- Your Home's Value & How it Compares
What Is My Home Really Worth?
Gather info from several sources and compare the findings rather than rely on just one approach to home valuation.
Your home's market value is an important factor in a long list of financial decisions, including selling the home, refinancing your mortgage, borrowing against your equity, estimating your annual property tax bill, buying homeowner's insurance, calculating the expected return on remodeling costs, managing your other investments, estate planning and so on. The trick is figuring out how much your home is worth -- and remembering that how much you paid for it months or years ago isn't relevant to its current market value. It's not a bad idea to gather information from several sources and compare the findings, rather than relying on just one approach to home valuation.
4 suggestions to start:
Call a couple of REALTORS®. Even if you're not planning to sell your home right away, many REALTORS® will be willing to prepare a comparable market analysis (CMA) for you as a marketing service with the goal of getting your business whenever you decide to move. A CMA shows the prices of recently sold homes that are comparable to yours and the prices of comparable homes on the market. A market-savvy REALTOR® can give you a rough idea of what your home would be worth, given its size and condition and local market conditions.
Purchase a professional appraisal. Unlike a CMA, a professional appraisal is rarely free. However, the several hundred dollars you'll pay for an appraisal, depending on size of your home and the complexity of the work, could be money well spent if you're making a major financial decision that hinges on the value of your home. Appraisers rely on an in-person inspection of your home, recent sales of comparable homes and other data to arrive at an opinion of value. The appraiser's report is a full-blown description of your home and the criteria used to formulate the valuation.
Go to neighborhood open houses. Open houses are a good opportunity to view comparable homes for sale in your neighborhood and chat with real estate professionals about the local real estate market. Two caveats: It's not easy to be objective about your own home and you shouldn't assume that the listing price on a for-sale necessarily reflects the home's true market value. If you keep those points in mind, information gathered at open houses can be worth considering along with data from other sources.
Do research online. A number of Web sites offer home valuation information free or for a fee. The free service at iOwn.com displays sales prices of comparable nearby homes and market activity data within three minutes. Dataquick.com charges $30 for a full home valuation estimate, while Appraisal-net.com offers a comparable sales report for $9.95. VirtualRealEstateStore.com will send a free home price analysis to your e-mail address within 72 hours or you can pay $14.95 for an immediate reply.
TIP: Price per square foot is a time-honored method of real estate valuation and not a bad rule of thumb. However, it doesn't account for a choice location, a move-in-ready home or personal criteria and you should factor in how the property was measured and whether the square footage includes the garage or other detached buildings on the property.
CMA's & Pricing Your Home
Pricing should be reality based rather than wishful thinking.
When the time comes to price your home for sale, you may be tempted to start with the price you paid for it, add a healthy markup and call it a day. Unfortunately, that strategy is unlikely to result in a true reflection of your home's market value.
6 strategies to help you figure out how much your home is worth:
1. Abandon your personal point of view. How much will a ready, willing and able buyer be willing to pay for your home? Buyers don't care how much you paid for the home, how many memorable moments you and your family shared in the home, how much cash you need for the downpayment on your next home or how much time and money you've invested in your home's hardwood floors, fresh paint, lush landscaping or other improvements.
2. Get a couple of CMAs. Invite at least three real estate agents to visit your home and give you their opinion of its likely selling price. Ask for a "comparative market analysis" (CMA), which shows the prices of comparable recently sold homes, on-the-market homes and homes that were on the market, but weren't sold. The on-the-market homes are the "competition" for your home. Ask the agents why each home was included in the CMA and whether any other comparable homes were eliminated from the CMA. Price recommendations based on CMAs aren't gospel. Some agents will tell you to under-price your home in hope of sparking a bidding war. Others will suggest a flatteringly high price to "buy" your listing only to demand a price reduction a few weeks later.
3. Do your own market research. Go to open houses in your neighborhood and try to make an impartial assessment of how those homes compare to yours in terms of location, size, amenities and condition. Assuming all the asking prices were the same, would you buy your home or someone else's?
4. Calculate the price per square foot. The average price per square foot for homes in your neighborhood shouldn't be the sole determinant of the asking price for your home, but it can be a useful starting point. Keep in mind that various methodologies can be used to calculate square footage.
5. Consider market conditions. Are home prices in your area trending upwards or downwards? Are homes selling quickly or languishing? Will your home be on the market in the spring home-buying season or the dead of winter? Are interest rates attractive? Is the economy hot or cold? Will you be selling in a buyer's market or a seller's market? Is the local job market strong or are employees fearful of staff reductions?
