When it comes to assessing a home's value, real estate agents and homeowners tend to be an optimistic bunch.
In the post-bust world, appraisers are a different story. They have to predict a realistic value for your home that the bank can use to extend credit to a borrower -- and that number can make or break your sale or refinance.
Appraisers say the following five areas are where homeowners often misjudge the worth of their abode.
1. The outside
The appraiser sees:Overgrown bushes and chipped paint.
What he does:Slices as much as 3% off the value of an average-size home.
Why:Curb appeal is primo. And an unkempt yard is a sign that there may be other issues.
"A good-looking lawn and bushes imply that you also take care of the internal systems in the house," says Jonathan Miller, president and CEO of a New York City-based appraisal firm that works throughout the tri-state area.
Moreover, the more meticulous your neighbors are about grooming, the more your appraiser will downgrade the value of your home.
"If a lot of the nearby properties are professionally maintained, the one that sticks out like a sore thumb will get a harder adjustment than in a subdivision where there's more variation," says San Diego appraiser Armando Ortiz.
2. Basic systems
The appraiser sees:A brand-new roof.
What he does:Nothing.
Why:Just as a knee replacement won't make you look 20 years younger, a new roof, furnace, or boiler isn't considered an improvement to your home.
That said, if your roof is in disrepair, replace it: Signs of leaks or discoloration can knock a significant amount off the home's value.
What if prices are suddenly up in your area, and you're nervous that your house won't appraise for contract price? In that case, you might want to delay your appraisal until one of those recently contracted sales closes.
5. A remodel
The appraiser sees:An expensive, custom-made, built-in entertainment center.
What he does:Makes a negative adjustment to the valuation.
Why:"Cost doesn't equal value," says Miller.
Renovations that are at all trendy -- or not in keeping with the historical period of the home -- will be assessed at the cost of ripping them out.
Timeless improvements, on the other hand, such as a deep sink or new wooden cabinets in the kitchen, will add value.
So if you're thinking of remodeling, ask a local real estate agent to tell you what's on the wish list of today's buyers.
There's a simple solution: a few drops of fuel stabilizer. One $6 bottle of Sta-bil has kept my tools purring like lions for two years and counting.
Don't bag clippings. Every turf scientist and workaday landscaper I've questioned recommends forgoing the collection bag and setting the mower to mulch. That pulverizes the clippings and recycles them into the soil, saving water and fertilizer costs. It also keeps me honest.
With the bag, I might get lazy and let the lawn reach meadow height before finally chopping it down (bad news since removing more than a third of their height harms the plants), but the mower can't effectively mulch that much material. And my better half won't abide the clumps of hay it leaves behind. So unless I want to rake, I have to mow often.
Let the pros fertilize.Passing joggers and dog walkers may think I'm some sort of grass whisperer, but fertilizer is beyond me. I can't interpret the back-of-bag chart, and I once applied a weed-and-feed mix when the temperature was over 80° F and burned out the backyard. Now I hire a crew to fertilize (and aerate in the fall), for around $600 a year.
Edge twice.It's easy to get lazy about edging, which is really a two-step job -- a horizontal cut anywhere the mower can't go, then a vertical one to slice a line wherever the lawn meets beds and walks.
Trouble is, this eats up trimmer string. So I attach extra precut pieces to the wand with Velcro tape. I can pop in replacements quickly, and I'm back inside for lunch.