How to Value Your Residential Property
In today’s crazy real estate market, do you ever wonder, what is my residential property worth? How much would someone really pay me for it? Should I get an appraisal? Should I sell? Does a pool make my house worth more? Is my Zestimate® accurate? (Spoiler alert: your Zestimate® is probably not accurate.)
Even if you aren’t considering selling your home, it’s wise to ask these questions so you know what your property is worth. It has an effect on your tax burden and investments, and it influences potential refinancing and selling. Having a general idea of your property value keeps you from being blindsided in any of these situations.
It’s worth mentioning that your property value will be within a range, as opposed to an absolute, fixed number. Different values are used by different entities, like prospective buyers, appraisal districts, marketing analysts, or real estate agents.
While a sure-fire way to get an exact property value is to hire a professional, like a fee appraiser or a real estate broker, you can get a general value estimation by doing some digging for data on your property.
County Tax Value
Looking at your county tax value is a good starting point (emphasis on starting), assuming the county has up-to-date information about your property. It can be a good approximation, but the county uses mass appraisal to put a very general value on your property, as opposed to looking specifically at your property.
Sometimes the county’s value is off, especially if you remodel your home. Let’s say you have a home built in the ‘70s that’s in good condition, which the county values at $300K using mass appraisal in May 2017. This seems fair to you, so you don’t protest your value. Later that year you decide to remodel the home, so your home is actually worth more like $340K . When spring of 2018 comes around, the county has no clue you remodeled and keeps your value at 300K. So now the county’s original estimated value is way off. While this will keep your taxes lower, you have a very skewed estimation of your home, so who knows what it’s actually worth now.
Thinking the county’s value could be way off, you might Google “What’s my house worth?” and have Zillow give you a $325K Zestimate®. Let’s stop right there. If you think the county has a hard time valuing a property, Zillow knows even less and is only able to give you a very, very general number based on lots of different factors. So don’t trust Zillow to give you a sound property value.
Now you’re back to square one. You want to figure this out on your own, so you go back to the county’s value of $300K. Part of this valuation is the value of the land, but it’s pretty hard to value land unless there’s been a vacant lot for sale in your neighborhood recently. But say the county estimated a $100K land value. To use cost value to calculate the home’s value, you have to go through a very time-consuming process of buying a cost database, applying locational market factors, and depreciating for age and condition of the property. If half of your house was remodeled in 1995 and the other half was just updated, this will not be easy. After spending a month on this, you may be getting one small step closer to your property value. But since even typing this process out makes me want to throw my computer across the room, let’s move on to another approach.
To use cost value to calculate the home’s value, you have to go through a very time-consuming process of buying a cost database, applying locational market factors, and depreciating for age and condition of the property.
Calling a Realtor
A realtor can definitely help you find comps and estimate your property value, but unfortunately most realtors will only do this if you’re going to list your home with them. Unless you have a realtor friend who’s willing to give you some help free of charge, this is not the best course of action.
Often the best way to value your property on your own is to combine multiple data sources. The easiest and fastest way to get a general and broad estimation of value is to use a combination of data from all of the above methods.
Review the listings (and sales if possible) that have taken place recently in your neighborhood. Check listing sites like Zillow, Redfin, or Realtor.com for listings. How do those homes compare to yours? Listings have descriptions for you to determine if that home has been updated compared to your own.
Surprisingly, land values from appraisal districts can be fairly accurate. Appraisal district records have square footage and land acreage measurements. And their land values are often pretty precise, as they typically do land value sales studies once a year throughout each neighborhood.
Do you have a shed, workshop or unattached building on your property but no clue how it adds value to your property? Check into the construction cost of that building with your homeowner's insurance broker. They may be able to tell you exactly what that shed in the back is worth. Remember, they have to pay for it if it's destroyed; it's in their best interest to know it's replacement cost.
Combining this data should give you a decent idea, but keep in mind a few things that affect property value when doing so:
- Larger, corner, cul-de-sac, or greenbelt lots – adds value
- Pools, hot tubs, saunas, or pergolas – adds value in most cases
- Different school district than neighbors across the street? – changes the value a lot
- Backs up to a major street? – can reduce value, but how much of a reduction depends on current market trends
Leave it to the Professionals
If you want to know the exact valuation of your property, it’s best to hire a professional. Appraisers are licensed by the State and are held to pretty high standards when it comes to valuing properties. Because of how time-consuming and in-depth appraisals are, they can cost $400 or more. But it’s the best way to get a very detailed report with an accurate value of your property.
You could also call a property tax consulting firm. When the county delivers your property valuation, we are great at telling you when it’s too high (which means higher taxes). And because we understand property value, we can help you come to a fair valuation for your property. Property tax consulting firms generally have more tools than a realtor to value your home, and we won’t puff-up and over-value your home like a realtor might do.
While valuing your own property isn’t impossible, even calculating a broad, approximate value of your home requires a good amount of time and patience. To get a more precise valuation, it’s best to call a professional.