How to Build Equity in Your Home

Want to know how to build equity in your home? Lexi Klinkenberg with Redfin put together these answers from real estate appraisers. We were honored to be featured in this article.

How to Build Equity in Your Home

Published on: January 21, 2020 – By Lexi Klinkenberg

Building home equity is one of the many financial benefits to homeownership, but sometimes it’s hard to know where to start. Increasing your property value through renovations or home additions, and paying off your mortgage, seem like the most straightforward ways to build equity. But there are also some factors that determine what your house is worth that are out of your control, like the location and popularity of the particular housing market. We gathered tips from experts in the field to share what they find to be the most effective ways to build equity in your home.  

Spurgeon Appraisals: Thinking about putting in a gazebo? A saltwater pool? Custom features may not always contribute to value, because they may not be widely accepted by your market.  Spend your money where every homebuyer looks, the kitchen, bathroom, roof, and repairs. The more you stray from the norm the less likely you’ll see a return on your investment.   

OlaesSmith Appraisals: A good way to build equity in your home is to see if your house is being used at its highest and best use. Being able to add additional square footage to your home to maximize your floor to area ratio allows you to use larger home sales when an appraisal is done on your home, which in turn will add more equity to your home versus its original smaller footprint. 

John Tsiaousis, Chicagoland Appraisals: Start by understanding what is happening in your market for the type of property you have. Let’s take a 2-flat in Chicago’s Logan Square for example from a real estate appraiser’s perspective.  If you were to automatically remodel the kitchens and bathrooms in both units in a very short time you’d find yourself having questions as to the value. Most 2-flats in Chicago’s Logan Square are not being fully remodeled, rather the 1st-floor unit is being duplexed with the basement and that is being fully remodeled to current tastes and the 2nd-floor unit is being spruced up with paint and minor updates.

Alex Argianas, Argianas and Associates: Your first priority, if you have been putting off, should be superstructure & mechanicals like the roof, HVAC system, electrical and plumbing. What’s more, a proper appraisal will identify and should apply the costs associated with these upgrades in the appraisal of the home. A new kitchen is great, but if the roof leaks or you can’t heat it, you’re going to have some unhappy home buyers. 

American Realty Appraisals: While it’s important to increase the energy efficiency of the home which will improve comfort and lower utility bills, the market doesn’t react to these critical factors that they don’t see, like they should. One thing homeowners can do which may not necessarily increase the equity in the home on a refinance, but lowering your taxes through tax appeal can increase the purchasing power of a potential buyer and thus increase buyers’ bids to purchase the property…..and that is extra equity for the homeowner.

Gynell Vestal, Consumer Home Value: Build a strong relationship with a local real estate appraiser. They should obtain an appraisal every few years to keep current with their home value and property expectations for their market. An appraiser can advise them on trends and characteristics important in their micro-market and the cost-to-value relationship of improvements remodels or upgrades being considered. This way homeowners spend their money on improvements that will maximize returns and are steered away from potential over-improvements. 

Matthew Frentheway, Aspen Appraisal Group: Typically, the amount people spend in finishing a basement will only yield about half as much in equity. So it’s not a good idea to finish one if you expect to get immediate equity back out if they sell or get a loan. It is better to do it for the use of the area, and wait for the market to increase to get your money back out.

Sun Point Appraisals Inc.: The one thing on a financial lending appraisal report and only one thing regarding upgrades is a box on page 1 of the report.  This box asks the appraiser to indicate if the kitchen and/or bathrooms have been updated within the prior 15 years. Once this box is checked “yes” the Appraiser now has told the Reader of the report this home is updated.  Now when the Appraiser compares this home (the subject of the appraisal) to other recently sold homes they will need to analyze how this updated kitchen and/or bathrooms have impacted the overall value of the home. 

Appraisal Partners: One way to help gain equity is to help sell your neighbor’s home. As an agent, I have run into scenarios where neighbors are not very accommodating when it comes to the sale of their neighbor’s home. They take down directional arrows, they steal yard signs and leave cars parked in the street. If you’re directly next to the home for sale, clean up your backyard. I have had a few sales where the property had trouble selling because the neighboring backyard was in disarray. As an appraiser, we are looking for comparable sales to form our value opinions. If your neighbor’s home sold low, likey when you go to refinance, we are going to use that sale as a comparable for determining value. So if you see your neighbor trying to sell their home, help them out. Spread the word, be accommodating and help the real estate agent.  

