When you are ready to sell your Silicon Valley home, you must determine the “asking” or list price with your Realtor®’s advice. This may be a compromise between the fair market value and the price that you hope to get, depending on your market conditions and strategy. Once you determine this number, you should also adjust it to make sure that you leave room to negotiate with prospective buyers. Although this sounds like we are telling you to expect to negotiate down the sales price, you should know that in some markets you may get the opportunity to negotiate up! (This is especially true in the San Jose or Santa Clara County area as of this writing in July 2015.) So unlike many other purchases in this country, real estate prices should always be negotiable.
Here is another reason to hire a Realtor®. A good, experienced Realtor® in your area will often know just by looking at your home and providing you with a market analysis, what it can expect to sell for in the current market. Not only might they know the sale prices of similar homes that have sold in the neighborhood, but your Realtor® may know the homes’ original listing prices and how much sellers in your neighborhood have been willing to negotiate on price and terms.
Whether or not you decide to use a Realtor®, there are two predominant ways to determine a home’s value: an appraisal and a comparative market analysis. What you should expect to learn through either process is the approximate value of your home. The reality is that until your home actually sells, there is no precise way to determine exactly what your home is worth. In the business, we say that your home is worth exactly what someone pays for it. An appraiser will tell you that a home’s value is equal to an amount agreed to between an able and willing buyer and an able and willing seller, when neither person is unduly influenced by outside forces.
A word of caution here on pricing and choosing a Realtor®. It is important to choose a Realtor® because of their experience, referrals, marketing plan, and so on, and not because they tell you a price you want to hear, one that is far higher than what is reasonable! While most agents will do their very best to give you an honest valuation on your home in the current market, some may offer an inflated price in hopes of winning the listing, only to later insist on many price reductions until the home is within current range. This is called “buying the listing”. If a home needs to be reduced several times before it sells, it will most likely sell for far less than it’s really worth. So first pick your agent, then work together on a realistic price. Choosing the agent who tells you the number you want to hear, when that is simply not feasible, is not a plan that will benefit you in the long run. Honest real estate professionals will tell you that they have “lost listings” by telling the truth when the seller did not want to hear it. Pick an agent with integrity and you will both be successful!
Although an appraisal is usually ordered by the buyer’s lender to satisfy lending requirements, it can also be a worthwhile investment for a seller. Appraisals are commonly seen as the best way to determine your home’s most precise value. In California, a home appraisal should only be done by a licensed appraiser, and your Realtor® can usually provide a referral to a competent one. The appraiser reviews various factors to determine the approximate sale price of your home. These factors include looking at historical records of the property and the area, looking at the property’s prior sales performance and reviewing the current condition of the property. For more detailed information on how appraisals work, contact the Appraisal Institute at 875 Michigan Ave. Suite 2400, Chicago, IL 60611, or www.appraisalinstitute.org.
There are also ways in which you as the homeowner can ensure that the appraisal looks out for your best interests. First, you should make sure that your house is in the best possible condition (see more on this in Chapter 6). You should also make sure that the appraiser is both licensed and qualified. Some states have few or no requirements regarding who can appraise homes; therefore, there are some appraisers who will incorrectly value your home due to inexperience. Don’t be afraid to ask the appraiser how long they have been working in the profession and how many homes they have appraised in your area in the last few months.
Real Estate Market Value
The most common method used by Realtors® to determine the sales price of your home is a comparative (or competitive) market analysis (CMA). A CMA is an estimated value of your home, based on the sales price and similar attributes of other properties in the area. CMAs may be less precise than appraisals, but they are generally a reliable method for determining the asking price of your home.
While less reliable than a local Realtor® who is familiar with your market, another source for obtaining a CMAare internet sources. There are now many on-line companies that will analyze sales information of residential properties, and for a nominal charge or at no cost at all will value your home based on sales prices in your area. However, you should also be aware that online CMAs often only search public geographical records to determine a home’s value, so they can not take into consideration the condition or precise location of a home. In the end, they can be very far off from the actual selling price, and will probably be within 5–10 percent of your home’s sales price if your online CMA is done by a local agent. (Most often cited are the Zillow Zestimates, but please remember that the goal there is 80% of the time to be within 20% of the value of the home – so not close at all!)
It will also help if, with your Realtor®, you look at other comparable homes currently on the market in your area and compare their similarities and differences. This will help you decide the list price of your home, and help you see exactly who you may be competing against for that perfect buyer.
We will generally recommend a range. A lot of agents would suggest that you can start in the high end of that range if you are not in a hurry to sell, and you are more interested in maximizing your profit, or net return. You would list in the low end of that range if your goal is to sell quickly. In Silicon Valley, as in most places in California, homes that sell fast tend to sell for the best price. If a home is on the market for a long time, it actually tends to sell for less than what it is worth! If your price is a little low, a competitive, housing-short market will likely adjust the price up. But if your price is significantly high, the home will stay on the market far too long and become a bargain down the road for a patient buyer.
Remember that regardless of what list price you choose, the actual sales price may be slightly higher or lower. But if for some reason your house is not selling, and it has been well staged, easily accessible, and well marketed, you and your Realtor® should consider lowering the price. Also keep in mind that even if you stage and price the home correctly, if you make the home difficult to be seen, it will not likely sell for the best price because you’ll have cut traffic to the home significantly! Beware of having your mind set on some magic number given by a CMA. Remember that these are only approximations of the real value of your home. The economy, and the market, can actually change in relatively short periods of time. In addition, no matter how you try to determine a price, your home may have peculiarities that are just not present in any other home.
Mary Pope-Handy’s knowledge of the needs of her clients has enabled her to become a highly respected Realtor®. She helped me find a home that fit my needs in a very short period of time. It has been a pleasure working with her.