. Keep a list of all the updates you've made and be ready
to hand it over; a sketch plan of the house indicating square footage also
helps. "Have a list of updating done within the past 15 years. Itemize each
update with the approximate date and approximate cost. Also highlight the
notable features of the property," says Matthew George, the chief appraiser of
Eagle Appraisals in Denver. Remember the items that an appraiser might not
notice, such as a new roof or insulation. Don't forget the minor items. For
example, I mistakenly told the appraiser we hadn't updated one bathroom, but
actually we had installed a new sink and had the tub sealed. That counts, the
4. Have comps on hand. Yes, this is the appraiser's job, but
every little bit helps -- especially if you are aware of a nearby property that
sold without the aid of a real-estate agent, says Mark T. Smith, the owner and
president of Smith Appraisal Services in St. Augustine, Fla. That can mean it
wasn't posted on the multiple listing service, and can result in other delays by
the time it gets posted through other government data sources.
5. Be mindful of peeling paint. Loans insured by government
agencies, such as the Federal Housing Administration or the Veterans
Administration, will require peeling paint to be removed in houses built before
1978. But don't worry too much about a child's scrawling on his bedroom wall,
unless it's going to require a whole new paint job.
6. Focus. "Don't spend money that won't yield a return on
the investment. The best expenditures for most markets are paint, carpet, light
and plumbing fixtures," George says. Prioritize what you do; if you're the type
of homeowner who has upgraded and fixed items as they broke, you should be
7. Location still matters. If there have been changes to the
neighborhood, mention them, from a new playground to a new Whole Foods. If the
area has been declared a historic or landmark district, let the appraiser
5 future-proofing tips for home remodeling projects
8. Keep the $500 rule in mind. Appraisers often value houses
in $500 increments, so if there's a repair costing more than $500 that can or
should be made, it will count against the property. Fix leaky faucets, cracked
windows, missing handrails and structural damage.
9. Remember the concept of "effective
age," the age the appraiser can assign to a home after taking into
consideration updating and condition. "Say you have a cracked window, threadbare
carpet, some tiles falling off the shower surround, vinyl torn in the laundry
room and the dog ate the corner of the fireplace hearth," says Zimmerman, who
wrote the book "Challenge
Your Home Appraisal" and runs a website by the same name. "These items could
still add up to an overall average condition rating as the home is still
habitable. However, your effective age will be higher, resulting in comparables
being utilized which will have the same effective age and resulting lower
10. Lock up Fido and Fifi. Appraisers say they get annoyed
enough by homeowners following them around, but a snarling, growling dog is even
worse. Along the same lines, try to make the appraiser comfortable — if it's
cold out, put the heat on; if it's hot out, the air conditioning. "If it's 100
degrees out and you never put the air conditioning on, put it on for the
appraiser so they don't question that your unit is broken," Zimmerman says.
With those things in mind, let the appraiser do his job. "Questions and
banter may make the inspection go slow or make the appraiser miss something,"
said James R. Gerot, a residential appraiser in Ottumwa, Iowa. "My inspections
have a rhythm to them, so once I get started, interruptions are just that. Save
questions until after."
By S. Mitra Kalita of The Wall Street Journal