The dreaded low appraisal. It’s what every home seller or refinancer fears. Low appraisals can kill a sale or wreak havoc on a refinancing application. The last thing you want is to be unpleasantly surprised by a lower-than-expected value of your home.

Instead, plan and prepare to put your home’s best impression forward before the appraiser arrives at your door.

According to the Appraisal Institute, the nation’s largest professional association of real estate appraisers, homeowners are allowed to accompany the appraiser during their inspection and are encouraged to provide the appraiser with any information or documentation they consider important to the valuation of the home.

Appraisal Institute president Ken P. Wilson recommends making available a survey of the property that delineates its boundaries and a list of improvements that have been made to the property in the past several years along with the associated costs.

“An appraiser wants as much information as possible,” Wilson said. “That’s going to help them develop a credible and reliable opinion of value. Now, cost does not necessarily equal value so whatever was spent may not translate to a dollar for dollar value increase. But it’s good information for the appraiser to consider when comparing that property to other properties.”

The best way for homeowners to head off potential problems with appraisals is to make sure the appraiser is highly qualified and competent.

“A homeowner cannot specifically choose an individual appraiser but they can request that they’re a member of a particular organization and that they have geographic competency,” Wilson said.

Before the appraiser arrives, Wilson recommends calling the mortgage lender and requesting an appraiser with field experience in the market where the home is. The homeowner should ask what professional credentials the appraiser holds, how long the appraiser has been in practice, what experience the appraiser has in this market and with this type of property and how familiar the appraiser is with property in this neighborhood.

“You have every right to do that because at the end of the day, you’re paying for that appraisal,” Wilson said.

Homeowners are entitled to a free copy of the appraisal from the lender no later than three days prior to the loan’s closing. They should carefully check the report for accuracy, such as number of bedrooms and bathrooms and the square footage.

If the homeowner finds inaccuracies, he should contact the lender, not the appraiser.

“It is inappropriate for the property owner to contact the appraiser directly,” Wilson said. “An appraiser cannot discuss the results of the appraisal with the owner. The communication has to come through the [lender].”

Wilson recommends that homeowners who are considering renovations to their home before they put it on the market contact an appraiser before undertaking any work. By conducting a feasibility study, an appraiser can give the homeowner an idea of what the return on investment would be for the proposed improvements.

Because the general appearance of a home can affect an appraiser’s evaluation, it is a good idea to tidy up your home both inside and out to make it appealing. Mow the lawn, trim the bushes and clear away debris. Fix peeling paint, cracked bricks, damaged gutters and siding. Replace or repair torn screens, non-working door knobs and latches, worn-out carpet and damaged plumbing and light fixtures. Make sure all your appliances are in working order.