6. Sweeten the transaction terms. Some buyers have needs that go beyond the bottom line. If you're willing to close escrow quickly, you'll attract buyers who want to move in right away. If you can offer seller-financing, your home will appeal to buyers who need to stretch their financial resources. A lease-option can help first-timers who need downpayment assistance. The more creative and flexible you can be in meeting the buyer's needs, the more success you'll have in pricing your home to sell.
- Why Use a Realtor®
Why Use a REALTOR® to Sell
A real estate agent can help you understand everything you need to know about the selling process.
The selling process generally begins with a determination of a reasonable asking price. Your real estate agent or REALTOR® can give you up-to-date information on what is happening in the marketplace and the price, financing, terms and condition of competing properties. These are key factors in getting your property sold at the best price, quickly and with minimum hassle.
The next step is a marketing plan. Often, your agent can recommend repairs or cosmetic work that will significantly enhance the salability of the property. Marketing includes the exposure of your property to other real estate agents and the public. In many markets across the country, over 50% of real estate sales are cooperative sales; that is, a real estate agent other than yours brings in the buyer. Your agent acts as the marketing coordinator, disbursing information about your property to other real estate agents through a Multiple Listing Service or other cooperative marketing networks, open houses for agents, etc. The REALTOR® Code of Ethics requires REALTORS® to utilize these cooperative relationships when they benefit their clients.
Advertising is part of marketing. The choice of media and frequency of advertising depends a lot on the property and specific market. For example, in some areas, newspaper advertising generates phone calls to the real estate office but statistically has minimum effectiveness in selling a specific property. Overexposure of a property in any media may give a buyer the impression the property is distressed or the seller is desperate. Your real estate agent will know when, where and how to advertise your property. There is a misconception that advertising sells real estate. The NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® studies show that 82% of real estate sales are the result of agent contacts through previous clients, referrals, friends, family and personal contacts.
When a property is marketed with an agent's help, you do not have to allow strangers into your home. Agents will generally pre-screen and accompany qualified prospects through your property.
The negotiation process deals with much the same issues for both buyers and sellers, as noted above under the buying process. Your agent can help you objectively evaluate every buyer's proposal without compromising your marketing position. This initial agreement is only the beginning of a process of appraisals, inspections and financing -- a lot of possible pitfalls. Your agent can help you write a legally binding, win-win agreement that will be more likely to make it through the process.
Monitoring, renegotiating and closing
Between the initial sales agreement and closing (or settlement), questions may arise. For example, unexpected repairs are required to obtain financing or a cloud in the title is discovered. The required paperwork alone is overwhelming for most sellers. Your agent is the best person to objectively help you resolve these issues and move the transaction to closing (or settlement).
Why use a REALTOR®?
All real estate licensees are not the same. Only real estate licensees who are members of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® are properly called REALTORS®. They proudly display the REALTOR "®" logo on the business card or other marketing and sales literature. REALTORS® are committed to treat all parties to a transaction honestly. REALTORS® subscribe to a strict code of ethics and are expected to maintain a higher level of knowledge of the process of buying and selling real estate. An independent survey reports that 84% of home buyers would use the same REALTOR® again.
You be the judge
Real estate transactions involve one of the biggest financial investments most people experience in their lifetime. Transactions today usually exceed $100,000. If you had a $100,000 income tax problem, would you attempt to deal with it without the help of a CPA? If you had a $100,000 legal question, would you deal with it without the help of an attorney? Considering the small upside cost and the large downside risk, it would be foolish to consider a deal in real estate without the professional assistance of a
- Listing & Advertising
Make Your Home More Saleable
Before you put your home on the market, do some things that will make your home shine above the others.
When preparing to put your home up for sale, your first concern is the home's exterior. If the outside, or "curb appeal" looks good, people will more than likely want to see what's on the inside. Keep the lawn and landscape nicely manicured. Trim the bushes and season permitting, plant some flowers. Be sure your front door area has a "Welcome" feeling. A fresh coat of paint on the front door looks great.
Of all the rooms inside your home, pay special attention to the kitchen and bathrooms. They should look as modern, bright and fresh as possible. It is essential for them to be clean and odor free. A fresh coat of paint just may do the trick. Have any leaky faucets taken care of. A call to a plumber is a wise investment.
Since you want your home to look as spacious as possible, remove any excess or very large furniture. Make sure that table tops, dressers and closets are free of clutter. Don't use your garage, attic, or basement to store these extra things. These areas also need to have the impression of space. Instead, put them into storage. Make sure walls and doors are free of smudges and look for anything that might indicate a maintenance problem, such as cracked windows, holes in the wall or stained ceilings.
