Framing the Choices

In politics, it’s often said that “whoever defines the terms of debate, wins.”

The equivalent in real estate appraising would be, “whoever decides the geographic area for choosing the comp’s, defines home values.”

What does that mean?

One of the challenges choosing and analyzing “comparable sold properties” (comp’s) is coming up with three, similar properties nearby that have sold recently. Traditionally, Realtors and bank appraisers look back no more than six months; lately, there is a preference for three months or even less.

Unfortunately, that requirement bumps up against what might be called an “inconvenient housing market truth”: there are many, many small neighborhoods in the Twin Cities — some with as few as 100 homes — that have their own distinct character and identity — and not a lot of turnover.

If you want to intelligently price a home in one of these smaller neighborhoods, you have to consult previous neighborhood sales. However, because the neighborhoods are so small, there may not be 3 good comp’s. In fact, it’s not unusual to have to go back a year or even longer to find a similar, nearby sale.

But then, by definition, the previous sale is no longer a comp.

Comparing (Honey Crisp) Apples to (Cortland) Apples

What then?

You have to go farther afield.

Just to illustrate the challenges, consider the Lion’s Park neighborhood in Golden Valley.

Lion’s Park is located between 169 on the west, 394 on the south, Hiway 100 on the east, and Hiway 55 on the north. Built mainly in the ’50’s and ’60’s (with a sprinkling of recent tear-down’s), the neighborhood includes perhaps 100 homes that encompass a surprising range of styles and sizes.

So, if you’re trying to price a Lion’s Park home, the odds are good you’ll have to go outside of Lion’s Park to find one or more comp’s.

But which direction?

Northern Golden Valley, just to the north across Highway 55, borders Crystal and New Hope and is perhaps 20% less expensive than Lion’s Park.

Meanwhile, North Tyrol Hills, just to the east of Lion’s Park (across Highway 100) is perhaps 20% more expensive.

My guess is that a majority of the time, when a home doesn’t appraise, it’s because the appraiser is doing the equivalent of pulling comp’s from the equivalent of Northern Golden Valley rather than the counterpart to Tyrol Hills.

About the author

Ross Kaplan has 19+ years experience selling real estate all over the Twin Cities. He is also a 12-time consecutive "Super Real Estate Agent," as determined by Mpls. - St. Paul Magazine and Twin Cities Business Magazine. Prior to becoming a Realtor, Ross was an attorney (corporate law), CPA, and entrepreneur. He holds an economics degree from Stanford.

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