DW Slater Company: Home improvements can add equity to your home, however, we recommend checking with a local market expert to find out which improvements are showing the best return on investment in your area.  Not all markets are the same. Kitchen remodels may add greater value in some markets where outdoor living spaces will add more value in another market. Check with a local real estate appraiser. 

Jamie Owen, Aspen Appraisal Services: If you have a walk-up attic with a high enough ceiling height, a fairly simple way to add equity is by finishing and heating that area. It’s a fairly simple way of adding gross living area and it’s much less expensive than most traditional additions. If a person wants to do so, I recommend checking with their municipality to make sure that it is legal to do so and that the area can be considered gross living area when completed. But this is a relatively easy way to add equity.

Brian KirkpatrickDFW Appraisals: Equity is in residential real estate is typically built by identifying items that the current market reflects.  In the day and age of real estate television shows, Pinterest, and social media, one can visibly see what trends are current with fashion and styling.  Updating components of your home to reflect popular culture is the best way to build equity in your property. Components such as roof, HVAC system, and water heater are considered short-lived items; meaning, their economic life span is shorter than that of the real estate. Always remember that cost is what you pay but value is what you get.

Just Appraisals: Design trends come and go, but a great way to add long-lasting value is by adding an accessory dwelling unit. The extra living space and potential income will continue to add value for as long as you own the property. 

Ryan Lundquist, Sacramento Appraisal Blog: This might sound strange, but one of the best ways to build equity is to do absolutely nothing. During an increasing market, a homeowner has an incredible opportunity to sit back and build wealth by simply riding the wave of growth. In fact, many owners have done this over the past eight years and they have hundreds of thousands of dollars in equity without having lifted a finger. Yes, kitchen remodels and other improvements can surely make a big difference for a home’s value, but what the market is doing can actually mean way more.

Master Appraisal Services: If you want to build equity in your home to increase the value, the pat answer is almost always updating kitchens and bathrooms or add square footage. Just updating is not necessarily maximizing the potential. It is also important to make sure that the updates are current to today’s demands and expectations of the market. One way to see what is most current is to go tour the model homes in new developments for ideas.

Originally Published on Redfin

What is a Barndominium?

red barndominium

Do you watch Fixer Upper? Did you see the episode of the Barndominium? I truly believe the term “barndominium” was influenced by this episode of Fixer Upper. This alternative style of home is becoming more and more popular in the past few years. Basically, a barndominium is a style of home which is typically made of metal construction similar to barns. Sometimes they are attached to barns or workshops similar to the photo above or they could stand alone. These are unique homes and offer a certain lifestyle for those that love living in the country and the country lifestyle. We have seen them as barns that have been converted into living space or built designed as living space. Most of the time they are attached to barns and stall spaces.

Although the exterior of many barndominiums look like barns the interior are typically well designed, insulated and can have average to very high grade custom finishes. Here is the interior of a finished out interior barndominium:

Finished out interior of a barndominium

This style of home has actually been around a while but we have seen a recent increase in the number of barndominiums as well as an increase in prices. I agree with this article in that this is a good term used to describe them. We used to call them “metal constructed homes” or “barnstyle homes”. Our local MLS (multi-listing service) added the term “barndominium” as a style of home in 2016 so it is now easier to search for this style of home. Prior to 2016, it was more difficult to track them as they were listed in the MLS as various types of alternative construction. You can see this chart how within the past 2 and 1/2 years in our markets barndominiums are appreciating:

Barndominiums are a Lifestyle Choice

We have seen a rise in the number of barndominiums we have appraised as well as sales in our North Texas markets. We believe that this is a great choice for those that prefer a more country lifestyle. When the living space is attached to your barn stalls, wash rooms, and tack rooms, it is convenient to go and tend to your animals within your space. Once, David, was appraising a barndominium and the new owners had just arrived from out of town. As they were in the kitchen and David was observing the interior, they had forgotten to shut on the doors and this beautiful horse strolled in and joined them all in the kitchen. They calmly led the horse back out the door into his stall but it illustrates the lifestyle of a barndominium. I liken it to those that enjoy the sights, smells, and sounds of the city may prefer living in a high rise, those that prefer the sights, smells and sounds of the country may prefer living in a barndominium.

