When you see a “for sale” sign pop up in your neighbor’s yard, it’s natural to be curious. You might wonder where they’re moving to…or what the selling price for their home is.
Not only is this natural curiosity normal, it can actually be very useful. By keeping tabs on the local real estate market and how much similar houses in your area are selling for, you’ll be better positioned to get the highest return on your investment when it comes time to sell your home.
This exercise is also an important first step for homebuyers who are interested in purchasing property in a particular area. According to Creston Inderrieden, an Elite Agent in Houston, Texas, this will ensure they don’t end up surprised when home prices are higher than initially expected — something that can be difficult to determine simply by driving around. “It’s good to not waste time looking at homes you can’t afford, but even more importantly, to have a grasp on the market,” he says.
1. Rely on the expertise of an experienced real estate agent
If you want to learn more about the selling prices of homes in a particular area, and how that relates to your homebuying or selling goals, you can’t beat the expertise of a qualified real estate agent in your area. Not only do these professionals know the ins and outs of the local market, but they have access to tools that provide the most accurate and up-to-date information on home listings and sales.
With the multiple listing service (MLS) at their fingertips, a real estate agent can run a comparative market analysis (CMA), which will come up with an estimated selling price for a home based on three to five comparable homes in the area that have sold recently.
She would then look up all of the properties that have sold within the last six months (or three months if the market is changing rapidly). “Realtors have access to different online sites that buyers and sellers are not privy to,” she says. “I would research those as well to put together a property analysis.”
“When we’re looking at comparisons, we’re looking at location, neighborhoods, square footage, the home’s condition and whether any updates have been made,” Inderrieden adds.
HomeLight’s Agent Match can connect you with a top real estate agent in your area who provides more than just accurate home selling prices — but greater context to those numbers so that they’re more useful to you.
2. Search Zillow for ‘recently sold’ properties
If you want to do some quick online research yourself, you can use an online tool to view recently sold properties in your area. There are a number of different tools to choose from, each of which works slightly differently. It’s important to keep in mind when using these tools that while they’re a good place to begin your research, the information won’t be as accurate as when you work directly with an experienced real estate agent.
To look up properties that have recently sold on Zillow, type the name of the city you live in (or are interested in purchasing property in). This will provide a list of local results — both in list format and a map. In this example image below, we’re looking at sold properties only in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Every yellow dot on the map represents a property that has recently sold in the city. Clicking on any of the dots will give you the full details of the property, as well as the selling price.
To find data on homes in a specific neighborhood, you can zoom in on the map for a closer look. You also have the ability to refine your search to look at properties that are similar to yours in square footage and basic house features.
Try it yourself now using this Zillow link.
3. Check Trulia’s property information database
Trulia is another popular tool used by homebuyers and sellers that provides pricing information for sold properties based on both public information and agent-reported sales.
To look up recently sold properties in your area, select the “Sold” option and then enter the city or specific address you’re researching. In this example image below, we’re looking at single family homes in Austin, Texas, that have sold in the last three months. Each red dot on the map represents a property, which you can hover over to get more information on the property’s details and selling date.
When you click on an individual property, you’ll also be provided with a list of homes for sale in that area. This allows you to see what the current market value is for houses in that area of the city.
Try it yourself using this Trulia link. Remember to click the “sold” button before you hit the search link.
4. Use RealtyTrac’s database of recently sold homes
Although RealtyTrac specializes in foreclosure and distressed property data, they also maintain a database of recently sold homes that can be useful to buyers and sellers who want to do their own quick comparative analysis.
What’s interesting about this tool is that while the data is an estimate based on the home’s value, it does allow home buyers and sellers to get a median estimated home price for specific areas of each city by clicking around on the map.
In this example image below, we’re looking at homes that sold in Portland, Maine, within the last six months.
Try it yourself using this RealtyTrac link. Click, drag, and zoom to navigate to the state and city you’d like to view. As you zoom in closer, you’ll see the sold prices appear on the map markers. Click the marker to display the street address.
5. Look up ‘just sold’ property listings on Realtor.com
What’s interesting about the ‘Just Sold’ database on Realtor.com, is that it provides not only a map of recently sold homes in the city, but it allows users to play with a variety of map overlays to learn more about each area of the city and its features. For example, what the noise level is or what the proximity is to a grocery store or coffee shop.
