As published in Scotsman Guide's Residential Edition, July 2011.
So, you don’t like Zillow. What about the other free home-valuation services available online? When it comes to obtaining rough estimates of a home’s worth, there’s no lack of online options.
But the truth is, no one really knows what a property is worth. This much, however, we do know: A home is worth whatever someone is willing to pay for it.
That axiom doesn’t help much, at least not when you’re trying to estimate borrowers’ home values as they determine whether to refinance.
Many people use online valuation estimates, including Zillow, as their No. 1 source. That can be OK — at times. Then again, online estimates can lead you seriously astray.
That’s not to say this information isn’t valuable. In fact, any resource that lets you obtain a reasonable estimate of a home’s value should be viewed as a good one. It also should never be used to make financial decisions.
Keeping this balance in mind, here are some tips for using online tools to estimate property values.
Get property basics
A few well-known valuation sites offer generally reliable information about items such as houses’ square footage, number of bedrooms and number of bathrooms. They also often offer reports on county assessments.
These sites are a good place to start, and the best-known providers offer Web pages that are easy to navigate and user-friendly. The less you have to probe the depths of a website to get the information you seek, the more time you could be spending on other important tasks.
The fact is, you’ll often be seeking what can be described as basic information. Stick to the property descriptors noted above and avoid the temptation to rely on proprietary valuation estimates.
Explore the area
One of the best ways to get an idea of the area around a property is to view online satellite and street-view images. Look carefully at the neighborhood, the property and nearby houses.
Try to determine the property’s telling attributes. Is it waterfront? Does it have curb appeal? How does the landscaping look?
But try not to overanalyze. You want to make basic observations, not assumptions.
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