Calculating the Real Value of Your Home Without an Agent

Selling your home without an agent can be a huge decision. It can feel like a giant mountain of a task for first-time sellers. Selling your own house by yourself might sound empowering and there’s no doubt that it’s a challenge to sell your home by yourself as there’s a lot that goes into the process that a typical homeowner might not know. But thousands of people are doing it and once you know the process, it’s actually very doable.

If you are planning to sell your own house and getting ready to put your property on the market, the biggest fear that you might have is – selling your home below its market value and losing money. But what is the right price for your home? A home’s fair market value defines what you could expect to receive if you were to sell your home on that day. This value can differ while you are asking different estate agents and realtors. But why take their word for it?

If you don’t know how to determine the market value of your house, you are not alone. Most of the homeowners are absolutely clueless about their home’s true worth.

Don’t be an average homeowner.

Here’s how to know the real value of your home if you are selling it without an agent:


Factors that determine a home valuation

  • Location
  • Safety
  • Number of rooms
  • Curb appeal
  • Square footage
  • Type of the property
  • Age of the property
  • Upgrades and improvements
  • Market trends
  • School district
  • Construction and repair

Use online valuation tools

There are numerous websites available on the internet that can give you an estimate of your home’s worth such as Zillow, CoStar, and Redfin, etc. You can use these sites, along with other methods, to build a rough estimate of your property’s market value. To achieve accurate results from these websites, you need to provide honest information about the property. You can also include the remodeling or upgrade work that you might have gotten done after you purchased the property.

Square footage

This is a very basic, yet effective method of evaluating the worth of your home. Locate the recently sold properties in your area that are similar to your home in size, features, age, and square footage. Find the mean sales price of these properties by adding up the total sales price of each property and dividing it by the number of properties. Repeat the same step for the square footage of the properties. Divide the mean sale price by average square footage to calculate the average value of the properties per square foot. Finally, multiply the average value of the properties per square to the number of square feet in your home. This will give you a very accurate estimate of the fair market value of your home.

Mean sales price = Total sales price of all properties / total number of properties

Mean square footage = Total square footage of all properties / total number of properties

Per square foot value = Mean sales price / mean square footage

The market value of your home = Per square foot value * Number of square feet in your home.

Perform a market analysis

If you hire a real estate agent, they usually perform a market analysis for you to evaluate your home’s worth. But since you are selling our own house, you’ll need to run a comparative market analysis by yourself. To make sure that the price point that you’ve set for your home is fair, you should study the market trends and prices of the properties around you in your neighborhood. In your market analysis, match your property to comparable properties in your neighborhood in terms of features, to get an estimated value of your property.

Hire an appraiser

Home appraisers tend to give the most accurate home valuations so retain a home appraiser to conduct an appraisal of the property. An average home appraiser costs about 300$ to 500$, depending on the size and location of the property. While estimating the value of your home, appraisers consider trends in the market and comparable properties sold or listed recently. In addition to this, appraisers also research public records, gain further information about the value of your neighborhood and complete a far more thorough inspection of your home.

Housing Market Revealed 2006 – Is The Party Over For Real Estate?

Prior to 2000, the real estate market and the economy were always cyclical. For instance, the US housing prices tended to weaken as the GDP and employment prospects declined, particularly during the recessions of 1980 and 1990. The economic downturn of 2000-01 defied many predictions by having the opposite impact on real estate prices. Over the past five years, real estate prices have increased approximately 10%, outperforming equities by a wide margin.

Historically, real estate has been viewed by many as a good hedge against inflation. During the last five years however, real estate prices have exceeded the rate of inflation by a gross margin.

Given the significance and size of the U.S. real estate market, our analysis will focus on U.S. real estate, which is currently quite representative of markets around the world.

U.S. Real Estate

In 2005, America’s real estate boom was strong, with prices up by 13%. But there were signs that the market was weakening. Sales of existing homes fell this January to the lowest in nearly two years. Meanwhile, the number of unsold homes rose to the highest level since 1998. In addition, new homes continue to be built at the fastest pace since 1973. In other words, while the supply of housing is at the highest level, demand for homes has fallen dramatically, rendering a downward price adjustment inevitable.

