Can You Rely on Zillow for an Estimate of Market Value?

Sacramento Appraisal-300x212Part of my job is to explain market value and how an appraiser will substantiate market value to a seller, none of which are remotely connected to the website Zillow. Most of the time I’m able to make sellers understand, but as a Sacramento real estate agent, I also get those who don’t care how long a home sits on the market (and loses its desirability with each passing day), and there’s not much I can do about those attitudes but go with the flow. After all, it’s not my home. It’s not my job to make that listing my home, even though I may care deeply about whether it sells.

One of my clients shared with me recently that his accountant told him Zillow is 10% underpriced with its Zestimates. I didn’t think anything of that statement — because it’s ridiculous — until I realized that there are people who actually believe it. Not anybody in my circle of real estate agents or appraisers or other real estate professionals, but the public thinks because Zillow notes an estimate on a website, it must be true. After all, they found it on the Internet.

The basis for that statement were two homes his accountant saw that had sold for 10% more. Therefore, my seller’s accountant must have automatically leaped to that conclusion, which doesn’t say much about his accounting skills now, does it? My own home is priced $150,000 more than its worth in Zillow. That’s certainly not 10% of its value. It’s widely known that Zillow estimates are all over the map and often there is no set correlation to value. That’s because it’s a computer-generated algorithm that isn’t even as reliable as something like Realist or Metrolist comparables, which still require a human touch because square footage isn’t enough. You can’t price a home on square footage alone just like you can’t live on cans of tuna fish.

Zillow is getting better but it’s just not there yet. It’s great for looking at maps and playing around but it doesn’t have all of the homes for sale much less an accurate value.

Zillow doesn’t know if that home sits on the edge of a cliff overlooking the ocean or if it’s nestled next door to a mobile home park. It doesn’t know if the floors are marble or dirt. It doesn’t know if planes fly overhead ten times a day. It doesn’t know if the guy next door fixes motorcycles in his front yard. It doesn’t know if the plumbing has been updated or if water trickles into the sink at the rate of two drops a minute. It doesn’t know if the home is close to a desirable school or a military base. It doesn’t know if the buyer will walk in the front door and fall in love or turn around and run. Quite frankly, Zillow doesn’t know crap.

Which is why a seller will always need a professional and experienced Sacramento real estate agent, and we’ll never go out of style.

Can You Rely on Zillow for an Estimate of Market Value?

What is the Fair Market Value of Homes?

Market Value of Sacramento HomesHome sellers in Sacramento often ask me how much is my home worth when that’s not really what they want to know. They want to know how much will their home sell for, and that could be two very different numbers. On the other hand, they might want to know if they can do a short sale, in which case the answer is always, without fail: the price will be market value, based on comparable sales, providing the seller qualifies.

It’s not the sellers’ fault. Sacramento real estate can be a big confusing can o’ worms. I imagine sellers hear all kinds of crap from neighbors, coworkers, relatives and others whom, even though they might have actually sold a home or two, haven’t worked with an agent who works the way the one in front of you does.

People think it’s OK to hit up an agent for a sales price. Why do they think it? Because real estate agents have encouraged them to behave in that manner. Why else, we think, would anybody ever want to talk to us unless it’s to find out how much their home is worth — its market value? We’ll give them a free Comparative Market Analysis. Free, because it’s not worth anything.

Before I was licensed, I dismissed agents from the possibility of listing my home because they lowballed me on market value. At least that’s what I thought. Because I didn’t really understand how market value is determined. You can’t just give an agent your address and expect that person to name an accurate number. Maybe a range. Not a precise sales price.

I wouldn’t even give my next-door neighbor a sales price without completing an in-depth analysis of his features and studying the past 3 months of sales as they pertain to his home, and I live next door to him. I also sell hundreds of homes. I should know, right? Because I am a Sacramento real estate agent, I keep pretty close tabs on what my own home is worth, but I couldn’t give you an exact number on my house — even if you stuck burning toothpicks under my fingernails and sang horrible 1980’s songs out loud — without an analysis.

Agents who do might short change. I’m not one of those.

What is the Fair Market Value of Homes?

You Can’t Trust All Sacramento Appraisals

Sacramento Appraisal-300x212It’s not astonishing that people do not understand how a Sacramento appraiser appraises a home, and why not all appraisals are a guarantee of value. Unless you’re a person who is really wedded to this business, like, say, this Sacramento real estate agent. But most individuals don’t sell or buy enough homes in their lifetime to care much about the details. They also might think a bank appraisal is like receiving a certificate of gold, as though it’s redeemable somehow or an item of value to treasure.

I see the look in the eyes of my sellers when I explain that a home needs to appraise at the price a buyer is willing to pay in order to actually close escrow. The eyes glaze a bit and they hear: real estate agent talking — a phrase my husband likes to use to illustrate how carefully I listen to him as in husband talking, yada yada.

For example, if you’ve got two offers for a home, and one offer is cash at $400,000, and another offer involves minimum-down FHA financing at $400,000, a seller might elect to take the cash offer. Because there is no appraisal. Of course, the downside to that is the cash offer buyers typically possess little emotional investment, and once they snag their fish, they often try to haggle over other small things to even out stuff.

