The Comparative Market Analysis is key to answering this question.
When you are interviewing REALTORS® to market your home, you’ll be introduced right away to a priceless document—the comparative market analysis(CMA.) This is one of the areas in which the real estate industry really earns its keep—by showing you in black and white what your competition is. But like a sword, it is a tool that can cut both ways. You and your agent will use the CMA, among other tools, to determine where your home will stand in comparison to others which are on the market, and those which have recently sold to determine the highest possible asking price. Your buyer will use it to find ways to reduce his or her offer.
CMA’s are about facts which can be qualified and quantified. The CMA is typically designed to give quick capsules of information such as number of bedrooms and baths, approximate square footage, size of major rooms, amenities such as fireplaces and pools, age of the home, property taxes, listing agent contact information and more. CMA’s can include homes that are currently for sale and those which have recently sold. They can go back in time as long ago as a year or a month or week. CMA’s can cover areas as narrow as one or two streets surrounding your home, or as broad as an entire subdivision.
What is not included in the CMA are those factors that affect perception, and that is the key difference between why one home with identical features will ultimately command a higher price than its twin. Perception alters reality, and this is a crucial consideration in understanding the buying and selling process and the value of the CMA. Much of a home’s value will ultimately be determined by the emotional impact it has on buyers. These emotions are based on subjective elements such as drive-up appeal, interior decor, colors, views from the windows, light, darkness, room flow, and hundreds of other factors.
At the end of each home’s information on the CMA report there will be a brief statement provided by the listing agent. This statement is usually a combination of fact and subjective opinion, and will generally cover selling restrictions or selling points. It could be anything from “seller’s agent must be present at all showings” to “kitchen and master bath completely remodeled in 1997” to “Charming! Must see!” (Keep in mind that Realtors are salespeople, self-employed and have individual styles of marketing and that some will be better at writing CMA reports than others.)
For privacy reasons the CMA that is offered for public viewing does not list every piece of information that has been obtained by the seller’s agent. It will give the what, when, where, but it won’t give the who (the seller’s identity) and the why (why the home is being put up for sale.) The reasons are two-fold, to protect the seller’s privacy and to keep from inadvertently giving the buyer an advantage in a distress situation.
The CMA is clearly a selling tool, but like any tool, it doesn’t work very well by itself. It takes a skilled person to be able to use it. For this reason, the CMA will always need to be interpreted by a professional or with complete objectivity by the seller or buyer. Remember that the CMA is also a buying tool; it is taken just as seriously by the buyer and his or her agent. As you and your agent are going to use the CMA to ask the highest possible price for your home, the buyer is going to use it to find reasons to either choose or eliminate your home, and to arrive at the lowest price possible.