Whether you’re buying a home using a mortgage, refinancing your existing mortgage, or selling your home to anyone other than an all-cash buyer, a home appraisal is a key component of the transaction. If you’re a buyer, owner, or seller, you’ll want to understand how the appraisal process works and how an appraiser determines a home’s value.
- An appraisal is an unbiased professional opinion of a home’s value and is used whenever a mortgage is involved in buying, refinancing, or selling that property.
- A qualified appraiser creates a report based on an in-person inspection, using recent sales of similar properties, current market trends, and aspects of the home (for example, amenities, floor plan, square footage) to determine the property’s appraisal value.
- The borrower usually pays the appraisal fee, which can be several hundred dollars.
- When the appraisal value is lower than expected, the transaction can be delayed or even canceled.
What Is a Home Appraisal?
An appraisal is an unbiased professional opinion of a home’s value. Appraisals are almost always used in purchase-and-sale transactions and commonly in refinance transactions. In a purchase-and-sale transaction, an appraisal is used to determine whether the home’s contract price is appropriate given the home’s condition, location, and features. In a refinance transaction, an appraisal assures the lender that it isn’t handing the borrower more money than the home is worth. Lenders want to make sure that homeowners are not overborrowing for a property because the home serves as collateral for the mortgage. If the borrower should default on the mortgage and go into foreclosure, the lender will sell the home to recoup the money it lent. The appraisal helps the bank protect itself against lending more than it might be able to recover in this worst-case scenario.
The appraisal report must include:
- A street map showing the appraised property and comparable sales used
- An exterior building sketch
- An explanation of how the square footage was calculated
- Photographs of the home’s front, back, and street scene
- Front exterior photographs of each comparable property used
- Other pertinent information—such as market sales data, public land records, and public tax records—that the appraiser requires to determine the property’s fair market value.
When you’re buying a home and are under contract, the appraisal will be one of the first steps in the closing process. If the appraisal comes in at or above the contract price, the transaction proceeds as planned. If the appraisal comes in below the contract price, however, it can delay or derail the transaction.
Chances are that neither you nor the seller wants the transaction to fall through. As the buyer, you have an advantage, in that a low appraisal can serve as a negotiating tool to convince the seller to lower the price. The bank won’t lend you or any other prospective buyer more than the home is worth.
Though appraisals help buyers avoid overpaying for homes, a seller may feel that a low appraisal is inaccurate and be reluctant to drop the price. If a bad appraisal is standing between you and your home purchase or sale, look into getting a second opinion via another appraisal by a different person. Appraisers can make mistakes or have imperfect information, and appraisals can be affected by bias. You can also try presenting a factual case for a higher value to the original appraiser. They may agree with you and revise the evaluation.
More on Home Appraisals
- How to Spot Predatory Lending
- Today’s Closing Costs and What You’d Expect to Pay
- Don’t Overpay for Your Next House
- The Most Important Contingency in Your Contract
- What Happens When the Appraisal Comes in Too Low?
- What is a Suitable Housing Contingency?
- How to Build Your Own Down Payment Fund