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Real Estate Comps: What Are They And How Do You Find Them?

8-Minute Read
Published on December 9, 2021

When you start moving from the dream of buying your first home to the reality of entering the real estate marketplace, you might feel overwhelmed at first by the amount of lingo and verbal shorthand thrown around by real estate professionals. After all, they talk about this stuff among themselves all the time, while you’re only visiting their world temporarily.

One phrase you’ll hear over and over is real estate comps, or simply comps. Let’s go over what they are, why they’re important and how to find them. 

What Are Comps In Real Estate?

Real estate comps are recently sold homes that are similar to the property you’re trying to buy or sell in terms of location, size, condition and features. Comps – an abbreviation of “comparable sales” – are used to determine a home’s fair market value through the sales comparison approach to pricing property.

Individual comps are assembled into a comparable market analysis and presented by a real estate agent to their client. This is done by both the listing agent working with a seller to set an asking price and the buyer’s agent helping a home buyer determine the amount they should offer.

The sales comparison approach forms the basis for a real estate agent comparative market analysis (CMA), which estimates the value of a property. The sales comparison approach uses the principle of substitution to determine what a specific home is worth. According to this principle, you can figure out the value of a home by finding out how much it would cost to purchase a similar, equally desirable property.

The more equivalent the comps are to the property, the more accurate the pricing of the property will be. While the location, square footage and condition of the properties should be nearly identical, there are other, more intangible elements of homes that must be taken into consideration. That’s where choosing the right agent makes all the difference.

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How Are Comps Used To Set Asking Or Offer Amount?

The housing market at the local level is an exercise of supply and demand. That means your house might command a higher asking price in a seller’s market and a lower price in a buyer’s market, regardless of any significant changes in its condition.

Your agent will be able to tell you very specifically how a home compares to the homes that they’ve chosen for comps. For example, they’ll know exactly what buyers like and how your home’s condition compares. They might recommend that you remove clutter, give the house a fresh coat of paint, or do some simple landscaping, or advise you not to bother.

These elements include the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, age and quality of construction and design, lot size and special features like garages, swimming pools and fireplaces. To truly be considered similar, the comps should also have sold in the last 3 – 6 months under market conditions that are as close to the current state of the market as possible.

By analyzing real estate comps, you can determine how they differ from the subject property and then calculate how these differences have affected their sales price. Doing so allows you to adjust the sales prices of the comps to figure out how much more or less the subject property should cost. But in order to ascertain a reliable estimate of the subject property’s value, you must analyze at least three or four different comps.

Who Uses Real Estate Comps?

Real estate comps are used by all parties involved in real estate transactions. Let’s take a quick look at how home buyers, sellers, appraisers and real estate agents benefit from the information comps provide.

Home Buyers

Comps demonstrate how much buyers have been willing to pay for similar, recently sold properties, making them a very useful resource for current home buyers. After finding a home they’re interested in, buyers will look up comps in their desired area to help them get a sense of how much they should offer.

By seeing what other buyers have paid in the last few months, buyers can ensure they don’t offer to pay more than the home is worth and avoid making a lowball offer that’s likely to be rejected by the seller. Furthermore, buyers can use the knowledge they’ve gained from the comps to negotiate for a lower price or seller concessions.

Home Sellers

A clear understanding of comps is crucial for sellers, especially those FSBO sellers who don’t want to work with an agent. When trying to decide the best listing price for their home, sellers often struggle to keep their emotions from clouding their judgment.

Comps are important because they help sellers set a realistic expectation of what their home is worth. Analyzing comparable sales provides sellers with a more objective way of determining the appropriate listing price for their home.

Since comps provide a window into a home’s fair market value, sellers can use them to keep their expectations in check and ensure that their home sells faster. Comps are also useful for sellers when negotiating counteroffers. If buyers make lowball offers, sellers can use comps as evidence for why their home is worth more.

Home Appraisers

You’ll be looking at real estate comps again as you await a home appraisal, if you’re awaiting mortgage approval. When determining the valuation of a property, home appraisers will inspect the property, review public records and source comps from the multiple listing service (MLS).

Because of the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, lenders and appraisers are relying more and more on desktop appraisals. By reviewing the comps, appraisers can determine what buyers have been willing to pay for similar homes in the area recently, which is paramount to assessing a home’s current fair market value.

