What is an appraisal? A process conducted to determine the value of a property, usually for financing purposes. It's different from the estimated market value, which is assigned by your municipality for tax purposes, usually by the county assessor.

What's changed? Federal regulations have now separated the home buying/lending process from the appraisal process to ensure that an appraisal is being conducted objectively. Among the new rules are restrictions on contact between the lender and the appraiser, and more strict requirements for comparable sales. Usually they require four to six comparables within a certain geographic range. Foreclosure sales have made the process even more difficult because appraisers must take into account that the comparable was a distressed sale.