Home Valuation Web-site Comparison

How to use the web to get comparable sales to reduce your property taxes“

With property value’s declining across the Country, there are millions of homeowners and investors eligible for property tax reduction.  In California, Proposition 8 requires County Assessors to reduce property taxes due to a temporary decline in value.  Getting a reduction in Assessed value requires evidence that neighborhood homes sold for less than your home’s Assessed value based on comparable sales no later than March 31st of 2008.  Accordingly, if you’re looking for a break on your property tax bill, knowing how to find comparable sales for the right time frame will be big part of your success. 

Even today, property tax valuation guides direct homeowners to visit their friendly real estate agent who will happily turn-over old editions of Multiples Listing Service („MLS“) guides to locate comparable past home sales to support a property tax appeal.  Sounds fun, but there are terrific free on-line resources available to help you build a property tax appeal case.  And here, you’ll find a comparison of these sites to help you save time and money.   

Our field includes the following web-sites:

·         Betterhomeprice.com

·         Cyberhomes.com

·         Realtor.com

·         Zillow.com

·         ZipRealty.com

While each has strengths and weaknesses, we’ve ranked the sites according to the following criteria: 

·         Map Quality

·         Market Value Accuracy

·         Ability to Customize

·         Comparables Quality

·         Visual Appeal

To compare these web-sites, I prepared support for a property tax appeal on an „investment“ condo I purchased last year. 

Condominium

·         Square Ft 738

·         1 bedroom

·         1 bath

·         Orange, Ca.

·         Purchase Date July, 2007

·         Purchase Price $305,000

·         Year Built 1992

·         Orange County Assessed Value $305,000

# 5 BetterHomeprice.com 

Bringing up the rear is this Elvis impersonator of home valuation web-sites.  With little content, the site is really nothing more than a real estate agent lead generation tool disguised as a home valuation web-site.

 Good Stuff

 The site uses Microsoft Virtual Earth maps so you can get an aerial and street level view of your home.   I liked the hybrid pin-point photo view of my property along with other comparable sale properties in the neighborhood. 

Bad Stuff

 The site does not give you a market value estimate for your home.  There’s a nice list of comparable sale properties listed after you enter your address.  Unfortunately, the comparables are not very accurate and you can’t do anything to adjust your search by make any adjustments (e.g. bedrooms, date of sale or improvements).  You’re invited to get a free report which coincidentally led me to the same agent offering to prepare a report for me at Realtor.com (see below).   

With much better resources available, you should skip this site. 

#4 ZipRealty.com

With clashing pastel colors last seen on Crockett and Tubbs in Miami Vice, you won’t linger on this garish mess of a site for its looks.  As much as I didn’t want to like this Ugly Betty, I recommend this site for one reason: you get an estimate of market value from three different sources: ZipRealty, Zillow and Cyberhomes.  You’ll see below how fetching Zillow and Cyberhomes are, so here you get to link to those sites with only one simple entry of your address.  

Good Stuff

The only ZipRealty positive is that entering your address will allow you to link to Cyberhomes and Zillow without duplicating information.   

Bad Stuff

You have to register and wait for an email password to use this site.  The site provided the highest estimated highest value of all the sites for my condo (i.e. $330K to $388K), but my celebration was short lived when I discovered the list of comparables were from a different neighborhood and did not have any details (e.g. number of bedrooms, baths etc).   Even the usually exciting Microsoft Earth Maps feature was disabled, not offering aerial or street level photo views.   

Sadly, this is another site that uses a little bit of content to lure you into a relationship with a real estate agent.  This site cannot be used to develop the information needed for your property tax appeal, but ironically, you might want to start here so you can get Zillow and Cyberhome results without having to re-enter your property information.   

#3 Realtor.com

With more products than Wal*Mart, this site’s purpose is to generate leads for realtors, lenders, movers, rental homes, contractor, home inspection…. etc.  Nevertheless, you might find comparables sales information here that would be useful in a property tax appeal.

Good Stuff

There are two different tabs on the left hand side of this site that you might find useful: „What’s My Home Worth“ and „Find Home Value“.  Although you should check both tabs out, I found the Find Home Value tab more useful since it took me to a map with information about other homes sales in my neighborhood.   I was provided a list of accurate comparables sales from the same neighborhood for properties with similar characteristics (e.g. # of bedrooms, baths).  The site listed seven properties from the same street or nearby streets with a sales price ranging from $240K-$255K.  The comparables had sales dates listed so I could select comparables from the appropriate time frame (pre-April 2008) and use sales outside that date range to identify trends. 

With an Assessed value of $305,000 on my property, having these comparables sales would be compelling evidence for a property tax reduction. 

You’re given the opportunity to get a „Home Value Report“ specific to your property from a real estate agent.  I requested the report, but it never arrived.    

Bad Stuff

The site estimated my property’s value to be $353,566 which makes no sense since all the comparables average about $245K and I purchased the condo for $305K a year ago with prices tumbling since then.  I used the Microsoft Virtual Earth map feature to see real neighborhood photos with information on nearby sold homes.  For some reason, the map feature here was not nearly as clear or as user friendly as the maps available on Cyberhomes and Zillow. 

Although better than the sites above, Realtor.com also teases you with a limited amount of information in order to send you to a real estate agent.  While I initially liked this site, my affection waned as I was repeatedly redirected to the smiling real agent page. 

This site might be helpful for back-up comparables sales, but Zillow and Cyberhomes are much better.      

#2 Cyberhomes.com 

When it comes to good looks, Tyra Banks would surely hand the final photo to Cyberhomes.   This site is just plain pretty with soothing colors and information presented in a clean minimalist style that is a pleasure to view. 

