This recent question regarding Bellingham real estate looks really simple, but it has multiple layers:
“What are the best ways of finding out what a home is valued at?”
At the risk of seeming to tap dance around the question, we need to know for what value and whose value we are looking before we know the answer.
- Assessed Value is established by the Whatcom County Assessor’s office on the basis of comparisons with the values of other properties that have sold. Assessed values for individual properties are shown on their website at http://www.whatcomcounty.us/cgibin/db2www/assessor/search/RPSearch.ndt/disclaimer. This is not typically the price at which a property sells.
- Listing Value reflects the opinion of a homeowner and/or listing agent and may be based on comparable sales or just what the seller wants or needs. These values can be seen on most real estate websites like ours at www.JohnsonTeamRealEstate.com. Over the past 6 months, homes in Whatcom County sold for an average of 95.4% of the list price.
- Appraised Value is established by a search and analysis of comparable sales done by a licensed appraiser. An appraisal is most commonly done for a bank to justify the sale price established by a buyer and seller, or to establish a value for a refinance, although they may be done by an owner to establish value for a potential sale, an estate, etc. I have seen the eventual sales prices of properties be as much as 25% below a value established in an appraisal. I have also seen appraisal value come in below the agreed sale price. These reports are available only to the person who pays for them (and their lender).
- Sale Value (provided it was an arm’s length sale with exposure to the market) is the best indicator of actual value, but it only applies at the moment of the sale. Sale prices are also shown on the Whatcom County Assessor’s website.
- Website Value is established on websites like Zillow that have put together information from a variety of sources to come up with an interpretation of value. At this point, they don’t seem to have a high degree of accuracy in terms of establishing what the market will pay, but they can be interesting.
The reality is that value is dynamic, not static. It varies according to the overall state of the market, which includes the buyers and sellers who are currently active as well as the financial and general economic climate.
The short answer to the question? There is no easy determination of value. You need to look in a variety of places, consult a variety of people and draw your own conclusions. Ultimately, value is established by a couple: a ready, willing and able buyer combined with a ready, willing and able seller.
If you have other ideas about property value or experiences with property value, share them with us. We can all learn from each other.