Comparative Market Analysis (CMA): Your Key to Picking the Right Price

Written by Daniel BortzSeptember 14th, 202210 minute read

Jump to section 👉 How does a CMA work? | How accurate is a CMA? | CMA example | How to get a CMA for free | How to do your own CMA | Quick summary | FAQ | Why trust us

What is a comparative market analysis?

A comparative market analysis (CMA) will help you determine the right list price for your home by comparing it to similar homes in your area that have recently sold. Your listing agent can perform a CMA on comparable properties for you or you can do it yourself, although we don’t recommend it. Getting a comparable market analysis from a good real estate agent will give you a much better chance of choosing a fair market value for your home. Overestimating or underestimating your home’s value could be a serious misstep that will cost you thousands.

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Why do you need a CMA in today’s market?

In a rapidly fluctuating market, it’s more important than ever to get a comparative market analysis from your real estate agent before listing your current home or making an offer on a new home.

The U.S. median home price hit a record-high $391,200 in April 2022, up 14.8% from April 2021.[1] Furthermore, homes are selling at warp speed. Properties typically stayed on the market for just 17 days in April. And cash buyers are snatching up around a quarter of all homes being purchased. Yet the scales may be shifting.

Home buying competition appears to be cooling, as rising mortgage rates make homes less affordable. Nearly one in five (19.1%) sellers dropped their home’s list price during the four-week period ending May 22—the highest level since October 2019.[2] Picking the right price could make all the difference in how long it takes your home to sell and how much it sells for.

What is the purpose of a comparative market analysis?

The purpose of a CMA is to determine how much a home is worth in today’s market. Many agents present a CMA when they audition for a listing to demonstrate to sellers that they know the local market inside and out.

Buyer’s agents also perform CMAs to help house hunters figure out whether a home’s asking price is fair and how much to offer. Moreover, investors use CMAs when evaluating property values to avoid making a poor investment.

Because the housing market can shift quickly, CMAs are extremely time sensitive. What your house was worth six months ago could be dramatically different from what it’s worth today. Get a CMA shortly before you plan on listing your home rather than relying on one you may have gotten in the past.

How does a comparative market analysis work?

A comparative market analysis works by real estate agents judging the value of your home by evaluating similar homes (comps) that have recently sold in the area. Agents look at several factors when pulling comps, including the following property features:

  • Age: The age of the comparable home should be within a few years of your home.
  • Location: Agents usually look for homes that are within a one- to two-mile radius of your home: the closer, the better.
  • Number of bedrooms and bathrooms: Homes with four bedrooms tend to be worth a lot more than two-bedroom homes.
  • Square footage: The living space of your home is not always directly correlated with the number of bedrooms.
  • Type of home: Whether you live in a single-family home, a townhouse, or a condo, your comps need to be the same type.
  • Acreage: Lot size can significantly impact a property’s value.
  • Upgrades: “A property with a brand new roof, new systems, or updated kitchens and baths is going to have a different value than an identical non-updated house,” says Amelia Robinette, a principal broker at NoVa House and Home in Falls Church, VA. “Data looking only at closed properties doesn't give a full picture of what's happening right now.”
  • Amenities: This could include swimming pools, gyms, club houses, and other unique amenities.

In an ideal world, an agent can find comps that are located nearby and identically match your home in terms of the factors listed above. What’s more likely to happen, though, is an agent finds homes that have similar but slightly different features to yours, and the agent then makes adjustments to your property’s value accordingly.

Let’s say your home has four bedrooms, three bathrooms, and is around 3,000 square feet. Your neighbor’s house, which sold last week for $300,000, is also a four-bedroom, three-bathroom house, but it’s only 2,000 square feet. Most likely, your place is worth more than your neighbor’s. A good real estate agent will know how to factor this into your listing price.

How accurate is a comparative market analysis?

A comparative market analysis is only as accurate as the most recent sales data. It’s a real challenge to value a home accurately if no homes in the area have sold recently. The real estate agent conducting the CMA also matters—some agents are more skilled at them than others. A local realtor will know the best comparables to choose and how to properly adjust home values.

