“The value of a home is mainly determined by the market and what a buyer is willing to pay for a home with certain amenities,” says Tina L. Kirkwood, certified residential real estate appraiser and owner of Kirkwood Appraisal Group in Montgomery, Ill. “The homeowner has no input toward the bottom-line value of their home, but if a homeowner decides to upgrade the home to make it more marketable than comparable homes, the homeowner may end up with a higher bottom-line value for their home.” So here’s what you can do.

A few weeks ago, our regular mortgage lender called to let us know that rates had dropped low enough that it might make sense for us to refinance. We have a nearly decade-long relationship with our lender, who processes our refinances at literally no cost at all. While the numbers resulted in substantial savings, the real concern was the appraisal in today’s market.


In the end, the value was better than expected, but I wondered how much impact our upgrades and home improvements had made. “The value of a home is mainly determined by the market and what a buyer is willing to pay for a home with certain amenities,” says Tina L. Kirkwood, certified residential real estate appraiser and owner of Kirkwood Appraisal Group in Montgomery, Ill. “The homeowner has no input toward the bottom-line value of their home, but if a homeowner decides to upgrade the home to make it more marketable than comparable homes, the homeowner may end up with a higher bottom-line value for their home.” So here’s what you can do.


Things within your control


According to Kirkwood, maintaining your home is key. “In order to maintain values, homeowner may want to repair any deferred maintenance, maintain the exterior of the home and repair or replace mechanicals as warranted,” Kirkwood says. “Poor maintenance will lead to depreciating value of a home.” So walk around and make a list of those small fixes that you’ve been avoiding before you refinance or sell.


Improvements that pay


Many folks believe that while now may not be the time to sell and move, it’s a great time to make improvements that will pay off when the time is right. I had long wondered if the crown molding, wainscoting and window trim we add to each room makes a difference, and was glad to learn from Kirkwood that it does. She advises that any type of updating that attracts a typical buyer in your market, be it kitchen renovations or staining a deck, will boost value in the appraiser’s eyes.


Ensuring a well-informed appraiser


While appraisers follow strict state guidelines, nearly all purchases and refinances require them to visit a home and perform a full inspection both inside and out. Kirkwood advises that appraisers should ask about recent updates and urges homeowners to provide them with a list for reference. “If the homeowner is aware of any recent sales in the neighborhood, it is OK to tell the appraiser,” Kirkwood says. “But the appraiser is NOT permitted to discuss any value, selected comparables or anything associated with the analysis used to obtain a value of a property with the homeowner.” 


Molly Logan Anderson is a freelance writer who lives in the western suburbs of Chicago with her husband, Mike, three kids and two labs. Join Molly on her family’s journey of living a frugal life and making financial freedom their reality.