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The Art & Science of Property Valuation -- Automated Valuation Models

It is no secret that sellers want to sell high and buyers want to buy low. But they often arrive at the negotiating table with very different ideas on price. A fair and objective property valuation can help buyers and sellers find common ground and streamline the negotiation process.

In the end, the property is worth what a buyer is willing to pay. But to help both buyers and sellers achieve their goals, both should have a fair and objective estimate of property value. Unfortunately, even objective estimates are still estimates, and there is no way to assure 100% accuracy:

* Appraisals performed by a certified appraiser are not 100 percent accurate.

* CMA's (Comparable Market Analysis) and BPOs (Broker Price Opinions) performed by a licensed broker or agent are not 100 percent accurate.

* AVM (Automated Valuation Model) technology is not 100 percent accurate.

All these methods, when properly executed, can provide a good indication of value. Estimating value is a combination of art and science. Regardless of how scientific the approach, the actual sale price is subject to the unique variables of each property transaction: property condition, upgrades, current market conditions, circumstances of the sale and individual tastes.

For property owners, pricing correctly is a key to a successful sale. Under-pricing can result in a fast sale, but carries the risk of leaving money on the table. Sellers who price too high may find their properties lingering on the market, and statistics show that values can erode at a rate of about 1.5 percent per month. Longer sales also increase the likelihood of a "distressed sale" when sellers become frustrated or encounter difficult financial circumstances.

Likewise, buyers should avoid emotional purchases. Overpaying because of "falling in love" with a home is common. Homekeys' ValueKey Technology can help establish an objective, unemotional baseline for buyers and sellers so distressed sales and emotional purchases become the exception, not the rule.

The science of AVMs

To determine a good baseline value for a property, use Homekeys to search thousands of property records for comparable sales or "comps." Homekeys' ValueKey tool uses advanced statistical models and proprietary algorithms and formulas to find the best comparable properties available. In addition to property characteristics, the system evaluates how recent comparable sales are and how close properties are from the property being evaluated. Once a base property value estimate is determined, it's time to check active listings to see what similar properties are selling for. ValueKey searches both owner- and broker-offered active listings to find the most comparable properties available.

The art of AVMs

The art portion of estimating value begins with understanding how comparable sales and active listings compare to the property being evaluated. Since they are nearby, it's a good idea to drive by comparable sales and listed properties to see how they compare. To help you stay organized, you may want to use a buyer checklist when visiting properties.

After researching comparable sales and active listings, it's time for the personal touch. Sellers know their own property and neighborhood better than anyone, so they are able to adjust base values according to individual property characteristics. Buyers can make similar adjustments as they visit properties to help formulate an asking price.

Depending on your research, a "market adjustment" may be warranted. If active listings are priced higher than your base estimated value, an upward adjustment may be appropriate. If prices are lower, a downward adjustment might be in order.

Finally, ValueKey enables buyers and sellers to make other value adjustments based on individual property characteristics and condition. Based on a seller's knowledge or a buyer's research, appropriate value adjustments can help both parties arrive at a fair selling price.

And though no property valuation system is perfect, AVMs can provide objective valuation estimates quickly and inexpensively, and the technology is improving all the time. As AVM technology continues to evolve and improve, it may prove to be a key to less-stress, more enlightened real estate transactions in the future.

Manuel Iroala is President and CEO of Homekeys. Charles Warnock is Marketing Communications Manager at Homekeys, a South-Florida based real estate and technology company. This article can also be found at

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