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What determines the value of a home?

By Beatrice De Jong | October 3, 2018

While both the house and location will factor into the value of a property, in the end, it is an appraiser that actually drives or rather determines a property’s actual value. Say what?

to put it simply:

  • Appraisals determine property values
  • Property values are important to buyers
  • Property values are important to sellers

Lenders want to know what a home is worth.

Lenders  require an appraiser survey the property to determine its true value before committing to lending the funds for its purchase. For both potential homebuyers and sellers, home appraisals can be a nerve wracking time because if the appraisal comes back substantially  lower than the sale price, both parties will have to renegotiate accordingly.

Why should you care about home appraisals as a buyer?

If your offer comes with an appraisal contingency, you'll want to pay extra attention to the home appraisal amount, because this appraised property value is what lenders usually base their loan amount on.

If the home you've made an offer on appraises at less than your offer price, you have a few options:

  1. Make up the difference in price. If you really want the home, you'll need to find the additional funds to pay the amount between your down payment & your loan. In some rare cases, the seller might agree to lower the listing price to make the sale happen. But, in this competitive market, it's becoming more uncommon, especially if he or she has multiple offers and a back-up offer to rely on.
  2. Back out of the deal if you have an appraisal contingency. If the appraised value comes in at less than the agreed upon purchase price of the property, and you don't think it's worth making up the difference or don't have sufficient funds, you can cancel the deal and get back your Earnest Money Deposit as long as you've met the terms & deadlines in your offer.

So, while a home appraisal can be helpful in protecting you as a buyer, it also means that your dream home and your perceived value of it could be more than what a home appraiser and the mortgage company thinks.

Why should you care about home appraisals as a seller?

The appraised value of a home is just as important to a seller as it is to a buyer. For starters, it’s a great guide for a seller looking to set a firm listing price with confidence. As I mentioned previously, lenders will often require a home appraisal before committing to lending to buyers. If a home is appraised for less than the accepted offer price, the lender might reduce the buyer’s pre-approval amount.

If the buyer is not be able to offset the difference, they may decide to cancel the purchase agreement all together. This puts the seller back at square one, but that’s not the only issue. When a home falls out of escrow, its DOM (days on market) increase which can send up red flags for future potential buyers.

What are some home appraisal tips sellers can use to maximize home value?

There are several things sellers can do to pump up their home’s value as much as possible.

Here are seven tips to avoiding a low appraisal. In this case, there’s no such thing as being overly prepared.

1. Vet the competition
Get a sense of what homes are selling for in your area. You can find them yourself in public property records and online through sites like Open Listings.

Look for homes similar to your own that have sold in the last six months. Stick to properties within a few mile radius and that have comparable square footage, layout, upgrades, and condition.

This should give you a fair idea of what to expect from your own market value, and they’ll also clue you in on which improvements make a difference.

2. Finish minor fixes
Every homeowner has a to-do list of projects that are just waiting to be completed - that squeaky door, the running toilet, the finicky garbage disposal. You may have been putting them off forever, but it's best to get them done before the appraisal.

Though they may seem like small details to you, in the appraiser's mind, they add up to the overall condition of the home.

To make sure your home is at its best, we suggest taking a tour around your home and make a note of any small fixes that need to be made. Then, go ahead and tackle them one by one.

3. Spruce up the outside
A home is so much more than just what's between the walls.

The exterior of your home also plays a big role in determining it's overall value. With that in mind, make sure you take the time to pump up its curb appeal.

Start by improving any functional issues like loose shingles or clogged gutters. Then move onto aesthetics. Make sure any pathways into your home are clear and well-lit, add some charming decorative elements to your doorway, and, of course, make sure that your lawn is freshly mowed for the big day.

4. Consider cosmetic upgrades
Upgrading your home for an appraisal is always a gamble. If you invest a lot of money into a full remodel, there's a chance you won't recoup your investment in added value. That said, smaller cosmetic upgrades are nearly always worth the effort.

Things like adding a fresh coat of paint, replacing dated bathroom vanities, and switching to newer fixtures don't take a lot off money or effort.

When put together, however, they will help your home feel fresher and more updated. As a rule of thumb, you’ll want to stick to projects that can be easily completed on a day off, rather than taking several days and a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to pull together.

Beatrice De Jong is the Director of Residential Sales at Open Listings, where she leads the in-house team of agents focused on educating, empowering, and guiding homebuyers throughout the entire process.
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