Understanding your home’s value is an important part of knowing your net worth, what you’ll likely receive if you sell the property and how the local real estate market is faring. Home value is also an integral part of determining how much property tax you’re required to pay the local and state government annually.
But depending on where you look, the value may appear as wildly different numbers. Different valuations can mean different things and are often used for different reasons. The two types you’ll most likely encounter are market value and assessed value.
Market value is the estimated amount active buyers would currently be willing to pay for your home. Your home’s market value is determined by an appraiser, who is typically hired when your lender is deciding how much money to provide in a loan or you are setting the list price when putting your home on the market.
Assessed value, on the other hand, takes the market value and puts it in the context of your property taxes. In many counties throughout the U.S., assessed value is a portion of the market value, calculated as a percentage of the market value of the property. As a result, the assessed value of a property is typically lower than appraised market value.
[Read: The Guide to Selling Your Home.]
Danielle Hale, chief economist for real estate information company realtor.com, explains that market value is based on the expectation that the property would sell during the period the value is calculated. “When people think about home values, they often mean, ‘This is the price that I could sell it for if I were to sell it today,’ or ‘This is the way a bank would value it if I were to go talk to the bank about getting a home equity loan or maybe refinancing my mortgage,’” she says.
The grayest area of a market value is determining whether the value you assign to your home is based on what current market conditions say a person would pay for your house or what you think a person should pay for it.
For this reason, basing market value on recent sales of similar properties is key to ensuring the number is as accurate as possible. Professional appraisers are an instrumental part of being able to examine a property, nearby recent sales and the factors that may add to or detract from interest in a property, and then assigning a value to the house based on the information.
Appraisers are often hired by a lender, and it's best if they are are local to the area so they understand nuances that may not be obvious to an out-of-towner, though sometimes an algorithm will be used to determine values on a larger scale or more quickly. A lender can have a property valuated to issue a mortgage for a home purchase, for refinancing or to issue a home equity loan. Individual homeowners can also order their own appraisal to get a better understanding of their home’s current value if they’re considering selling but don’t know what the asking price should be, or simply to get a better grasp on their net worth. An appraisal typically costs between $300 and $400, according to Angie's List, and is paid by the homeowner for personal use and the buyer for a lender-required appraisal.
An appraisal looks at the sale information of nearby homes with a similar square footage, age, number of bedrooms and other features of your property that have sold recently – most often in the last six months. Appraisers will also factor in major differences that may make your home’s valuation different.
Because the market determines the value, it's easier to pinpoint a more accurate value for homes that are similar to many in the neighborhood than for houses that are unique. A three-bedroom house in a neighborhood of matching three-bedroom houses is relatively easy to appraise, but a Victorian home on a busy street surrounded by condos and apartment buildings will be more difficult to valuate.
Home value estimates can also be found for free online with tools like Zillow's Zestimate, realtor.com's My Home tool or the Federal Housing Finance Agency's House Price Calculator, but these are unlikely to be as accurate as an appraiser. Hale says online tools serve as a great jumping-off point, but they fail to take into account current and local events that may play a more immediate factor into buyer interest and the ultimate value. “Market conditions can affect that valuation,” Hale says.
[Read: 6 Tax Breaks for Homeowners.]
Market value even becomes part of the calculation of your home’s assessed value. But because assessed value is used for the sake of calculating how much you owe in property taxes, the assessed value is also based on laws of your state, county and even city, explains Margie Cusack, research manager for the International Association of Assessing Officers.
“The assessed value will be defined by the legal framework of that jurisdiction,” she says. “A lot of states have value limitations in law, so they might have a market value for the property. But then they have a per law allowable assessed value that they work off of, so it becomes very localized.”
Because of the specificity of assessed value to your exact location, Cusack recommends all homeowners – as well as homebuyers who don’t yet pay property taxes – become well-versed in the statutes that apply to the area, how the assessment is calculated and where your property taxes go.
“You really need to read your assessment notice,” she says. “Usually that will define what assessed value means for that property.”
The exact steps to assessing a property also vary by jurisdiction. Some assessor’s offices will use a predictive algorithm to help determine assessed values for more properties quickly, while others will address assessments on an individual, in-person basis, Cusack says.
Many assessors’ offices keep online databases open to the public that allow you to access information on the history of your property – including the deed from previous sales – and information that factors into the assessment of your property.
What if You Disagree With Your Home’s Value?
At times, homeowners will disagree with the appraised or assessed value assigned to their property. In both scenarios, there are options for contesting the valuation.
For market value, a homeowner or buyer may be able to request a property be appraised a second time with new information the appraiser may not have been aware of before – a finished basement, for instance, can change the value of a home if it can be counted in the square footage. An appraiser may be willing to take a second look at the property without extra charge if something was missed, but you may also need to pay for another complete appraisal to have your house fully reevaluated.
When it’s a lender issuing the appraisal and considering the value, however, there’s not much chance you’ll be able to convince the lender to change his or her mind on issuing a loan or refinance.
For assessed value, many assessor’s offices have contact information listed and occasionally host public forums to discuss individual issues with property value information. Like the calculation of assessed value itself, the process for petitioning a reassessment varies widely between states and counties, so it’s best to explore your local assessor’s office website for information on discussing the matter.
Don't let your house fall behind.
