If your agent has done a good comparative market analysis before listing your home, the appraised value will be very close to the agreed-upon sale price. But sometimes appraisers will see things your eyes just aren’t trained to see. If the appraised value comes backlower than the sale price, it can derail the home sale, especially if you’ve agreed to an appraisal contingency with the buyer.
Below we’ll look at the most common negative factors that appraisers look for, as well as how you can amend them.
What hurts a home appraisal?
Visible damage or worn construction
🔎 Appraisers are looking for signs the home is structurally unsound or unsafe to live in, as well as any visible repairs a homeowner would need to make.
If you're making repairs, focus on safety hazards: no exposed wires, ceiling leaks, broken windows, or loose handrails. At minimum, take care of quick fixes: remove peeling paint, replace missing doorknobs, and check that smoke and carbon-monoxide detectors are working properly.
Examples of damage or hazardous conditions:
Water damage and stains
Worn or visible insulation
Cracked or bulging walls
Loose or broken handrails on stairs
Termite or insect infestation
Chipped or worn wood
Mold or mildew buildup
Poor curb appeal
🔎 Appraisers are looking for visible signs of neglect. However, curb appeal doesn’t always affect a home’s valuation. For example, if your property is in a high-end neighborhood or desirable area, something like a messy yard may not have a serious effect.
Pro tip: make sure your roof is in working order. You don’t have to replace it entirely, but you should fix any obvious signs of damage, such as missing shingles, damaged flashings, weak rafters, or sagging.
Examples of health and safety issues:
Rust or discoloration
Lopsided porch or entry stairs
Missing shutters or damaged windows
Broken or aging systems
🔎 Appraisers are looking at the condition and efficiency of your home’s main systems, including electricity, plumbing, heating, cooling, and gas.
Replacing aging systems might be expensive, but the return on investment is usually worth it. A home inspector can recommend professionals And consider upgrading your home’s system to reduce energy bills, such as with tankless water heaters, improved attic insulation, and sealed windows.
Examples of aging systems:
HVACs that are 10+ years old
Plumbing with galvanized pipes
Damaged siding, which could signal weather or water damage or poor insulation
Systems that consume wasteful amounts of energy
🔎 Appraisers are looking for signs that the interior needs to be remodeled, such as aging or over-personalized spaces.
An outdated style isn't just unappealing, it could also indicate that a house hasn't been physically updated in decades. For instance, older homes may have been built with hazardous materials, such as lead or toxic paint, asbestos, or two-prong outlets.
For the most impact, making minor bathroom or kitchen upgrades typically have higher ROIs than other remodeling projects.
Examples of outdated interiors:
Old-fashioned styles or appearances (e.g., green quartz, wallpaper)
Oddly colored walls or finishes (e.g., avocado green, bubblegum pink, harvest gold)
Rusting or discoloration
Worn carpets, tiles, and countertops
Real estate market
🔎 Appraisers will consider the overall state of the real estate market in their valuation. If you’re in a sellers market, your property will likely be valued higher because of high demand. In slower markets, where there are more homes than buyers, your appraised value could come back lower.
Sell when YOU'RE ready. While it certainly makes sense to sell when home values are high, it’s almost always impossible to time the market properly.
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Neighborhood or area
🔎 A large amount of vacant or foreclosed properties near your home may drag down the value of yours, especially if they’re poorly maintained.
Focus on maximizing YOUR curb appeal. You can’t change the surrounding homes or area, but your home can still stand out.
Natural disaster–prone areas
🔎 Homes in regions that are vulnerable to natural disasters (hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, etc.) may be valued less than homes in safer areas — especially if there's been a recent event.
If you live in a high-risk disaster zone but haven't had problems yourself, you can show an appraiser that you've never had to file a claim on your insurance policy. Get a claims-information report (you can request one for free from LexisNexis), which records up to seven years of personal claims history.
If your home has been struck by a natural disaster, show the appraiser that you’ve repaired what was damaged. Proper documentation of repairs made after a disaster could build a strong case that your home is still livable and structurally sound.
🔎 Some appraisers may be influenced by a neighbor’s unfair reputation, racial prejudice, or ignorance of the area. Keep in mind that while appraisers tend to be experienced professionals, they aren’t immune to errors or bias.
If you disagree with the appraisal, you can challenge it. You’ll need to get a copy of the appraisal (the buyer’s lender will provide you with one), then mark any discrepancies or judgment errors that you find in the report. You can also request a second appraisal from the buyer’s lender, which you’ll pay out of pocket ($300–400).
How do home appraisals work?
A home appraisal is a professional’s opinion on how much your home is worth. It’s required by lenders after you and a buyer agree on a sale price, and it determines how much a lender is willing to let home buyers borrow to purchase the home.
In a full home appraisal, appraisers will look at the inside and outside of your home per the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practices, taking note of anything that will affect the home’s value. They’ll also compare your home with two to three similar properties (called “comps”) to estimate its market value.
While appraisers don't do an examination quite on the level of an inspector, they can still be very thorough. Many appraisals can last 30 minutes to an hour, and it's not uncommon for an appraiser to ask to see the house a second time.
Most lenders request a full appraisal, though some situations will be more hands-off.
- 🚗 Drive-by appraisals: appraisers look at the external part of a home and take photos of its condition.
- 🖥 Desktop appraisals: the appraiser looks at public records, photos, and MLS information without visiting the house in person.
- 🔎 Hybrid appraisals: appraisers gather information remotely and hire a third-party to visually inspect the house.
Mortgage type and appraisal requirements
The thoroughness of the appraisal will depend heavily on the type of mortgage that a buyer is applying for. Outside of extenuating circumstances (like shutdowns related to the COVID-19 pandemic) lenders rarely accept drive-by appraisals, and government-backed loan lenders almost never accept them.
While all lenders require appraisers to comply with USPAP, government-backed loans (e.g., FHA or VA) have stricter property requirements including:
A roof that can withstand 2–3 more years of wear
Hot and cold water with adequate water pressure
Sturdy handrails on stairs
No exposed studs or floorboards
Windows that open, close, and lock
No peeling, cracked, or chipped paint