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    What to expect during a real estate appraisal

    If you've never sold a home before, you may wonder exactly what is going to happen when a real estate appraiser comes to your house and if there is anything you should be doing to prepare. 

    Here's a crash course: During a home appraisal, an appraiser will determine the fair market value of your house. This is based on research on the selling prices of homes in your neighborhood and on a visual inspection of your house and property. Depending on the type of financing, an appraiser may test the systems in your house, such as the plumbing.

    When I get to a house to do an appraisal, I inspect every room in the house and draw a floor plan. If there is a door in any room, I'll open it to find out what is behind it. When there is an attic or basement crawl space, I'll look inside. I will take pictures of every room in your house.

    Appraisers must consider many factors during an appraisal. We'll look at the condition of each room, for instance. Are the walls and floors in good shape or badly damaged? Are there signs of problems, like pooled water on a basement floor near the washer or stains on the ceilings indicating there may have been a roof leak? If so, I'll ask the homeowner what caused them. 

    I'll also look at fixtures in your house. Do you have new, high-quality appliances? Do you have new windows? Did you add new fixtures to the bathrooms recently? All of these things can add to the appraised value.

    Appraisers also inspect the outside of the house. They will measure the entire house from the outside, as well as your entire property. They will take pictures of every side of the house.

    Certain exterior factors can affect the value of your home. For instance, a new roof or siding can add to the value. Having a corner lot or a property with a view that many people enjoy -- like the Manhattan skyline -- will also add to its value. On the other hand, a view overlooking something very unsightly may work against you. 

    Is there anything you can do to prepare for an appraiser's visit? I recommend that if there are any problems in the house that will be easily visible that you fix them. For instance, if your roof is leaking, have the leak fixed and re-paint the ceiling. If a pipe is leaking and causing water damage to your floors, call a plumber to repair it and then fix the floor tiles that were warped. Telling the appraiser that you plan to fix them later will not help the value. He or she has to base the appraisal on the condition of the house at the time of the appraisal.

    Besides repairing anything that is obviously broken or damaged, it's a very smart idea to make sure your home is spotless. It will help to create a positive impression on your appraiser, who is evaluating the overall condition of the house.

    Typically, when I do a residential real estate appraisal, it is because a bank has hired me to determine the fair market value. The bank needs this information to make a decision about how much to lend to the home buyer. Banks must follow particular loan-to-value ratios when issuing mortgages.

    It should take your appraiser anywhere from a day to several days to complete an appraisal. Once it is done, your bank will provide you with a copy of the appraisal. It will tell you the fair market value of your house.

    If you've done your homework before pricing your home, the fair market value should be very similar to the selling price.