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Getting over home appraisal anxiety

January 13, 2011|Alicia Notarianni | Making Ends Meet

A while back, a friend of mine called me in distress.

This friend is a private person, who is liable not to speak to me again if I use her name here. Therefore, for the purposes of this column, I'll refer to her as Kitty.

Kitty is financially savvy, and she'd decided to refinance her family's home mortgage. She knew the lender would require an appraisal, but the turn-around time for that was shorter than she'd expected.

Kitty also is handy. She and her husband have done a lot of home improvements themselves. Along the way, they'd started a couple of projects and — as the events of life unfolded or other financial demands arose — they'd put them on the back burner.

Now, an appraiser suddenly was due to arrive the following day. Kitty was filled with dread at the prospect that someone was coming to evaluate her home before she had a chance to tie up some loose ends. The carpet she'd bought for the stairs remained in a hulking roll, and the den she'd been redecorating for her growing sons remained a work in progress.

She put on the coffee, sent her husband to the home improvement warehouse and declared an all-nighter. After hours spent measuring, cutting, taping, nail-gunning, cleaning, arranging and tidying up, Kitty issued a cease-work order. She wearily deemed the efforts not "good," but "hopefully good enough."

I called her later the next day to see how the appraisal went.

"Oh, it was no big deal," she said.

The appraiser had been gracious, the appraisal less grueling then she'd anticipated.

While I wholly sympathized with her preappraisal jitters, Kitty's anxiety was not my own. Until recently, that is. My husband and I are refinancing to take advantage of a lower interest rate. The appraiser called just between Christmas and New Year's Eve wanting to schedule an appraisal ASAP.

Our house was, shall we say, not looking its best. In addition to the post-holiday glut of toys, decorations, food and trash, I, like Kitty, and likely many people, had unfinished projects. Now it was my turn to be distressed.

Countless items in need of minor repairs whisper for my attention each day. But when the appraiser is coming, they begin to scream. Articles detailing how to prepare for home appraisals are enough to send the coolest of cucumbers into a tizzy. A quick Google turns up counsel to "make any necessary repairs," "update outdated fixtures," "freshen up paint," "maximize curb appeal."

That's all well and good if you've planned months ahead of time, but what if you called while you had a minute to get a good interest rate while the getting was good? If I repair, freshen and maximize to my satisfaction, I might never get an appraisal. So I, like Kitty, did what I could and opened my doors to the appraiser.

He was a kind man named George. I asked him how a homeowner is to withstand the scrutiny. He noted refinancing appraisals are somewhat less intensive than appraisals to put a house on the market.

"It's obvious that you live here, and that you maintain your home," he said.

Really? Even with the swipe of paint on the wall that I color sampled and never followed through on? Even though the contents of the attic threaten to spill downstairs when you open the door? Even though I patch cracks in the plaster of this sweet old house, only to find a new one the next day?

"It doesn't matter what kind of home you have," George said. "There are always things to keep up with."

Web sites like HomeBuyingInstitute.com have guidelines and food for thought about home appraisal.

But here is my simple, unprofessional advice to prepare for a visit from a home appraiser while refinancing. Appraisers are scarier in the imagination than they are in real life. Keep plugging away at repairs and maintenance, tidy up and let 'em in.



Alicia Notarianni is a reporter and feature writer for The Herald-Mail. Her e-mail address is alnotarianni@aol.com.

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