"CMAs, or price opinions, fill in a blind spot for the seller,” says Matt Parker, a Seattle real estate agent at Keller Williams. “With a CMA from a broker, a seller gets a ‘real world estimate,’ or a price opinion based on reality. By reality, we mean the myriad things an algorithm can't generate, for example, privacy, cleanliness, lot layout, and interior design."

🔍 But what about my home’s Zestimate?

A comparative market analysis tends to be more accurate than the home value estimators that you can find online. For example, Zillow Zestimates have historically been so off that they cost Zillow $881 million in losses with Zillow Offers, a non-defunct, algorithm-based home flipping business that went belly-up because Zillow misjudged property values when choosing investments.[3]

Other real estate websites like Realtor.com and Redfin also have free home value estimator tools, but they’re not always accurate. Redfin says its Redfin Estimate calculation has a median error rate of 2.53% for on-market homes. Realtor.com claims to use industry-leading estimates, but it’s impossible to say how accurate it really is since it doesn’t publish its average error rate.

📊 PRO TIP: Even though they're usually inaccurate, free online property estimators can still be a good point of reference if you're just looking for a ballpark range of your home's value. But if you're ready to sell your home, getting a CMA from an expert real estate agent is the way to go.

» Get a free CMA when you match with a local Clever Real Estate agent

Comparative market analysis (CMA) limitations

CMAs are a great pricing tool for sellers and listing agents, but they have some notable flaws. “One issue with CMAs is that they're often created with 'lagging' data,” says Robinette.

This is where a savvy agent comes in handy, Robinette says. “Having an agent that's dialed into the local market, and has great relationships with other agents, allows them to find out information about under contract, pending, and active properties to gather other important data to include” in a CMA.

Many CMAs also miss recently withdrawn and expired listings, Robinette adds. “Those are important so one can understand what pricing and marketing strategies didn't work,” she says.

Comparative market analysis example

Richard Prigal, a Compass real estate agent based in Gaithersburg, MD, provided the following real-world example of a comparative market analysis. (Note: CMA reports may look different in other markets or states, but they all include the same basic information.)

A comparative market analysis pulls data from recent, comparable home sales in your area so you can set a fair market listing price for your home.
* Images and addresses are blurred for privacy

Each row includes information about the comparable sales, including list price, sold price, list date, sold date, bedrooms, bathrooms, square footage, and other attributes. The “adj” column displays the adjustments that were made to each property.

Based on the CMA, Prigal says the subject property has an estimated market value of $1.2 million (highlighted in red).

Although a CMA assesses a home’s value, it’s not an official home appraisal. An appraisal is an opinion of the value of a property. It’s conducted by a home appraiser, which is a certified professional who assesses the market value of homes for a living. While realtors often create a CMA before seeing a home in person, appraisers inspect the interior and exterior of the home before completing their valuation. Appraisers are also trained to provide an unbiased opinion of value, whereas a realtor may not always follow the same standards. For instance, an agent could provide you with an inflated home valuation to win over your business, versus providing a fair market value.

Usually, home buyers are the people ordering appraisals. After a buyer signs a sales contract to purchase your home, the buyer’s mortgage lender will size up the property by ordering a home appraisal during the loan underwriting process. Lenders do this to minimize their risk, since the buyer’s future home will serve as their collateral.

Home appraisals typically cost between $400–$500 or more, depending on the market. Some sellers order a pre-listing appraisal to determine the fair market value of their home, but it’s not necessary—especially if you have a good real estate agent conducting a CMA.

Ordering a pre-listing appraisal makes more sense if your home has no comps, which might be the case if it’s in a rural area or it’s a particularly unique property.

Free real estate comparative market analysis

Most real estate agents provide free comparative market analysis as part of a listing presentation to prospective sellers as a way to win their listing. (Find out more about how real estate agents get paid.) It’s a good idea to meet with at least three real estate agentsbefore choosing who is going to sell your home. Ask each agent to provide a CMA. Compare them side-by-side so you can not only gauge the market value of your home but also make sure an agent isn’t just telling you what you want to hear.

