Buying a home is such an exciting – and important – milestone.
Unlike when you rent, becoming a homeowner lets you make the decisions and call all the shots.
If you want to paint a wall bright green or install a hot tub and minibar in your bedroom, you don’t need to ask permission. Heck, you can tear down walls in your house if you want. When you’re a homeowner, the only person you answer to is yourself.
Outside of providing a place for your family to live, your home is an important part of your financial plan, too. You shouldn’t necessarily think of your primary residence as an “investment,” but your home’s value is definitely part of your net worth.
Over time, your home should theoretically increase in value. This value doesn’t mean a lot if your goal is paying off your home and living there forever, but it can be meaningful in the future. This is especially true if you ever wind up borrowing against your home's value. If the value of your home increases significantly, you'll have a lot more lee-way when it comes to taking out a home equity line of credit, or HELOC.
According to a few other financial advisors I spoke to, there are additional reasons to keep tabs on your home’s value as well. One of those reasons is not so obvious, but oh-so-important – your tax bill.
“Keeping an eye on the market value and property tax assessment value is important so that you're not paying tax on an artificially inflated property value by mistake, or vice versa,” says Minnesota Financial Advisor Jamie Pomeroy.
And if you plan to sell in the future, you’ll want to watch home values closely anyway. Why? Because you want to strike while the iron is hot, right?
“If you are within 3 years of selling your home, you will want to keep tabs on the value and the real estate market in hopes that you can sell at an opportunistic time,” says Jose V. Sanchez, financial advisor and contributor to LifeInsuranceToolkit.com.
Finally, knowing your home’s value can be important when it comes to estate and elder law care planning as well, notes Joseph A. Carbone, Jr., CFP Founder and Wealth Advisor of Focus Planning Group.
10 Websites that Let You Monitor Your Home’s Value for Free
There are plenty of reasons to watch your home’s value ebb and flow over the years. Fortunately, there are plenty of websites that let you do this for free. Some offer this information without requiring you to enter your personal information, while others want your email and home address in exchange. If you choose a site that requires your personal details, make sure you know what you're getting into before you sign up!
If you’re interested in watching your home’s value, here are websites that make this hobby easy and fun:
Zillow is one of the biggest – and most popular – websites for monitoring your home’s value. One financial advisor I spoke to, Joseph Carbone, says the best part about Zillow is the layout of the site and how easy it is to use.
Just by entering your home’s value into the website’s friendly interface, you’ll get a Zestimate – a Zillow-created estimate of your home’s value. Beyond finding out how much your home might be worth, you can also shop for homes in your area with the website's consumer-friendly tools.
Trulia.com works similarly to Zillow. Once you reach the website, you can enter your address and learn how much your home might be worth. Instead of offering a Zestimate, however, Trulia offers the average listing price for similar homes in your area.
Other information offered on Trulia includes the average list price for all homes in your area, along with standard details on your home – square footage, lot size, and bed/bath information. If you plan to refinance your home, Trulia is also ready to help with its own approved set of lenders.
Another website that has become popular among real estate enthusiasts and homeowners is Redfin. With Redfin, you can enter a handful of details about any property and learn about the local neighborhood, the “walkability” of a property, and how much property taxes cost each year.
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Plus, values might be slightly more accurate on this website, notes financial advisor Sanchez.
“Unlike Zillow and Trulia who are media sites, Redfin operates as an online brokerage,” says financial advisor Sanchez. “As a broker, Redfin uses the most accurate data from the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) to calculate your property’s current market value.”
While Realtor.com might sound like a hub for real estate professionals, this website is free for anyone to use. Just enter your address into the site’s homepage and you’ll learn an array of details including a price estimate of your home.
Beyond a pricing estimate, you’ll find out about the local schools, median listing prices in the area, and even property tax assessments. This tool is also great for learning about your neighbor’s home and how much they might be paying.
#5: Real Estate ABC
Real Estate ABC links up with Zillow.com to provide the same Zestimate you’ll receive there. What I really like about this site, however, is that it lists a ton of sales data for recent home sales in your area.
If a house sold down the street, you’ll eventually be able to find out how much the buyer paid on Real Estate ABC. Since recent sales are the best indicator of your home’s current value, this kind of data can be priceless.
Eppraisal.com works similarly to the other sites on this list, offering its own estimate of your home’s value in certain cases and a Zillow.com Zestimate in others.
Beyond house prices though, Eppraisal offers details on homes sold nearby, plus current refinancing rates and more. With Eppraisal.com, you can get all this data for free – and you don’t even have to enter your email address.
While HomeGain.com is mostly a home shopping tool, one of their widgets lets you find the value of your own home for free. Just enter in your home zip code followed by your home address to find out what your home is worth now and how values have changed over the years.
The downside with HomeGain is that they require you to enter your email address to get “unlimited MLS data” for your area. Unfortunately, this usually means you’ll end up on a huge mailing list – whether you like it or not.
#8: Chase Mortgage Services
While this might seem strange, Chase Bank has their own home property value tool offered for free online. Simply enter your home address, your state, and your zip code to learn how much your home might be worth.
Instead of giving an exact estimate, Chase offers a price range they feel your home falls into. Since they also offer an estimate of all of your neighbor’s home values, this is a fun tool to play around with. Best of all, it’s free, easy to use, and doesn’t require you to enter any personal data.
Real estate firm RE/MAX has also jumped in the game with its own home value estimator. While this is likely a ploy to get you to use their services when you sell your home, the online tool is free and easy to use. Best of all, you don’t have to enter any personal data or offer your email address to get a free estimate of your home’s value.
My favorite part about this tool is its color graphics and realistic mapping. Once you enter your address, you’ll be presented with a color map of your neighborhood along with all of your neighbor’s home values. Since real estate firms use MLS data to come up with estimates, this tool tends to offer a fairly realistic estimate of most home values as well.
While this site was created to help homeowner’s advertise and market their own homes in lieu of a realtor, it offers several tools any homeowner can benefit from as well.
While you do have to register to use their Pricing Scout tool, it is free and easy to use. Once you sign up, you’ll get an estimated market value of your home based on recently sold comparable properties in your area and a summary of local real estate characteristics. “The estimates market value of your home that you’ll receive from Pricing Scout is based on a multiple regression algorithm,” notes the website. “A sophisticated regression analysis is blended with our thorough comparative market analysis to arrive at your home value.”
The Bottom Line
Even if you don’t plan to sell, watching your home’s value increase over time can be a lot of fun. Fortunately, these websites and others let you watch your home’s value grow without paying for the privilege.
Just remember not to take these estimates too seriously, as they don’t necessarily reflect the exact value you’ll receive if you sell. If you want “the real thing” – as in, a price that reflects every factor that goes into a home’s sales price – you should meet with at least 2 or 3 realtors to get price suggestions. Chances are, a realtor will be able to offer more insight into your local market than any online real estate tool ever could.
What is your favorite website for checking your home’s value? Why is it your favorite?