Zillow and Real Estate Marketing – Can it be Trusted?

In case you’re not familiar with Zillow.com it is a very popular online real estate service company founded in 2005 and based in Seattle, Washington.  Zillow allows users to search their gigantic database for price information on real estate across the United States.  Users can find out what properties are available in a particular area and how they are priced.  They can also view a history of what a particular home and the surrounding homes have sold for in the past.  So, if a user is curious about what that Florida beach house sold for they simply enter the address and then magically the selling price is displayed along with lots of other interesting information – a LOT of interesting information!  And it’s presented beautifully with aerial views and detailed maps, lot size and age data etc…  After playing with Zillow for an hour or two a potential buyer may consider himself an expert on a particular area or piece of property – all without consulting a local real estate professional and that’s where Zillow begins to draw criticism.

Many Real Estate Brokers are concerned that Zillow does not provide buyers and sellers with accurate information and that additional factors that are not presented on their site must be considered when buying or selling a home.  These factors have been termed “unzillowables” in the real estate blogosphere. The point is that Real estate salespeople and brokers who specialize in a particular market are likely to be familiar with specific factors that will (or have) affected the sale of a home. For example, the overall condition of the home, the floor plan, landscaping, views, traffic noise, and privacy.   Zillow doesn’t know this information and thus cannot provide comprehensive data.

But can Zillow be trusted to provide users with a “general idea” of price and value?  I think so.  But beyond that, working with a qualified salesperson or broker in the area is necessary.  Only a licensed agent or broker who is familiar with neighborhoods, schools and community is qualified to help a buyer (or seller) make a homebuying decision.  So, at least in my opinion, Zillow can be trusted – but only so far.

What do you think?  Let us know!

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About David GoldsteinDavid Goldstein is an Owner and Founding Partner of Express Schools, LLC. which operates online education providers Real Estate Express, Insurance License Express and License Tutor. Follow him on Twitter.

Comments / Questions

  1. Diana says:

    A very fair post about an oft-debated subject. The place where I see the Zestimates break down is in the computerized comps that help determine a home’s value. Zestimates are interesting, but comps derived by a profressional will always be more accurate. I’ve seen so many comps on Zillow that do not take into account the age of a home, condition, amenities, etc. Geographical proximity seems to be the driving factor in Zestimates, but can be wildly subjective. While most professionals would never dream of using a Zestimates as more than additional information, the real job is educating buyers and sellers that they are not a substitute for a true evaluation by a professional.

  2. David says:

    Absolutely, Diana! No way is Zillow or any of the other sites offering similar services a substitute for a professional and human evaluation. Interestingly… the comment just above yours is from Spencer Rascoff who is the COO of Zillow. He refers to an article that details the methodology used to determine “Zestimates”. I have to admit that I’m impressed with the lengths they go to in order to “get it right” but still… I wouldn’t trust Zillow to tell me how much my home was worth let alone one I was considering purchasing. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll continue to use Zillow to help me understand approximate values and trends but the minute the search becomes serious is the minute I’m calling a licensed agent or broker.


  3. Kathy Simon says:

    After we got married and put my husbands house on the market I checked to see what Zillow showed. What I learned was it did not show a full bathroom he had put in the basement years ago. We figured it wasn’t listed because he did not get a permit at the time the work was done. If a person only looked at Zillow while searching for a house he would never know the house had two bathrooms. Listing with an agent made the difference in selling the house.

  4. David says:

    Thanks for the comment, Kathy! That’s a great example of the value and importance of using a professional real estate salesperson in the selling/buying process.


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