Fair Market Value (FMV): Definition and How to Calculate It

Fair Market Value (FMV)

Investopedia / Mira Norian

What Is Fair Market Value?

Fair market value (FMV) is the price a product would sell for on the open market assuming that both buyer and seller are reasonably knowledgeable about the asset, are behaving in their own best interests, are free of undue pressure, and are given a reasonable time period for completing the transaction.

Given these conditions, an asset's fair market value should represent an accurate valuation or assessment of its worth.

This definition of the term is commonly accepted in tax law, bankruptcy law, and the real estate market.

Key Takeaways

  • The fair market value is the price an asset would sell for on the open market when certain conditions are met.
  • The conditions are: the parties involved are aware of all the facts, are acting in their own interest, are free of any pressure to buy or sell, and have ample time to make the decision.
  • Fair market value is different than market value and appraised value.
  • Tax settings and the real estate market are two areas that commonly use fair market value.
  • Insurance companies use fair market value in determining certain claim payouts.

Fair Market Value

Understanding Fair Market Value (FMV)

The term fair market value is intentionally distinct from similar terms such as market value or appraised value because it considers the economic principles of free and open market activity. In contrast, the term market value refers to the price of an asset in the marketplace. Therefore, while a home's market value can easily be found on a listing, the fair market value is more difficult to determine.

Similarly, the term appraised value refers to an asset's value in the opinion of a single appraiser, thus not immediately qualifying the appraisal as fair market value. In cases where a fair market value is needed, an appraisal will usually suffice. 

Due to the thorough considerations made by the term fair market value, it's often used in legal settings. For example, fair market value in real estate is commonly used in divorce settlements and to calculate compensation related to the government's use of eminent domain.

Fair market values are also often utilized in taxation, such as when determining the fair market value of a property for a tax deduction after a casualty loss.

It's essential to assess the fair market value of an item you buy or sell, as it can significantly impact your finances.

Practical Uses of Fair Market Value (FMV)

Municipal property taxes are often assessed based on the FMV of the owner's property. Depending on how long the owner has owned the home, the difference between the purchase price and the residence's FMV can be substantial. Professional appraisers use standards, guidelines, and national and local regulations to determine a home's FMV.

FMV is also often used in the insurance industry. For example, when an insurance claim is made due to a car accident, the insurance company covering the damage to the owner's vehicle usually covers damages up to the vehicle's FMV.

Fair Market Value (FMV) and Taxation

Worldwide tax authorities always ensure that transactions are realized at FMV, at least for tax purposes. For example, a father who is retiring may sell the shares of his business to his daughter for $1 so that she can carry on as the owner of the family business.

However, suppose the FMV of the shares is higher. In that case, tax authorities such as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) may well recharacterize the transaction for tax purposes. The father will need to pay taxes on the disposition of the shares as though he had sold them at FMV to a third party.

Another field of taxation where FMV regularly comes into play is donating property, such as artwork, to charities. In these cases, the donor usually receives a tax credit for the value of the donation. Tax authorities need to ensure that the credit given is for the actual FMV of the object and often ask donors to provide independent valuations for their donations. Correctly applying fair market value to taxes ensures there won't be adverse monetary implications later on or any claims of fraud by authorities.

How Do You Calculate Fair Market Value?

You can assess rather than calculate fair market value in a few different ways. First, by the price the item cost the seller, via a list of sales for objects similar to the asset being sold, or an expert's opinion. For example, a diamond appraiser would likely be able to identify and calculate a diamond ring based on their experience.

How Do I Know the Fair Market Value of My Home?

Real estate property is assessed by professional appraisers who can tell you its fair market value using standards, guidelines, and national and local regulations to determine it.

How Can I Learn the Fair Market Value of My Car?

The Kelley Blue Book is an online guide that can help you determine the fair market value of your car by analyzing data such as trade-in value, private party value, and other areas of research.

Article Sources
Investopedia requires writers to use primary sources to support their work. These include white papers, government data, original reporting, and interviews with industry experts. We also reference original research from other reputable publishers where appropriate. You can learn more about the standards we follow in producing accurate, unbiased content in our editorial policy.
  1. Cornell Law School, Legal Information Institute. "Fair Market Value."

  2. Cornell Law School, Legal Information Institute. "Market Value."

  3. Cornell Law School, Legal Information Institute. "Appraised Value."

  4. Pacific Northwest Family Law. "Methods Used By Appraisers To Value Real Estate In Divorce."

  5. Law Offices of Stimmel, Stimmel & Roeser. "Eminent Domain - The Basic Law."

  6. Internal Revenue Service. "Topic No. 515 Casualty, Disaster, and Theft Losses."

  7. Commonwealth of Massachusetts. "Massachusetts Municipal Property Taxes."

  8. The Inland Empire Law Group. "I Have Been in an Accident and My Car is a Total Loss. How is the Value of the Car Determined?"

  9. CFA Journal. "Fair Value Vs. Market Value: Detail Explanation."

  10. Internal Revenue Service. "Publication 561, Determining the Value of Donated Property," Pages 2-3, 7.

  11. Internal Revenue Service. "Rev. Proc. 96-15."

  12. Internal Revenue Service. "Publication 561, Determining the Value of Donated Property," Pages 2-3.

  13. Internal Revenue Service. "Publication 561, Determining the Value of Donated Property," Pages 6-7.

  14. Kelley Blue Book. "Frequently Asked Questions: My Car's Value."