Good Stuff

This site clearly and accurately presented my home value estimate at $236,000 (along with estimated range of $212K-$271K).  This was the most accurate value estimate of all the sites in this test.  Cyberhomes uses Fidelity National’s automated valuation model, meaning the same valuation tool’s used by appraisers are built into the computer model. This probably accounts for the accuracy in estimating my property’s value.

The site clearly listed the sales history of my particular property on the first page (e.g. $305,000 and $220,000, 7/7/07 and 6/19/03, respectively).  In addition the site had price trend graphs, percentage change in value and a grim calculation of property value loss in the last month (e.g. in my case $25K).   I even got my property’s Assessed value, although it was a year behind (i.e. 2007).   

An amazing feature („Change Home Value“) allows you to customize your market value estimate for a myriad of items (e.g. kitchen remodel upper or mid-range improvement) and you can modify your property’s estimate of value based on „Market and Home Conditions“ (e.g. view, exterior condition).   What’s great about this feature is that Cyberhomes‘ automatically computes the adjustment figure to your property’s market value to account for your property’s unique personality.    

Aerial map photos provided by Microsoft Virtual Earth allow you to zoom in on your property or back away and see the neighborhood.  This is helpful to demonstrate facts that might affect your property tax value to the Assessor (e.g. proximity to roads, pool etc).  

By logging into the site, you will get a comprehensive PDF report on your property and your neighborhood, complete with demographics (e.g. crimes, average age, income levels).  This information is interesting and may be helpful painting a qualitative picture of your neighborhood from a property tax perspective. 

Bad Stuff

Although Cyberhomes is much easier to use, you cannot drill down to get more specific details on the Comparables Sales and you cannot use maps to see visual differences between your property and the Comparables Sales properties in the same depth as Zillow. 

#1 Zillow.com

Okay so Zillow’s kind of ugly and too busy, but it’s chock-a-block full of good information to develop support for your property tax appeal.

Good Stuff

First, this site will genuinely help you figure out what your property is worth and is no ruse for real estate agents to find you.  It’s not exactly intuitive, but if you enter your address and go to „My Zestimate“ you have an easy place to gather up to 10 comparables sales and you can make adjustments to market value for property improvements.  However, the number of adjustments and the level of detail are not as comprehensive as Cyberhomes.  There is a terrific aerial map feature that allows you to see your property with past comparable prices for similar homes in your neighborhood.  This is compelling information for property tax appeal purposes. 

On the „Zestimates & Charts“ pages, you’ll find the sales history of your property and the prior three year’s property tax information.  Unfortunately, like Cyberhomes, property tax details for the current 2008/2009 year are not available.     

This is the only site using Google Maps for the street view, allowing you to literally stand in front of the house and look up and down and around in a circle.  It’s really like you’re waiting in front of the house for someone to meet you.   For above Earth views, Zillow provides Microsoft Virtual Earth with all its capabilities for aerial, street view and hybrid photo with street names overlaid on the picture.  Very useful information in developing your property tax appeal (proximity to roads, noisy pool, poor appearance).    

Bad Stuff

In my case, the estimate of market value was very high $330,000 (with a range of $211K to $341K) even though the site provided a very good list of comparables.  Like Cyberhomes, Zillow has charts with information about prices, trends and even the one month estimated change in value (Neg. $25K on Cyberhomes and Neg. $9,500 on Zillow).  Zillow estimated that my home had gone down in value 4% in the last year, which is too low based on recent comparables that indicate a 20% decline in market value. 

Overall was the best site to gather information for a property tax appeal.  Although Cyberhomes is easier to use, is more attractive and offers a report, it does not provide the Comparable Sales depth and does not provide the comprehensive map services that Zillow offers.

Preparing your property tax appeal case would be best accomplished using a combination of these sites.  I would start with Zillow (or the ZipRealty short-cut) to get a good list of comparables along with map photo’s of the house, street and neighborhood.   I would also use Zillow to get a „Zestimate“ to have a comparison of market value with other sources.  You might also use Cyberhomes to get a back up list of comparables to see if there are any useful differences from Zillow.  Further use Cyberhomes to get a market value estimate which in my case was much more accurate and much lower than all the other sites.  You might also use Cyberhomes to get a comprehensive report on your home (delivered electronically to you in less than a minute).    Keep in mind when developing your arguments that in California, the market value supported by comparables must be no later than March 31st, 2008.

At  CaliforniaPropTaxAppeal.com, Formal and Informal property tax appeal are automatically prepared based on the lowest Comparable Sales price for the appropriate time frame.  In addition, the standard industry format of presenting evidence to support the Market Value determination is provided in a Valuation Workbook.  Finally, a Property Tax Guide to minimizing property taxes is provided to guide homeowners through the appeal process. 

Ultimately, you should accumulate (3) three Comparable Sales to your home for the appropriate time frame.  Each Comparable Sale should be adjusted downward to reflect attributes your property lacks reducing each Comparable Sales price.  Take the average of the adjusted Comparable Sales and you have a suggested market value.  To account for variances in square footage, you might convert the Comparable Sales to an average per square foot and apply that rate to your home’s square footage.  If the Comparable Sales are similar to your home and your adjustments are reasonable, this should be compelling evidence in a Proposition 8 Formal or Informal property tax appeal.  As noted, this process and related documentation has been automated at  CaliforniaPropTaxAppeal.com

Fortunately, it’s no longer necessary to find a Realtor with a dusty MLS book to support your property tax appeal.  Using a mix of the best capabilities of all these sites will provide you the on-line tools to put together a winning property tax appeal.

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Source by Jeffery Morris