Sometimes the barndominium is a converted space in the barn and used as a living area until the future main house is built. Sometimes the barndominium is designed as guest quarters or for ranch hands and other times they are the main living area and designed as such from the beginning.

Appraising Barndominiums

Appraising barndominiums can be tricky as they are a more unique style of home. As more barndos (how many shorten the term), become available on the market, they become a bit less complex. Some of the things that appraisers will look for:

Main Space or Extra Space– We have appraised some properties where the barndominium is a guest house or perhaps living quarters for a ranch hand. If the living space is not a part of the main living area, it will not be included in the main living area but as an additional feature. You can read more about living area here: What Counts as Living Area in an Appraisal?

Quality– The quality of construction will be considered in the appraisal as not all barndominiums are of the same quality. Just as some custom homes have higher grade finishes and features, the same can be found in barndominiums. It is important to compare barndominiums with similar quality of construction if possible.

Lot Size– Barndominiums are typically on acreage and the size of the acreage will have an impact on the appraisal. Ideally, if an appraiser is appraising a 2,500 sq ft barndominium on 10 acres, they would love to find comparables of similar sized sq ft on as close 10 acres as possible.

Location– as always in real estate, location is the biggest factor influencing value. A barndominium located next to a river will have a much different value than a barndominium located next to a cement plant. In our markets, there are entire subdivisions of barndominiums on 5-10 acre lots. These subdivisions are designed for an equestrian lifestyle and are located in areas where the soil is of sandy loam and most suitable horses. The locations with sandy soil have many more equine properties as well as equine hospitals, supply stores and services available. Barndominiums in these locations sell for higher prices than those located outside the more suitable soil.

Additional Buildings & Features– Appraisers will also take into consideration additional improvements to a property such as workshops, mulitple barns, arenas, fencing, etc. All of the features are to be taken into consideration for contributory values.

Barndominium converted from original barn

What do you think of Barndominiums? Have I left anything out? Would this be a style of home for you?

If you have any questions about appraising barndominiums or other real estate feel free to reach out to us at

The Problems with the Price Per Square Foot Method

Do you know the price per square foot method for determining the value of a property? Do you use it? This is a topic that has been written and discussed much and for good reason. Real estate agents, buyers, seller’s, lenders, or investors all like an easy way to determine the value of a home. Many will use the price per square foot method.

Example: You know that a property which is 2,500 sq ft in size sold for $350,000. You take the price of the home, divide it by 2,500 and ………..(drum roll)………- the price per square foot is $140! Now, your house is 3,500 sq ft, so using the price per square foot method, you multiply 3,500 x 140 and………..(another drum roll)…… your house is $490,000! Wow! Wasn’t that easy? Well, it might be easy but there are many problems that can occur using this method for determining value. It is my desire to share some of the reasons why this might not be the best method for many, many properties.

Many Factors Contribute to Value

One of the problems with using the price per square foot method is that it does not consider any of the other factors that contribute to the value of a home. When you use the price per square foot method, you are only considering the size of the home and nothing else. You could over price or under price a home looking at only the square footage. Here are some of the other factors that contribute to the value of a property and should be considered when determining value:

