Ask the Home Expert

Q: We’re thinking about selling our house. To figure out how much it’s worth, should we contact a real estate broker or an appraiser?

A: We didn’t know much about appraisers, so we called Joe Grassi, owner of Clear Choice Appraisals in Cambridge, to help use understand what they do and why you might want to let them into your house. Grassi explains that an appraiser is a state-licensed professional who weighs a number of your property’s assets and then compares them to local data to get an accurate, unbiased value. Appraisers are the same professionals also hired by mortgage companies and banks when you apply for a loan, refinance, or get a home equity loan.

Grassi says that if you call a real estate broker for an estimate of your house, you won’t be charged, but you will be initiating a relationship with someone who has a vested interest in what you’re going to do with the information. Also keep in mind that brokers are not giving you a value—they’re telling you how much they would list the house for versus how much they would settle for. Talking about price is part of their sales pitch, and if at some point you do decide to sell, that broker would expect you to call him or her.

In contrast, the appraiser gets a flat fee to determine the value of your home, and you get a detailed analysis which you can file away, or use as a benchmark when you shop around for brokers. Grassi says, “What we give you is an accurate estimate of value of the house at that moment.”

I asked him all what really affects the value of the house. His first answer was square footage, and the more the better. The location is important, of course, and then there’s location within location, in other words, some streets are better than others. To raise a house’s value, the single most important thing you can do is upgrade the kitchen and bathrooms, but keeping in the style consistent with the house. A condo? People expect stainless fixtures and sleek cabinets.

Bottom line is that if you want the value, no coddling, no messing around, it’s worth a few hundred bucks.