In this example image below, we’re looking at recently sold single family homes in Boulder, Colorado, as well as their proximity to area grocery stores. By clicking through onto the map, you can view the selling price information for each home, as well as how many days the house was on the market before it sold and how expensive it is compared to other properties in the area.
Try the Realtor.com “Just Sold” tool using this link. When you’re viewing the listings results on a desktop browser, you’ll see a toggle button on the top right that allows you to select “List” or “Map.” If you’re on a mobile device browser, there will be a “Map View” button on the bottom left.
Q&A: What else should I know about checking selling prices in my area?
Can I do a comparative market analysis myself?
While online tools such as Zillow, Trulia, and Realtor.com do provide homeowners with information on recently sold properties in their area that can be used as part of a comparative market analysis, the information isn’t always accurate. Additionally, you won’t benefit from the professional expertise of a real estate agent who understands the local market, what buyers are looking for and how home values are trending.
Are Zillow sold prices accurate?
According to Inderrieden, Zillow is a licensed broker and therefore does have access to the same MLS data as Realtors®. However, that doesn’t mean that the transaction data that appears on the website is 100% accurate. “They have access to the data, but it isn’t always right,” he says.
Something else to keep in mind, is that the sold prices you see on Zillow may include closing costs, which can inflate the selling price and make it appear as if it sold for more than it did. Or perhaps there were seller concessions that weren’t included in the price.
What is the difference between pending and contingent transactions?
When viewing real estate listings, you’ll often see a property marked as “pending” or “contingent.” A property that is marked as contingent means that while it is currently under contract, there are certain provisions that must be met before the sale can be finalized. Common contingencies include mortgage approval, the results of a home inspection or the sale of a prior home.
Meanwhile, a pending status indicates that all contingencies have been met and that all of the legal work to finalize the sale is in process.
What if I live in a non-disclosure state?
There are a handful of states that don’t permit the sale prices of homes to be publicly disclosed as a way to protect the privacy of its citizens. These states include Alaska, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri (certain counties only), Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming. If you’re researching real estate prices in any of these states, you’ll need to work with a real estate agent who has access to the MLS.
What real estate website should I use?
Although many of the common real estate websites function similarly, the information they provide can differ — as can the accuracy of the information provided. For best results, Inderrieden recommends checking multiple sites to get a ballpark figure for the selling prices of homes in your area, but then rely on the expertise of a professional. “Having a trusted expert who can distill the data and help you understand where the market is going, where it’s been and how your home is going to compete, is critical to making sure that you’re maximizing the value you’re going to get.”
‘Sold price’ sleuthing? Make sure you compare apples to apples
Researching the selling prices of comparable homes is a great first step for both home buyers and sellers who want to maximize their investment and ensure they’re being realistic in their expectations. When comparing homes, it’s important to not only look at homes in a similar area, but also homes that are similar in size and have similar features. If a “similar” house down the street sells for $350k, for example, but has a fully renovated kitchen, while your kitchen is original to the house, it’s probable that yours will sell for less.
Comparable homes are just that — comparable — not 100% exact matches that you can base your listing price on without accounting for all the little nuances.
“Driveway layout can bring your home’s value up or down…proximity to powerlines, if you’re near a flight path, or even if you’re near a mobile home park — anything that could possibly affect the buyer,” Harich says.
So remember, just because the home down the street has the same square footage and number of bedrooms as yours doesn’t mean the two homes will sell for the same price.
Ultimately, you’ll need a real estate agent to step in and calculate the value of your home, so you can bank on getting buyers’ attention and sealing the deal on a successful home sale.
Keep in mind too, that a home’s selling price doesn’t necessarily equal its listing price — particularly in today’s competitive market. For a true apples to apples comparison, it’s worthwhile to look at real estate listing sites. Many of the sites we recommended above, including Zillow, Trulia and Realtor.com all maintain an updated list of real estate listings. Other popular websites include Homes.com and Redfin.
What is my home worth?
An automated valuation model (AVM) uses computer algorithms to give you a quick estimate of your home’s value — Zillow, Trulia and Redfin all provide this service. While helpful, these numbers are only a ballpark estimate and may not reflect the true value of your property.
To get at a closer estimate, HomeLight’s Home Value Estimator asks for additional data beyond the property address to better understand the unique features of the home and its location. And while nothing will beat the accuracy that a professional real estate agent can provide, the Home Value Estimator is designed to provide a closer estimate than some other AVM tools.
To learn more about finding the value of your home, click this link.
Header Image Source: (Deric / Unsplash)