A home appraiser is a qualified professional who determines the value of your home based on criteria outlined in a “Uniform Residential Appraisal Report.” This guide helps them remain unbiased, and ensures all home appraisals are conducted according to the same rules…and yet this does not mean you have no influence over the outcome of their work. Knowing what matters (and what doesn’t) to a home appraiser allows you to ensure your home is viewed in the best possible light, and thereby appraises at the highest possible price point.
Residential Appraisals: What Matters
In general, a home appraiser looks at the following:
- Year built
- Number of stories
- Construction material (of roof, floor, and walls)
- Total number of bedrooms and bathrooms
- Square footage
- Basement and attic (finished or unfinished)
- Garage and driveway
- Off-street parking
Home appraisers also consider the current state of the housing market by looking at comparable sales (comps) in your local area. Similarities and differences with your home form a key component of their report.
In addition to the fixed characteristic listed above, a home appraiser will also look at:
- Curb appeal, or the exterior aesthetic of your home.
- Structural damage including cracks in walls, floor, and ceilings
- Home renovations, especially those that increase value such as bathroom or kitchen upgrades as well as those that are unfinished and may be detrimental to value
- Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system
- Home style (where neutral is generally preferred)
Residential Appraisals: What Doesn’t Matter
- Clutter. Home appraisers are trained to evaluate a home as if it were empty. This said excessive mess may indicate that a home is uncared for, and should thus be avoided.
- Paint color. While new paint is a plus, color will not affect an appraisal unless it is so outlandish that it would turn off the typical buyer.
- Basement upgrades. Fannie Mae requires a separation of basement and “above-grade” square footage, which means these spaces will usually not be factored into total living area. A finished basement is a plus, but may not matter as much as expected.
- Cabinet and closet disorder. While a home appraiser factors in closet size, they try to overlook organization. Likewise, cabinet disorder is of no concern as long as it doesn’t hide disrepair or infestation.
- Landscaping. While curb appeal is important, elaborate landscaping may detract from value, especially if it involves hard-to-care-for plants.
The above notwithstanding, it is important to remember that home appraisers are human beings, and are as vulnerable as anyone to unconscious bias. While they will do their best to adopt a neutral perspective, their experience appraising your home may well color their perception, which is why it is important to tidy up ahead of time and make sure they can see all they need to see with ease.