As a real estate investor, one of the foundational skills is the ability to properly value the property you’re looking to buy! How do I find comps for my home?
It might sound obvious, but there’s a lot of confusion about this. Many investors spend only a few minutes property researching the market and severely overvalue what their property is worth—but rarely is the issue that they undervalue the property.
Back in the day, you likely needed MLS access in order to do proper research, but today things are easier than ever. As long as you can get online, you can do all the research that you need. I’ll point you in the direction of some of the best tools out there.
So how do you find comps for your home? Glad you asked! I’ve put together this post today to help give you the in-depth response you need in order to do this properly moving forward!
What is a comp?
Comp is short for “comparable property.”
Fix & flippers look for houses that are being sold at a discount by a motivated seller. It’s a good idea to try to figure out what the motivation is behind that seller moving the house so that you don’t run into the same problem.
For example, if they’re selling because of a nearby sewage plant, then whoever you try to flip the house to will likely have an issue paying full price for it.
However, if their motivation is that the house has fallen into disrepair and they need to move into a nursing home ASAP, that’s a legitimate reason. So, next is the fix & flippers have to be able to calculate how much of a discount they’re getting because the house is in disrepair. (In all likelihood, if it wasn’t in disrepair, they would have just listed on the MLS—most deals you find likely won’t be on the MLS)
So you’ll be finding properties that are close by and similar in:
- Condition/quality to yours after rehab
- Square footage
- Garage size
- Year built (ideally)
Why Do You Need Comps?
When it comes to getting funding for a fix & flip, most lenders aren’t going to care about your soft qualification—that is, the typical qualifications you’d see a bank requiring on a 30-year mortgage such as credit history and LTV.
As an investor, you’ll likely be looking for funding from a hard money lender. They care more about the profitability of the deal. If there’s a potential for $50k in profit, then it’s a deal that’s likely to get funded. Some hard money lenders will check your credit score and experience, but not all (we don’t, except when determining your interest rate, for example).
So, pulling comps is absolutely essential because your hard money lender literally won’t lend on your deal unless the comps you find are accurate and make sense. HMLs will verify your comps, often sending out 3rd party people to verify the property’s condition and location. At Do Hard Money, we do a virtual walkthrough where we study the comps, the neighborhood, and the house itself thoroughly.
In that situation, worst case scenario you’ve wasted a lot of time pursuing a house that doesn’t qualify for lending and you might lose your earnest money. If you’re working with a private lender that isn’t going to verify your comps (like if you have an uncle who’s funding your deal mostly sight-unseen), then a poor job of pulling comps can cost you a fortune.
Common Issues With Valuing Properties
The number one problem (as you can guess) is that the majority of borrowers—especially new ones—overvalue their property.
You can understand why. Either they fall in love with the property they are looking to flip and overlook the flaws, or they fall in love with the highest possible comp and think that they can get that price.
There are many reasons why they might not be able to get that highest comparable upon resale:
- The market has dropped since then.
- Two people really wanted the property and artificially drove up the price by bidding against each other.
- A family member bought the property at top dollar as a favor.
- The property has extra features, like a pool, more bedrooms, a better layout, etc.
- That house is bigger.
- That house is in a nicer neighborhood.
- It’s a more desirable lot (bigger, next to a park).
The interesting part to me is that fix & flippers should never be excited about going after the most expensive comp! It makes no sense because it’s an invitation to be disappointed and potentially lose lots of money.
Sure, if it’s the difference between making $40k and $50k, there isn’t any harm done. However, I’ve seen deals where the fix & flipper estimated $40k in profit and we estimated negative profit!
My biggest piece of advice is to always undervalue, if possible. If it keeps you out of a deal that has a 60% chance of being profitable, then so be it. And just because you take the deal elsewhere and made money from it doesn’t mean you were right and everyone else was wrong—it means you gambled and got lucky. It will bite you eventually.
How Do I Find Comps for My Home?
My general rule of thumb is to look for properties within ½ mile. If I can’t find good anything good in that radius, I’ll go out to ¾ mile, and then up to a mile if I have to. Do not go more than this—compromising on this step is easy to do, so…don’t!
Consider Natural and Physical Barriers
There are plenty of things in almost every neighborhood that can slightly or drastically change the value of a property! Here are a few things that you must be aware of when picking comps for your investment property:
- Railroad tracks – Pretty obvious one, after all, who wants to live near one of these? If your investment property is near the railroad tracks and your comp isn’t, you’re likely going to overvalue your property
- Busy Roads – I don’t touch properties with busy roads in front of them. If there’s one behind the property, that’s fine as long as there’s a solid wall that keeps out the noise and keeps kids in.
