Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Nailing Down a Home's Worth

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Nailing Down a Home's Worth

Article excerpt

For most of us, our home is the most expensive investment we make.

Pay too much, and you lose money when you sell. Pay too little, and you'll probably want to know why someone is willing to sell below market.

Either way, it's important to know exactly what a property is worth before buying.

Enter the real estate appraiser.

In addition to determining a home's value, appraisers provide such information as square footage, lot size, and rebuilding cost. While real estate appraisers - who typically charge from $200 to $400 - are not property inspectors, they will point out problems requiring repair. And they will discount the value of the property by the estimated cost of repairs.

Appraisers also make observations about the neighborhood, including property-value trends and how long it typically takes to sell a house in the immediate area. Such information comes in handy if you want a second mortgage or anticipate selling your home.

Most mortgage lenders require a real estate appraisal before making a loan. And since you pay for that appraisal, you are entitled to a copy of it. Ask for it and keep it.

If you don't feel comfortable with a value given by the appraiser, experts say, get a second opinion.

A second appraisal adds another dimension, says Joe Alexander, associate director of the National Association of Real Estate Appraisers. "You are going to get a weighted average of the two. If one appraiser missed something or had a different opinion of value, there is a benefit in having an average of the two."

You can also turn to the Web for assistance. The National Realtors Association site (www.Realtor.com) lets you check recent home-sale prices. Just input your zip code and street address, and up pops the sale prices of houses in your neighborhood. The most recent sale, and the house most similar to yours, gives you the best indication of today's value.

Now, watch out for the tax collector. Every county in every state has a tax assessor's office. That office has access to the same property-value information that you do.

But keep in mind that values for tax assessments are typically lower than the real market value. …

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