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The housing market is constantly changing, and property values can shift quickly. As a result, you might only have a vague idea of your home’s value — or, possibly, not even a clue.
To determine your home’s true market value, you can hire a licensed appraiser for around $300 to $400. But if you’re just looking for an informed estimate, you can get a free home appraisal through online tools or an experienced local real estate agent.
With insight from top Los Angeles real estate agent, Rima Rafeh, we’ll walk you through your free home value estimate options.
Home appraisal overview: Determining your home’s value
In technical terms, a home appraisal involves hiring a professional certified by your state to conduct a comprehensive inspection of your property to assess its value. Mortgage lenders require an official appraisal to ensure they’re not lending a buyer or homeowner more than the property is worth.
When used colloquially, an appraisal may simply refer to a home value estimate generated by an algorithm or a real estate professional. Homeowners usually seek out appraisals and home value estimates to determine how much equity they’ve built or what they could sell their home for in the current market.
Now that you’re up to speed on the technicalities, here’s how to get a home appraisal for free:
Option 1: Get a home appraisal for free online
The first and easiest option is to rely on the magic of the internet. Online appraisal software made a massive splash in the real estate world when it premiered in 2006, giving homeowners the power to quickly ascertain their home’s value and take a more proactive role in participating in housing markets. Since their inception, the involved technologies have rapidly improved, providing more and more accurate estimates every year.
Today, online home appraisals have a median error rate of around 2% for listed homes and 7% for off-market properties. Still, for homeowners who want a free, fairly reliable appraisal in minutes, online value estimators are a no-brainer.
How it works
Online home value estimator tools are powered by automated valuation models, or AVMs. An AVM compares your property to other similar properties by analyzing user-submitted and public data sourced from current listings and property records. Using a machine-learning algorithm, the AVM calculates a likely value range for your property.
Obtain a free appraisal with HomeLight’s Home Value Estimator
If you google “free online appraisal,” you’ll encounter dozens of home value estimate tools. For the most accurate estimate, use an estimator that asks you questions about your property like HomeLight’s Home Value Estimator. We ask seven critical questions about your property to ensure we’re using the most up-to-date property details and accounting for your home’s more qualitative features like recent renovations and overall condition.
- Instantaneous: AVMs are incredibly fast — you can get a free home appraisal in minutes.
- Convenient: With an online estimator tool, you can get a free home appraisal on your computer or smartphone anytime, anywhere. Waiting for a coffee has never been more lucrative.
- Free: Real estate companies provide free online estimator tools to attract prospective clients to their profitable services. As a result, you get to use their sophisticated software for free.
- Impartial: Taking the human element out of the appraisal process reduces personal bias in the valuation, an unfortunate and ugly side of the home appraisal business.
- More accurate for some markets than others: In some states, the price of real estate transactions is not a matter of public record. Without access to this data, an automated appraisal system cannot produce as accurate an estimate. See here for a map of non-disclosure states.
- Less up-to-date information: AVMs can’t consider home sales that are still underway (in escrow). In a fast-moving market where prices are increasing (or declining) by the month, this data can influence your home’s market value.
- Algorithms can’t account for taste: Buyers have different tastes from market to market. For instance, buyers in one market may pay more for a remodeled kitchen and a farmhouse exterior, while those in another may prefer a fixer-upper with fantastic grounds. It’s difficult for an algorithm to account for how much more (or less) local buyers are willing to pay for your home’s qualitative features.
- You can’t ask questions about the estimate: Often, homeowners receive an estimate and want to know what influenced the valuation or if there’s anything they can do to add value to their property. Unfortunately, an AVM can’t help you with these questions.
Option 2: Ask a real estate agent for a free home appraisal
If you’re looking for the next best (free) estimate to an official home appraisal, reach out to a top real estate agent in your area. Rafeh, who works with 73% more single-family homes than her peers, shares that many real estate agents will provide homeowners with a free appraisal in hopes of gaining their business.
“Going to a real estate agent to get an estimate of your home’s worth is smart. In most cases, comparative market analysis is going to give homeowners exactly what they need in terms of information,” she shares.
How it works
A comparative market analysis (CMA) is a home valuation process that compares your home to similar listed, sold, and selling properties to generate an estimate for your home’s sale price.
Real estate agents sell homes day in and day out and have an intimate understanding of the nuances in their local market. Agents also have access to the Multiple Listing Service, a database that shows active home listings and provides information on recent transactions (including pending transactions in escrow). For these reasons, a real estate agent can provide you with a hyper-accurate home estimate on par with an official appraisal.
Connect with a top real estate agent for a free home appraisal
If you want a free CMA, the first step is to find a great real estate agent. A top-performing agent who sells more homes at higher prices will have a better idea of what your home is actually worth than a newbie agent who might miss the mark. To connect with top agents in your area, use HomeLight’s Agent Finder. We’ll crunch transaction data and client reviews to match you with the best three real estate agents for your home sale. Once you receive the agents’ details, reach out and ask if they offer free CMAs.
- More accurate than online tools: Real estate agents’ local knowledge and experience make them experts at determining home value.
- Accounts for qualitative features: Unlike software-based estimators, an agent can consider the value of all the features of your property and how much they’ll impact the sale price in your local market.
- Get your questions answered: If you have any questions about your agent’s estimate, you can ask them about their process. They can also provide insight on how to increase your home’s value.
- More time-consuming: To get a CMA, you’ll have to work with a real estate agent to schedule a time that you’re both available.
- You need to find a top agent: Your estimate is only as good as the real estate agent who conducts the CMA.
Free home appraisals are a helpful starting point
Online value estimators and agent appraisals are both excellent ways to figure out the value of your home for free. If you’re a curious homeowner looking for a quick ballpark figure of your home’s value, start with a free online appraisal. However, if you’re seriously considering selling your property or refinancing, it’s better to team up with a trusted agent and get an informed valuation. Once you know what your home’s worth, you can start making plans with confidence.
Header Image Source: (Nick Hawkes / Unsplash)
- "What's Your Home Worth," CNN Money (February 2006)
- "Selling your home? Here's how accurate online estimates are," CNN Business (April 2021)
- "What It Will Take to Close the Race Gap in Home Appraisals," Bloomberg (March 2021)
- "The State of Automated Valuation Models in the Age of Big Data," Mortgage Bankers Association (January 2019)