Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Advantages and Disadvantages of using Zillow

There has been a buzz about the online sites that now give consumers property sale and value information, that has historically been the domain of real estate agents.  I hope to give my reading of the site's strengths and weaknesses, based on my knowledge of these continually evolving sites.  Without any preference or order - here's my take on Zillow.

Zillow was launched in 2006 and claims to have 19 million unique visitors a month, as of March 2011.  That is quite commendable especially considering the real estate market had been in recession since it was introduced.  Anecdotal evidence seems to suggest a wide range of audience - from loyal active buyers and sellers who love the site and the information it gives... to the curious browsers who just keep abreast of the neighborhood activity... to the homeowners (sellers) who openly express their anger and frustration with the inaccuracy of data.

Advantages of using Zillow
Map interface
The site's biggest advantage is its map interface.  Location is key in real estate and there is something to be said for being able to pull up all properties for sale or rent in a particular neighborhood, and get details about each one.  Other sites have also started to include maps - but I believe Zillow's map has the best interface. 

Public records
The site's public record data - so you can see the physical details about the property - beds, baths, sq footage, acreage etc. and most importantly also see the last sale price of the property.  You can tell when the owner bought the property and for how much, which is public record information that was not as readily available to consumers before .  Ofcourse your Realtor can answer that question in a jiffy.  Also - the public records data is not always as current and accurate as the MLS data.

Disadvantages of using Zillow

Data accuracy - has come up over an over again - wrong square footage, or no. of rooms and bathrooms or acreage... just basic property details.  There is also a concern for lack of updated info, homes that appear to be actively listed for sale that have already sold or rentals coming up as sales or simply computer errors like mixed up addresses.  Zillow shares their  constraints in Data Accuracy. The MLS system that Realtors use have more real time and accurate data.

Zestimate - I believe this number does more harm than good.  It seems to be the magic number that all buyers and sellers want to rely on - but as we know - there is no magic algorithm that will spit out an accurate value of your home.   Learn how the site explains the Zestimate.  In my opinion the value is determined based on the motivation of the buyer and seller.  Read more about market value here.

Overall - my take on these sites is - they are good for nosy neighbors who want to know more about the Jones's property down the street - they are good for initial research on property values and locations - but when you get actively ready to buy or sell, engage the services of a trustworthy local Realtor.  They will help you sift through all the data available on a plethora of websites, and not only narrow it down but use their experience to help you interpret the information.

Article on Zillow IPO

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  1. this site is very interesting and helpful for me.Really enjoyed reading the tips.thanks for this blog.

    1. thank you! I am always open to suggestions for improvement - any specific info you would like to see?

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