Now, some buyers might agree to bridge the difference if an appraisal comes in low. They might say they will pay, say, $10,000 in cash, meaning if the appraisal was $390,000, they would pay out of pocket the difference for the low appraisal. Some do, but not very many. That’s because people still believe the appraiser’s word is like the 10 Commandments. Others also might promise they’ll bridge the difference but then cancel under an inspection contingency, rendering that promise worthless.

An appraisal is just an opinion of value. It’s an educated and calculated guess. Ask 3 appraisers, and you’ll probably get 3 different answers. They might be close in value, but still not match.

Sometimes, the swing in value between two appraisals is tremendous. Had one of those recently in which the home initially appraised for 10% more than it sold for, which was pretty ridiculous in a seller’s market for long days on market, and the second appraisal was 2% less than it sold for, still ridiculous. An appraiser almost has to be trying to mess up the deal to do that.

I recall an appraiser a few years ago who appraised a home for .0001 less than the sales price. Just enough to make the buyer pay for a new appraisal. Who does things like that? Most appraisers in today’s market want to appraise at the sales price because they recognize that prices are increasing. They don’t want to be that cog in the wheel dragging down the market, and they want to fairly assess homes.

But until you get past that appraisal stage, you don’t really have a sale. So don’t be spending that check yet. It’s common in today’s real estate market, especially for an FHA transaction, for a lender to order a second appraisal. It says if a bank doesn’t trust its appraisal, why should you?

You Can’t Trust All Sacramento Appraisals

The Highest Per-Square-Foot Home Sold in North Highlands

FrontHoly toledo, I just closed the highest per-square-foot cost home in North Highlands over the past 6 months! This is a typical 1957 tract home, about 1,100 square feet, located in a quiet neighborhood of similar homes, in which the highest priced home sold at $140 per square foot. This home closed at $177. You think we didn’t struggle with the appraisal? You betcha we struggled.

When the appraiser called to make an appointment, I mentioned that if she needed additional comps, she could feel free to call me. That’s polite code for if the home won’t appraise, let me know and I will help. See, I think it’s very insulting for a Sacramento real estate agent to throw comparable sales at an appraiser. It’s telling the appraiser that the appraiser doesn’t know how to do her job. It sends an demeaning message, but agents don’t stop to think about how an appraiser interprets their “assistance.”

Some agents will meet appraisers at the property and hand the appraiser a list of comps. I imagine the appraiser throws them away in disgust. It’s like saying, “Hello, welcome to my neighborhood, you dumb cluck.” I didn’t tell the appraiser that I knew more than she did. I didn’t suggest that she couldn’t perform her job. I didn’t even say if she had a problem that I would help. Because I knew when she ran the comparable sales, she would not be able to justify the sales price.

Sure enough, she sent an email asking if I would send her additional comparable sales. I know the parameters for an appraisal. I know what’s acceptable, which is not exactly the parameters a Sacramento real estate agent might use. I found 3 comparable sales that supported the per-square-foot house with similar sized homes and condition, formatted those comps into a 3-up comparison and sent them.

The home appraised at value. We closed escrow on Wednesday. Sellers who initially thought their home might be underwater are now dancing for joy in their new home in Arizona!

The Highest Per-Square-Foot Home Sold in North Highlands

Is Your Sacramento Home Listing Under Priced?

Sacramento-real-estate-agent-sold-sign.300x201You’ve got to love this crazy seller’s market in Sacramento right now, even if you’re not a Sacramento real estate agent who sells a lot of listings like me. It challenges an agent to be her best each and every single day. Sometimes, being your best involves biting your tongue a little bit, and other times it means providing lengthy explanations to your clients so they thoroughly understand the marketplace. In my experience, an informed seller is a happy seller.

A buyer’s agent in West Sacramento told one of my sellers yesterday that her buyer would have paid almost $150,000 over list price for her home that went into escrow last week. The agent claimed the home was deliberately under priced. First, the home was in pending status, so why the agent was over there talking to the seller is beyond me. Second, it violates the Code of Ethics to discuss pricing with a seller when that seller is represented by another agent. But those are minor irritations when looking at the big picture. The big picture is that statement is a big, fat lie. Oh, man, no wonder people are confused.

This seller’s home would not have sold for more than it sold. It was not under priced. Not in a seller’s market. It’s literally impossible to sell an under-priced home in a seller’s market for less than market value. That’s because no matter how much a seller wants and asks to get, the market will dictate. Buyers are not stupid. OK, maybe some of them are a little undereducated about comparable sales and market movement, but buyers will pay about what a home is worth. Especially when facing a multiple-offer situation.

If a home was worth a hundred thousand dollars more, don’t you think a buyer somewhere, anywhere, would have offered a whole lot more for that home? Yes, they would, because that’s how multiple offers work. When buyers discover a seller has received 5, 10, or 20 offers, buyers tend to put their best offer forward. Buyers who can’t think of any other way to make their offer more attractive to a seller will tend to offer a higher sales price.

Aside from of all that, homes need to appraise at the purchase price, what an appraiser calls “at value,” if the buyer is obtaining financing. It’s pretty darn difficult to pull an appraisal out of thin air these days. A home is worth the price at which others around it of similar square footage sell. There is no magical fairy about to tap her wand and dump hundreds of thousands of dollars on a seller’s doorstep just because a buyer’s agent wishes it.


Is Your Sacramento Home Listing Under Priced?

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