Your home is likely your most valuable investment. But it's hard to know how much it's really worth without selling it.
Your tax assessment might give you some idea of your home's value, but the assessment is updated only every few years. What's more, California and other states put a limit on your assessment at a certain percentage increase per year, which means in a booming market your home could be worth much more than its assessed value.
In today's market, however, an assessment from a few years ago may be tens of thousands of dollars higher than the actual market value.
Getting an accurate sense of a home's value can be critical in certain situations: during a divorce, when settling an estate and when making retirement plans that rely on the equity tied up in your home. (Of course, it's also essential when you're actually buying or selling your house, but in that case the lender will hire the appraiser.)
Here's what you need to know to find a reliable appraiser.Finding an Appraiser
"Appraising can be more of an art than a science," admits John Brenan, director of research and technical issues at The Appraisal Foundation , the Congress-approved arbiter of appraisal standards and appraiser qualifications. "The market sets the price, but what that price is likely to be is a matter of opinion."
That said, a good appraiser bases his or her opinion on a mix of experience and education, and delivers an appraisal that conforms to the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practices set by the Appraisal Foundation. These standards direct appraisers' conduct concerning conflicts of interest, unethical requests (such as appraising an item at a predetermined value) and disclosure of fees.
Start your search for an appraiser at the federal government's Appraisal Subcommittee Web site, which provides links to state government websites that list state-certified appraisers.