News 4 Investigates: Daily Briefing

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News 4 Investigates: Finding Out Home Values

by Bryce Moore

KMOV.com

Posted on November 19, 2008 at 9:17 PM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 4 at 3:05 PM

By DIANA ZOGA
News 4 Investigates

When my parents crossed the Atlantic and came to America more than 30 years ago, they moved into a tiny studio apartment and dreamed of owning their own home.

It took 15 years of hard work (dad is a car mechanic and mom works in retail), but they finally earned their piece of the American dream. Like money in the bank, they constantly checked the balance.

If a house nearby went up for sale, mom walked over to the information tubes to look at the asking price. Now when she gets bored, mom goes online and searches property records to find out what her neighbors paid for their houses.

I suspected my parents were nosy; turns out they were smart. The skills learned on a curious whim prove more and more useful in today's market.

These days it's virtually impossible to avoid hearing about the housing crisis, meltdown, Armageddon (maybe I never heard the last one, but you get the idea).

We live in serious times and you might find yourself worrying ... even if you are making timely mortgage payments in a home you plan to live in years from now.

When you watch the news networks, most of the information you are seeing and hearing is based on national statistics -- either sales numbers from the National Association of Realtors or various indexes (OFHEO and Case-Shiller are a couple). The news is an overall snapshot and good information to have, but it doesn't always apply to your situation.

When it comes to the St. Louis area, the market is very diverse. You simply can't paint the picture with one broad stroke.

You want to know is what is happening in your neighborhood, on your street, and (of course) in your own house.

The story mentions that you can hire an independent appraiser for a couple hundred bucks to assess what he or she believes the market value of your home would be.

A real estate agent may also do a comparative market valuation, however if you're just curious, try some of these steps:

Check to see if your county keeps their property records online. These are links to a couple of sites.

St. Louis County Real Estate Information

St. Charles County Property Data Search

When you get to the site, look for property data, which will usually lead you to the sales information. There, you can hunt and peck for recent sales prices.

There are some Web sites out there that do some of this work for you. Two I found are www.zillow.com and www.blockshopper.com.

On zillow.com, you can type in your address and get their estimate. Look at the map, there you will find a link that allows you to search for comparable homes.

On blockshopper.com, look at the tabs along the top of the screen. I've found it's really easy to search by either city or ZIP code. Click on your city or ZIP and look to the left side of your computer screen. There is a scroll menu that will let you search sales prices by neighborhood or street.

On these sites, be sure and take any estimates you see online with a grain of salt. Remember to think of this as one piece of information. The more info you have, the better. Just ask my parents.

Other helpful resources:

St. Louis Association of Realtors

Greater Gateway Association of Realtors

Realtor Association of Southwestern Illinois

Some of these sites will update statistics and offer press releases that you can read to stay updated.

As always, if you have any questions shoot me an e-mail at dzoga@kmov.com.

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