Due to the low interest rate environment, affordability ratios are still within historical ranges, although they’re approaching a 14-year low. On the other hand, other ratios that disregard the interest rate level (e.g., home price to rent, home price to disposable income) appear to have escalated.

The Supply / Demand Imbalance

In general, we see no evidence that the supply factors are positively affecting the prices. For example, the rate of population growth has not increased significantly and the supply of land available for housing remains largely unchanged. In fact, research by Goldman Sachs reveals that U.S. residential investing is at the highest level in 40 years, yet new household formation is growing at its slowest rate.

Based on the experience of the last few years, we may see a fundamental shift in sentiment, favoring home ownership. Up to now, most of the baby boomers nearing retirement have decided against downsizing their homes and opted for the financial security of their current houses instead.

Other Asset Classes

Financial exposure to real estate is generally a good thing as long as it is a reasonable proportion of one’s assets, and the investment environment is favorable (e.g., not in the midst of a bubble or heading into a decline). In a diversified portfolio, real estate investments can be a very good diversifier due to relatively low correlations with other asset classes.

Contrary to popular belief, holding a diversified portfolio of various asset classes (with a large equity exposure) has been a much better investment than buying a house during the last 30 years. For instance, a dollar invested in real estate in 1975 would grow to $6.07 while it would turn into $36.14 if invested in the S&P 500. However, in calculating the exact returns one must factor in taxation and deductibility of interest rates.

The Failure of Risk Management

As rising house prices lift the market value of collateral on banks’ existing loans, banks are willing to lend more, pushing prices higher. In effect, banks have an incentive to lend when property prices are rising, and to pull out when prices fall, leading to extended boom and bust cycles.

For the past few years a number of researchers have pointed to the non-sustainability of the housing market, comparing it to the high-tech bubble of 2000. Barring any fundamental change, the primary question remains why real estate prices have defied this historical market relationship for so long, and whether will they will ever reach the tipping point.

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The Wisdom of Hindsight in the Real Estate Market

“Consider the following observations about the Metropolitan Washington, D.C. real estate market:

  • A home in Silver Spring, Maryland comes on the market and sells in one day. That’s no big deal. But the real estate agent received forty-one offers. I’ll repeat: Forty-one offers in only a few hours.
  • A home in the city of Alexandria sells in one day at a price $100,000 over the asking price. I’ll repeat: The house sold for $100,000 more than the seller’s asking price.
  • More than 30 people camped out for 7 days in order purchase units in a new urban townhouse development. I’ll repeat: Thirty people living on the streets with sleeping bags and tents in order to buy in a new townhouse development.

A dream come true you say? These are excerpts from the article “One Word For Metro Washington Real Estate: Insane, written by Henry Savage for RealtyTimes.com…in March 2004.

Almost five years ago Mr. Savage painted a picture of a thriving sellers market that had gained so much momentum that home buyers were waiving financing and home inspections to make their offers more attractive to home sellers. As we have all witnessed, any market, whether stocks or real estate, cannot sustain this level of exuberance before something has to give.

Home prices increasing 20% per year eventually results in fewer buyers for these over priced homes. Add to this mix, greedy money lenders offering low introductory interest rates (only to spike in a few years), and resulting in too many people owning homes they can’t afford. The demand for real estate begins to decrease, inventory rises, and eventually home prices drop. Sound familiar?

The increase in interest rates, would also have a devastating effect on all of those buyers who purchased homes with little or no deposit and are faced with the expiration of the attractive introductory rates. Foreclosures and housing gluts would be a natural result of this market.

Mr. Savage predicted this outcome in his article; stating “the bigger the boom, the bigger the bust”. Real estate, as do all markets, runs in cycles. The plight of our current market is the fall out from the golden age of real estate we experienced a few years ago.

