Home Appraisals 101: What You Need to Know

By Kylie Ora Lobell · October 06, 2022 · 10 minute read

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Home Appraisals 101: What You Need to Know

Your home is often your most valuable asset. It’s not only a place where you and your family can congregate and enjoy your time together; it’s also an investment.

But over the years, things change. Perhaps you want to either refinance your mortgage at a lower rate or sell your home to make a profit. Or maybe you’re not yet a homeowner and are trying to purchase a house.

Before applying for refinancing, listing your house on the market, or buying a house, you’ll need to get a home appraisal. This is an important assessment of a property’s value, which matters to all parties involved: you, your buyer (if you’re selling), and a lender.

Here, learn the ins and outs of home appraisals so you understand the process and can manage it successfully. You’ll find out:

•   What is a home appraisal?

•   How long does a home appraisal take?

•   How can you prepare for a home appraisal?

•   What can you do if a home appraisal comes in low?

What Is a Home Appraisal?

A home appraisal is an objective and professional analysis of a home’s value. An appraisal aggregates an array of information including details on the home itself (the floor plan, amenities, and how big it is), a visual inspection, real estate trends in your area, and how much nearby homes in your area sold for.

Generally, an appraisal will be completed when someone is buying, selling, or refinancing a home. It will tell a homeowner whether or not the price they’re putting on the home is fair based on the condition of the home, its amenities, and its location.

Home appraisals will let those buying a home know if a home is a good price. (This can be especially reassuring for first-time homebuyers, who are new to the whole process.)

If you think it’s time to refinance and are getting an appraisal done, it shows the home mortgage lender that you, the borrower, aren’t receiving more money from them than the home is actually worth. The lender wants to know that they are loaning funds to a property that is holding the stated value.

According to a National Association of Realtors study from January 2022, appraisal issues led to 20% of real estate contract delays, so it’s important to get the appraisal right the first time around. That’s an important step in selling your home fast.

How Much Does a Home Appraisal Cost?

The home appraisal cost is typically several hundred dollars, and the borrower will most likely be responsible for paying it. Most people can expect to pay between $300 to $610 for a home appraisal, but it could be higher depending on the specific property. Some examples:

•   If the property contains a pond or lake, you can expect the home appraisal cost to be more.

•   If the appraiser is inspecting a larger home and/or a bigger overall property, then the home appraisal cost will go up. The same applies to jumbo loans, which are usually given to borrowers purchasing big luxury homes.

It’s worth noting that there are a few cases in which the seller will cover the cost. These include the following situations:

•   If a homeowner wants to get an appraisal and see what modifications they can then make to increase their home value when they’re ready to sell it, they would pay for it.

•   If a homeowner is going to sell their home to a family member or friend, an appraisal can help ensure that the parties involved are getting a fair price.

The cost of a home appraisal covers things like the appraiser’s training, licensing, insurance, and expertise. It also covers the time it’ll take for the appraiser to assess nearby sales and market trends as well as conduct a visual inspection.

You’re paying for the appraisal report (more on that in a minute), which will show how the appraiser came to their conclusion on the price and information about your home.

At the end of the appraisal, if it comes up lower than the amount for which you want to refinance or sell it, then you may need to work out a new deal with your lender or purchasing party. That topic is explored in more detail below.

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prequalify for a SoFi mortgage loan,
with as little as 3% down.

What Is the Home Appraisal Process?

The appraisal process may seem complicated, and you may wonder about how long a home appraisal will take and how deeply your home will be scrutinized. Fortunately, trained appraisers will be able to explain and guide you through every step. But it’s worthwhile to keep reading so you can be ready and prepare a bit. Some points to know:

•   Generally, if a home is being sold, the appraisal happens after an offer on a house is accepted and within a week after an inspector has toured the home. Sellers have the option, should they wish to pay for it, to do a pre-listing appraisal so they have more information and are better prepared for negotiations.

•   In most cases, the mortgage lender will seek out a third-party appraisal management company to come up with an objective analysis of the home and the appraisal estimate. The lender will determine the cost of the home appraisal, with the borrower usually being responsible for covering the expense.

Next, how long does a home appraisal take? The actual on-premises inspection appraisal can take between one and three hours, depending on how big and complex the home is. Here’s how it typically goes:

•   The appraiser will usually bring a form to collect information about the home including things like measurements, nearby housing trends, the demographics of the neighborhood, the condition of your home, and how it compares to other properties in your area. (Some of this is research the appraiser will do back at their desk.)

•   The appraiser will also review things like the home’s location, quality of construction, parking situation, exterior condition, its age, its structure, the quality of the siding and gutters, and the square footage.

•   They will also research the appliances and mechanical systems, health and safety factors, the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, and the code compliance throughout.

