Dear Egghead: I’ve seen a lot of websites that promise to tell you how much your home is worth. Are these sites accurate at all?
ANSWER: The best method for determining your home’s value depends on the reason you want to know. If you’re not looking to sell in the near future, the free online tools will suffice. One method is to request a valuation from two or three of the most popular online tools and use an average of those results. Three of the most popular tools are Redfin, Zillow, and Realtor.com.
This method will give you a nice ballpark estimate, good enough to satisfy your curiosity. While these free online tools are OK, they fall short in a few areas: they don’t take into account recent upgrades you might have made — like installing a pool or a sunroom. Also, these tools aren’t able to assess the house’s condition or overall sizzle, sometimes called “curb appeal.”
If you need to be more certain about your home’s worth, here are some additional methods that will take a bit more time, and in the last case, will cost you some money:
Ask a real estate agent. Any agent worth their salt will prepare a written comparative market analysis if you ask them. Why would an agent spend a half hour or more to provide this free service. Simple, they would like to have you as a client. A great way for agents to get clients is to show their expertise and dedication whenever they have the chance.
Research comparable sales of similar homes. This is a major part of the comparative market analysis mentioned above that a real estate agent can deliver. But perhaps you know more about your house and the surrounding area than any real estate agent.
Hire a real estate appraiser. In this case, you’re getting the service from a professional who does home valuations every day to earn their living. It’s the most accurate way to get your home’s value, but it will cost you. The nationwide average is about $350. (If you live in a super-expensive metro area — or if the subject property is large and complex — the appraisal could cost upwards of $1,000.)
If you’re a home buyer who is obtaining a mortgage, the lender will hire an appraiser to value the house precisely. Why? The bank doesn’t want to lend you more money than the home is worth.