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Refinance appraisal: How you can prepare

Now you’re doing a refinance, and your appraisal is scheduled for next week. We talked earlier about what you can expect from an appraisal. Now let’s discuss some things you can do to prepare.

The following are some thoughts, based on my own personal experiences with refinance appraisals, including a refinance appraisal of my DC condo that took place this month.  I’m not an appraiser, so this is not a professional opinion.    

You will probably have at least a few days notice of the appraisal.  You can’t do every last project on your to-do list in those days before the appraisal.  You probably don’t have time to clean every surface of your home.  So how do you decide what to do?  Pick the things that matter and the things that will have the most impact.

If you have time, you should clean your home.  No, you’re not getting graded on your housekeeping, but it is only natural that the appraiser’s opinion on how well your home has been maintained will be influenced by how clean it is.  The key places to clean are the kitchen (whole room), bathroom (whole room), floors, walls, and baseboards, because they reflect on the condition of your home.  The layer of dust on your coffee table?  Probably not as important.  Also, remember that the appraiser will be taking photographs, so make sure to clean up anything that you might be embarrassed about if it were photographed and included in the report, like a messy, unmade bed or a laundry rack full of drying clothes.  

Be prepared, because the appraiser is probably going to open your closets.  When I was getting ready for my recent appraisal, I had forgotten this, and I did what I normally do when I have to clean up clutter quickly – I stuffed things in closets.  Appraisers are looking in your closets not to evaluate storage space but because they can sometimes count the closet towards square footage.  It doesn’t really matter if the closet is crammed with junk, as long as the appraiser can fit their tape measure in there to measure, but you don’t want an embarrassing avalanche to happen when they open the door.  

Depending on how much notice you have of the appraiser’s visit, you might have time to complete some unfinished projects.  If you do have time, you should again focus on the things that can impact the appraiser’s evaluation of the condition of your home.  Using another coffee table example, if you have “fix wobbly coffee table leg” and “patch hole in wall” on your to-do list, and you only have time to do one of the two, you should patch the hole in the wall, or at least cover it up with something.  And remember that the appraiser isn’t a home inspector, so he probably isn’t going to be checking to see if something is working properly, unless there is something that he sees or that you say that calls his attention to the problem.  

This leads to a general comment.  Unless it’s in response to a question, there is no need for you to highlight the negatives about your property.  So, for example, if the appraiser looks at your shiny, new washer and dryer and asks you when it was installed, you should say, “In December 2012” and not finish the sentence with “but it doesn’t work because as soon as we bought it the hose ruptured and flooded the whole basement, and we still haven’t had it fixed.” 

Another important way that you can prepare for the appraisal is to walk through your home and make a list of all of the major improvements you have completed since you purchased the property, if you don’t already have a list put together.  Include on the list the date and the cost of the improvement.  The list should include things like bathroom and kitchen upgrades, building system improvements (e.g., new water heater, new furnace), energy-efficient changes, new light fixtures, crown molding, built-in shelving, a new deck, exterior painting, new roof, etc.  The appraiser might not be able to consider some things that you put on your list, but there is nothing wrong with being over-inclusive and letting him decide.  In some situations, it may be appropriate for you to give the appraiser a copy of the list you prepared.  Ask the appraiser if that’s something he would like to review.  

Homeowners, refinance, Tips or Advice, washington dc