Finally, if your basement shows any signs of dampness or leakage, seal the walls.
Quick tips for showings:
- Keep counter tops cleared
- Replace all burned out lightbulbs
- Open all drapes and window blinds
- Put pets in cages or take them to a neighbor
- No dirty dishes in the sink
- No laundry in the washer/dryer
- Clean or replace dirty or worn carpets
- Put on soft music
- Burn wood in the fireplace on cold days, otherwise, the fireplace should be clean
Always look at your home from the buyer's point of view. Be objective and be honest.
- Preparing Your Home
Basics of Marketing A Home
Our marketing efforts and considerations include showing the property, advertising, how long the house has been on the market and whether you're buying another home.
Your home should be listed, whenever possible, in the local Multiple Listing Service and on REALTOR.com, which has the largest online database of homes and virtually 100% of potential buyers who look for property on the Internet.
The REALTOR'S® largest expense has traditionally been classified advertising in the local newspaper. However, today properties are also exposed through popular Internet home search/listing services, radio and television promotions, and real estate guides. Even with all these additional advertising avenues, "For Sale" signs on the front lawn are still remarkably effective. Many REALTORS® use brochure boxes along with these signs to market the property. When appropriate, and with your permission, your agent may send a mailing about your property to neighbors. Sometimes one of them has "a friend or relative who always wanted to live near me." You never know.
Showings and open houses
To prepare your home for viewing, make it as light, cheerful and serene as possible. Your REALTOR® will probably find a tactful way to suggest that you not be present while the house is being shown to prospective buyers. This is done because your presence will inhibit their actions and conversations. They won. t feel free to open closets and cabinets, test out the plumbing, and discuss their observations objectively as they walk through. It goes without saying that your children and pets should not be on the premises either.
If your REALTOR® has scheduled an open house, you may want to notify the neighbors, and assure them that they'll be welcome. They'll jump at the chance to poke around in your house, and sometimes they can turn up a buyer among their friends. In preparing for an open house, you should:
- Pull the drapes back
- Light lamps
- Simmer a few drops of vanilla on the stove
- Light your fireplace
- Set the dining room or kitchen table if you have particularly nice linen or china
- Put fresh towels in the bathroom
- Leave the house so your REALTOR® is free to deal with prospective buyers in a professional manner.
TIP: When preparing your home, think about the techniques that are used to show builders' model homes.
How long has your house been on the market?
Professional appraisers sum up their entire body of knowledge in three words -- "Buyers make value." Your home is worth as much as some member of the buying public will come forth and pay for it. After it's been on the market for months, you've been given a clear message that the property may not be worth what you're asking for it. This is particularly true if there haven't been many prospects coming to see it. What you do at that point depends on whether you really need to sell, and whether you're working with a time limit. If you're not really motivated to move soon, you can always wait - years if necessary - and hope inflation will catch up with the price you want. The problem is that in that time, your home begins to feel shopworn. Buyers become suspicious of a house that's been for sale for a long time. If, however, you really do need to sell, discuss with your REALTOR® a schedule for dropping your price gradually until you find a level that attracts buyers. There's no point in saying, "We simply can't sell our house." Anything will sell if the price is right.
If you're buying another home
Don't spend a great deal of time worrying about what will happen when you're selling one home and buying another. You're not alone. REALTORS®, lawyers, and title and escrow companies have had plenty of experience in arranging contracts and loans so that the two transactions dovetail smoothly. It's best to list your present home for sale first.
Selling and buying a home is a very emotional event and if you create a "race" by locating your replacement property before you sell your current home, you may lose it to another buyer, who does not need to sell in order to buy. If you do find just the house you want, you can always put in a purchase offer contingent (dependent) on selling your present one. However, in a hot market you will have difficulty getting the house you want this way.
Sometimes the seller will sign a contract agreeing to wait a certain period of time while you find a buyer for your house - sometimes not. What would you do if you were presented with such a proposal, from a buyer who also has a house to sell? If you do find that you need to buy the next house before you've received the proceeds from the present one, lending institutions can sometimes make you a short-term "bridge" loan to tide you over between the two transactions. Make sure you fully understand the exposure and emotional investment before proceeding with this type of loan.
- Finalizing the Sale
Negotiating to a Final Sale
Negotiating a purchase agreement is perhaps the trickiest aspect of any real estate transaction.