•   The appraiser will usually take photos of the home as well as make notes. If you are the homeowner, try to avoid getting in the way when the appraiser is taking photos or interrupting them while they’re working.

•   The appraiser may ask questions about what has been done with the home to get a more accurate report. If the homeowner doesn’t want to be there for the appraisal, the real estate agent you’re working with can fill in to answer questions that may come up during the appraisal.

After the appraiser finishes, they’ll put together a report. This involves research into pricing and home values in your area, as well as prevailing market trends. The appraiser may need to check that you had permits to make upgrades, which could delay the process. Typically, however, the finished product is delivered within a week to 10 days.

The report is usually about 10 pages long, but it could be longer if a property is large or complex. It will show details about the home as well as local properties that are similar to it. Here’s how its content could impact your sale:

•   If the appraised value is around the same price as listed, then the sale could close shortly after that.

•   If it’s lower than expected, it may be necessary to get in touch with the lender to see if a mortgage will be approved. Keep reading for more details on this scenario.

What If an Appraisal Comes in Low?

If the appraisal comes in low versus what you think your home’s value is, you likely want to dispute that in some way. One option could be to print out a list of similar homes in the community and show that they were valued at a higher price than your home. You may have the option to appeal the appraisal, but note you’ll likely need to support your argument and the appraiser may not change their appraisal. If you are working with a Realtor, they may be able to provide examples of comparable homes being of higher value.

Each lender may have different criteria for formally disputing an appraisal, so should there be an issue, contact the lender to review their policies. In most cases, only the lender can request a second appraisal.

What if the appraisal is low but you don’t want to dispute it? In this case, if you might negotiate with the buyer, seller, or lender. They may be flexible on the price; all you have to do is ask.

💡 Recommended: Track the value of your home with this tool.

Home Appraisal Checklist

Before getting a home appraised, there are a few things you can do to help the process go smoothly.

1.    Declutter. While messiness shouldn’t impact the value of your home, if you get rid of clutter (perhaps donate to a local charity, Goodwill, or thrift shop), the appraiser can do their job more easily and quickly.

2.    Clean. Thoroughly clean the inside and outside of the home, including the yard. Break out the cleaning supplies or hire a professional cleaning team. It can improve the overall impression of a home’s condition.

3.    Make minor repairs. It’s also a good idea to repair any cracks in the wall, paint over paint that is peeling, and make any other visual repairs that may need attention.

💡 Recommended: What Are the Most Common Home Repair Costs?

4.    Check fixtures and appliances. Test the lights, faucets, ceiling fans, and security system, as well as confirming that the windows and doors open and close easily. Run appliances like the oven and dishwasher as well to guarantee there are no problems.

5.    Think curb appeal. The exterior of your home is among the factors that affect property value. Consider trimming hedges, getting rid of cobwebs, cleaning the gutters, pulling weeds, and mowing the lawn. Adding plants or flowers could help, too.

   Worth noting: Since the appraiser will be walking outside, avoid watering the grass on the day of the appraisal. This can help avoid mud or dirt being tracked through the house.

6.    Plan for pets. If you have pets, consider putting them in a designated room or taking them to a family member or friend’s home during the appraisal.

7.    Wrangle upgrade info. If possible, make a list of all the upgrades that have been completed on the home and attach permits and receipts detailing how much it all cost.

The Takeaway

Whether you’re buying, selling, or refinancing a home, a home appraisal is a key part of the process. Knowing what to expect can help ensure the process goes as smoothly as possible. It’s also a good idea to understand the factors that go into an appraisal so you can be prepared if the results are not in the range expected.

If you’re getting an appraisal because you’re ready to buy a new home or refinance your current home, take a look at SoFi. Our mortgage loans have competitive rates, and qualifying first-time homebuyers can put as little as 3% down. Plus, you can get pre-qualified online for a mortgage in just minutes.

SoFi: The smarter way to get a mortgage.


What will fail a home appraisal?

A variety of factors can cause a home appraisal to fail to come in at the desired value. Perhaps there were a number of deferred maintenance issues that led the appraiser to consider the house of lesser value due to its condition. Or it could be due to the local market: If home sales are declining in value in your area, that could cause your number to go down as well.

How should I prepare for a home appraisal?

If you’re hoping to buy the house, you simply sit back and let the appraiser do their job. If you are the seller, you can prepare for a home appraisal by cleaning up your property and making whatever repairs are required. These moves can both make the process go more smoothly and possibly enhance the home’s value.

Does messiness affect a home appraisal?

A messy or cluttered house should not impact a home appraisal. Licensed appraisers are trained to look past such issues and focus on the house, not its contents. That said, if your property is untended and in rough condition, that can take the home’s value down a notch because it means the property lacks the curb appeal that buyers seek.

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