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If you've decided to sell your home without the help of a real estate agent, you're not alone. Every day, thousands of homeowners are opting to sell their homes using the popular "For Sale by Owner" programs that are now available. By handling the sale process themselves, homeowners are cutting out the hefty commissions charged by real estate brokers and are now taking complete control of the entire home-sale process. Of course, the decision to forego the services of an experienced professional does mean that the homeowner is now responsible for doing his or her homework when it comes to certain aspects of the sale process. The good news is, many homeowners are doing just that and are meeting this challenge head on.

The first questions most people need to ask themselves when deciding to sell their home is how much have homes in the area been selling for, what's the area real estate market like, and what price should they ask for their property. While listing your home for what you think it is worth may seem like the easiest way to figure out your asking price, it can actually end up costing you a lot of unnecessary time, headaches and money in the long run. If you price your home too high, chances are your phone won't be ringing and your home won't be to selling anytime soon. If you list it too low, you could be throwing away your hard-earned equity and unwittingly giving someone else the deal of a lifetime. So what's the solution?

While some sellers opt to spend hundreds of dollars on professional real estate appraisals in order to determine the value of their homes, that may not always be the best money spent. An appraisal is an "opinion of value". If you were to pay for two appraisals you mostly likely would get two different "opinions of value". Granted most appraisers are very qualified in helping to determine market value. The question is at what cost? Nationally the average appraisal cost is over $300. Fortunately, many home sellers have been wise enough to use the services of the companies that are now providing home owners with AVM reports. AVM stands for automated valuation model. The systems that create these reports pull information from a number of sources, such as the MLS databases and public records, and then they combine this information to estimate what a particular home is likely to sell for. In addition to providing you with an estimate of your home's value, the report can also fill you in on what other homes in the area have sold for, giving a seller increased market insight and better leverage when it comes to negotiating power.

The companies that supply these reports, such as ElectronicAppraiser.com, are helping home sellers to figure out the approximate value of their homes prior to putting them up for sale on the market, and they're doing it at a price that can't be beat. While traditional appraisals usually cost upwards of $300 and take at least a week to get, you can order an AVM for less than $30 and have the results instantaneously. AVM's also utilize the same tax roll reporting data of a traditional appraiser. Considering the value of the information being conveyed, it's no wonder that many home sellers are more than willing to front such a small fee in order to gain access to the information contained within these reports. In fact, AVM reports aren't just gaining notoriety with an increasing number of home sellers, but lenders are also getting in on the action. In certain circumstances, many lenders are now using AVM reports in lieu of traditional appraisals to save both themselves and their customer's money.

When you do order your home valuation report, it is important to keep a few things in mind. The report isn't taking the condition of your home into consideration when it estimates your home's value. Because of this, if your home is in need of excessive repairs, you'll want to deduct an appropriate amount when deciding the exact price to ask for your home. A home valuation report might not be an exact science. In situations where properties are either over or under improved for the neighborhood, however they are a great starting point when determining your asking price.

Since the sale of your home is probably one of the largest transactions you'll ever be involved in, making sure that you approach the task in an informed, educated manner is essential. A home evaluation report isn't just an estimate of your home's fair-market value; it's a critical and first step of the home-selling process.

By Jeff Herman, Affiliate Manager of Electronic Appraiser