- Real Estate
Online Home Appraisals
If you are brooding over the value of your home in the current market, you can have an estimate in minutes. I will review the top websites for online home appraisals for accuracy, ease of use and cost (many are free). Whether you are considering selling, getting a home equity line of credit or refinancing, these sites have an army of tools to help you determine the value of your property.
If you are like me, and just want to keep a close eye on your most substantial investment (and maybe those of everyone you know) these sites will surely satisfy your curiosity. Home values change rapidly in the current market. Staying on top of how much your property is worth is a necessity.
If you are looking at buying a property, these tools can help you evaluate and understand the market conditions in your particular geographic area, right down to surrounding neighborhood properties.
Online Home Appraisals: Instant Valuations
Instant appraisals, also called home valuations or value estimates are calculated using a variety of information, primarily accessible from public records. Utilizing AVMs (automated valuations models) these online home appraisal sites give an instant report of a property's value and often the values of the surrounding homes. All you need to do is enter your street address and zip code.
There are some sites that will ask for more information to get a more accurate report. Beware of sites that ask for all of your personal information including your phone number. These are lead generating sites and there is no way to determine where your information goes from there.
What is an AVM exactly?
AVMs are statistically-based computer programs that use real estate information such as comparable sales, property characteristics, tax assessments, and price trends to provide an estimate of value for a specific property.
AVMs were originally used by financial institutions to investigate properties and evaluate loan options quickly, without having to do a physical inspection. The use of AVMs in the loan process saves time and can cut costs for the homeowner. The obvious flaw of an avm is the lack of knowledge that would be obtained from a physical inspection of the property.
Zillow Highlights in the News
What Are The Uses of Online Home Appraisals?
- If you choose to sell your home without the help of a real estate professional, getting an online appraisal is a good place to start. This will give you a range to work with in setting your price.
- Calculate the equity in your home.
- Time an equity line of credit to your advantage.
- Tax Assessment: If you feel that your home has been overvalued, a printed report may help you challenge the assessment. Realtytrac.com and Domania both offer printed reports. See below.
- Sellers can compare their instant online home appraisal with the estimate given by their realtor when setting a listing price.
- Buyers can see the values of surrounding homes in a neighborhood they are considering.
- Buyers can use an instant online home appraisal to help them decide on an appropriate offer for a property they are interested in buying.
AVMs vs. Comparative Market Analysis
A comparative market analysis is what your realtor or appraiser will do when you are ready to list your home for sale to determine an accurate list price. The value of your home would be determined by the agents market knowledge, MLS information, and a physical inspection of the property. Comparative market analysis is considered far more reliable in determining the value of a property.
The true value of a home can vary greatly depending on the physical condition of the interior and exterior. An AVM cannot take into account a bathroom that is thirty years old and although it may be in perfect working order, it is lime green. It also doesn't calculate an upgrade, such as a bathroom with a jetted tub and granite vanities. Some AVMs will allow you to add in upgrades, but that leaves the homeowner to estimate the value of the upgrade, creating another possibility for inaccuracy.
Online Home Appraisals: Too Much Information?
All of this information at your fingertips can be used in a practical fashion or (as in my case) for entertainment purposes.
Moments after entering my address and zip code, I am looking at a satelitte picture of my property in one box. Next to it is a satelitte shot of my neighborhood. A little price tag is dangling from each of the homes and when I mouse over them, I get details. Lots and lots of juicy little details about the homes - from square footage to bedroom count to lot size.
Ah ha! That one of a kind home down the street that our neighbors are always going on and on about is worth far less than mine. My nose is so far in the air I can hardly see the computer screen.
Of course, this also means that my meddlesome neighbor two houses down could be looking at my house and all the details including how much we paid for it and wondering what I am doing with all this space. Luckily, the picture doesn't zoom in on the mess my kids made in the backyard.
That freaks me out a little bit. I'm hooked on online home appraisals anyway.
Comparing the Leading Sites Providing Online Home Appraisals
I chose four properties in three different states to evaluate the accuracy of the different sites offering free instant online home appraisals. I used a one family home in the New York City suburbs, a home in rural upstate NY, one in northern Fairfield County, Connecticut, and a condominium in Newport, Rhode Island. The condominuim was difficult for most of the sites to locate and they presented similar properties instead.
A few of the sites have a disclaimer posted before you even enter your information.This is HomeGain.com's :
"Only a local professional can give you a real assessment of the value of your home."
It should also be noted that HomeGain is in the business of matching sellers to local professionals.
Zillow, one of the leaders in the market of online home appraisals, calls their home valuations a "Zestimate" and makes it clear to the user that this is only an estimate. They even post accuracy reports showing the areas where they don't have adequate information to give you an accurate estimate.
