A comparative market analysis (CMA) is the process real estate professionals use to determine the market value of a property. A CMA is a crucial tool for listing agents as they price new homes for sale, as well as buyer’s agents who are advising their clients on making competitive offers.
Unfortunately, the process of performing a complete and accurate CMA isn’t taught in your prelicense real estate classes, so many agents come into the business without the necessary training or strategies to get the job done.
This is a tough merit badge to earn, but learning how to do a comparative market analysis effectively is possible, and we’re going to show you exactly how.
How to Use Your CMA Skills to Actually Get More Clients
Before we jump into the steps to create a great CMA, ask yourself, “Am I using my CMAs for existing clients only, or am I using them to actually get more listings?” If the answer is the former, you’re missing out. An accurate and timely CMA is one of the best tools you have to generate new business from prospective clients. Here’s how:
LionDesk, my recommendation for the best real estate customer relationship manager (CRM) on the market, offers a fantastic Facebook advertising tool that makes setting up and running Facebook Ads easy. Using this platform, you can create ads targeting property owners in your market, offering a free home valuation. Consumer confidence in services like Zillow’s Zestimate are very low; an agent who can market an accurate CMA service is going to stand out.
LionDesk offers a free 30-day trial, no credit card needed. Give it a test drive, and see how the Facebook Ads platform can work to market your CMA skills.
How to Do a Comparative Market Analysis in 8 Steps
OK, now that we know what a CMA is and why it’s so helpful, here are eight key steps you need to master to write a comparative market analysis that will impress any homeowner. We’ve also got this content in the form of a downloadable PDF guide, including a handy one-page guide with all the steps, perfect for quick reference.
1. Gather All the Data You Can About the Subject Property
If you want to get an accurate value of a listing, you’re going to have to learn as much as you possibly can about that listing. Oh, and by everything, we mean everything. Why? Writing a comparative market analysis is all about comparing apples to apples.
In other words, you’re looking for properties that are as similar to your property as possible. In order to do this, you’ll need to know everything you can about your property. The more characteristics you know about your subject property (the property you want to evaluate), the more accurate your comparative market analysis is going to be.
At the very minimum, start by getting each of these data points:
- Location (street, neighborhood, municipality, county)
- Total square footage
- Number of bedrooms and bathrooms
- Acreage (if privately owned)
- Year built
- Recent renovations
- Interior finishes of note
- Any extraordinary features (swimming pool, pole barn, and so forth)
2. Gather Tax Information
The next step to writing a killer CMA is gathering local tax information. This is important for a couple of reasons.
The first is that all property taxes are not created equal. Municipalities have lots of different tax rates, so as you’re considering different properties to compare to your subject property, make sure you know your rates and how they will affect a homeowner’s monthly payment.
The second is that in order to tax a property owner appropriately, municipalities will do abbreviated appraisals of each property periodically. This can be a helpful reference point for real estate agents looking to do a comparative market analysis, but shouldn’t be considered gospel.
There are lots of reasons why these “appraisals” aren’t as accurate as you need them to be when you’re pricing a home for purchase or sale. Most of the time, these are “on paper only” appraisals, meaning they don’t actually enter the home (important if you are going to consider something like a completely renovated kitchen), so take the state-assessed value with a grain of salt.
From the tax information, collect the following data points:
- Millage rate: Important because the higher the millage rate is, the higher the owner’s tax rate will be. This value tends to affect home price conversely; i.e., the higher a tax rate, the lower the value of a home.
- Property’s assessed value: A good number to keep in mind and compare your final valuation to.
3. Gather Your Subject Property’s Previous Sale / Listing Data
I once asked an appraiser what the most important factor she considered was when determining the market value of a house. Her response was surprising, but also, at the same time, made perfect sense.
“The most important factor in determining the market value of a house is the market itself. If you have a buyer and a seller who have agreed upon a sale price for a particular property, you’ve got direct evidence as to what the market will bear for that specific home.”
