It’s Time to Estimate the Market Value of Your Home

We’ve all been avoiding the scary task of checking on the current market value of our home.  We have read that the median price on sales of existing homes fell 13.2% in one year, the biggest drop in 40 years.  We also know that new housing starts in November were 624,000 units, down from 1,178,000 units a year ago.  (Source: Barron’s)  All of the housing news is bad except for mortgage rates which have fallen.

Mr. ToughMoneyLove thinks it’s time for all homeowners to face the music and find out what has happened to our own home valuations.  The numbers won’t get any better if you avoid looking at them.  I promise.

Hopefully, more and more Americans will come to realize that net worth is a much better indicator of financial health than a credit score.  Keep in mind that credit score is always a moving target.  The rules get changed on us often, by credit industry monopolists who have no interest in our money health and therefore want us focused on doing things that feed our credit score.  Net worth is meaningless to them. 

Home equity is often single largest component of a family’s net worth.  Therefore, it is in our best interest to learn if we have any equity left and if so, how much.  Then we can use that information to see how our personal balance sheet is looking.  The beginning of the year is a logical time to do this.

So how do we estimate the value of our home without actually selling it?  Well, you could ask a Realtor to do a property valuation analysis for you.  But actually, you can use the same information and do it yourself, in the comfortable glare of your own computer screen.

These are the home valuation sites that I like:

Zillow

Zillow allows you to enter in your home address.  If you live in a reasonably sized town, city, or suburb, it will find and map your house, pull up publicly available information about its size and prior sales transactions, find comparable sales in your area, and generate an estimate of its value.  You will also have the opportunity to “claim” your home and customize information by editing or adding details of the size and design of your home.   This can be important.  For example in our case, Zillow had our home listed with 6 bathrooms and no bedrooms.  (I think this is because we had the house built from custom plans.  Therefore, the only prior sale of record was for the bare lot.)  When we corrected that information to 5 bedrooms and 4.5 bathrooms, the valuation changed accordingly.

Home Gain

Home Gain is similar to Zillow although it provides a valuation range instead of a single dollar valuation estimate.  It has a very clean user interface and includes lists of comparable sales and recent sales in your neighborhood when it displays the valuation range.

Trulia

Trulia does not provide individual valuation estimates.  However, it does contain extensive data on market trends for home sales and valuations in your geographic area.  This would be helpful if your home was not identified in either the Zillow or Home Gain databases.  I would supplement the data from Trulia with comparable sales information from Realtor.com.  I would then use that sales data to arrive at a valuation range based on actually selling prices per square foot. 

So it’s time to put on the big boy (or big girl) pants and find out what has really happened to the real estate portion of our financial empires.  If it helps, avert your eyes when the number first pops up but finally take a look.  Then resolve to do it again in 3-6 months.  Actually, when that home value number starts climbing, it may give you a better feeling about the rest of your financial life.

Image credit:  Svilen Mushkatov


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9 Responses to “It’s Time to Estimate the Market Value of Your Home”
  1. GettingUp says:

    I have found your way of thinking, in trying to get people to focus less (or not at all) on FICO score, and to begin thinking about net worth (which for many of these families, is negative), to be a real light in the murkiness that is personal financial education today!

    Although, voices like ours, ARE coming more into style now.

    Zillow won’t work for my home, so I do need to do a bit more work to find out. Probably not a bad time to do it.

  2. Andrea says:

    Although I don’t think there’s anything wrong with knowing how much your home is worth, I also don’t think there’s much reason to bother if you aren’t planning on moving or refinancing. Why freak yourself out, you know? I know how much our home is worth, per Zillow, but don’t really care. Our mortgage is fixed, we’re not planning on moving, so it can ride. Kind of like my retirement investments …

  3. HomeGain also has two complimentary tools for our instant home valuation tool.
    -the “what if” feature that allows you to recalculate your home’s value estimate if you add some rooms or square footage.
    – Homesalemaximizer (under seller tools tab) which allows you to see which home improvements will best improve the resale value of your home. There are also home improvement checklists and a downloadable pdf.

  4. Elain says:

    Thanks for the informative post Mr. Toughmoneylove. Trulia also provides comparables to your home by alerting you of properties similar to yours that get listed or sold. All you have to do is enter your city, your home’s criteria (bed, bath, approximate $ range), and sign up for email alert at the top. It takes 30 seconds and helps you monitor your local market!

  5. Elain says:

    Thanks for the informative post Mr. Toughmoneylove. Trulia also provides comparables to your home by alerting you of properties similar to yours that get listed or sold. All you have to do is enter your city, your home’s criteria (bed, bath, approximate $ range), and sign up for email alert at the top. It takes 30 seconds and helps you monitor your local market!

    Elain
    Trulia Consumer Marketing Specialist

  6. kitty says:

    I’d like to second Andrea. Unless you plan to sell or refinance, why would you care? Even if someone is “upside down”, as long as one can afford the mortgage, what is the big deal? Even if one wants to move, if one is OK financially, one can simply rent out the place and wait for better times – much as I did in mid-90s.

    The only reason I check my home value is for fun: I want to see if adding it would bring my net worth to the right side of 7 digits. So last year I could feel “rich” because it was “just above”, and now I can feel “poor” for its falling “below” – because of stock losses, the home value is still holding (I’d rather it had been the other way around). So according to Willow, the asking price for a similar townhouse in my condo complex is 425K which is higher than I thought. But I know it’s going to fall: so far the prices in lower NY state haven’t fallen quite as much, but with all the companies in NYC laying off people, it’s just the matter of time.

    In reality, the high value of my home doesn’t make me “rich” – I still have the same amount of spending money.

    Normally I look at 3 numbers: a) total of retirement and non-retirement investable assets, b) non-retirement investments c) only savings in cash/CDs/government bonds. I don’t think other numbers matter.

  7. Andrea and Kitty: There is logic in your position but real estate valuations do matter for several reasons: (1) for empy nesters who are likely to downsize into a smaller property; (2) people who are looking to relocate to an area with a lower standard of living; (3) people who own more than one property; (4) retirees who have suffered severe market losses and may want to use a reverse mortgage strategy; and (5) those who are younger and maybe looking to upgrade into a larger property, taking advantage of valuations and favorable mortgage interest rates. If you don’t fall into any of these categories, you may not care what your home is worth. I fall into categories (1) and (3) so it’s something that I need to keep an eye on.

  8. Andrea says:

    Not disagreeing at all, TML, just pointing out that … well, what you said in your comment. :)

  9. kitty says:

    I am not disagreeing with this list either, there are definitely situations when you are very interested in your home value. Only not always.

    (3) if you intend to keep both properties “forever” how is this different from one property? I used to have two properties, but I was renting out one and wasn’t planning to hold it forever so its value was important. But had it been a vacation home, I am not sure if I’d have cared. Am I missing something?

    Regarding (5): yes, you are interested in your home value if you plan to upgrade. You may want to rent out, but knowing the value will help you decide whether renting out makes sense. In one respect, low real estate values is often a great opportunity to upgrade. In my purely anecdotal experience when the market declines the differences in prices between more expensive and less expensive properties tend to shrink. It also makes sense mathematically assuming they decline by roughly the same percentage.

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