We’re in the process of evaluating whether or not we should sell my mother’s home since she’ll no longer be living there. I’ve only ever owned one home and it’s the one I live in now; the same goes for my wife.

It’s a daunting venture trying to figure out what to sell one’s house for. Most people don’t have access to the proper databases, and we can only trust Zillow so far. For instance, Zillow has a nice price my mother’s house is for but it doesn’t list some of the amenities the house has that would add to its value.

The first thing my wife and I did was ask a realtor to come visit the house and give us some advice. She visited, then went back to her office and, after a few days, sent us something called a Comparative Market Analysis (CMA). It seemed extensive enough but I had some problems with it.

She compared my mother’s house to others that were newer and had pools. She didn’t include the sun room my mother’s house has, or anything outside the house as my mother’s property is the largest in her neighborhood. Her recommendation for the sale price seemed really low to me, and I have to admit that I was a bit depressed by that.

Her advice was to make some updates to the interior of the house, which she said was “dated”. She said if we were willing to spend between $25K – $30K that we might raise the value of the house $50K from her recommendation.

I’m not one to just accept something I don’t agree with; I’m also not someone who sits around trying to figure out what to do. I got on the phone and called a few people I know, asking for some advice. One person I reached turned out to have worked in real estate years earlier, and she recommended I contact an appraisal service to do a full review.

That’s what I did, although the process wasn’t all that much fun. When you have no idea who to reach out to, the best thing you can do is start making the phone calls. I went in alphabetical order and it took me the 7th phone call before I got someone on the phone. Unsolicited, he gave me a lot of good advice that made me feel comfortable. I hired him and met him at my mother’s house a week later.

As he was doing his walk through, he talked on the “dated” comment the realtor gave me. In his opinion, dated only means things haven’t been updated, but most of the time people don’t get back the amount of money they spent updating things. Also, I could update the house now only to have someone put in a lower bid because they want to do their own thing.

He was also shocked that the realtor hadn’t included the sun room information on her CMA, which he said would add between $3K & 5K to the value of the house. That made me smile. He also said that, in his opinion, her CMA was comparing Mom’s house to houses that were much newer, and that one couldn’t do a fair comparison because a newer house would obviously be more updated.

It took him a week to process everything, and when I got his report he’d done some different types of things than the realtor. For one, he compared the house to others that were built around the same time, which means there were more houses in the immediate area than what she’d selected. He also gave proper value to the sun room because, in the area we live in, it’s a space that can be used all year round, whereas pools, which also give value, can normally be used only 4 months or so at best.

The recommendation that came back from him was over $40K higher than what she recommended, and he also said it’s presently a seller’s market so he’d list it $10K higher and be willing to come down to that price. The final piece was his mentioning that we only had 2 things we should address (the roof, heater, water heater and driveway are all fairly new) and that the cost should be less than $1,000 to fix; wow!

I know part of the danger is that I like what he had to say more than the realtor, which begs the question as to which one can I trust more. I decided to use three specific criteria in deciding I trusted his numbers more.

The first is that he lives in the area, whereas the realtor we asked to come with us lives about 40 minutes away, and had never represented anyone in that area before.

The second is that he’s been in the business of appraisal for 30 years, while my realtor has been doing what she does for 5. I know that time in an industry doesn’t always equate to being better but in this case, adding it to the first criteria, it felt better.

The final criteria was enthusiasm. As he looked around the house I could tell that he really like what he was seeing and thought the house would sell quickly, even at a higher price. The realtor, someone I’ve known for a long time, gave the impression that she didn’t believe in the value of the house, even at a lower price.

There’s no real science behind this sort of thing, so this piece of advice is only based on my reality. Even though a realtor is free, it’s better to first hire an appraiser to look at your property and get ideas of the worth of your house from them before you take any other steps.

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