Now, let’s explore how to use the market’s recently sold listings to get a more precise estimate of your subject property’s value.
Why Gathering Sold Data Is Important to a Comparative Market Analysis
Our appraiser’s insight above is one of the reasons we always look to the past and see what the sales and listing history are for our subject property. Here’s a quick example of why sold data is so crucial to valuing a home.
If your subject property changed hands three years ago, and the general price of homes in the neighborhood has risen 6% in the last three years, the previously sold price and the general movement of the market can be combined and become a great clue to what the current market value is.
There’s more information to glean from this sold data as well. Let’s suppose that the last time your subject property was for sale, it went under contract in 24 hours. This information suggests to us that there was a significant demand for this home, and the seller might have been able to get more money had they taken a little more conservative pricing approach.
Most MLSs will have a status history for each listing, so you’ll be able to see how long it took a property to go under contract as well as how long it ultimately took to close. A fast sale suggests that it was priced correctly or perhaps even a little too low. A long sale (and, of course, price reductions) suggest that it was priced a little too high.
Collect the following:
- Sales data (list price, final sale price, terms, any price adjustments, days on market) for any sale of the subject property in the last five years
Why Gathering Unsold Listing Data Is Important to a Comparative Market Analysis
If a property was listed but never sold, this data is equally critical to the comparative market analysis process. For one reason or another, the market wouldn’t support the price the property was listed at previously. Use that data as a pivot point in your own figuring.
Has the subject property been altered since that unsuccessful sale? Undergone renovations? Seen any vast improvements?
Collect the following:
- Listing data (price, days on market, any price adjustments) for any unsuccessful listing of the subject property in the last five years, as well as any major changes the property has undergone
- Any reasons you feel might have been the cause of the listing not selling previously (think bad listing photos and marketing, a local recession, a saturation of supply, and so on)
4. Examine the Recent Comparable Sales
Second only to understanding your own property, understanding recent comparable sales (homes similar to your subject property that have recently sold) is the next most important part of any comparative market analysis.
At its heart, a comparative market analysis is just that: a comparison. You’re looking to compare your property to other like-properties that have recently sold, and use the prices of those comps to help determine what your price should be.
Remember what we said about comparing apples to apples? Let’s go apple picking.
Using your MLS, find four or five sold properties that match or are close to your subject property in the important categories we mapped out in step one, going back one year. Why only a year? We all know how fast the market changes; you want the most recent sales data you can find since you’re looking to determine what the market value of a home is TODAY.
If pickings are slim, extend that window back to two years, but do your best to not go any further than that.
If you live in a major metropolitan area and your subject property is pretty typical of the offerings in your city, you’ll have a great chance of finding some very close comparables on exactly your subject property criteria.
But, if you’re pricing a standalone home in a smaller community, often it’s next to impossible to find sales of comparable property that fit your exact criteria.
Finding Comparable Sales Where No Exact Matches Exist
The solution to this problem is to search with a range that is close to your subject property, but has a little wiggle room on either side. For instance, if your subject property has 1,500 square feet of living space, search for homes that are between 1,200 and 1,800 square feet. Yes, you are going to get results that are a little bigger and a little smaller, but you can make adjustments to your price accordingly.
If you need to really expand your criteria in order to get some results, start with acreage. The value of land is fairly easily measured and can be adjusted for later on without much fuss.
Do yourself a favor and don’t start allowing a different housing type into your equation just to make finding comps easier. Condo living—even attached townhouses—are fundamentally different property types than single-family standalone homes, and making the adjustment from one type to another is very difficult.
Collect the following:
- Five recently sold properties that match or are in range of your subject property’s most important characteristics
- If your comparable properties are in a range close to that of your subject property, estimate the value of the differences between them and your subject property needed in order make them equivalent
5. Examine Comparable Properties Currently for Sale
In the last section, we examined recently sold property as a part of our comparative market analysis because we wanted to see what the market has borne in the past.