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CMA vs. broker price opinion (BPO)

If you’re planning to sell your home by owner and don’t want to use an agent, we recommend asking a local real estate agent for a broker price opinion (BPO) rather than a CMA.

A BPO is a home valuation report prepared by a realtor. But, unlike a CMA, you pay for it (typically $50 to $100). It's a lot cheaper than an appraisal (appraisals are $400–$500), and it can pay for itself by helping you sell your home faster and for a better price.

A BPO is more valuable than simply getting a home value estimate online from sites like Zillow and Redfin. The agent who performs your BPO can take into account the individual qualities that make your home more valuable, like upgrades or renovations.

How to do your own comparative market analysis

You can do your own CMA by researching comparable home sales on websites like Zillow or Realtor.com. Naturally, you may be biased. (We can’t blame you for thinking your home is the best house on the block!) But try to take a step back and evaluate your home the way a prospective buyer would. Take emotions out of the equation and find good comps by using the factors we outlined in how a comparative market analysis works.

Calculate the average price of the comps that you pull and use that figure as a point of reference for your home’s value. Just remember that it’s no substitute for a CMA from an agent who sells homes in your area, day in and day out.

Quick summary: Comparative market analysis

  • CMAs rely on “comps,” which are recently sold homes that are similar (or comparable) to yours.
  • Most real estate agents provide free CMAs as part of their listing presentation to sellers.
  • Although a CMA assesses a home’s value, it’s not an official home appraisal.
  • You can perform your own CMA by researching comparable home sales on real estate websites (such as Zillow or Realtor.com) but we don’t recommend it.

🏡 NOTE: Selecting a real estate agent who knows the ins and outs of your market is a must. “A knowledgeable, experienced agent who understands the macro-level data and the micro-level nuances is one of the most valuable tools a seller can have at their disposal.” —Amelia Robinette, principal broker at NoVa House.

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FAQ about comparative market analysis in real estate

A CMA in real estate is a tool real estate agents use to estimate a home’s value based on comparable homes in the area that were recently sold. Many agents present a CMA when they audition for a listing to demonstrate to sellers that they know the local market inside and out.

An accurate comp (comparable) is a property that’s similar to your home with respect to its age, location, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, square footage, acreage, upgrades, and amenities. Real estate agents use comps to create a comparative market analysis (CMA) so you can decide how much to list your home for.

A typical CMA includes anywhere from three to six comparable homes. The report includes a photo of each home, plus a list of key data, such as a property’s original list price, days on market, final sale price (if the property has been sold), its number of bedrooms and bathrooms, square footage, year built, and acreage. CMAs also include any adjustments made to the value of each property. For example, if the subject home has one more bedroom than a comp, and each bedroom is equal to $2,500 in value in the local market, the comparable home is $2,500 less in value.

Why trust us

Daniel Bortz is a real estate agent in Northern Virginia, where he’s been selling homes for almost a decade. As an agent, he’s written more than his fair share of CMAs. He’s also covered the housing market as a reporter for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Money Magazine, Consumer Reports, Realtor.com, and other publications.

To research CMAs for this piece, Bortz spoke to four real estate agents from around the country: Matt Parker, a real estate agent at Keller Williams in Seattle, WA; Chris Dossman, a real estate broker at Century 21 Scheetz in Indianapolis, IN; Amelia Robinette, a principal broker at NoVa House and Home in Falls Church, VA.; and Richard Prigal, a Compass real estate agent based in Gaithersburg, MD.

ARTICLE SOURCES
[1]

NAR. "Existing Home Sales Retract in April." Accessed 06/22/2022. Updated 06/22/2022.

[2]

Redfin. "Housing Market Price Update." Accessed 06/22/2022. Updated 06/03/2022.

[3]

Wall Street Journal. "Zillow Home Flipping Business Lost Millions." Accessed 06/22/2022. Updated 02/10/2022.