When you’re buying a home using a mortgage, refinancing your existing mortgage, or selling your home to anyone other than an all-cash buyer, the home appraisal is a key component of the transaction. Whether you’re a buyer, owner or seller, you’ll want to understand how the appraisal process works and how an appraiser determines a home’s value.

(For more information on buying a home, see: How To Buy Your First Home: A Step-By-Step Tutorial)

What Is a Home Appraisal?

An appraisal is an unbiased professional opinion of a home’s value. Appraisals are almost always used in purchase and sale transactions and commonly used in refinance transactions. In a purchase and sale transaction, an appraisal is used to determine whether the home’s contract price is appropriate given the home’s condition, location, and features. In a refinance, it assures the lender that it isn’t handing the borrower more money than the home is worth.

Lenders want to make sure that homeowners are not overborrowing for a property because the home serves as collateral for the mortgage. If the borrower should default on the mortgage and go into foreclosure, the lender will recoup the money it lent by selling the home. The appraisal helps the bank protect itself against lending more than it might be able to recover in this worst-case scenario.

Note: If you’re considering a refinance it is beneficial to research interest rates using a mortgage calculator.

The Appraisal Process and How Appraisal Values Are Determined

Because the appraisal primarily protects the lender’s interests, the lender will usually order the appraisal. According to the Appraisal Institute, an association of professional real estate appraisers, a qualified appraiser should be licensed or certified (as required in all 50 states) and be familiar with the local area. Federal regulations state that the appraiser must be impartial and have no direct or indirect interest in the transaction. Fannie Mae requires appraisers to certify that they have experience appraising similar properties in the same geographic area.

A property’s appraisal value is influenced by recent sales of similar properties and by current market trends. The home’s amenities, the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, floor plan functionality and square footage are also key factors in assessing the home’s value. The appraiser must do a complete visual inspection of the interior and exterior and note any conditions that adversely affect the property’s value, such…