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Handle appraiser of your home with kid gloves


Are you a home seller or refinancer with an appraiser due at your front door? Then treat him like royalty, realty specialists advise.

More than ever, owners have cause for insomnia over the opinion their appraisers render, realty specialists caution. Appraisers always had the power to make or break the best-laid mortgage plans. But these days, they're under unprecedented pressure to offer a conservative assessment of your home's value.

"Right now appraisers are the toughest they've ever been," says Wilhelmina Bickford, a sales agent for the Phoenix-Hunt Valley office of Coldwell Banker. Largely held to blame for what Ms. Bickford describes as "the scandalous savings and loan situation," appraisers have lately been on the defensive to show that their valuations are realistic.

In addition, due to a surge in mortgage refinance activity this summer, appraisers are now facing unusually heavy workloads, says Steven Marshall, branch manager at the Severna Park office of PaineWebber Mortgage Finance.

While it's unlikely that your treatment of the appraiser who renders judgment on your home will heavily influence the outcome, it could have some effect. And even a slight influence on his judgment could keep the mortgage application on your property from becoming a dead deal.

"When you're talking about a 2 or 3 percent deviation in value, that could make a big difference," Mr. Marshall says.

Whether you're seeking to sell or to refinance, a so-called "low ball" appraisal could knock you or your buyer out of the ballgame. That's because lenders demand a certain amount of equity in a property to support a home loan. Recent gyrations in the housing market have made lenders especially nervous about values now.

Because appraisal work is more of an art than a science and

because appraisers are human, there are good reasons to be sure your appraiser is well treated, says Peter G. Miller, the Silver Spring-based author of "The Common-Sense Mortgage," published by HarperCollins.

"It's just like going to court. It's better if the judge thinks highly of you. If he dislikes you or what you've done, it's going to color his decision," Mr. Miller says.

Here are 10 ways to stay on your appraiser's good side:

No. 1: Cater to the appraiser's convenience.

Granted, you may not be a morning person. But if your appraiser's schedule has him coming into your community next Tuesday at 8 a.m., it could be in your interest to work around his schedule rather than urging him to make a special trip at 6:30 dTC p.m. when he's tired, frazzled and annoyed at the inconvenience.

"The fact is you need your appraiser and would like him to be in a jolly, happy mood when he comes to visit your property," Mr. Miller says.

No. 2: Don't be late to your appointment or make your appraiser wait.

If your appointment to meet the appraiser at your home is set for 3 p.m. and you arrive at 3:22, you're sending the message that the appraiser's time doesn't matter. No matter how good your excuses or elaborate your apologies, the appraiser is likely to be irked. This is especially true during a refinancing surge such as the current one.

"Right now, the good appraisers have appointments booked back to back for the entire day. They're not going to be very happy if they're delayed," Mr. Marshall says.

No. 3: Keep your dogs out of the appraiser's way.

Like mail carriers, many appraisers have an understandable discomfort with people's canines. "All the appraiser needs is to open up some room and an 86-pound conglomeration of teeth and hair comes flying out at him," Mr. Miller says.

No. 4: Help the appraiser with his homework.

To reach their conclusions on value, appraisers rely on several data sources. You may bring smiles to the appraiser's face if you come up with some of these for him. The Appraisal Institute, the lead professional society for U.S. appraisers based in Chicago, suggests you can assist by giving the appraiser copies of such items as your survey or plat plan for the house and land, your deed and your most recent real estate tax bill.

You also could make your appraiser smile by giving him house plans (for a new property) and "comps," listings of similar homes on which sales have closed recently.

No. 5: Give the appraiser a "brag sheet" detailing what you've spent on the property.

It's important that the appraiser be made aware of your new cherry-wood kitchen cabinets, new family room fireplace, or upgraded carpeting in the bedrooms. Type a list of these recent improvements and, to bolster your case on what you've paid, attach copies of your receipts.

No. 6: Welcome the appraiser into your home, but don't make his visit a social occasion.

"Don't give him a cold beer," cautions Mr. Marshall, the Severna Park mortgage office manager.

It's common courtesy to offer the appraiser coffee, tea or soda. But going beyond that with alcohol or meals could look like transparent attempts to compromise him. "This is a business appointment and you should look at it as a business appointment," Mr. Marshall says.

No. 7: Don't tell the appraiser a sob story.

You may be desperate to sell your home or refinance due to a dire situation related to unemployment, illness or divorce, that your daughter's college education or your infant son's surgery may depend on the outcome of this financial transaction.

Still, it's bad psychology to argue for a high valuation of your home based on personal hardship. Your appraiser undoubtedly sees himself as an objective professional with no interest in becoming part of a soap opera.

"A sob story is a big turnoff. It's like a curse over the whole deal," says Mr. Miller, the Silver Spring author.

No. 8: Don't lie about your home or try to hide problems.

If the carpeting you added throughout the living area of your condo cost $2,000 and you claim you spent $5,000, your exaggeration will be apparent and will cause the appraiser to question your credibility. You'll also do yourself a disservice by // trying to conceal a problem, such as ceiling damage from a leaky roof.

No. 9: Don't confront the appraiser if he's rude.

Some appraisers may be so absorbed in the work they must do at your home that they forget the niceties. A very few others are simply too thoughtless to ring the doorbell or greet the home's owners before they start taking measurements or walking through the place.

You may be livid at the appraiser's behavior and justifiably so. But why confront him about his attitude when that could conceivably color his thinking about the value of your home? Would you confront a surly judge in traffic court?

No. 10: Don't offend the appraiser's professional pride.

It's good to answer the appraiser's questions but a mistake to follow him, like a shadow, from room to room. Appraisers are naturally sensitive to the notion that a homeowner doesn't trust him enough to let him go alone into their private areas.

A still bigger mistake than being cloying is to imply that you know the appraiser's business better than he does. Telling the appraiser that you know your colonial is worth $200,000 may sound convincing, but it's not. It's the equivalent of telling a doctor how to perform an operation, Mr. Miller says.

"You should treat the appraiser like a professional doing a job and stay out of their way. Anything else is disrespectful and insulting," Mr. Miller stresses.

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