There’s a big reason we’re calling these websites “home valuation resources” instead of “online appraisal resources”: None of these sites are suitable replacements for an actual human appraiser—and these websites will hopefully be the first ones to tell you so.
Because so much more is tied up in the appraised price of a home than real estate transactions, these tools are only good for first speculations on the part of the home seller or buyer. There are aspects of the properties that these websites just don’t have the specificity to address. Also, the values these websites may offer for a single property could vary wildly. For homes valued at $1 million or less, the difference between the highest and lowest evaluations can be up to $250,000, quite possibly more.
If you can abide by the limited criteria these sites necessarily use, you’re free to start a very general, long-range plan or just satisfy your own curiosity by checking these sites.
Pennymac is a direct mortgage lender who offers a simple, quick and free estimate of your home’s value. Enter your street address and they’ll return their own ballpark estimates, Zillow’s “Zestimate” which is somewhat more precise, and the calculated price is per square foot. You’ll also see an estimation of how much the value of your house has increased since its last purchase (which was probably yours).
Pennymac—in fact, all online valuation resources—use publicly accessible data to initiate their guesses. Each site runs that data through its own computer model to arrive at their suggested prices. Each site’s formulae for producing their estimates are different, which accounts for the wide range of potential results. Also, the availability of public data, or the lack thereof, can be a major factor in the precision of their estimates.
Most of the major players in online real estate have some kind of evaluation mechanism: Zillow.com, Redfin.com, Trulia.com and Realtor.com. Appraisal-specific sites include eppraisal.com, which also incorporates the Zillow “Zestimate.”
Chase Bank and Bank of America also offer estimated home values online. BofA offers a moderately long list of comparable homes in the area, as well as graphs on sales data related to the kind of property being looked up. Even just between these two institutions, the ranges of values they provide can be wildly dissimilar. In looking up their estimates for one specific address, Chase’s bottom end of the range was almost $19,000 lower than BofA’s lowest. The difference between the two banks’ highest estimates was more than $43,000.
If you’re willing to release some of your private information, Housevalues.com and HomeLight.com purport to offer value estimates. RealQuest, a paid site, offers a comprehensive amount of information on property ownership and sales through its search engine that can be exported for the purpose of armchair appraisals.
But again, it must be stressed that valuations that come from these sites is speculative at best.