Chances are, if you’re thinking of buying a home, even if you haven’t even contacted a REALTOR® yet, you’ve been perusing homes on Zillow.com. According to Web metrics firm Experian Hitwise, Zillow.com was the top-ranked real estate search website for July 2012, so I’m guessing you’ve probably visited their site once or twice.
Real estate agents are split on Zillow as a real estate tool. Personally, I love Zillow because my clients and you, the average consumer, love Zillow. What I don’t love is the inaccuracy of the information on Zillow and the fact that consumers often take Zillow’s word as gospel. BUT that does not mean you, as a homebuyer, should stop using Zillow. It’s user-friendly and visually pleasing, and clearly they’re doing something right with consumers. So keep using Zillow, but then remember to consult your REALTOR® with questions regarding recently sold comparable homes, values in the neighborhoods you’re searching, and other topics on which they have more localized market knowledge.
ZILLOW IS NOT A REAL ESTATE COMPANY. ZILLOW IS A MEDIA COMPANY. They compile the information – including price and home details, home photos, etc. – from the nation’s Multiple Listing Services (MLSs) to show you the homes that are for sale. Real estate agents who use Zillow as part of their marketing can take it one step further and enhance their listings by adding extra details, correcting incorrect information, posting additional photos and virtual tours, and more. You cannot buy a home from Zillow, but you can use it to search for available homes, find the listing agent or look for a REALTOR® who to represent you as a buyer, and learn more about the neighborhoods in which you’re interested.
ZILLOW’S ZESTIMATES ARE NOT NECESSARILY AN ACCURATE REPRESENTATION OF THE VALUE OF A HOME. Zillow itself is very clear that their “Zestimate” tool is not to be considered a substitute for market analysis by a REALTOR® or an opinion of value by a licensed real estate appraiser. There is a distinct margin of error in their formula, which varies by state and market area. For example, the Metro Atlanta area only receives 2 of 4 stars for accuracy from Zillow with a 9.2% Median Error in Zestimates. Keeping this in mind, as a consumer, will begin to help you understand that, while the Zestimates can be helpful they should not be used in lieu of a local professional real estate agent’s market knowledge. (For more information on what makes up a Zillow Zestimate, please click here.)
#3 – SOME HOMES THAT ARE LISTED AS ACTIVE OR AVAILABLE LISTINGS ON ZILLOW MAY NOT STILL BE FOR SALE. Our clients frequently send us a list of homes they’ve found on Zillow that they are interested in seeing, and then are surprised or frustrated to find that, often, those homes are no longer available, as they’ve already sold or been rented. Zillow is a great place to start your home search, but once you’re ready to start looking at homes, rely on your REALTOR to advise you as to which homes are still available. (You can also compare the homes you find on Zillow with the homes that are listed in REALTOR.com – both sites pull listings directly from the MLSs, but REALTOR.com updates every 15 minutes, straight from the MLSs, meaning when a home goes under contract or sells, it is removed from the listings on REALTOR.com. Chances are, if a home is not showing as active or available on REALTOR.com, the home is no longer available for you to view.)