How to Prepare for an Appraisal and Showcase Your Home at Its Best

getting ready for appraisal

By: Tara Mastroeni

Determining a price for your home can be stressful, especially if you don’t know how to prepare for an appraisal. If the home’s appraised value is too far from the listing price, it can make or break the deal. Plus, even though appraisers are subject to strict regulations, much of their job is subjective, which means it’s crucial for your home to make a good impression on them.

Luckily, there’s a lot you can do to help present your home at its best.

Develop a critical eye

The first step toward getting ready for an appraisal can be the hardest for sellers. You need to go through the home with a critical eye and make yourself aware of any areas in need of maintenance. Doing so allows you to think like an appraiser and identify any factors that might negatively affect your home’s value.

“Go through the house very carefully to make sure everything works correctly,” says Daniel Gyomory of Century 21 Town & Country in Northville, MI. “Make sure all lights are working and all doors open and close properly, and make sure there are no leaks anywhere. You need to show that the property has been well-maintained.”

While you’re at it, you should check for things like leaky sinks, running toilets, and nail pops. As you go around the home, put everything down on one list so that you can easily refer to it later.

Catch up on your home maintenance

You guessed it: One of the most critical to-do’s is to complete any outstanding home maintenance tasks.

Go ahead and do small projects like fixing squeaky doors and cleaning out the gutters on your own. However, for bigger jobs like plumbing and electrical work, your best bet is to hire a certified professional. While it might cost a bit more upfront, hiring a professional to do the work frees you of any liability and allows you to show an invoice as proof, if need be.

And remember, these should be smaller home maintenance tasks, not big renovations. While giving a room a fresh coat of paint or adding some curb appeal is probably fine, it’s not the best idea to finish your basement right before an appraisal. Unfortunately, there aren’t any guarantees on how much value projects like these will add to your home, so sometimes they aren’t worth the money you’d put in.

Put together a list of upgrades

“I work with the seller to prepare a highlight sheet, just a simple one-page document outlining all the upgrades that have been done to the home,” says Ryan Hardy, a real estate agent with Gold Coast Realty Chicago.

Highlight sheets end up being very valuable tools, because they allow the appraiser to see all the added value in your home with just one glance. Your best bet is to sit down—either with your agent or independently—and draw up a list of all the improvements that have been made to your home within the past decade. Be sure to include approximate dates, permits, and warranties for these projects, as well.

The highlight sheet shouldn’t just include aesthetic improvements like upgraded kitchens and bathrooms. Functional and structural improvements like a new roof or HVAC system should also make the list.

Note: It’s in your best interest to overlook any improvements done without proper permitting. Since appraisers often work closely with municipal officials to verify recorded information, mentioning these upgrades might bring them to light and could cause more trouble than they’re worth.

Clean like there’s no tomorrow

“Have the house clean and clutter-free,” says Kevin Lawnton, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker Schiavone & Associates in Bordentown, NJ.

It might sound like a no-brainer, but cleaning for an appraisal is so important that it bears repeating. This is the one and only chance the appraiser will get to view your home. Since his opinion of the home can actually make or break the sale, it’s crucial to ensure it’s a good one.

Your best bet is to tackle the task in two parts: a deep clean of the home a few days before the appraisal and then a final sprucing up on the big day. When it arrives, you’ll want to make sure that everything is in its place. Make the bed, pick up any errant toys from kids and pets, and do the dishes. While these factors technically aren’t included in the appraisal, they might subconsciously influence the appraiser’s opinion of your home, which can affect its determined value.

Ask your agent to get involved

The appraised value of your home is largely determined by how it compares with similar properties that have sold in your area within the past six months. Most agents will try to assist appraisers with that research by providing them with comparables that justify the sale price.

“Usually it’s up to the seller’s agent to pull together a comp report showcasing how great the property in question is compared to the current market,” says Gina Ko of Triplemint Real Estate in New York City.

Unfortunately, just like everything else in the appraisal process, comps are subject to guidelines, as well as your appraiser’s individual opinion. Some are able to factor in transactions in progress, while others need to stick with settled properties. Each will need to search for comps with a specific radius.

That said, your real estate agent will likely be familiar with how the appraisal process is regulated in your area. Ask your agent to put a list of comps together to give to your appraiser. Whether or not the appraiser chooses to take them into account, they will come in handy if you need to ask for an appeal after the appraisal.