The family residence is sometimes the parties' biggest asset acquired during marriage. It is also typically an asset that one or both of the parties feel very attached to. When going through a divorce, the parties will have to decide whether to sell the house, continue to co-own it or have one spouse keep the house and "buyout" the other spouse's interest in the house. A "buyout" is typically an attractive option when there are kids involved and the parent staying in the house wants to continue to provide continuity and stability for the kids. It is also an appealing option if the market conditions don't favor the seller at the time. To "buyout" the other spouse means that the house will be assigned a certain value and the spouse not keeping the house will instead receive a percentage of the that value less the debt. The buying spouse either pays money to the selling spouse or gives up other marital property in the amount of the selling spouse's share. Thus, the fair market value of the home makes a big difference on how much the "buyout" will cost the selling spouse.
There are a few different ways to value your marital residence. It is important for the valuation to be as fair and accurate as possible. Typically parties either get the residence appraised, have a realtor do a comparative market analysis or the parties do individual research based on online websites.
If the parties choose to value the home based on individual research, they will typically use an online website such as Zillow.com or Eappraisal.com, which gives immediate estimates of the home's value. The parties can also ask a real estate agent to perform a Comparative Market Analysis, for little or no cost, which provides information about recent sales prices of comparable houses in the neighborhood. Then you can you're your home's value on those comps.
However, not all houses are the same, and thus comps and online websites are not always the most accurate way to determine the fair market value of a house. Instead, the most accurate way to determine the fair market value of a house is to have an appraisal done by a neutral and licensed appraiser. Of course this method will cost the parties a small chuck of change. The parties can either agree on a joint appraiser and perhaps split the cost, or they can each pay to have their own appraisers do an appraisal and split the difference between the fair market value. The cost of an appraisal is usually worth it to make sure that you are using an accurate number to value your home and thus calculate the buyout amount.