Good news! Real estate prices are firming up, and sales are on an upswing. You may soon be able to cash in on your home improvements. But before you try to impress buyers, you have to impress an appraiser.
Why? Because only appraisals are accepted by lenders. (An agent's market analysis does not meet lenders' standards.)
The appraisal is a snapshot of what your house is worth, based on recently sold comparable properties. Think of the appraiser as a pricing consultant, who can help you wring the most from your final home improvement projects.
Finish smart. Lingering projects must be finished and, if necessary, approved by municipal inspectors. If you have yet to decide on final colors and finishes, ask the appraiser's advice. You might find that white-painted drywall actually returns more value than beadboard, tile, or another fancier finish.
Surgical touch-ups. Most houses need some fresh paint before they're market-ready. The appraiser can tell you if you really need to repaint whole rooms or just concentrate on high-impact areas (e.g., entryways).
Tidy or tune-up? Clean and neat is the baseline for selling. Once you've cleared away clutter, you might realize that some areas just need to be cleaned. Ask the appraiser if tidied closets, pantries, and children's bedrooms are presentable.
Grow and mow. Appealing landscaping is an essential element of curb appeal, but appraisers don't give extra credit for fancy gardens. Fill in bare spots, trim bushes, and fix fences and gates, then ask the appraiser for a stamp of approval.
You'll need to include a list of recent improvements for buyers anyway, so pull it together for the appraiser. He can tell you what buyers take for granted and which upgrades are most likely to make a difference to those interested in your neighborhood.
For more on home buying and selling, consider:
Fee for All: How to Keep More Equity
Put an Appraiser on Your Remodeling Team
3 Ways Your Neighbors Affect Your Home's Value