If you have been shopping for homes on the internet it is likely that you have come across the Zillow website. It is a very well known website and it is what is called a syndicator. Zillow is well known for it’s “Zestimate” where they arrive at the value of properties using a virtual logarithm which are for the most part way off . Zillow has an accuracy chart linked to the bottom of their website where you can see how accurate or inaccurate they are in each community. New Orleans is not listed because according to them we are a “non disclosure” state and Zillow claims they can’t access public records here ( even though they do and we are not).
Yesterday a Zillow representative came to my office meeting. The young man who represents their Southern region was totally charming, smiled a lot and was very slick in answering questions. It you didn’t know better you would have left the room thinking you have missed the boat by not being on Zillow, that Zillow is the be all and end all for getting found by consumers on the internet.
I know better.
The things that consumers need to know about using Zillow:
1. The Zillow “zestimate’s” are a starting point and can not be used to price a property. The Zestimate’s are more likely to be accurate in communities where Zillow has access to public records of sale prices and properties are cookie cutter such as developments. In a place like Uptown or the Garden District in New Orleans it is completely useless because each house is different, different upgrades, renovated and non-renovated, etc. Zillow has no way to know the condition of a property and therefore can’t factor it into their Zestimate. What Zillow would love is for each homeowner to sign up for a “free” Zillow account and enter the information in so that they could accurately price houses because that is very valuable. If each seller did that and Zillow had accurate information they could do what Facebook does and sell demographic and housing data and make even more money than they do now. Zillow recently went public. Zillow has investors. There is a dream.
2. Consumers really like the site because they have all types of ancillary information with maps, demographics, schools and they are national. There is name recognition and because they have tremendous traffic come up at the top of the search engines. They are in your face if you are searching for properties.
3. When you search on Zillow it is possible that the listing agent for the property has not signed up for a “free” Zillow account and therefore his contact information will be in small letters at the bottom of the listing information. If the listing agent has signed up then their information will appear on the listing and can be easily found. See how they capture invaluable information?
4. It is also possible that an agent who has nothing to do with the listing is featured next to it. These are agents who have paid Zillow to be featured. You see it is not about the agent being competent, or the agent being the listing agent or anything except the agent being willing to write a check to Zillow each month.
5. There is a lot of inaccurate listing information on Zillow. If you are a consumer you may be looking at properties that sold a while ago, properties whose prices have been reduced and the agent forgot to update the information, or worse listings where other information was updated in the MLS but is not updated in Zillow. Your real estate agent will be able to provide you with the most current and correct information.
6. Zillow has these wonderful widgets that I can put on my website as well providing all of those statistics on their site on my site. But Zillow has tentacles and those widgets have what is called a “no follow” so that all of the traffic goes back to them. You land on my website, click on their widget and you are now on their website. Funny thing is I have accurate listing information on my site and they do not. Buyers seems to like information and charts over accuracy – interesting.
If you are a buyer I hope that you will find, interview and hire a buyer’s broker to help you in your search. We buyer’s brokers can guide you through all of this and help you avoid the pitfalls. Use Zillow for your initial research but move on from there to find your agent….Check out personal websites. Don’t just click through….especially if it is to the listing agent who will be representing the seller and not you.