- Rivers/streams/bodies of water – You’ll notice this phenomenon with investing…for some reason with things like a stream or a road or other barriers, prices are just different on the other side. There isn’t always an obvious reason, but it could just be the age of the neighborhood or the quality the builders used.
- Different Neighborhoods – In my neck of the woods, there’s a famous street (at least to real estate investors) called 7th East. For whatever reason, the exact same houses sell with a $20k difference just because they’re on opposite sides.
One tool I’d suggest would be my Investor’s Edge Tool. It has a heat map of prices from a bird’s-eye view. This makes it super quick to tell if there are places near your investment house that are priced differently than yours, and then you can go figure out why that is.
Consider Nearby Factors That Affect Value
So in the last point, I talked about barriers, but what about your proximity to other factors, like buildings, sounds, and smells?
- Sewage plant – Yeah…don’t need to explain this one. I’ve seen it before.
- Next to commercial – Take a page out of my book and don’t buy a property next to a Burger King. Impossible to sell, and your comps that aren’t next door won’t be a good reflection on your resale value.
- Parks/fields – If the background opens up into a beautiful field or there’s an incredible park just down the corner, families will often pay a premium for that. In planned communities, I’ve seen premium lots next to parks go for $20k more.
- Boarded-up Houses – If your property has a boarded-up house down the street, there’s no way it’s going to sell for as much as a comp a few blocks over that’s full of occupied homes. For me, it’s a no-go if there’s a boarded-up house on the same street, although I’m okay if there’s one within a five-block radius.
- Graffiti/Vandalism – See above
- Vacant Houses – If there are houses with overgrown landscaping, trash piling up in the yard, overstuffed mailbox, etc., that’s a bad sign for your resell. No one wants to walk past those types of properties, so they’re not going to want to live near them. It makes it seem like people are moving away from an undesirable neighborhood if houses are empty and unkempt. Again, hard to comp your house if your investment property—or your comps—are near properties like this (although looking for all of these factors for every comp is probably a little overboard, definitely keep an eye out for these factors near your property)
Find Similar Properties
Okay, now we’re actually onto picking the comps! In a perfect world, all your comps would be the exact same size, layout, quality, etc… but we know that isn’t the case.
Here are some different factors and what to look for:
My rule of thumb is to stay within 20% on square footage. If your property is 2,000 square feet, look for houses that are 1,600-2,400 square feet, staying as close to that 2,000 number as possible!
In our area, houses that are in the $420k+ range pretty much have to have a 3-car garage or half the buyers will never even visit the property! Garage size is extremely important to people and actually has more of an effect on price than you might think at first.
If your house will have a carport, find comps with a carport. If there’s only street parking, find comps with street parking, etc.
Seems pretty clear, but you want this to be incredibly close to what the fixed-up version of your property is going to have! If yours has 2 beds and a comp has 3 beds, that drastically changes the price.
If you’re up in the 4-5 bedroom range on your investment property, being off by one will make less of a difference, but still a difference.
Baths are less important than bedrooms, but still, try to keep those as close as possible.
I know plenty of people that won’t look at a house unless it has an open floor plan. I know others that only want a single story with a basement because they don’t want more stairs. If your comp is a long, single-story house, it’s not going to price out the same as a tall house. It also pays to know what the predominant layout is for the neighborhood you’re investing in. Often neighborhoods are built around the same time, and possibly by the same builder. Factor in accordance with the rest of the neighborhood to avoid having your house be less desirable.
Quality of Materials
Typically, you’re going to want to build your house to the level of the neighborhood. If no single house around you has quartz countertops, it doesn’t make sense for you to put those in. Buyers don’t want to pay the most for houses on their street, so extra features like that typically don’t fetch much of a premium.
When picking your comps, make sure you’re finding ones that have the same quality as the rest of the neighborhood and therefore what your house is going to be! A house that has the same beds/baths/garage/square footage won’t be a great comp if the quality of materials is substandard compared to everything else.
One funnel example of this: Chip and Joanna Gaines, from the show Fixer Upper, are famous for doing ridiculously custom and high-end renovations for people. While they live there, these houses are incredibly fun to live in but when they try to sell, the owners have trouble selling them for a premium because they’ve overbuilt the neighborhood!
Pick 6 Comps
In a perfect world, you’re going to look for 6 properties to compare to yours:
3 Recently Sold Properties
The best comps to use when valuing your property are the recently sold properties because someone can list their house for $1 million if they want…even if the going rate is $250,000. If it’s been sold, then you know people are willing to pay that in your area.
Once you’ve found 3 comps, you’re going to do something that a lot of people have a hard time with:
You’re going to take the lowest of the 3 comps to use as your value estimate on your ARV (after repair value). I know, this isn’t popular among my borrowers. They want to take the highest, or at the very least, the average.
