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Other People’s Property: All About Comps

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Curbed University delivers insider tips and non-boring advice on how to buy, sell, or rent a home or apartment. Additional questions welcomed to philly@curbed.com.

Whether you’re buying or selling, agents will talk “comps.” A comp means comparative market analysis—a list of similar properties close to your house and their prices. There is no single tool more valuable than proper comps to make sure you are making an appropriate offer on a property. It’s how you find the sweet spot—a fair price that makes the buyer happy, the seller happy, and ensures the process moves quickly.

During preliminary research, most people turn to websites like Zillow.com and Trulia.com to get a rough—sometimes very rough—idea of the cost of OPP (other people’s property). They also use Realtor.com, which insiders say is more accurate than the former two sites.

But you should know your DIY results won’t always be precise. “If you really want comps, you have to go to somebody in the business,” says Paul Rhodes of Coldwell Banker Preferred’s Old City office.

“What [consumer websites] will do is generate a 3-mile radius, throw that in and that’s what you get. But they don’t consider all the other factors, like how values can change in one block. The 200 block, for example, is completely different than the 300 block ? you need someone that does it every day, that can tailor it specific to a home.”

In Philly, as in other cities, values of houses really do change block by block, especially in rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods (read: South Philadelphia, the area around Temple, Fishtown, Port Richmond and University City) and areas linked to highly desirable public schools, known as “catchments.” Catchment comps can present complications.

The most well-known example of the latter circumstance is in West Philadelphia. For houses that fall within the catchment for the Penn-Alexander school, located at 42nd and Spruce, you’ll pay about $100,000 more for a house within the catchment than for a similarly sized house in the same condition just a block over, outside the catchment. Getting a house in that area has become a competitive sport. If you’re moving to Philadelphia from out of town, you’re not going to know these things, and neither will generically programmed websites.

Local agents, however, do know these things. They also have access to the all-important multiple listing service (MLS), a comprehensive list of properties for sale.

“If there’s a house for sale and it’s not a FSBO (for sale by owner), it’s required to be on the MLS,” says Jennifer Nehila of Keller Williams Center City.

In other words, MLS is a proprietary service, and you can’t get onto it as a consumer.

But! You can glimpse a limited peek at the MLS through the individual websites of brokers and agents. Check out PhillyHomeGirls.com or PhillyLiving.com, for examples of agent-run websites that showcase properties. Through them, you can see some of the MLS information, but only the agent can see details such as the pricing history. The idea is that you call the agent to inquire about visiting the property.

There’s also a matter of time. When it comes to real estate and horse racing, time is money.

“Sites like Zillow and Trulia usually take at least a day or two to update, so a lot of times you can miss the ball if you’re not working with an agent tapped into what’s going on before things come on the market,” says agent Drew Egmont.

“All those sites are great consumer tools when you want to test the market, but they’re also a huge potential for a waste of time if time is premium for you,” says Nehila. “A lot of those properties are going to be expired and not the hottest ones on the market.”
· Lovely Home in the Catchment Comes With a Major Catch [Curbed Philly]