Every homeowner knows that maintaining a house is hard work, and few have the time, money or willpower to keep their home looking perfect at all times. When it’s the peak of home selling season, it may seem like half the houses on your block are in pristine, market-ready condition, or they’re under construction and will look fresh and new in no time. How can you keep your house from becoming the worst-looking house on the block, or letting it fall behind on updates? It may seem like an impossible task, but it's one all homes face eventually.Take stock of your aging home.
Take stock of your aging home.
Even if it seems like every house in your neighborhood is getting a fresh interior, exterior or is newly built, the typical house has at least a few decades under its belt. “U.S. housing stock is aging, and especially in city centers and areas of urban density,” says Holly Tachovsky, CEO of construction information company BuildFax. So don't feel so bad about your chipping paint and dated entrance, but know that maintenance and renovations are key factors in ensuring your home will hold value and last for generations. Read on for tips on keeping your house updated as your neighborhood changes.Attend neighborhood open houses.
Attend neighborhood open houses.
For your house to increase in value along with other houses being built or renovated in the neighborhood, it needs to be on par with the updates. An easy way to know what you need to do to keep up with the Joneses is to attend open houses when a nearby property goes on the market. Listing agents expect curious neighbors to pop in, and it’s a great opportunity to see what the interiors look like and compare them to your home. If houses selling for top dollar in your neighborhood have new kitchens and master suites, you may want to put kitchen and bathroom renovations on your to-do list.Get a green thumb.
Get a green thumb.
Don't let your house get a reputation as the worst on the block by neglecting its curb appeal. Keep the siding clean and consider repainting, and maintain the grass and landscape to keep the house looking fresh from the road. Kris Kiser, president and CEO of the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, says relandscaping your yard also gives you the opportunity to select flora that work best for the climate, your property and the amount of time you have to maintain it. “Put the kinds of plantings in place that will hold your dirt in place, that will grab and capture and filter rainwater, and put in flowering plants,” he says.Make minor updates.
Make minor updates.
Keeping up with other houses in the neighborhood doesn’t mean every project has to be a big one. Small updates to keep your home looking well-cared-for, like fresh paint in each room or new doors on cabinets, can make a big difference. Dan Tarantin, president and CEO of Harris Research Inc., the parent company of N-Hance Wood Refinishing and Chem-Dry, notes that refinishing hardwood surfaces can achieve a new look at a far more affordable price than replacing materials throughout the house every time you want to update. “That is a way to allow people to be able to do all the projects at once, because of the cost and the convenience,” he says.Maintain, maintain, maintain.
Maintain, maintain, maintain.
The key to keeping your house from being a teardown candidate when you decide to sell is to maintain the basic systems, care for the property and ensure it runs properly. Tachovsky says regular maintenance is necessary to keep houses from falling apart: “They constantly need that upgrade, and if they’re maintained well over the life of a structure, the structure can be useful for a long time.” From the roof to siding, electric and plumbing, keep an eye on the age of systems and have them serviced regularly. Otherwise, she says, your home is “going to show its age pretty profoundly.”Get the most out of what you have.
Get the most out of what you have.
With proper care and maintenance, you should be able to get the full life out of major appliances and systems, such as your HVAC, and the same goes for floors, cabinets, outdoor walkways and furniture. Have your carpets cleaned, consider placing a rug over hardwood floors that get the most foot traffic, pull weeds around the driveway and sidewalk and clean your furniture regularly so the natural oils from people and pets don’t set in and cause long-term damage. Even if you’re sick of your kitchen's appearance, you don’t have to demo the entire thing. Consider quartz countertops to replace laminate, or put a new finish on existing cabinets to can make them look new. With a little work, “we’ve seen people fall in love all over again with their kitchens,” Tarantin says.Don't be afraid to freshen what you've updated.
Don't be afraid to freshen what you've updated.
Especially if you’re planning to remain in your home for 10 years or more, even the most on-trend master bathroom or living room can look completely dated when you sell. Investing in a bathroom update now will likely give you years of use, but don’t be afraid to update again as your needs change or the space’s age starts to show. Kiser points out that making changes over and over again is particularly easy with landscaping. “You can move this and move that” until you achieve the look and functionality you’re hoping for, he says.Improve for more than ROI.
Improve for more than ROI.
Don’t spend all your savings trying to match new builds or flipped houses if you can’t enjoy the updates. Plenty of homebuyers are planning to make changes to a house they buy anyway. From 2010 to the start of 2017, post-sale home remodels increased by 54 percent compared to the previous seven-year period from 2002 to 2009, according to BuildFax. Tarantin says hardwood floors, for example, are often a preference among homebuyers, but they're only worth the money if you’ll enjoy the look as well. “If you’re thinking about selling your home in the near future, and you’re thinking of installing hardwood floors because of saleability, our customers tell us it’s not worth it,” he says.Read More
She has appeared in media interviews across the U.S. including National Public Radio, WTOP (Washington, D.C.) and KOH (Reno, Nevada) and various print publications, as well as having served on panels discussing real estate development, city planning policy and homebuilding.
Previously, she served as a researcher of commercial real estate transactions and information, and is currently a member of the National Association of Real Estate Editors. Thorsby studied Political Science at the University of Michigan, where she also served as a news reporter and editor for the student newspaper The Michigan Daily. Follow her on Twitter or write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.