While many factors come into play when you’re evaluating a residential property’s value by “comps” (comparable sales), the three key factors are location, size (square footage) of the home and the number of bedrooms and bathrooms. Obviously, you’ll need to look at many other aspects before you can pinpoint the exact value of a property, but these are the “big three.” You should be able to look at comparable sales involving properties with these three factors and get a good idea of the value of the property you’re selling.
Location is extremely important when you’re comparing sold properties. A professional appraiser typically looks at houses within a one-mile radius or less, and so should you. In the case of a subdivision -- where the houses are all similar and built in the same time period -- you need to compare similar houses with similar styles in the same subdivision to get an accurate valuation. If there’s a wide mix of properties in the subdivision, you may need to go outside of it to get comparable sales. Just be careful with “dividing lines.” Geographic lines such as opposite sides of the river, the park, or a main highway can be invisible dividing lines that put the property in another school district and may not garner equitable comps.
When determining a home’s value, be sure to evaluate the square footage. Note that appraisers typically look at homes that are within 20% up or down in square footage as comparables. Generally (especially within a subdivision), most homes fall within a fairly limited size range. Therefore, you should be able to develop a good gauge for the selling price of homes in those particular sizes.
Of course, not all square footage is created equal. Most people think that if a house has 1,000 square feet and is worth $100,000, then the 1,100 square-foot house next door would be worth $110,000. Wrong! The extra 10% in square footage equals only a few percentage points in value. If these two houses offer the same location, style, and number of bedrooms and baths, the 10% additional square footage won’t change the valuation much. Why? Because there is a fixed cost on a house based on the value of the land, cost of construction, sewer, subdivision plans and other factors. An extra few hundred feet of space involves very little cost -- only wood, nails, carpet and possibly some minor electrical and plumbing costs.
The number of bathrooms and bedrooms is more relevant than simply the raw square footage. In other words, a three-bedroom home with 1,200 square feet might be worth more than a two-bedroom home with 1,250 square feet. It also matters where the bedrooms and bathrooms are located – on the main floor or the basement. While finished basements can add value, the amount of that value is less than it is for above-ground living areas. Plus, this greatly varies depending on different regions of the country. In humid areas, below-ground living space isn’t as valuable to homeowners as in dryer areas of the country.