Ready to Sell? 9 Tools to Help You Get a Free Home Appraisal

What is a home appraisal?

An appraisal is an official valuation of your property. It is a report used to calculate and show the fair market value of your home and its most likely selling price to buyers, mortgage lenders, and insurers.

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How Long Does it Take to Get an Appraisal Back?

The entire process of getting an appraisal can depend widely on how busy the market is at the time. This can be a week or two in a slow market, or as long as six weeks during really busy periods. Make sure you know before signing a real estate contract as this can impact how long it takes to close the transaction. In addition to the on-site inspection, an appraisal will involve the appraiser completing upfront reviews, and digging deep into the data, and confirming sales transactions, as well as preparing a lengthy report after visiting the property.

Tracking Your Homes Value

We’ve watched home values go up most of our lifetimes. Rising home prices have a significant effect on our wealth, and ability to borrow. Even if you don’t plan to sell your home, watching your home’s value increase over time can be a lot of fun.

Many people have used their home equity smartly to consolidate personal debt or to invest in building a business from their home. While it’s important to always understand your asset values, try not to get attached to the ups and downs too much.

Remember, these websites and others let you watch your home’s value grow aren’t exact, and the only time you’ll get a true answer to the question “how much is my home worth?” will be when you go to sell or borrow against the home.

If you want “the real thing” – as in, a price that reflects every factor that goes into a home’s sales price – you should meet with at least 2 or 3 realtors or mortgage lenders to get price suggestions.

Chances are, a realtor will be able to offer more insight into your local market than any online real estate tool ever could.

8.Real Estate ABC

Real Estate ABC is another site where you can easily find out what your home is worth. It offers a free home appraisal that will provide you with all the information you need to sell or buy a property.

With Real Estate ABC, you just have to enter in your home address. Click search, and you will be taken to a plethora of information on your property.

Real Estate ABC lists your home estimate and provides details about square footage.

The site also lists the last sale price of your home, which can give you a good idea of the value of the home now versus when you bought it.

It can also provide a seller with an idea of what a home is worth based on the estimate provided and the last sale price.

By listing the last price sold of a home, a buyer can tell if major improvements have been made to increase its appraisal estimate or if you are planning on purchasing a property that is not worth what you have offered.

You can easily see how your home compares to other houses near you as Real Estate ABC lists a number of homes in your area.

It also gives a history of home values over time so you can see what houses have sold over time, so you know where your property stacks up in comparison.

Real Estate ABC is a good site if you are looking for a more detailed free home appraisal.

Our Verdict

We chose Zillow as a top option because it has a database full of listings that yields estimates with a 1.9-percent on-market and a 6.9-percent off-market median error rate. Redfin is a solid runner-up choice, with a 2.24-percent median error rate for on-market homes and a 6.74-percent rate for off-market homes and an easy way to get a free comprehensive analysis.

How free home appraisals work

Many online real estate sites provide free home valuations — including HomeLight. Each one arrives at their valuations using their own formula. Generally speaking, though, AVMs use some combination of the following data, in addition to proprietary software, to determine the value of a property:

  • Data from a county auditor and tax assessor’s records. This includes a home’s property tax assessment and the auditor’s assessment of gross living area for a particular property.
  • MLS listings and sales. Free home appraisal tools will draw from recently sold comparable homes to determine property value.
  • User-submitted data. On certain platforms, users can update the facts of their property for a more accurate reading, adding information that might boost value like additional bathrooms, a new roof, or a kitchen renovation.

AVMs use mathematical modeling to process this data and determine an estimation of what your home is worth, based in large part on the prices of recently sold homes near you.

How often should I check my homes value?

While you don’t need to revisit your home’s value too often, checking on it periodically, such as once a year, is a smart move for several reasons. Knowing the current value of your home allows you to determine, for example, whether your homeowners insurance policy still adequately covers the property.

“The value of your home also affects your taxes,” Reed says. “You might be able to lower your assessment.”

It can also be helpful to know the value of your home so you know how much equity you’ve accumulated, which could allow you to qualify for a home equity loan or line of credit, or cash-out refinance.

Of course, knowing the value of your home is very important if you’re considering selling. You’ll know where you stand with buyers, and what you could potentially take home after the costs of the transaction and taxes.

The Advantages of Using One of the Best Home Value Estimator Sites

Home value estimator sites will never be 100 percent accurate. This is because these sites each use various methods to compile their values. But just because they aren’t 100 percent accurate doesn’t mean that they aren’t helpful. For instance, a user may want to know the value of their home before attempting to refinance or sell it without having an appraiser assess it. Appraisals can be very costly, running upward of thousands of dollars depending on the property’s size. So before putting money down, it would be a good idea to see how much the home is worth. Home value estimator sites give a user a ballpark average of a home’s value.

  • The estimate is immediate.
  • A home value estimator is a free tool.
  • Since a home value estimate is free, users can get several estimates and compare them.

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.

Pros:

  • 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.

Cons:

  • 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.
Source: (Des O’Connell / Unsplash)
Source: (Des O’Connell / Unsplash)

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2. Work with a realtor

Realtors have their own techniques for determining a home’s value, and it can be helpful to get a second opinion to go along with the estimates from an online valuation tool. The process many realtors use to estimate a home’s value is called a Comparative Market Analysis (CMA).

