Buying? Selling? Don't undervalue the home

Here are five things you need to know about getting a fair appraisal.

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By Sarah Max, Money Magazine

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(Money Magazine) -- 1. The new rules don't guarantee accuracy

After the bust, lenders came under fire for pressuring appraisers to inflate property values. Now banks are largely required to work with independent appraisers, which should help fix the problems that may have led buyers to overpay.

If you're the owner and want to sell or refinance, however, it's up to you to make sure your home isn't mistakenly valued below your sale price or loan limit. That's because appraisal-management companies tend to hire workers who can get the job done quickly and cheaply, rather than those who know the area best.

"Appraisers say they're under pressure to crank out reports," says Albuquerque mortgage broker Walt Vieira.

2. Detective work may pay off

If you're selling or refinancing, a key factor in your home's valuation is the recent sales prices for houses that are comparable to yours. But your appraiser may not know if there is some unusual circumstance behind those numbers, such as a divorce or a job relocation.

So ask a real estate agent to help you ID recent comparable sales in your area and try to get the scoop on the circumstances from your neighbors. Most appraisers will appreciate extra information, says Michael H. Evans, a fellow of the American Society of Appraisers.

3. Curb appeal can boost your numbers

Appraisers don't give out grades for stellar housekeeping, but the appearance of your home nevertheless has some influence on their final number. "We're only human," says Evans.

So before the appraiser arrives, prepare your home for the evaluation the same way you would for an open house. At a minimum, mow the yard, shine the windows, tidy the closets, and pick up stray clutter from the floors. "The job of the appraiser is to look at the house through a buyer's eyes," says Leslie Sellers, president-elect of the Appraisal Institute.

4. Point out your home's best features

An appraiser who is under time pressure can't be counted on to notice and research every detail of your house and neighborhood. So before he gives your home a once-over, hand him a typed list of its best attributes. Key things to note: any recent upgrades or improvements in the house itself, such as custom woodwork or new windows, perks of your particular property, such as striking mountain views or mature landscaping, and the benefits of living in your neighborhood, such as access to top schools or public transportation.

5. It's okay to fight back after the fact

Request a copy of the final report when it's done; lenders are required to give it to you. Check for errors in key stats, such as square footage, and make sure that the comments portray your property accurately.

If you find a mistake, call the appraiser directly and ask him to recheck his work. If he's not willing to make changes, take your complaint to your state's real estate appraisal board, says Sellers. It's also worth letting your bank or broker know about your gripe, but remember, under the new rules they can't meddle with the appraisal directly.  To top of page

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