Real Estate Agents

Real estate agents rely on the MLS to find comps and then use the information about each comparable property to run a comparative market analysis. The CMA is a report that agents provide to buyers and sellers.

The report compares the home to similar properties that have recently sold or are currently on the market and uses the sales comparison approach to pricing to arrive at an estimate of the home’s fair market value.

For buyers, the CMA enables them to make informed decisions about how much money to offer for a specific home. For sellers, this analysis helps them come up with a listing price for their home that’s in line with the sales price of recent transactions.

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Finding Real Estate Comparables

When you’re looking for real estate comps in your area, it’s best to work with a real estate agent. Although this is recommended, it doesn’t mean it’s not possible without one. Here’s how you might find and analyze comps with a real estate agent, as well as alternative ways to find and use comps.

How Do I Find Real Estate Comps In My Area?

The ideal way to find real estate comps in your area is to explore your local multiple listing service. The MLS is a database that real estate agents use to list homes for sale. The database provides extensive information on homes that are currently on the market, as well as those that have already sold. As such, the MLS enables individuals to explore recently sold properties and obtain enough information to determine whether those homes are similar enough to the subject property to be considered a comp.

Unfortunately, the MLS can only be accessed by licensed real estate agents. So, if you want to find the best and most accurate comps for the home you’re interested in buying or selling, you really need to work with a real estate agent.

Can I Find Comps For Free Without An Agent?

Although it’s best to consult a real estate agent, it’s still possible to find comps for free without the help of an agent. There are a number of websites that aggregate information taken from local multiple listing services. These websites, which are accessible to the public, allow you to explore recently sold properties in your area and provide insight into the value of these properties.

However, the information found on these websites is often inaccurate or outdated, so you need to be careful when using them. These websites can be used to gain a glimpse into the overall range of a home’s market value, but they shouldn’t be used to determine a specific price.

A more accurate source for finding comps would be to use public property records. Depending on your county, you may be able to find these records online. If not, you’ll have to visit your county assessor’s office, which maintains records of all recorded local sales transactions. However, the public records won’t show the properties’ original asking price nor any seller concessions negotiated.

Seller concessions are the closing costs or repairs that the seller has agreed to pay. They are particularly important to know when analyzing comps because they can distort value. For example, if a comp is purchased for $450,000, but the seller had agreed to pay $13,500 of closing costs, the sales price of the comp would have to be adjusted based on these concessions.

The value of any seller concessions must be subtracted from the sales price of the comp to determine the true value of the subject property. As a result, the comp would be viewed as having sold for $436,500 instead of the full $450,000. This shows that you can’t truly use a property for comparison without knowing the specific terms of the sale.

Is It Best To Use A Real Estate Agent When Finding House Comps?

While you can find comps for free, keep in mind that searching for comparable properties is only the first step in creating a comparative market analysis to determine the fair market value of a home. Once you’ve found comps for the property, there are still three more steps you need to complete to determine the value of the property you’re interested in.

First, you must analyze the comps to see how they differ from the property and calculate the approximate costs of those differences. Then, you must adjust the sales price of each comp to determine how much each comp would have sold for if it were identical to the subject property and sold under current market conditions.

Finally, you have to review the range of adjusted sales prices, you’ll need to weigh each comp based on how similar it is to the property and apply those weights to determine the market value of the property.

This process is lengthy and requires a lot of research, as well as a full understanding of how specific elements of properties increase or decrease their overall value. Real estate agents not only have access to the most accurate information, but also possess the knowledge and skills necessary to run a comparative market analysis and arrive at an appropriate price for properties.

That’s why it’s highly recommended that you enlist the services of an agent when using real estate comps to estimate the value of a property.

The Bottom Line: Understanding Real Estate Comps Helps Set The Price

Real estate comps are a crucial tool for determining the market value of a property. Working with a knowledgeable real estate agent – with your Verified Approval Letter in hand – is your best asset to finding the right home and getting it at the right price.

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Hanna Kielar

Hanna Kielar is a Section Editor for Rocket Auto, RocketHQ, and Rocket Loans® with a focus on personal finance, automotive, and personal loans. She has a B.A. in Professional Writing from Michigan State University.