Homebuyers Guide Homeownership

Everything You Need to Know About Home Appraisals

The joys of homeownership come with learning a whole list of unfamiliar terms. From HOAs to property deeds and titles, you need to do your homework. You've probably heard the term “home appraisal,” but what does the process actually involve? How is it different from a home assessment? What do you need to do to prepare? All first-time buyers, long-time owners, and sellers need to understand home appraisals.

Appraisal vs. Assessment

An appraisal and an assessment are both measurements of a home’s value. The main differences between the two are defined by who's in charge of conducting that measurement and what it's used for. An appraisal is conducted by a licensed, independent third party to estimate fair market value for a property. Mortgage lenders usually require an appraisal to ensure the sale price is appropriate. This also gives lenders assurance that they're not over-lending to the borrower. If you ever decide to refinance your mortgage, your home will likely need to undergo the appraisal process again.

 

If you're the buyer, there isn't much you need to do to prepare for an appraisal.

 

A property assessment is conducted by the local government, usually the city in which your home is located. While still an objective way to assess value, this process is used to determine how much you'll pay in property taxes. Your property taxes will be a percentage of the home’s value as determined by the assessment. Home assessments and the determination of property taxes happen on a regular schedule, most often annually, set by your local government.

How long do home appraisals take?

The timeline for finding and then officially buying a home can feel like a long road, and the home appraisal will take place somewhere in the middle of that journey. After undergoing pre-approval for your mortgage, finding your future home, and signing a purchase agreement, your lender will want to have an appraisal completed.

The appraisal process includes three parts: an in-person visit to your home, research of similar home sales in your area, and a report determining your home’s value. The duration of the physical inspection of your home can vary in time, depending on its size and condition—it could be as little as 15 minutes or as long as a few hours []. Once the in-person portion of the appraisal is complete, the appraiser needs to do their research and make their report. The report can be in your mortgage lender’s hands within two to seven days, according to SFGATE.

How long is a home appraisal good for?

A number of factors influence home value. Some of these factors, like the condition of a home and upgrades, can be controlled by the buyer. Others, like the economy and the local market, are external factors. Given how the market can change so quickly, home appraisals don't have an unlimited shelf life.

The more information the appraiser has, the easier it is for them to prepare an accurate report.

In most cases, there's no set-in-stone expiration date for home appraisals, but six months is a good rule of thumb. Home appraisals are completed by analyzing comparable home sales (known as comps) made within the last six months. Looking at comps older than six months may not give an accurate picture of the home’s value relative to current market conditions.

How much does a home appraisal cost?

Even though your mortgage lender will request the appraisal, it typically falls to the buyer to pay for it. If you're not using a lender and opting to pay cash, you'll still likely pick up the appraisal tab. An appraisal is the buyer’s responsibility because it offers them protection from overpaying.

Appraisers will usually charge either a flat fee of an hourly rate for their work. Prices will vary depending on your location, but most home appraisals range from $312 to $404.

The Home Appraisal Checklist

If you're the buyer, there isn’t much you need to do to prepare for an appraisal. Once you’ve paid and scheduled it, you'll just have to go through mortgage underwriting and the closing. If you're a seller or you're refinancing your mortgage, there are some more steps you can take to prepare for your home’s appraisal.

  • Make your home clean and presentable. You’ll want your home to make a good impression on their appraiser. A lower than expected appraisal can be a major stumbling block in the sale and refinancing processes. While clutter will not make or break the value of your home, it can certainly play a factor. Take the time to clean and organize your home to make the appraiser’s job as easy as possible.
  • Invest in upgrades. Upgrades have the potential to bump up your home’s value. Something as small as painting your walls can be helpful. If you're looking to make a larger upgrade, renovating the kitchen or a bathroom offers a good return on investment.
  • Take care of those minor projects you’ve been putting off. Repairs of minor nuisances, like a chipped front door or weedy flower bed, are easy to delay, but these issues do affect the curb appeal of your home. Taking the time for easy fixes can be beneficial.
  • Prepare documentation. The more information the appraiser has, the easier it is for them to prepare an accurate report. Gather vital information about your home, such as documentation of the most recent sale price or receipts for updates and repairs.

If you're planning to buy a home, here's more information about different types of mortgages.

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