With home sales slumping and inventories on the rise, experts say getting your home sold depends a lot on pricing it correctly. One tool sellers can fall back on when the market is shifting is a home appraisal.

You can have an appraisal done before you contact a broker or if you're just curious what your home would be worth. They cost, on average, from $250 to $400 for a single-family home, slightly more for multiple-family dwellings.

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An appraiser will physically inspect your house for shoddy workmanship or needed repairs, measure its dimensions and takes notes on the floor plan, utilities and other factors that affect pricing.

He or she should also look at three or four "comps" — comparable homes in your neighborhood that have sold within the past six months — and analyze how homes currently on the market are faring, says William J. Doka, owner and president of Erickson Appraisal Company in Fair Lawn, NJ.

That's a more comprehensive assessment of market conditions than the free comparative market analysis, or CMA, that a broker will give you, says Doka.

He cautions that brokers want to earn your listing and can be tempted to paint an overly rosy picture of how your home will sell while appraisers, although sometimes subject to similar pressure from mortgage brokers, strive to be objective.

The results of the appraisal will be presented to you in a report that can run from five pages, for a simple summary that suits most lenders and homeowners, to 50 pages or more for a "narrative" that banks might demand before financing the purchase of a multimillion-dollar home.

Homes are typically listed for sale at a price several percent above the appraised value.

Predictably, most of Doka's business comes from lenders, who typically require an outside appraisal before making a loan. But homeowners are also hiring him before contacting a broker. He charges from $350 to $400 to appraise a single-family home.

Some things to remember when looking for an appraiser:

Make sure the appraiser is licensed by your state. Ask how long the business has been around, what professional education the appraiser has had and what organizations — like the Appraisal Institute or the American Society of Appraisers — the appraiser belongs to.

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