But I’m telling you, after thousands of deals and 20+ years’ experience, that taking the lowest will consistently put you in the right place to succeed.
So if you’re only going to use the value of the lowest one, why grab three? Well, first you have to know that it’s a conservative price. If you only find one, you don’t know if it’s crazy underpriced or it’s actually a very expensive comp.
Also, you want to establish a general baseline for the area. For example, if you find 3 similar houses where one sold for $220k, another for $215k, and the third sold for $120k…well in that case I’m not going to tell you to go with $120k. Clearly, something happened there. The other two likely are more similar to what’s happening in the market. If you only take 1-2 comps, you might not know this is to be the outlier it is.
I always try to grab three comps from the last 6 months and failing that, I’ll go back to a year. You can find recently sold on Zillow, but I’d also recommend giving our Investor’s Edge tool a try.
3 Properties Currently for Sale (“On-Market”)
Now, I do want you to go with the recently sold comps in every case that you can but of course, there are exceptions! That would be if you can’t find enough recently sold comps that match your house close enough.
I’d be wary in situations where you can’t quite find enough comps—perhaps there’s just not enough movement there to be successful in real estate investing there. But if everything else looks great, and maybe you found 2 awesome recently-sold comps that you can feel alright using an on-market comp.
This also can give you an idea of where the market is headed! If the recently sold comps are around $215k, and reports are that the market is heading up, and you find three comps that are all around $240k, perhaps you can expect that as your ARV.
Like I said above, be very careful when doing this. I certainly wouldn’t use that $240k number as my rock-solid evaluation, but you can let yourself hope a little that you might get it.
I always tell people to take the lowest of all six of those comps you find! It’s always great to be pleasantly surprised by a higher profit number at the end, but it can be financially devastating to be surprised at a negative profit number because you were too optimistic with your comps.
troubleshooting: what should I do if I can’t find any comps?
So what happens if you’re looking for comps, but you can’t find six that closely enough represent your home after it’s been repaired?
I don’t like doing it, but if you have to, you can make adjustments. There are two main ways you can do this.
Price Per Square Foot
Pull up your comps and see what the typical price per square foot on these houses is. Once you have a general idea of the going rate in the area, you can adjust your investment property to match.
For example, if the price per square foot is $150, and your comp is 500 square feet larger, you can make a very rough estimate of adjusting upwards of $75k.
There are a few problems with this, of course. What rooms do that 500 square feet make up? Is it just a larger living room and larger baths or are there two more bedrooms? That makes a huge difference when calculating these things.
Adjust Based on Like-for-Like Increases
Consider this: How much more does a house with a 3-car garage sell for than a 2-car garage? Can you find a few houses that match nearly perfectly, with the only difference being the garage? What’s the price difference?
You can take that same logic and try to figure out the rough value of a bedroom, a bath, a different layout, or lot size differences in that neighborhood. This takes a LOT of research and is clearly still a guess, but it’s probably more accurate than simply adjusting for square footage.
And just a note—I would never use my adjusted-price comps as my actual evaluation. This would be simply to try to validate other figures that I’ve pulled from actual legitimate comps. So maybe a rough number is actually all you need here!
Other Factors to Consider
I’ve covered the main factors to consider when looking at comps and trying to create a rock-solid evaluation for the after repair value of your investment property! However, if you’re still unsure, or you like to dig deep, here are a few more factors you can look at when finding comps:
- Backyard view – does your property and the comps have roughly the same “quality” of view behind the house? If yours backs up to a dump and the other one backs up to a beautiful valley filled with trees and lakes, well prices will reflect that.
- Distance to the neighbors – If one house is on a corner with only a single neighbor, vs a house surrounded on all sides, that will affect value.
- How easily see neighbors in the backyard – If you’re out doing a barbecue and your neighbor can watch your family back there, people are less likely to pay a premium for your house.
- Backyard slope – downhill slopes are actually more valuable.
- Pending sales nearby – If a pending sale looks like it’s going to go for a lower amount, that could certainly affect the resale value of your home.
- Market depreciating – Are prices and sales trending downward? That’s a big red flag.
There’s one thing I need to reiterate because it’s perhaps the most important thing I’ve said in this whole post:
Don’t get emotional.
Don’t get attached to one single property, thinking that it’s going to be your ticket to quit your job or pay off debt or buy a nice car. That’s a trap that almost all investors fall into at one time or another. I’ve done it. But when you get emotional, feeling like you need this deal to happen, then you’ll start conjuring up numbers or values that aren’t real. They’re not based on fact, they’re based on guesses and gambles that leave you in a much worse situation.