To Sell, or Not
April 19, 2010 7:03 AM   Subscribe

How should I go about determining whether putting my place on the market is worthwhile?

I own a condo in the Boston area, and my wife and I are fairly comfortable there. Nevertheless, we've considered moving for a few different reasons. Finances are not one of them -- we could stay where we are indefinitely without concern for the mortgage payment.

As we are starting to consider the possibility of selling, one thing we're unsure of is how to determine whether it's even worth the trouble. The sale price is what would determine that ... but what's the best way to get a reasonable ballpark on a sale price?

Bring in an appraiser? I have concerns as to whether an appraised value will really reflect what we could sell it for. (To be specific, I fear that they might over-appraise, giving me hope where there isn't any)

Bring in a buyer's agent? I have concerns that they've got a vested interest in me trying to sell, even if it's a low likelihood that it'll sell for what I want.

Some other option?

Long-term, of course, you get what you pay for, but in the short term it'd be great if there was a low cost way to answer the basic question of "is it even worth putting the house on the market?".
posted by tocts to Home & Garden (12 answers total)
There's a name for this that I can't think of now, but realtors will look at your place and compare it with several other homes that have sold recently to get an idea of how to price your home. That's a good starting place for you, though. Check out other homes in your area, homes that match yours in terms of square footage, amenities, location, age, updates, etc; especially look at those that have sold. Look at real estate websites, the MLS listings, county auditor's website, the 'real estate transfers' section of your local newspaper (if it has one; mine does).
posted by cooker girl at 7:08 AM on April 19, 2010

what's the best way to get a reasonable ballpark on a sale price

Don't know if you're aware of this (for some reason they don't appear to be hyping the functionality) but Google Maps now has property listings. You have to click the "show search options" link which then un-hides a drop-down list. At the bottom of the selection box is "Real Estate." Here's all the 2+ bed condos in Boston, for example.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:14 AM on April 19, 2010

Also note: this is list prices, not sale prices like you asked for, so take them with a grain of salt.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:15 AM on April 19, 2010

There's a name for this that I can't think of now, but realtors will look at your place and compare it with several other homes that have sold recently to get an idea of how to price your home.

This is generally called the comparables approach to real estate valuation. It assumed that there exist comparable houses or apartments with which to compare your particular place. This is a questionable assumption to make; nonetheless, it is pervasive among real estate brokers and others involved in residential real estate. I don't place much faith in it, but then I don't place much faith in most commentary about residential real estate.

At the end of the day your house or apartment is worth what someone will pay for it. That may be more than or less than or equal to its listing price. But don't conflate the two. Your broker will come in and say "Oh, this place is worth $200,000!" A proper interpretation of that statement is "Oh, we'll list this place at $200,000. You may get more or less than that depending upon the way the winds blow."
posted by dfriedman at 7:17 AM on April 19, 2010

Just to clarify, I'm well aware of how comp pricing works, and also that list vs. sale price are very different things. That's really the crux of my problem: I don't need to sell. I might like to sell, in the right circumstances. But, I'd rather not embark on a multi-month journey involving a lot of time and effort if a realistic first-pass assessment of the likely sale price is below what I would be willing to sell for.

Thus, the question: how do I get such an assessment? I can trawl MLS listings and look at actual sale prices in the area, but I'm no expert, and I'd like to figure out if there is a way an expert can give me a better answer.

(it's possible, though, that the real answer is, "even the experts don't know")
posted by tocts at 7:24 AM on April 19, 2010

What you're asking is essentially impossible to answer.

You're asking what the difference between the list and actual price of comparable places is. This assumes that an appraiser has this information and can then tell you what your place will sell for (not what it will list for) on the basis of this analysis.

But real estate markets are not that liquid, and so the kind of refined pricing information you're looking for doesn't really exist. Any honest appraiser will tell you that his appraisal is just that, an appraisal, and may or may not be close to the actual selling price of your place.
posted by dfriedman at 7:27 AM on April 19, 2010

dfriedman: I'm really not trying to be a jerk, but if all you're going to say is the obvious (that nobody can tell me exactly what it will sell for, and that it's worth only what someone will pay, etc.), I'd kindly ask that you step out of this question.

I am quite aware that I am not going to get perfect information. I'm not looking for perfect information. I am not expecting that anyone is going to be able to say "your house will absolutely sell for exactly $123,456.79".

I am looking for what the best route to go to get a reasonable assessment would be. The options that I am aware of are an appraiser and a real estate broker. What I don't know, and what I'm trying to determine, is which of these (if either) would be a more reliable way of going, or if there's another option available to find this information.

Of course all the standard caveats apply. Of course, in the end, the house might sell for far less, far more, or not at all. This is not news to me, nor is it a useful answer.
posted by tocts at 7:38 AM on April 19, 2010

Get an appraiser that works primarily for the purposes of matrimonial splits or for a bank. These ones have no incentive to over-inflate the estimate of the value of the home.
posted by Kurichina at 7:42 AM on April 19, 2010

To be specific, I fear that they might over-appraise, giving me hope where there isn't any

Be clear with the appraiser that you want a realistic assessment of the potential sale price. S/he has no incentive to mislead you. Ask to see the recently sold properties that the appraiser is comparing yours to (my appraiser stuck the printouts in his report).

You are basically paying someone a lot of money to access the sale prices on the MLS for you, but that's the way things work.
posted by ssg at 7:52 AM on April 19, 2010

Maybe i'm missing the point of the question but every once and a while when I think about selling I just call up my original agent and ask her what I could list for and what she thinks it would sell for. Using the comps of listings and their sale prices is what we look at. Sometimes I ask this to a second or third agent to see if the opinions are similar. Comps for condos are really useful because the units are pretty much interchangeable. I've been very happy with this approach and the agents are happy to take the time to be considered for the job. Oh, also I like to keep an eye on my market so my agent emails me the local listings and sale details every couple of months. We have no contract or no obligation to use her services when we sell (but would cause she's great).


Call up 2-3 real estate agents, sign nothing, have them visit on the same day to present comps. Listen to why they think the price is what they say (good condition, needs work, should be painted etc). A working answer in a day = done! Also get their email and ask for updated comps every couple of months so you can see your local market trend.
posted by saradarlin at 11:12 AM on April 19, 2010

Thus, the question: how do I get such an assessment?

You do know that all property assessments for the City of Boston are publicly listed, right? Check out Google real estate maps for similar listings to your own apartment. Enter the listing's address into the link above, and you'll have the FY2010 assessment value & tax rate.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:18 PM on April 19, 2010

In addition, the "Value History" link in the property details shows historical assessed values.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:20 PM on April 19, 2010

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