What Is a Comparative Market Analysis?

A comparative market analysis (CMA) is an estimate of a home's value based on recently sold, similar properties in the immediate area. Real estate agents and brokers create CMA reports to help sellers set listing prices for their homes and, less commonly, to help buyers make competitive offers. Individuals can perform their own comparative market analysis by researching comparable properties (known as "comps") on real estate listing sites, such as realtor.com.

Key Takeaways

  • A comparative market analysis (CMA) is an estimate of a home's value used to help sellers set listing prices, and to help buyers make competitive offers.
  • The analysis considers the location, age, size, construction, style, condition, and other factors for the subject property and comparables.
  • If you're a buyer or seller interested in a CMA for a specific property, ask a local real estate agent or broker for help, or do your own research by comparing homes online.

Understanding Comparative Market Analysis

A comparative market analysis helps sellers choose the best listing prices for their homes. The "best" price is the one that's not so low it leaves money on the table, and not so high that the home doesn't sell at all. For buyers, a CMA can verify if a home is a good deal and help pinpoint a competitive offer that will be taken seriously—without going overboard.

A CMA compares a subject property to other homes that are similar in location, size, and features. Ideally, a CMA uses recently sold homes from the same subdivision as the subject property. Of course, finding homes that sold within the last three to six months in the immediate area can be difficult if you're in a cool real estate market or a rural setting. In these cases, a formal appraisal might be a better option.

Note that while a comparative market analysis is like an informal appraisal, real estate agents and brokers don't need an appraiser's license to perform a CMA while serving buyers and sellers. Still, some states will hold real estate agents and brokers responsible if they don't perform a CMA in a competent manner. If this happens, the state's real estate licensing commission could take disciplinary action against the agent or broker.

What's in a CMA Report?

When a real estate agent or broker conducts a comparative market analysis, they will create a report that details the findings. While there's no standardized CMA report, it will typically include:

  • The address of the subject property and three to five comparables
  • A description of each property, including elevation, floor plan, and the number of bedrooms and bathrooms
  • The square footage of each property
  • The sales price of each comp
  • Dollar adjustments for any differences
  • The adjusted sold price per square foot of each comp
  • The fair market value of the subject property

Many real estate agents and brokers use software to generate comprehensive (and professional looking) CMA reports. If you plan to create your own, use a spreadsheet to keep track of your research or try an online home-price tool offered by one of the real estate listing websites. Below: a sample report.

Comparative Market Analysis chart

How to Do a Comparative Market Analysis

A CMA involves much more than just comparing the prices of recently sold homes in the area. Here's a rundown of the basic steps for creating an accurate CMA:

1. Evaluate the neighborhood.

To set the right listing price—or ensure a home you're interested in is a good deal—the CMA should take into consideration the general quality of the neighborhood. Where are the more attractive blocks? How close are community amenities? How close are community nuisances? What are the HOA rules? How are the schools? Are there any issues with curb appeal?

2. Gather details about the subject property.

If a real estate agent or broker does the CMA, they will review the existing listing (if there is one) and make an in-person visit to gather information about the subject home. They'll take note of the home's size (particularly the liveable space), age, style, construction, condition, layout, finishes, landscaping, and upgrades and updates

3. Select comps.

Find three to five comparable homes in the area that have sold recently and that are as close to the subject home as possible. Ideally, the comps will be within one mile of the subject property and in the same school district. Focus on homes that are like the subject home in terms of square footage, lot size, bedrooms, bathrooms, and type of construction. Pay close attention to when the comparable property sold: The more recent, the better because real estate prices can fluctuate rapidly. If the home has a unique location—such as overlooking a golf course or the waterfront—the comps should have the same placement.

4. Adjust for differences.

The next step is to adjust for differences between the subject home and each comparable property. An experienced real estate agent or broker will be able to assign a dollar value to each of the differences and adjust the value of each comp accordingly. It may seem counter-intuitive, but if the comp has a feature that's inferior to the subject home, a positive adjustment is made to the value of the comp, and vice versa. The value of the target home is never adjusted.

5. Determine the sold price per square foot after adjustments.

After adjusting for differences, divide the adjusted price of each comp by its square footage to determine the sold price per square foot. Next, add together the sold price per square foot of all the comps, and divide by the number of comps to get the average. Finally, multiply this average by the square feet of the subject property to find its current market value.

The Bottom Line

In general, the best comps are the ones that are the most similar to the subject home, the more recently sold, and the ones with the fewest adjustments required. The final price might need to be tweaked slightly, depending on the market. For example, if the market is hot or if inventory is low, the price might be slightly higher. Conversely, if there are a lot of similar homes on the market, the price might have to come down to be competitive.