Currently, in the Metro D.C. market, the average Sold price is just under $550; a 12% increase from the same time last year. It’s not 20%, but definitely a more realistic increase one would expect. Perhaps we are entering a new cycle in real estate; one that reflects adjusted home prices, sensible lending practices, and smarter buyers.

Real Estate Appraisal – Bring Back the Cost Approach

In the last few years there has been a trend toward a complete discounting of the Cost Approach to value in residential appraisal. For owner occupied homes, the sole technique is now the Sales Comparison Analysis, which involves selecting and comparing individual property sales to a subject property.

Many lenders and government agencies no longer require the Cost Approach technique, even on new or nearly new construction, and appraisers are often instructed to omit it completely, or not to place any reliance on the results. When a lender does require that the Cost Approach be completed, it seems that this is only so that a proper amount of homeowner insurance can be determined. This is, of course, something critically important to the lender as well as the homeowner, but should not be the only criteria for the use of a cost-depreciation analysis.

Years ago a Cost Approach was always required for an appraisal report. The basis of this approach was the Principle of Substitution, which holds that a prudent buyer will not pay more for a home than the cost to acquire an equally desirable substitute home. Accordingly, the reproduction or replacement cost new of a home set the upper possible limit on value, particularly for an existing preowned home. So this analysis served not only as an additional means of estimating value, but also as a governor on runaway home prices.

The cost approach also served an important function as an educational tool for appraisers. To perform this approach, an appraiser had to have at least a minimal working knowledge of residential construction and to carefully observe the quality and condition of the various components of the home. Cost data services, which still exist today, provide continuously updated information on the various costs of construction involved in a home and some are quite accurate.

One service publishes a manual with a wealth of good data and information, complete with descriptions and photographs that illustrate the differences in quality and appearance for different types of homes, which is a great way for new or inexperienced appraisers to familiarize themselves with these features. In recent times I have come across reports by relatively new appraisers where no cost approach was done and it was painfully obvious that the appraiser knew very little about construction or how to evaluate the differences between their subject and the comparable sales they used in the Sales Comparison Analysis. I suspect we have a new generation of appraisers out there who have this deficiency and that’s a bad sign for the future. The best appraisers know something about construction and can immediately spot differences among homes as to their quality level. This ability is also critical for the appraisal reviewer.

The Cost Approach is not without its weaknesses. The primary weakness is in the estimate of depreciation, be it physical, functional or external in nature. These things are difficult to estimate, but again, the appraiser who learns how to do this becomes more knowledgeable and competent, both in the Cost and Sales Comparison methods. Another weakness is in estimating the land value. Actual sales are often not available as a means to determine what buyers are paying for a similar lot and so market abstraction (also called extraction) is used to estimate the ratio of land value to dwelling value from market sales of already built homes. Improperly done, this technique is subject to serious errors. The general rule for the Cost Approach is that it is most accurate when the dwelling is not very old and sales of nearby similar lots are available.

I am of the opinion that the majority of foreclosures involve relatively new homes and that this is where the largest amount of lending losses occur. At least, that’s how it is in my local market which has always had a lot of new construction. There are many reasons for foreclosures, but certainly one is upgrades.

Builders typically offer various home models at “base” prices and offer upgrades for both the home and the lot. Buyers can choose from a wide variety of options to enhance the home and can choose lots that are different in size or that have more trees or other desirable aspects. This is great for the buyer but can become a nightmare for the lender when a foreclosure happens because so many of those nice upgrades do not hold their value in subsequent foreclosure sales, and often do not hold their value as the distressed homeowner desperately tries to sell the home to avoid foreclosure.

The homeowner finds out they are “upside down” meaning the home cannot be sold for as much as the mortgage amount, especially when the initial down payment was very low or when financing costs were included (rolled into) the mortgage, necessitating an increase in the sale price. Another problem is inflated upgrade cost where some builders mark up the prices of upgrades well beyond normal prices that consumers pay at retail stores, even with installation added on. This is similar to what many service contractors (plumbers, car mechanics, etc.) do because they want to make a profit on the “parts” as well as the labor. The problem comes when the markup is excessive.