Most home buyers and home sellers want to arrive at a win-win agreement, but that's not to say either side would regret getting a bigger "win" than the other. Successful negotiating is more than a matter of luck or natural talent. It also encompasses the learned ability to use certain skills and techniques to bring about those coveted win-win results. Here are six tips and suggestions to turn negotiation into agreement:
1. Start with a fair price and a fair offer. There's no question that significantly overpricing your home will turn off potential buyers. Likewise, making an offer that's far lower than the asking price is practically guaranteed to alienate the sellers. Asking and offering prices should be based on recent sales prices of comparable homes.
2. Respect the other side's priorities. Knowing what's most important to the person on the other side of the negotiating table can help you avoid pushing too hard on hot or sensitive issues. For example, a seller who won't budge on the sales price, might be willing to pay more of the transaction costs or make more repairs to the home, while a buyer with an urgent move-in date might be willing to pay a higher portion of the transaction costs or forgo some major repairs.
3. Be prepared to compromise. "Win-win" doesn't mean both the buyer and the seller will get everything they want. It means both sides will win some and give some. Rather than approaching negotiations from an adversarial winner-take-all perspective, focus on your top priorities and don't let your emotions overrule your better judgment.
4. Meet in the middle. Can't decide who will pay the recording fee? Can't agree on a close-of-escrow date? Arguing over cosmetic repairs? Splitting the difference is a time-honored and often successful negotiation strategy. Pay half the fee. Count off half the days. Fix half the blemishes.
5. Leave it aside. Politicians and corporate executives are famous for their "for future discussion" agreements. If you have a major sticking point that's not material to the overall contract (e.g., the purchase of furniture or fixtures), finish the main agreement, then resolve the other difficulties in a side agreement or amendment. This technique allows both sides to recognize and solidify basic areas of agreement, then move ahead toward a fair compromise on other terms and conditions. Summarizing the points of agreement in writing is another helpful strategy.
6. Ask for advice. Successful REALTORS® tend to be experienced negotiators. They've seen what works and what doesn't in countless real estate transactions, and they've established a track-record of bringing buyers and sellers together. Consult your REALTOR about negotiating strategies, win-win compromises and creative alternatives.
The price isn't the only factor that determines the net bottom line...
The natural focal point of a real estate purchase contract is the selling price of the home, but the price isn't the only factor that determines the net bottom line for both the buyer and the seller. Is a bargain for the buyer really a bargain if he or she is paying all the transaction costs? Is a top price for the seller really a top price if the buyer wants all the furniture to be included in the purchase price? Or if the buyer can't come up with the downpayment or qualify for a mortgage? Before you decide to go ahead with a great price, here are five other bottom-line points to consider:
1. What are the estimated transaction costs and who will pay for what? Typical costs include the brokers' commission, a home inspection, a termite inspection, escrow or attorney's fees, a title search, an owner's title insurance policy, transfer taxes and recording fees. The price tags on these items vary greatly around the country. Who pays for what is a matter of both local custom and negotiation.
2. How much money is the buyer putting into escrow and how soon? A big deposit -- called "earnest money" -- and a substantial downpayment are generally seen as a sign that the buyer is serious about completing the transaction. From the seller's point of view, the more money the buyer places in escrow and the sooner the money is transferred, the better.
3. Is there a mortgage financing contingency and how specific is it? The mortgage escape clause is a must for buyers, unless they're paying all cash for the home. Without this contingency, buyers can be legally obligated to purchase the home even if they can't obtain financing. Further, an open-ended statement that says the buyer will obtain a loan "at the prevailing rate of interest" leaves the buyer completely exposed to interest rate fluctuations. A statement that says the loan must be at an interest rate "not to exceed xx percent" and on specified terms is
4. What furniture, fixtures and appliances, if any, are being sold with the property? Technically, anything that's permanently affixed to or installed in the home is real property. Everything else is the seller's personal property. This distinction is a narrow one and it naturally leads to a fair amount of confusion. Are built-in appliances real property or personal property? What about a shelving system? A chandelier? Window coverings? Potted plants in the backyard? Sellers who intend to remove anything that's attached to the home should have that spelled out in the contract. And the same goes for buyers who expect to acquire any of the furniture or other movables.
5. What will happen if either side breaches the contract? Unless an unmet contingency triggers the abandonment of the contract, it's a binding legal document. Buyers who fail to perform can lose their deposit money. Sellers who try to back out can be sued for "specific performance," which forces the sale of the home to the buyer. Many contracts also specify that disputes must be brought in small-claims court or presented for arbitration or mediation.
Tip: Ask us to go over the standard contract with you before you receive or make a purchase offer. That way, you'll know what to expect and be prepared to negotiate the best deal you can get.