You have to know how much your house
is worth before you put it up for sale. That means paying
attention to your neighborhood's real-estate microclimate
-- a task that has become easier, thanks to the Internet.
"Up to now, really, when you and
I wanted to find a house, find out what was happening
in a neighborhood, you would have to ask everybody around
and trust the answers they give, or go to the courthouse"
to look up property records, says Manuel Iraola, founder
of Homekeys, a Web site that offers information about
home values. Now, he says, Web sites and the people
who use them are becoming sophisticated.
|4 ways to track housing
|All sorts of information
about home values can be gleaned, online and
offline: prices paid for homes, mortgage amounts,
square footage, numbers of bedrooms and bathrooms,
asking prices, and even which direction houses
face. Usually you have to chase the data in
more than one place. Here's how to do it (not
necessarily in this order):
to the government source
Getting information from the local government can be
complicated. States and counties have differing degrees
of openness. For example, the Palm Beach County property
appraiser's Web site tells you that Ann
Coulter paid $1.8 million for her home
in Palm Beach, but the Dallas County appraiser's
Web site doesn't tell you how much Mavericks owner Mark
Cuban paid for his palace
in Big D. An estimated market value is available,
but not the purchase price.
OK, Ann and Mark, you can see my
So the best government source isn't always
a Web site. Sometimes you have to visit the county courthouse
and look through property records in computers and books.
Start out by looking for your county's property appraiser,
tax assessor, recorder or clerk online. It helps to
have patience (because most local governments have horribly
designed Web sites), an up-to-date computer (because
the sites like to throw Java applets at you), and a
fast Internet connection (because the sites throw Java
applets at you).
If you can't find the information you
want, call the appropriate office and ask where you
need to go to get it.
Web sites that estimate home values
A new Web site called Zillow.com
has grabbed a lot of attention, although it's not the
first of its kind. The site lets you get estimates of
home values by typing addresses into a box. On Zillow,
an estimate is called a "Zestimate," and if
the information about a home is incomplete or inaccurate,
you can update the information and get a revised estimate.
Zillow is addictive because it's easy
to navigate, and it provides maps and satellite photos
that let you see the estimated values of your neighbors'
homes, too. Take the aformentioned Mark Cuban: When
this was written, Zillow estimated his estate
to be worth $11.5 million, while a neighbor to the north
has a home worth a relatively paltry $1.33 million.