House Value

Should I use the county tax assessor's value when estimating the value of our house? If not, how do I find an accurate value?

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Bill's Answer: Answered by Mark Cappel

The first sentence in your question contains a huge false assumption. The county tax assessment is the tax value of a property. It is not the market value of the property. The tax value is, in my experience in owning property in three US states, usually lower than the actual market value. Therefore, when determining the "value" of your property for mortgage loan purposes, the last number you should use is the value concocted by the county tax assessor.

Determining your house value

The market value of your property is determined by its location, location, location, plus its amenities such as the number of bedrooms, bathrooms, square footage, size of the garage and lot, and overall condition of the house and grounds.

You can estimate your house value by comparing your property to others in the neighborhood. In the real estate business, this is known as "looking at comps." The term "comp" is short for "comparisons." An experienced real estate broker or agent keeps comps in his or her head in the same way a baseball fan keeps current statistics of his or her team memorized.

For those of us who are not real estate agents there is Zillow correlates public information about properties in the United States. Zillow uses sales prices, appraisal information, and other data on comparable homes in a given area to estimate the value of a home.

Look at Zillow to determine the estimated house value. If your property is valued greater than the mortgage, then you may be able to sell the property outright without a short sale. If the property is worth less than the loan balance, then a short sale is a good alternative to foreclosure.

You mentioned President Obama's mortgage modification plan. Let us discuss that next.

Home Affordable Mortgage Plan

The first question that any homeowner who is struggling with their payments needs to be able to answer is "Do I qualify?"

The government (and specifically the Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD) set up some great resources to help homeowners determine if they qualify. However, generally, you must meet the following conditions to qualify for the HAMP program:

 • The home must be your primary residence

 • The loan was signed before January 1st, 2009

 • Your monthly mortgage payment must exceed 31% of your gross monthly income

 • Be able to provide evidence of a hardship or an inability to maintain current payments

More detail on eligibility and other information can be found on the HUD Web site Making Home Affordable. To learn if you are eligible for the HAMP program, go to the HAMP program's Are You Eligible? Web page.

You mentioned short sale. To learn more about short sales, see the resource A Deed In Lieu Of Foreclosure vs. A Short Sale. I will not review the entire contents of that resource here. However, I will say that for many homeowners a short sale is an excellent alternative to foreclosure.

Your options

First, determine the balance of your mortgage. Next, get the estimated market value of your property. If the value of the property is less than the mortgage balance, then consider a short sale. If you have other debt and want to keep your property. Consider a Chapter 13 bankruptcy. See the resource Chapter 13 Bankruptcy Help to learn more about this option.

I hope this information helps you Find. Learn & Save.



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