Fair Market Value
General Area and Specific Location within Neighborhood
Neither agents nor sellers determine a property’s market value: Fair market value is determined by that (highest) price a qualified, reasonably knowledgeable buyer is willing to pay at a specific point in time, to a seller not under duress, after the home has been properly exposed to the market. (You may also want to read our article regarding the pros and cons of selling your home "off market," without comprehensive marketing to the brokerage community, including not posting it to the MLS system.)
An agent’s comparative market analysis (CMA) attempts to estimate today’s fair market value by an honest assessment of the following:
Size, Appearance, Condition & Emotional Appeal
Attributes & Amenities: Views, Parking, Yard, etc.
Recent Comparable Sales
Competitive Properties on the Market
Properties that Did Not Sell
Current & Projected Market Trends
Likely Buyer Profile
Property Strengths & Weaknesses
The purpose of this analysis is to price the property appropriately to maximize market response and the final sales price.
Buyers – for any product, including homes – don’t find the issues of what a seller wants, needs or has invested germane to fair market value, so those issues shouldn’t play a role in a CMA or pricing the property.
Older appraisals or refinancing appraisals performed by appraisers not intimately acquainted with the property’s specific market area often do not accurately reflect current fair market value.
Pricing and Buyer Dynamics
The vast majority of buyers and agents will not make offers on homes they consider significantly overpriced. The vast majority of home sales in San Francisco do not sell more than 3% to 5% under the last asking price (including any price reductions): If the home is not priced within that narrow range, buyers simply move on to other listings.
If priced outside that range, the listing is generally ignored by the market and generates no offers, regardless of the quality and appeal of the property.
Well-priced homes create a sense of urgency in the buyer/broker communities to act quickly with strong, clean offers—and help produce the competitive bidding situations that generate the highest sales prices.
The Effects of Overpricing
Overpricing wastes the optimum period of buyer and buyer-agent attention: when a listing first comes on the market. Overpricing wastes all the money and effort spent on that initial marketing blitzkrieg. It is almost impossible to recapture or recreate this level of buyer attention later.
Overpriced homes kill any sense of buyer urgency to act and spend much longer periods of time on market, on average 2 to 3 months longer, than well priced properties. The listing gets "stale" and buyers wonder why no one else wants it. This significantly reduces perceived value in buyers’ minds and makes competitive bidding unlikely.
The chart below illustrates the analysis of almost 500 San Francisco home sales over a period of 4 different quarters. Comparing listings that went through 1 or more price reductions before selling to those that were priced properly to begin with, it illustrates the large disparity in percentage of original list price (an average of 9.2%) achieved on sale, the huge increase in days on market (an average of 73 days), and, perhaps most importantly, the significant reduction in average dollar per square foot value achieved upon sale (an average of 9.6% less). There is also a significant proportion of listings that don’t sell at all, typically due to being perceived by buyers as overpriced (and ignored). The exact sales price percentages and days-on-market figures will change based upon the property and market conditions, but the average differences in results between properties priced correctly and incorrectly stay relatively consistent over time.
“Ironically, instead of getting more money… [Over-pricing] usually stigmatizes a property
and reduces the eventual sale price to less than it would have been with more realistic pricing.”
Brown & Tyson, House Selling for Dummies
Overpricing actually helps sell competitive listings—which stand out as good values in comparison.
Whatever the market conditions, the quality of agent representing you in the large and complicated
financial transaction of selling real estate can make a difference of tens or even hundreds of
thousands of dollars in your net proceeds.
Choosing a Listing Agent
In order to win the listing, some agents suggest a list price considerably higher than what they believe market conditions and comparable sales justify—believing this is what the seller wants to hear. This dishonesty is a violation of both the Realtor Code of Ethics and agents’ fiduciary duty: they are putting their interests – winning the listing – above the client’s interests, i.e. achieving the best price and terms within a reasonable period of time.
Here is a good Washington Post article on the phenomenon of "buying listings": Listings-Hungry
Agents Can be Bad News for Overly Optimistic Sellers
Do not choose an agent based upon how high he or she is willing to price your home. That’s analogous to choosing a stock broker by whoever quotes the highest value for your stock portfolio. In both cases, the market alone -- what a buyer is willing to pay -- determines value.
Choose an agent based upon experience; the results they've generated in the past and the client references that substantiate those results; the quality and honesty of counsel delivered; the quality of the market analytics they provide to help you in your decision making; the comprehensiveness of their marketing and home preparation plans; their transactional and negotiating skills; and the explicit commitment to work hard to protect your interests.