  • Location – the location of a property can have either a positive or negative impact on the value of a home. A property located with a beautiful view of a lake will have more value than a property located with a view of the local trash dump. A property located in a gated private community with access to a community pool, clubhouse, tennis courts, and a private lake will have more value than one that is not located in such a development. Would you love drinking your coffee and listening to the birds with the view below or next to the noisy highway that drowns out the sounds of the birds each morning?
This back porch view would contribute to overall the value of the property.
  • Amenities- There are so many additional features or amenities that also contribute to the overall value of a property. Some common amenities in our markets are swimming pools, pool houses, workshops, guest houses, barns, or party rooms. For lake homes, boat docks, lifts, and boathouses give added value. When you look at only the price per square foot, you are not considering any of these amenities.
  • Condition-One very important factor that impacts value is the condition of a home. If your neighbor’s house sold for $225,000 and it is the same size, same age and located next door then your house should be worth $225,000 right? Well, it would except that before their house sold, it had a new roof, all of the flooring replaced, the kitchens and bathrooms updated with new fixtures, and the interior and exterior was repainted. Your house still has the 1970’s avocado green appliances, shag carpet, popcorn ceilings, and original roof. The conditions of the two homes are not equal. Using the price per square foot method does not consider the condition of a home.
  • Quality of Construction– Similar to the condition of a home, the quality of the construction is also a factor when determining the value of a home. Understandably, a home with a much superior quality of construction will sell for more than one that is less. Real estate appraisers look for the quality of the construction in such things as the flooring, custom cabinets, high grade or commercial grade appliances, built-ins, custom trim, and finishes. Price per square foot does not consider the quality of construction.
  • Age-Related to the condition of a home is the age. It is best to compare homes that are of similar age. One of the things that appraisers determine in the appraisal process is the economic life of a property. At some point, a property will reach the end of its economic life, most of the contributory value of a property will be in the land alone. At this time, the highest and best use will be for it to be demolished. That is not to say that all older homes have reached the end of their economic life. We see many that are remodeled, preserved and well maintained. The point is that when finding homes that are comparable, having homes of similar age is important. Price per square foot does not consider the age of a home.

Law of Diminishing Returns

Another reason that price per square foot will give you inaccurate and false results has to do with the “Law of Diminishing Returns”. The law of diminishing returns is defined as” the premise that additional expenditures beyond a certain point ( the point of decreasing returns) will not yield a return commensurate with the additional investment.”- The Dictionary of Real Estate Appraisal 4th Edition.

Let’s go with the example I began with and that the house that sold for $350,000 is located right next door to my house. Both are in the same location, have the same view, are the same age, are in the same condition, have the same quality of construction and amenities. All is the same except for the size, so the price per square foot method should be great, right? Well, unfortunately since my house is 3,500 sq ft and the house next door is 2,500 square feet. That is a very large difference in size. The law of diminishing returns would factor in here and my larger house is going to sell for a smaller price per square foot than my neighbor’s house.

Do you ever shop at Sam’s Club, Costco? The price per unit goes down the more that you buy in bulk. Back when we had all of our 7 kids at home, it was so beneficial for us to buy in bulk as the price per ounce or price per pound was less. I mean we went through a gallon of milk and a loaf of bread each day! One of the best analogies that many of you can relate to is from appraiser Ryan Lundquist as he used the analogy for Starbucks and the price per square foot–the price per ounce differences in the Tall, Venti and Grande at Starbucks diminish as the size increases. Same principle.

Price Per Square Foot and Trends

One of the reasons, I decided to write this post is because I had a reader ask me about the price per square foot trends that we publish in our monthly newsletter. Our company publishes a monthly newsletter with market updates and trends. One of the metrics that we look at is the price per square foot trend. (if you are interested in our monthly newsletter you can sign up at our website or on the sidebar of this blog) Someone wrote to me to ask about if his property had a horse barn and was on five acres would the price per square foot trends we reported apply? The answer, of course, was no.

The trends are a broad look at larger market areas and not his specific smaller market area. Plus of course, it didn’t consider his larger lot size and amenities. The trends are really just a metric to look at to see what the overall market is doing. It is one of the many things that we look at. The next time you read a headline about prices up 25% or homes selling at $125, please do not use those numbers for your own home. Each property is unique and will require an expert in valuation to help you in knowing what your home is worth.

Here is a trends chart from our newsletter-(Hover over it and you can see the numbers for each month)

So, I hope you find this helpful. Know that using the price per square foot method can get you inaccurate results. I have only shared some of the problems that would change the result of the price per square foot method. Unless a home is similar in every way, chances are there are factors that will skew the result of price per square foot. What did I leave out? Do you use this method? If you have any questions about this, appraising or real estate appraisals please contact us at

Helpful Resources:

Starbucks and the price per square foot – Ryan Lundquist, Appraiser from the Sacramento Appraisal Blog

Why price per square foot can be an agent’s worst enemy when pricing a home- Tom Horn, Appraiser from the Birmingham Appraisal Blog

Price Per Square Foot is a Poor Value Indicator– Bill Gassett , Realtor from the Maximum Real Estate Exposure Blog