A CMA includes information about comparable homes (also known as “comps”) in your area. According to Nolo, a good CMA can tell you what homes similar to yours are selling for, how long it’s taking them to sell, and what homes sold for compared to their original list price.

When working up a CMA, realtors typically look for recently sold homes that are similar in:

  • Size
  • Location
  • Number of bedrooms/bathrooms
  • Style and view
  • Home type (e.g. single-family home, condo, townhome, etc.)
  • Recent sales price

In preparing a CMA, realtors often look at data from the local Multiple Listing Service (MLS). It’s a database of properties in a given area that are listed for sale or have a sale pending.

In your quest to determine your home’s value

In your quest to determine your home’s value, another tool you might come across is the Broker Price Opinion (BPO). In some states, you need a license to provide one, whereas you don’t for a CMA. The Appraisal Institute maintains information on state BPO laws.

BPOs are often briefer than a CMA and are more often used for short sale or foreclosure situations instead of for regular home sales. They are also slightly more likely to cost money vs. being free.

Keep in mind that a CMA or a BPO can still miss the mark on your home’s value because they may not take into account every feature of the property that affects value. That’s something you can address by following the next step in this guide.

5 ways to find out what your house is worth

2. Ask a real estate agent for a free comparative market analysis

  • Best for: Those who are selling or considering selling a home

Real estate agents typically offer a comparative market analysis (CMA) for free in hopes of winning your business if you’re selling your house. To complete the CMA, the agent pulls data about recent sales of comps in the area. They then draw on their knowledge of the neighborhood and any special characteristics of your property to estimate its value. A buyer’s agent may also provide this same service for any home you want to make an offer on.

“A good agent will have the tools necessary to drill down and find an accurate market value,” says Robert Krasow, a Realtor with Michael Saunders & Company in Sarasota, Florida. “An experienced professional follows the market, looks at home conditions and knows the neighborhood — all while making determinations using both data and their expertise.”

  • Pros: It’s a plus to have an expert identify comps, answer questions and give guidance.
  • Cons: Real estate agents may use different comps or have conflicting opinions of your home’s value. In addition, if there haven’t been many sales in the neighborhood or the comps are not that similar to your property, the estimate won’t be as accurate.

3. Check your county or municipal auditor’s website

  • Best for: Those who want to understand their home’s value from a tax perspective

County auditors periodically assess the value of residential properties for property tax purposes, and this information is searchable online. You can look up the assessed value of your house to see if it has appreciated, or compare the figures with other homes for sale.

  • Pros: This objective data is easily accessible and provides another point of comparison.
  • Cons: This estimate is for the taxable value of your home and may not reflect some of the market factors that affect the sales price, such as time of year, competitiveness or curb appeal. In some localities, assessed values may be far off from market values, and it can take some research to find them.

4. Identify trends with the FHFA House Price Index calculator

  • Best for: Those who want to understand property price trends in their area over the time they’ve owned their home or another period

The Federal Housing Finance Agency’s House Price Index (HPI) calculator offers yet another take on home value. The tool analyzes historical mortgage data to project what homes in your state or metropolitan area are likely to be worth based on the rate of appreciation of all homes in the area over a given period.

  • Pros: The calculator draws on data from tens of millions of home sales and offers insights about broad house price fluctuations, so homeowners can compare the relative affordability of neighborhoods over a period of time.
  • Cons: This calculator doesn’t estimate the market value of a particular house. Instead, it offers a look at home price appreciation or depreciation over time. While this will give you a general idea of the local market, it won’t drill down into the specifics of your property.

5. Hire a professional appraiser

  • Best for: Those who want the most professional home value estimate, and may want to use the data as they consult with a mortgage lender

Mortgage lenders hire appraisers to confirm the value of a house before approving a loan. Some home sellers choose to take the extra step of hiring an appraiser, but it’s not required. The appraiser considers the characteristics of the property, such as how many bedrooms and bathrooms it has, as well as comps, similar to a CMA prepared by a real estate agent.

  • Pros: Professional appraisers are typically licensed or certified by the state they work in and can provide an objective opinion of the value of a home.
  • Cons: If you’re seeking a mortgage, you’ll have to pay for the appraisal the lender orders. An appraisal costs an average of about $340, but can be anywhere from roughly $300 to $420, according to HomeAdvisor.

Why is my home appraisal taking so long?

Not every appraisal fits neatly into the above timeline. This is especially true in hot markets, and since 2021 much of the country is experiencing a buying boom.

If your appraisal is taking a long time in 2022, a combination of factors is likely contributing to the wait. One major issue is that there is a logjam for lenders: Banks are currently working through an influx of mortgage applications as home buyers look to close on new homes, as well as refinancing applications. There may be limited appraisal slots open right now to work through them in a timely fashion.

Qualified local appraisers are also in short supply. The appraisal industry has been shrinking at a shocking rate of 3% a year. With fewer appraisers to do the work, homebuyers have to wait longer for their home appraisals to happen.

There is little homebuyers can do in the face of this national backlog. If you’re waiting for your home appraisal, your best option is to have patience. You can also look into alternative means for assessing your home’s value.

How long after the appraisal is closing?

The closing process can take up to 60 days. That means after getting the appraisal, which takes about ten days, it might be anywhere from 30 to 45 days to close on the home.

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