The following are reviews of the top sites overall for ease of use as well as accuracy. Below on the right is a listing with links to all the sites reviewed.
Best Sites for Online Home Appraisals
Real Estate Valuations, Homes for Sale, Free Real Estate Information. Overall best resource. Accuracy of home values fluctuates depending on geographic locations.
Highest rate of accuracy in this test. Accurate in areas where others sites were lacking sufficient data. Easy to navigate. Compare to surrounding homes and use multiple map views.
Moderately accurate. Overall, the estimates were inflated. Ability to edit property data, change local market conditions and compare with area homes. Many additional real estate resources.
Free instant home value estimate. Matches you with a real estate professional in your area. Ranked 4th in this test for accuracy. Lacks the ability to edit inaccurate or missing information in your estimate. Gives neighborhood information.
Zillow: Online Home Appraisals
Zillow is a full service real estate site with resources for the seller, buyer and agent. It offers a free home valuation called a "Zestimate." This site is fun and easy to use. The Zestimate gives you an exact value price and a more general range. The range numbers were very accurate for three of the test properties. The fourth, the home in the New York City area was off by an astounding amount. It does fall in an area that Zillow confesses to having insufficient data.
Features of the Zestimate:
- Customizable. Add any missing information about the property or change any facts that are wrong (like the square footage or number of bathrooms).
- Choose comparable homes in your area. This lets you pick the homes that are most like yours to get a more accurate Zestimate.
- Add any home improvements or upgrades and calculate that into your estimated value.
- Using the My Estimator tool, you can also see how specific remodeling projects can improve your home's value.
- View City / Town information including maps, demographics, average household income and links to nearby towns.
Be sure to check their confidence ratings on the area you are searching. Some areas have less information available, therefore your zestimate and range will not be as accurate.
Ever wonder where, exactly the Grey's Anatomy Intern's house is? How much it is worth? What about the Carrington Mansion from Dynasty? How much is the Soprano's north Jersey house worth? It's all in the Cool Homes section at Zillow.
This free site is initially easy to use to get an online home appraisal, but becomes a little tricky as you attempt to navigate through it to clarify the characteristics of your property. It came in third in this test for accuracy. The estimate prices given were inflated overall. This could be due to the fact that they allow the user to set the market conditions at hot, average, cold or anywhere in between. The other sites evaluate this information automatically. The default setting is average.
- Provides all the basic information you need in a map based format.
- Comparison of area homes.
- Allows you to edit some of the information about your home that my be missing or incorrect.
- Allows you to adjust your estimate by clarifying the current local market conditions.
International Links for Online Home Appraisals
Online Home Appraisals for International Properties
Online home appraisals or instant home valuations are readily available in Canada, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand. Most charge a fee ranging from $19.95 to $79.95 for a comprehensive report.
Recently launched, Mouseprice is the UK's version of Zillow. The site offers a free home valuation and an extensive collection of resources for the buyer, selller and agent. They even have a "tempt me" section, similar to Zillow's "make me move" where a homeowner can set a price that would make them sell even though their home is not currently listed for sale.
Quotable Value Limited is New Zealand's largest property information company. They offer instant valuation reports (for a fee) called e-valuer. they also offer recent sales reports for comparison and full service appraisals.
PropertyValue.com is one of Australia's resources for instant property reports. Their fee is $39.95 and the report can be instantly downloaded. It includes a value range, graphs and a projected value in five years. They also guarantee your satisfaction 100% or your money back.
Home Valuations Canada has recently expanded its coverage throughout Canada. A paid instant report includes a value range, graphs showing the movement of your home's value over a twelve month period, a confidence score, written analysis and sales history.
This site has extensive resources for determining the value of your home. Community information includes crime statistics. Trulia Voices is a question and answer community where you can get multiple answers from professionals and locals alike.
Online Home Appraisals: Looking Forward
Instant home appraisals generated by AVMs are not replacing Licensed Appraisers and real estate professionals anytime soon. To get the most accurate report, you still need a physical inspection of the property.
Many real estate professionals are at odds with these sites and do not want to see them expand further into their territory. In the past, home owners needed a real estate professional to tell them what the market conditions were in their area, how appealing their neighborhood was and how their home compared to other area properties for sale. Now, all of this is easily accessible to anyone.
Some sites, like Zillow, are providing resources for agents to aid them in promoting their listings and are planning to expand their services further.
The role of the real estate professional will likely evolve along with AVMs, which will no doubt get more accurate over time in providing instant online home appraisals. Homeowners will reap the benefits of these industry changes. They will have more information in moments than they could possibly need and a higher quality of service from their realtor.