There is little an appraiser can do about upgrades when it can be shown that buyers often do select upgrades with their new home purchase. In the absence of current resales or foreclosures to compare with, it is not possible to estimate the resale value of upgrades, and values are estimated as of a given date, not the future.

The Cost Approach long served as a reasonable basis for making adjustments to market sales in the Sales Comparison Analysis for individual items. If a home needed a new roof, the appraiser had a handy source for determining the cost for this. Likewise for appliances, HVAC equipment, a garage and the like. Removing the Cost Approach and the good data that comes with it forces too many appraisers to have to guess at these kinds of adjustments and the results can vary wildly from one appraiser to the next.

Long ago homes were valued only by a Cost Approach. The Sales Comparison Analysis (formerly known as the Market Approach) came later. I don’t believe it is a coincidence that foreclosure rates and personal bankruptcies caused by unaffordable mortgage amounts and runaway home prices seem to have increased so much in recent years while the use of the Cost Approach has declined at the same time. Not do I believe it is a coincidence that the decrease in emphasis on cost minus depreciation began about the same time as tremendous inflows of capital into the marketplace encouraged every sort of easy money credit scheme that allowed so many people to buy homes they couldn’t actually afford and that has severely damaged not only the US economy, but the entire world. Mountains of money to lend tend to push caution to the side.

I believe that the Sales Comparison Analysis is surely a good valuation technique, but its down side is that there are too many clever ways for market participants to smuggle hidden costs, fees and even fraud into sales contracts, which make their way silently into market data services and onto appraisal reports. The same can be true for unhidden costs like seller paid loan discount fees and other monies paid toward buyer closing costs. At a minimum, an accurate Cost Approach serves as a useful check on the results of even the most thorough and detailed Sales Comparison Analysis where the appraiser is carefully searching for and analyzing such things. Undesirable things can and do happen in real estate and some can slip past even the best Sales Comparison Analysis because they happen quietly and incrementally.

An example of this is what I call closing cost price compounding. A real estate agent provides a seller a pricing analysis where the agent has found 20 recent sales of similar homes in the area and averaged the prices to arrive at a figure he or she believes is correct for the home. The home is then marketed at that price. Along comes a buyer (perhaps from a higher cost market) who lacks cash, needs some assistance with his closing costs, and makes an offer at or very near the asking price. The seller counters with an offer in which he adds the amount of assistance the buyer asked for to the price.

But what if this type of assistance turns out to be normal for the area and is already reflected in the selling prices of those 20 homes used to set the asking price to begin with? The new sale closes at the upwardly adjusted price and is then used as a “comp” by other agents and by appraisers and the process continues with every repeat occurrence of the needy buyer, causing home prices to rise, affordability to lessen, creating more needy buyers, and setting in motion a snowball effect where prices to rise eventually to the point that they exceed even cost new. This is not unlike interest compounding on your savings account. Over time your balance goes up faster and faster. Combine this with other inflationary market tendencies and you get a nasty bubble that will some day burst to the peril of us all…again.

Obviously, this could be avoided by competent sales agents who understand that those 20 sales already included heavy seller costs and inform their clients of this, but many do not and there is a built in incentive to push prices as high as possible among people working on commission. An accurate Cost Approach would tend to catch this anomaly immediately or at least decrease its effects down the line in future sales because when home prices begin to exceed what it would cost to build an equally desirable substitute home brand new, the competent appraiser knows that something is wrong and that they need to dig deeper into the market data.

A Cost Approach is also a great lie detector for fraudulent appraisals. If an appraiser included a Cost Approach and is using a known cost source or manual that others can subscribe or view, then the estimated costs shown in the appraisal can be reproduced from that same source by someone reviewing the report. So if the appraiser has fudged on cost, that can be detected simply by examining the cost source and parameters the appraiser had described. Moreover, even if the appraiser showed the correct costs, the fraudulently inflated appraisal will exhibit inflated land value in the Cost Approach with little or no support as to where the land value estimate comes from or why it is so high. In fraudulent appraisals, the Cost Approach is “plugged in” with numbers to match the Sales Comparison Analysis. That’s because an honest Cost Approach would have indicated a significantly lower value for the home.