In this step, we’ll examine the property currently for sale to see what the market’s current reactions are to properties like our subject property.
Finding Comparable Sales Currently on the Market
Using the same process you used in step four, change your focus to properties that are on the market and for sale now. How has the reception been for properties similar to yours?
The most important information you can get from these current listings is their offering price, how long they’ve been on the market, and, if they are currently under contract, how long it took to get there.
Collect the following:
- Five properties currently listed for sale that match or are in range of your subject property’s most important characteristics
- If these comparable properties are in a range close to that of your subject property, estimate the value adjustment needed in order to make them equivalent
Pro tip: If there’s a property on the market and under contract that’s very similar to your subject property, reach out to the real estate agent who has the listing of the comp property. Tell them you have something coming that’s similar to their listing, and give them a rough idea (without spilling any confidential details) of when you are expecting the listing to go live.
Chances are they’ve had at least one person inquire about their property since it’s gone under contract. If they’ve turned that inquiry into a buyer client, they may want to bring them through as soon as you go live, making a quick sale an excellent possibility.
6. Evaluate the Micro Market Trends of Your Subject Property
The term “micro market trends” sounds high falootin’, but it’s really just a fancy way of saying “keep in mind what’s happening in the neighborhood.” For example, let’s say there’s major road construction down the block from your property. Despite the overall trend of the market improving in your neighborhood, this micro market trend is going to drive the final number on your comparative market analysis down.
Likewise, if the building your subject property is in recently instituted a 24-hour doorman service, that’s going to pop up the price of that apartment a little over the market research you’ve done so far.
Collect answers to the following question:
“Is there anything happening in the immediate area of your subject property that would drive the price of the home up or down? If so, by how much?”
7. Put the Pieces of Your Comparative Market Analysis Together Into a Final Product
Nice work, you’ve done all the research necessary to put together a fantastic CMA. You know all the details of your subject property, you understand the recent sales history of similar properties, you know what the market is currently offering in terms of comparables, and you know what might affect the sale price of your property locally.
So, how do we put all this information together into your final result?
Start With Your Subject Property’s History
First, start with the sales history of your subject property. Median prices have risen (or fallen) a certain percentage since your property last sold. Based on this, taking into account any renovations or alterations that have been made to the subject property, what should the current value be?
Consider Your Comparables
Setting that number aside for a second, now take a look at your comps for recently sold property. Based on what you’ve found here, what does the value of these properties indicate about the value of your subject property?
Do the same with the comps you pulled from the currently active market.
If you’ve been thorough in your research, you should be seeing a trend emerging and three numbers that are all pretty similar.
Consider the Microtrends
Finally, apply your filter for micro market trends to your numbers for a final set of predictions.
Putting It All Together
What are you left with? Three numbers: your prediction based on the sales history of the subject property, your prediction based on the past comp sales, and your prediction based on the current market offerings.
Arrange these numbers from lowest to highest and you now have a comparative market analysis with a predicted sales price range.
Here’s an Example
Let’s say you’ve got a listing that successfully sold two years ago for a list price of $475,000. The market has matured in the neighborhood of this home by about 4% since then, and no major changes were made to the property. This makes our first number $494,000 ($475,000 x 104%).
Next, you’ve found comparable properties nearby that are the same regarding bedrooms and bathrooms, style and finish, but are about 20% smaller. The sales price for these homes is right around $500,000. Adjusting for size, you estimate this makes your subject property’s value about $510,000.
Now, consider what’s currently for sale. There are two homes on the next block that have been for sale for 90 days and still don’t have offers. They were built at approximately the same time, and have similar features. Their list prices are $525,000 and $529,000. Given this information, a price of $515,000 seems to be the highest reasonable spot.
Finally, consider the microtrend that the neighborhood elementary school is just about to finish a major renovation, making it the best school in the city. You estimate this will add another $5,000 to your asking price.
