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By Brenda Ward
Stories of people selling their homes to shysters for less than their real value send a chill down a homeowner’s spine. But how can you find out the true value of your house? Brenda Ward asked the experts.
In life, your wealth is measured by your assets and your investments. But when people come to put a price on what could be their biggest asset – their home – emotion can get in the way of facts. That’s why the experts say it’s important to do your research and compare many sources of information.
Lately, many competing sources of property data have sprung up, some charging for their information, and others not. It’s now become a complex task to weigh up different assessments, to arrive at a fair figure. Here are some of the options:
For many decades, New Zealanders used their ‘government valuation’ (GV) as a rough figure to estimate how much their house was worth. Done three-yearly and known now as a CV, council valuation, they were never intended to be used for selling or marketing a home, even though people did use them that way.
The assessments compare recent sales in the area with the property being valued and use that figure to calculate every homeowner’s portion of local government rates.
For a time, CVs were in the ballpark of the value of Kiwi homes, but the problem was, the older the CV became, the more inaccurate it was.
“They’re a blunt instrument,” says Ashley Church, chief executive of the Property Institute of New Zealand. “Council valuations don’t take account of any changes and improvements. Nor do they show if owners have put a bit of love and care into the house.
“Just because the next-door neighbours sold their house for X doesn’t mean yours will sell for the same.”
Now, in many places, and especially in Auckland’s overheated real-estate market, they’ve become useless for predicting the sale price of your home.
Most people start the selling process by asking two or three real-estate agents to look through the property, says Church.
“The agents will give you an idea of what they believe your home will sell for, relative to other houses they’ve sold in that area.”
Bindi Norwell, chief executive of the Real Estate Institute of New Zealand, says local real-estate agents have the best understanding of values, know the area, and can compare your home to actual sales of comparable houses.
“They have facts and data to back that up. We use a statistics platform which is an aggregate of data we’ve collected. It’s the most up-to-date data – recorded when the property goes unconditional.”
Estate agents get a thorough training before being licensed and then do ongoing training to keep their licences, she says.
A good agent has a deep knowledge of your area, knows how to market your property and what it needs to make it attractive to buyers, knows which regulations you need to comply with, and takes health and safety into consideration.
She suggests sellers first go online to look at what’s available in the area, in their style and size of house.
“Then speak to three agents and get them around to look at your home. Be very clear with what your needs are,” she says.
There should be good trust and communication between parties, as the agents keep you in the loop, sending emails and information to you.
She says people should research their area first, but not have a fixed price in mind. Many people come to real-estate agents expecting to get the sum a website has suggested, but find it’s worth more – or less.
The high-profile website Homes.co.nz started in 2015, offering free data on 1.6 million homes across New Zealand. It’s based on a UK model, says spokesman Jeremy O’Hanlon.
Homes.co.nz buys data from councils showing sales transactions, and examines this along with any recorded information about the site, size, improvements, and even sea views.
Number-crunchers run area-specific algorithms, using more than 1000 different models to determine house values. The site claims that nationwide their Gross Median Error is under 8 per cent, which is generally considered as world class.
It’s not intended to help you sell your home, however, says O’Hanlon. “A Homes estimate is a starting point. We wouldn’t expect people to use it to determine the market value; it’s a guidance that’s usually used for people to track the estimated value of their house over time.”
The key to selling is finding a great real-estate agent, he says. “Make sure you get an agent in your area who is proven.”
He suggests you look at estimates on homes.co.nz, then find an agent who’s sold four or five homes in your area. “Turning blindly up to an agent isn’t as effective as having done some research.”
Selling without an agent? “Buyer beware – we don’t recommend it,” he says. “It’s your biggest asset. Great agents will pay for themselves.”
“There’s been a proliferation of online ‘valuation’ sites, of variable quality, based on outdated council-assessed valuation data,” says Church. But if you want an accurate estimate, he recommends you get your home valued by a registered valuer.
“You know that they went to university and they know the factors involved. They take into account location, improvements, décor, and anything that makes your house different.”
The cost of a valuation varies from region to region and is determined by variables such as who orders the valuation, the complexity of the job, and the urgency of the request.
“Regardless, It’s absolutely worth it. Relative to what you’re selling a house for, it’s a small sum of money.”
Banks have always sourced their own data to work out how much to lend a purchaser. This part of the business is heavily regulated, says Valocity’s general manager, valuations, Kerry Stewart.
Valocity is a nationwide property data and valuation platform, which is used by banks and the finance industry to value properties on which they’re loaning money.
“It prevents collusion by using randomly selected valuers to do reports,” he says.
This prevents, say, property developers from working with those valuers who potentially could provide them with favourable valuations for banks.
The same data is used by MyValocity, which supplies the public with information about properties they want to buy or sell. A rating valuation report is free; there’s a bank-approved report available for $44.95; and a sellers’ pack for $49.95.
Valocity valuation manager James Wilson says registered valuers should give homeowners a reliable valuation: “A valuer will assess a property’s worth without emotion. It takes that entirely out of play and tells you what that property is worth on the open market.”
He suggests sellers first go online to get an automatic valuation model report (AVM), then look at similar properties online and do a drive-by, to draw comparisons.
All the sources we approached said the same thing: Do your research and understand the real value of your home before you sign any contract. Spending the time and money to understand the true value of your home will be a worthwhile investment.
Collusion: A secret or illegal co-operation or conspiracy in order to deceive others.