Price vs Value

What it's Worth ... Difference Between Price, Cost and Value

The buyer never actually pays what something is worth…

Nobody can deny that there are a lot of issues plaguing the appraisal industry at the moment. I want to talk about one issue that I sometimes see: the incorrect usage of extremely important terms.

Many real estate professionals use certain terms interchangeably, even when they have significantly different definitions. Appraisers, unfortunately, are not immune in this crime against clarity. Today, I want to get back to basics and look at the actual definitions of three absolutely crucial terms in our industry: price, cost and value.

I think you’ll agree these are words that you use on a more-or-less daily basis in your work… but are you using them correctly? Based on my own experiences – and for the good of appraisers everywhere – I want to make the differences between these terms crystal clear.

Let’s look at “price” first. Price is simply the amount of money that’s asked for a good or service. The key word in that definition – hence the italics – is “asked”. The price may or may not reflect reality; it may or may not represent the invisible hand of the market.

Let me give you an example, from the not-too-distant past. I was looking to sell the family SUV. We’d had it for a good ten years and it was time for a change. I looked on the Kelley Blue Book website, entered the details for my car and actually advertised it – in local Facebook groups – at below the amount they had listed there. The amount I listed it for – which I thought was fair – was my price. Did I end up actually getting that amount of money? Unfortunately not! The amounts of money on Kelley Blue Book and in my head were not reality. Reality was how much someone in my area would actually pay for the car.

We see this in real estate all the time. In appraisal specifically, we will often put a list-to-sale ratio. That’s because we realize there may be a difference between the price that’s asked and what something actually sells for. Price is the amount of money that’s asked for something, but is not the amount it actually sells for.

Next, we’ll go over “cost”. Cost is what the buyer will actually pay for a product or service. Now, that’s similar to value, but it’s definitely not the same; these kinds of differences are subtle, but important. The price is how much the seller asks for; the cost is how much the buyer will buy for. The product or service may be worth more or less than what the buyer actually pays, but the price is the amount they actually end up forking over.

It’s worth clarifying something at this point: the buyer never actually pays what something is worth. Cost is not the same as value (which we’ll look at soon). Let’s say you have a candy bar and I buy it off you for a dollar. How much was that candy bar worth? To me, it was worth more than the actual dollar, because buying the candy bar involved going to you or your shop, reaching into my pocket for my wallet and handing over the money. To you, it was worth less than the dollar… otherwise you wouldn’t have made the exchange in the first place.

Let me give you a real world example, just to cap off this point. I was in Vegas recently (not my favorite place in the world), with my wife (it’s perhaps her least favorite place in the world). We were walking down the Strip and it was hot; close to 100 degrees. What I wanted more than anything else right then was a nice, refreshing bottle of water. What did I happen to see at that moment? A vendor, with a big ice box full of lovely, cold bottles of water. I could not get the money out of my pocket quickly enough. How much did I actually pay for the bottles of water for my wife and me? Two dollars. How much were those waters worth to us at that moment (i.e. what was their value)? A heck of a lot more.

Last, but certainly not least, we come to something I’ve touched on a couple of times already: “value”. Value is the amount which a buyer and seller agree upon in a given marketplace. What price and cost will a well-informed buyer and seller mutually agree to? Put another way, what will the market bear?

It’s extremely important to note that value cannot be generalized; it must be specific. A buyer coming straight from the Southern California property market and buying property in Idaho, May not believe the property they get for $300,000 in the latter compared to the former. What I sometimes see is they can pay over the market value if they don’t put the time and effort into researching the local market.

Value is intrinsically wrapped up in the law of substitution. If two things are the same, or at least very similar, the buyer will usually gravitate towards the cheaper option. It’s simple logic. Let’s say you’re in a grocery store and you want a pack of gum. You see the pack costs $2.50 there, but you know that – at the place next door – the same pack costs $1.50. You’re going to the place next door, right? It offers better value for you.

As appraisers, it is our duty to understand the difference between price, cost and value. If these terms aren’t properly understood and are used interchangeably, then it leads to confusion and frustration, for both our co-workers and our clients. The differences between them are subtle, but they are important. The terms are similar, but they are certainly not the same.

Dustin Harris
Latest posts by Dustin Harris (see all)
Dustin Harris

Dustin Harris

A multi-business owner and residential real estate appraiser. He has been appraising for nearly two decades. He is the owner and President of Appraisal Precision and Consulting Group, Inc. He owns and operates The Appraiser Coach where he personally advises and mentors other appraisers. His principles and methodologies are also taught in an online, Mastermind group. He and his wife reside in Idaho with their four children. Dustin Harris on

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5 Responses

  1. Baggins Baggins says:

    What is the value to the consumer, based on the cost of an amc service? How did that relate to the appraisers price? Questions. Questions that need answered.

    • Avatar don says:

      Price is what we pay, Value is what we receive. Lenders have as much to due with Price V Value as buyer and seller. Do we look at a 100% loan to value, the same as an 80% loan. The lender pays out less than the borrower receives in the form of fees, points, discounts etc.

      The VA, FHA, Fannie, & Freddie all guarantee loans made with discounts against our appraisals???????????

  2. Avatar Coach says:

    Good article and great timing Dustin. I’m forwarding it to the listing agent who left me an angry voicemail earlier today stating the value is what the buyer is willing to pay.

    • Baggins Baggins says:

      One good rebuttal you can reach to for those types of misconceptions is that it’s not the lenders responsibility to finance over market value mortgages. That is to say that when there is competition and heated markets, bidding wars, or just plainly higher than normal priced properties, lenders are not obligated to loan more to help one buyer best another buyers offer. Also this helps prohibit straw buyer activity and fraudulent flipping schemes. This may be applicable in a single offer setting. The legitimate mechanisms for rising market value is cash contribution. In Colorado some buyers compete 30 at a time for lower priced units. It is not the lenders responsibility to play favoritism and loan more so one buyer can have the winning offer and first position. A smart agent if seeking aggressive pricing should negotiate a cash over appraised value clause to cover the difference between price and appraised value. Many buyers agents offer this outright, understanding they need an aggressive purchase price offer in order to secure the purchasing opportunity. When buyers put cash down over currently established market value, they set a new high for that particular market segment. When they do this routinely, pricing and value crawls upward one deal at a time. Otherwise if lenders had open wallets and buyers could borrow how ever much they want, the price would accelerate to unsustainable levels without a reasonable limitation imposed by the buyers financial capability to both purchase and repay. If the buyer community at large is getting what they feel is a great deal, they’re willing to pay more, it is those buyers whom provide the necessary market correction to establish a higher market value in that area. “Money talks, 110% ltv loans with no cash down walk.” Ha! Something like that. Numbers. Only in slow moving or brand new markets with nominal sale activity could price actually be the value outright, but even then, there are logical limitations, enter the cost approach.


  3. Thank you. This was worth reading.


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Price vs Value

by Dustin Harris time to read: 4 min