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Comparative market analysis in real estate

Row of similar looking homes on a suburban neighborhood street
Mint Images/Getty Images
Row of similar looking homes on a suburban neighborhood street
Mint Images/Getty Images

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Whether you’re in the market to sell your home or to purchase one, you’re going to need a feel for the value of that particular property. How else can you make sure that you’re asking for, or paying, a fair price? A comparative market analysis, often abbreviated to CMA, is a useful tool to achieve this and can give you a better sense of what a given property is worth. Here’s everything you need to know.

What is a comparative market analysis?

A comparative market analysis is a compilation of data that can be used to estimate the value of a home. They are created by comparing the home in question to other similar homes in the area, in addition to many other factors. CMAs can provide both a general overview of the local market and a specific educated guess about the fair market value of a particular home, which can then be used to help set an asking price or a bidding price.

How is a CMA done?

A competitive market analysis looks at homes in a given area that share many of the qualities of the home that is being sold. For example, the analysis will look at properties that share comparable lot sizes, similar square footage and the same number of bedrooms and bathrooms. It will also take into consideration the age and condition of the property, improvements that have been made over the years, special features such as swimming pools and any other characteristics that might affect how much a buyer would be willing to pay.

“It’s critical to look at a CMA from the perspective of location, view, bedroom count, bath count, property age, parking, etcetera,” says Diana Sutherlin, a real estate agent with Compass based in Jersey City, New Jersey.

A CMA will also take into account the conditions of the current market, both locally and nationally. This helps to determine what the likely selling price of a house might be given the conditions that it is being sold in.

Who typically creates it?

The analysis is usually put together by a real estate agent or broker, and usually it’s the seller’s agent, who prepares it to help determine how much a home’s asking price should be. Unlike a home appraisal, which is done by a professional appraiser, a CMA is typically a more informal look at the overall market. But just because it’s not an official appraisal does not mean it’s insignificant.

“Performing a quality competitive market analysis is a real skill, and it’s important how experienced an agent is,” Sutherlin says. “The more familiar an agent is with appraisers, the more accurate an agent will be in pricing.”

You can perform your own comparative market analysis if you wish, whether you are hoping to go the For Sale By Owner route or simply want to get a better idea of what the current local market looks like. Lots of data is readily available on realty listing sites that the general public can access. However, there is no substitute for the experience and knowledge of a professional agent.

“Online home value estimators were created from an imperfect algorithm that can never replace human knowledge of a local market and home qualities,” says Sutherlin. “Even appraisers do not have the insight necessary for accurate home values if they don’t know the market intimately.”

A comparative market analysis example

Let’s create a hypothetical CMA as an example. Imagine a single-family home that is 1,500 square feet, with three bedrooms and 1.5 bathrooms. The home has a two-car garage attached. The property is in good condition, has undergone several upgrades in the last few years and does not require any major repairs. The seller is hoping to list it for $350,000.

To determine if that is a fair price, let’s look at three similar homes that have sold in the same area over the last three to six months.

  • The first is 1,750 square feet with three bedrooms, two full bathrooms and a two-car garage and is in similar condition. It sold for $385,000.
  • The second is 1,250 square feet with two bedrooms, 1.5 bathrooms and a one-car garage, and it needs a new roof. It sold for $300,000.
  • The third home is 1,600 square feet with three bedrooms and 1.5 bathrooms, a one-car garage and is in good condition, though the air conditioning system is older. It sold for $335,000.

With this information, a Realtor can determine the general price range for the home in question — and $350,000 is probably a pretty accurate starting point.

CMAs vs. other valuation models

A comparative market analysis is not the only way that real estate experts can determine the likely value of a property. There are a number of other tools that can be used to provide a similar assessment.

Comps

Comps is a shorthand term for comparable properties in a given region, as we looked at in the above example. Looking at a range of comps can give you a better idea of the expected value of a property. But there are a lot of variables that can skew the numbers, including things that have nothing to do with the house itself, like school district and traffic noise. Comps are used in a comparative market analysis, but they are just one piece of the puzzle.

Appraisals

Appraisals are assessed by licensed experts who are brought in as an objective third party to determine the fair market value of a property. Appraisers perform a walk-through of a property, then compare it to similar properties in the area. Appraisals are typically required by the mortgage lender to determine if the property is worth the amount of the loan, and they typically take place after an offer on a home has been made.

Automated valuation models

Automated valuation models, or AVMs, are like a quickie comparative market analysis performed by a computer program. (For example, Zillow’s “Zestimate.”) It takes into account details about the property and compares it to other homes in the region to determine an estimated value for the given property. These are not always accurate, though, says Sutherlin. ““Looking at home value as black and white, and without walking through a home and seeing the particulars, is very misleading for the consumer,” she says.

Should I get a CMA?

In most cases, it is worth it to have your agent create a comparative market analysis. It is typically included in their services at no extra charge, and it provides an important glimpse into what your property’s value may be. While it might not be as accurate as an appraisal, it provides a very useful ballpark price range based on many different data points.

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Written by
AJ Dellinger
Contributing writer
AJ Dellinger is a contributing writer for Bankrate. AJ writes about auto loans and real estate.
Edited by
Senior real estate editor