There are other examples of how the Cost Approach could eliminate or reduce runaway home prices, and even detect fraud. I believe it is a foolish mistake to take away or encourage the disuse of any type of analysis or tool from appraisers that has a basis in market data. An analyst in any field of study should be willing and enabled to use as many ways as possible of looking at a problem. Focusing on just one method encourages tunnel vision. I say bring back the Cost Approach and let appraisers decide how useful or accurate it is on a case by case basis. It is not the end-all be-all solution but it is a valuable and worthwhile tool.

How to Sell Your Home Without a Real Estate Agent

Considering the rapid rise in home prices over the past several years, home sellers are taking a hard look at the commission they have to pay to a real estate brokerage to market and sell their home. Real estate commissions vary across the country; they average in the four to seven percent range.

According to the 2004 National Association of Realtors® (NAR) Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers fourteen percent of homes were sold by-owner. The NAR study listed the two most difficult tasks for for-sale-by-owner (FSBO) were preparing and fixing up the home for sale and getting the pricing right.

Invite three full-time mid to high producing agents to your home to give you an opinion of price. Understand that if the three price opinions are not what you think the property is worth, you should understand the danger of an over-priced property. Homes that are over-priced have been studied by large national real estate brokerages and over-priced homes take longer to sell and sell at a lower price as a percentage of the original list price.

Ask the agents to give you constructive feed back on what you should do to make your home visually appeal to the majority of buyers. Below are some staging tips to prepare your home for market.

1) Research how to “stage” your home to maximize its appeal to homebuyers by creating a spacious and pleasant home environment for buyers.

·Start by removing the first thing that gets in your way.

·Take one or more major pieces of furniture out of every room to make it more spacious.

·Keep matching furniture pieces together to build uniformity in a room.

·Create seating areas where two or more people can talk.

2) Keep the eye moving when staging a room.

·Use furniture placement to direct the buyer’s eye toward a room’s features.

·Move large pieces of furniture away from windows.

·Place large furniture at entry end of room to lighten visual load at opposite end of room.

·Use area rugs to anchor seating arrangements.

·Have your dining table closed to its smallest size.

3) Use furniture placed on angles in a room to give it a quick update.

·Angle a bed in a corner of a bedroom to focus attention.

·Angle furniture in a V shape in living and family rooms.

·Angled furniture can help fill a room short on furniture and lend a designer look.

4) Create vignettes in rooms to set mood.

·Breakfast tray with coffee cups, newspaper, flower vase on bed.

·Set the dining room table with linen tablecloth, china, silverware,and stemware.

·Set up game table for chess, bridge, or backgammon.

5) Effective model homes focus on creating the right environment.

·De-clutter so buyers can overlay their furnishings and lifestyle.

·Clean, fresh, and new smell.

·Attention to detail. Clean rooms and landscaping trimmed.

·Subtle background music, classical, light jazz, or rock.

·Interior décor and wall colors accent home’s architectural features.

·Live plants or fresh flowers add finishing touches.

6) Understand decorating basics that can guide you to repositioning a room.

·Color. A little goes a long way.

·Scale. Do furniture sizes complement or overwhelm a room?

·Pattern. Easy does it to avoid distracting from room itself.

·Lighting. Use it to define dark corners. Helps to fill out a room.

·Focal point. Fireplaces, views, art, find one in every room.

·Texture. Adds visual interest, warms cold spaces and finishes.

Understanding and completing the paperwork in a real estate transaction was number three of the most difficult tasks according to the NAR study. Once your home is priced right and ready for market you should retain a real estate attorney to help you review contracts, disclosure forms and to help you qualify potential buyers of your home. An experienced real estate attorney can help you avoid the common pitfalls in real estate negotiations and will facilitate a smooth transaction.

