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A Realtor will do a market analysis of your home to determine the best asking price. This analysis is similar to what an appraiser does, but the appraiser is unbiased - he or she has no interest in the value of your home other than to tell you what it is. An unbiased appraisal can also be a good negotiating tool. An appraiser can also tell you how much value would be added to your house by adding another bathroom, for example, or updating the kitchen.
Many companies offer online home appraisals. These companies, which include www.ditech.com, www.valuemyhouse.com, www.electronicappraiser.com, and many others, provide an appraisal of your property based on the price that other, similar homes in your area recently sold for. The shortcoming of these services is that no one actually goes out and looks at your home, and the services rely on your description of your property to arrive at a value. These services may be somewhat useful for setting your asking price, but a mortgage lender is unlikely to use an online appraisal.
Certain information and documentation will make the appraisal more accurate. If you have them, provide your appraiser with these documents: a plot plan or land survey; information on the most recent purchase of the house, especially within the past three years; the title, including any easements; a home inspection report; documentation of any recent improvements and their costs. Your appraiser may request additional information as well.
A professional appraisal can help you determine an appropriate asking price if you want to sell your home. If you're a buyer, getting an independent appraisal can help to assure you that you're not spending too much for your house. If you're getting a mortgage for a new or existing home, the mortgage company will want an appraisal in order to determine how much of a loan you will qualify for.
An appraisal will include a visual inspection of the home, which will include the approximate age and condition of the house, the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, the condition and amenities of the kitchen, and so on. The appraiser is looking for features of the house, as opposed to the structural soundness that a home inspector looks for. The appraiser will estimate a value for the house, either based on what it would cost to construct a similar home (including land) or by comparing the house to other, similarly appointed homes in the area that have recently sold.
Your Realtor may be able to recommend an appraiser. You can also ask friends or neighbors who they have used, or a mortgage company may be able to make a recommendation. There are several organizations and web sites for professional appraisers, like The Appraiser Foundation (www.appraiserfoundation.org); Appraiser USA (www.appraiserusa.com); Appraisal Institute (www.appraisalinstitute.org); and AppraisersDotCom (www.appraisers.com). Remember that membership in a professional organization is not necessarily an indication of competence. Get personal recommendations if possible, and ask for references. Make sure the appraiser is properly licensed in your state.
The appraisal report will include the address of your property; a description of the neighborhood, including market factors like property value trends; and a description of the lot. It will also include a listing of the features and characteristics of the house, such as a description of the exterior and the foundation; the number of rooms; the materials in each room, such as floor covering and trim; utility systems like heat and electricity; equipment in the kitchen and a description of the attic and garage, if applicable. The appraisal will also include descriptions of up to three comparable properties - homes in the same town with similar features that have sold recently. The appraisal will include an estimate of the value of the home, and a description of the method used to arrive at that estimate.
The fear of over-paying for a piece of property is eliminated by having a professional appraisal performed. If the buyer of real estate is mortgaging the property (not paying cash) the bank that mortgages the property will automatically order an appraisal from one of the lender's list of approved appraisers. The bank is interested in protecting their investment and want to guarantee that in the event of a default by the purchaser, the property's worth must equal or exceed the mortgage.
If you are purchasing real estate for cash, appraisers can be referred to you from real estate agents, lenders or a yellow page directory. Standards for appraising are universal and most appraisers will estimate a property's value within a small percentage difference, if any, from eachother.
If you are selling a home, you can usually get away with avoiding the appraisal fee by having a market analysis performed by 1-3 real estate agents. Once the home is on the market, the only time a seller might consult an appraiser is if the home is not selling and market conditions are unstable.