This gives you a predicted sales range of between $499,000 and $520,000. Depending on how aggressive your buyer or seller is, you can set a listing price or make an offer within that range and feel confident you are getting a fair deal.
8. Package Your Results
At this point, you may have a desk that is covered in papers, a web browser with 20 tabs open, and a head full of data, but you have your results. However, you can’t just hand your client a range of numbers. They want more than that.
Much like your eighth grade math teacher demanded, you’re going to need to show your work. Putting together a short, succinct report demonstrating how you came up with your numbers is going to increase your client buy-in and up your cred immensely.
The goal of this report is to not just share a number, but to help your client understand your process. Avoid real estate jargon that’s going to be foreign to others not in the biz, and make sure you explain your findings visually, using charts or graphs when possible.
Include copies of your data sheets from the properties you’re using as comps so your client can see which homes are a part of your analysis.
Comparative Market Analysis FAQs
By now, you’re an expert in all things CMA, but even experts still have questions. We’ve compiled some of our most frequently asked questions with helpful answers to point you in the right direction.
What’s the difference between a comparative market analysis & an appraisal?
There are subtle but important differences between a CMA and an appraisal. An appraisal is performed by a licensed appraiser, usually to understand current value for the purposes of lending or insurance. A comparative market analysis is performed by a real estate agent for purposes of determining list or sale price based comparable sales and market trends.
The range of my three numbers is too wide; what do I do?
When your CMA range comes back too wide to be helpful, it is usually an indicator of one of two things: your comps aren’t similar enough to your subject property, or you’re inaccurately estimating the growth (or contraction) of the market since your subject property’s last sale.
Go back and check both angles again. See if there are better comparables out there or if your estimation of the overall market movement could be improved.
What’s the most important property trait I should consider in my comparative market analysis?
Location plays the most important role in determining the value of a property. A property’s location determines how far it is from schools, hospitals, and the beach, what taxes you’ll pay, and what sort of neighbors you’ll have. When seeking comparable properties to use in a CMA, finding ones with equivalent locations is a must.
How many comparables should I use in my comparative market analysis?
The more comps, the better. Actually, I should temper that to say, the more comps, the better—as long as they’re ACCURATE.
There is often a temptation to use a TON of comps when doing a CMA, but in doing so, it’s easy to include a property that isn’t quite similar enough to your subject property. Remember, finding apples to compare to your apple is key to this process, so don’t start throwing oranges in there just to impress your client with a full bag.
A good amount of comps is between three and five for sold property and the same for currently listed property.
Where should I get my comps data for my comparable market analysis?
Whenever possible, you should get your data from your local MLS. Even though Zillow is a great place for consumers to get data on property (and a great place for you to pick up leads), your MLS is going to have much more detail on each listing.
Also, third-party sites often won’t give you a history on properties that include things like price changes and total days on market; you want to consider both items when finding comps for your comparative market analysis.
My results are different from my colleagues; what gives?
Remember, even though a comparative market analysis uses objective information like square feet, acreage, bedroom count, and the like, they’re ultimately a tool that relies on subjective feedback from you, the real estate professional.
For example, when you’re considering a comp that’s similar to your subject property in every way except that the comp has an extra bathroom, what value do you assign that bathroom in your adjustment? Your colleague may adjust it differently than you, or perhaps, not even choose that comp in the first place.
If your conclusions are different from other real estate agents, don’t fret. The market will demonstrate who was closer to the actual value. Trust in your process, and if the market gives you constructive feedback about your final numbers, find where you need to make an adjustment in your CMA process and make your next CMA even better.
Answering the question of “how to do a comparative market analysis” isn’t easy, but it is answerable. You’ve now got a thorough understanding of how you can better estimate the value of a property in your market. Take this information and make your sellers’ list prices more accurate, and your buyers’ offers more competitive.
Got more questions? Join our Facebook Group, The Close Real Estate Agents Mastermind Group, and continue the conversation.