Here are some cliff-notes on real estate contracts.

·Use an approved real estate contract by your state real estate attorney association or local Board of Realtors®.

·Real estate contract. A binding agreement between buyer and seller. It consists of an offer and an acceptance as well as consideration (i.e. money).

·Acceptance. Agreement by the parties of the terms of a contract.

·Contract length. Research customary contract lengths, the standard is 45 days from contract to closing.

·Have sold comparables properties on hand for prospective buyers.

·Comparable. Closed prices for similar homes in age, condition, location and size.

·Price. Study average sold prices as a percentage of lists in the last six months.

·Low-ball offers. Buyers should offer over 87% of list if they are serious, otherwise you will should not responding at all to low-ball offers.

·Counteroffer(s). The response to an offer or a bid by the seller or buyer after the original offer or bid. Request all counteroffers to be in writing.

·Require all buyers to present the highest level of mortgage commitment with their contract.

·Mortgage Commitment. A document by a mortgage lender that commits the lender to providing a loan at agreed terms and conditions.

·Mortgage term, rate and amount. Look for strong down-payments of thwenty-percent or more. Interest-only loans signal that the buyers could be stretching to qualify for a loan.

·Cash offers in lieu of mortgage financing should be confirmed with a letter from your financial institution stating funds are on deposit to close the contract.

·Federal law requires Lead-Based Paint Hazard disclosures.

·Lead-Based Hazard. A disclosure of reports or knowledge of Lead-Based Hazards. Buildings built after 1978 do not present Lead-Based Hazards.

·Read Protect Your Family From Lead in Your Home by the US EPA.

·Real property disclosures required by the federal or your state Written statements by the seller(s) of a property disclosing any known defects.

·Local disclosures. Local requirements of disclosure that the seller provides and the buyer acknowledges, such as certificates of occupancy.

·W-9 form. An IRS form requesting taxpayer identification and certification numbers of buyers to receive interest on earnest money from delivery to closing.

·Subject to appraisal. Most contracts as part of the mortgage contingency require the subject property to appraise at a minimum of contract price.

·Appraisal. An objective third parties opinion of value by a licensed or certified appraiser.

·Earnest money deposit. Money given to the seller at the time the offer is made as a sign of the buyer’s good faith.

·Research customary earnest money deposits as they vary. The larger the deposit, the increased motivation you buyers show to perform the contract.

·Refund of earnest money deposits. Contracts should provide for refund of the entire earnest money deposit within agreed contingency periods. Seller’s attorney should hold earnest money deposits.

·Attorney approval period. Your attorney reviews and makes changes to the contract, typically 5-7 business days.

·Property inspection period. The right under a contract for the buyer at their expense to discover the actual condition of the property. This period typically runs 5-7 business days.

·Well and septic inspections. These are independent of structural and mechanical inspections.

·Timelines for contingencies run concurrently.

·Contingency. A provision in a contract requiring certain acts to be completed before the contract is binding.

·Closing/ escrow date. The date of the end of the transaction process where the deed is delivered, documents are signed, and funds are dispersed.

·Possession date. The date agreed by contract when the buyer can occupy the property.

·Final walk-through. A property tour before closing or escrow that permits the buyers one final verification of condition, agreed repairs and personal property.

·Tax pro-rations. The amount of credit given to buyers at closing for unpaid property taxes, when taxes are paid in arrears. Pro rations should always be more than 100 %.

·Personal property. List and initial all personal property included with the sale, such as air-conditioners, appliances, and playground equipment.

·Home sale contingency. The contract is contingent on the sales of the buyer’s property.

·Buyers show motivation when including a home sale contingency by having their current property already on market.

·Home closing contingency. The contract is contingent only on the successful closing of an existing real estate contract.

Marketing your home to prospective buyers should include these methods.

·A professionally painted yard sign.

·Newspaper advertisements classified and photo.

·Public and broker open houses.

·Internet: virtual tour and at least eight photos.