We all do it. As a real estate attorney, even I’m not above it.
Especially in a market like today’s. “Wonder what I’d get if I sold my home today?” Unless you know someone with a crystal ball, you won’t know the answer until you list your home. Then the market shares its secret. Until then, there are 2 ways to get a pretty good idea of what your home would fetch: 1) appraisal by a certified appraiser; and 2) Comparative Market Analysis by a licensed real estate agent.
They both use similar valuation methods, and both provide detailed written reports. In a hot market, appraisals often run lower than CMAs which have more flexibility in weighing market trends. An appraisal costs about $400-$600 while a CMA is generally free. If you want reliability, steer clear of online sources like Zillow and Redfin which never step foot in your home and have a median error rate of around 7%. For a $500,000 property, that’s a $70,000 swing of uncertainty.
But here’s the real question: when you DO sell, how much are you walking away with after your broker’s fee, loan payoff(s) and closing costs? Well, you can determine this magic number quite easily to within a couple hundred dollars. In fact, once you have your CMA or appraisal in hand - or even better, a signed purchase contract – you can figure out how much you’ll “walk away with” using a simple formula we’ve been sharing in our real estate workshops for years.
We call it your “Walk-Away-Cash”. It measures the TRUE equity in your home. For most of us, it represents our single most important financial data point. You can’t have a financial plan without it. If you’re listing your home next week, it tells you what’s available for your next purchase. If you have no plans to sell at all, knowing your Walk-Away-Cash still allows you to calculate your personal net worth at any given time.
Surprisingly, you can calculate your Walk-Away-Cash on the back of a napkin. But that can be messy. In fact, you don’t need paper at all. You can use our Walk-Away-Cash Calculator and determine what your net sale proceeds would be with just a few computer keystrokes.
So, drum roll please … your Walk-Away-Cash is simply your property’s sale price (estimated or actual) minus 4 deductions:
1. Mortgage payoff: If you have no mortgage, congrats, you only have 3 deductions. For everyone else, your mortgage payoff amount IS NOT your principal balance. You must factor in loan interest through the closing date plus bank close-out fees. So, your rule of thumb equation: Mortgage Payoff = (principal balance) + (1 mortgage payment).
2. Broker fee: If your house isn’t on the market, use 5% of the estimated sale price which is standard in Massachusetts. If you’re decent at math, you can calculate it in your head. If you’re considering a discount brokerage or even selling without a broker, understand the risks and read our article with startling statistics on for-sale-by-owner sales.
3. Transfer tax: Also known as tax stamps. In Massachusetts, any owner of real estate must pay a tax when their property is sold. The tax is based on the sale price and paid to the county Registry at the time of closing. In most counties the rate is $4.56 per thousand. So, if you sold your home for $500k, you would owe 500 x 4.56 = $2280. Nantucket and Dukes Counties collect an additional 2% of the sale price, so our $500k property (if you can find one there) would cost an extra $10,000 to sell. Barnstable County charges $6.48 per thousand, so you’d pay $3,240 (but no 2% surcharge).
4. Attorney fee: most attorneys charge a flat fee in the range of $1,000-$2,000. Bet you didn’t think the lawyer’s fee would be your smallest line-item deduction. Use $1,500 as a reasonable estimate and you’ll be covered.
5. Miscellaneous: I know I said only 4 deductions. But you’ll likely incur a few hundred dollars in miscellaneous closing costs such as recording fees, final water bill, etc. However, in most cases your property tax adjustment will offset this amount.
The link to our Walk-Away-Cash Calculator is below. The only thing you’ll need is your most recent mortgage statement(s), including any home equity line, and your estimated or actual sale price. That’s it! Just click on the link below and in minutes you’ll know what you’d walk away with if you sold your home today.
If you have any questions on how to use the Calculator or concerning your specific situation, call us at 781-829-2003.