Zillow is currently the most popular online real estate site, with 75 million unique visitors a month. Along with active listings of properties for sale, it also provides information on houses that are not on the market. You can enter the address or general location in a database of millions of homes with a high likelihood of pulling up key information such as: square footage, lot size, number of bedrooms and baths, photos, taxes. You can also find information on foreclosures, pre- foreclosures, homes for rent and get a “Zestimate” which is an estimated value of your home.
Zillow and their recently acquired company, Trulia, has a popularity that is about to change as both sites have just been cut off by the National Association of Realtors (NAR) and they will no longer be provided the information of homes for sale in the United States. NAR consolidates this information from 850 local multiple listings services (MLS) across the Unites States and then sells it to thousands of websites including Zillow and Trulia.
The dispute between NAR and Zillow is over the inaccuracy of Zillow’s site. Realtors all over the country have to explain to their clients every day not to believe the information on Zillow. There are three major areas of concern that NAR and Realtors have with the information on Zillow’s site which are G.I.G.O., Zestimate and Foreclosures.
G.I.G.O.: Zillow gets all the “homes for sale” data from NAR and then adds data from other sources such as tax rolls, former listings, bank defaults, FSBO’s and others. Many times the date conflicts or data is just wrong. We call this Garbage in Garbage Out, (G.I.G.O.). We, as Realtors, have to stand by our listing data and ensure that all the information is correct as we are liable if it is not correct but Zillow doesn’t seem to have those concerns. Here is one example of what can go wrong: a listing of a rental home on the Rogue River was advertised by us at 1800 sq. ft. but Zillow added information from the county website and said there was also a 600 sq. ft. basement. A tenant who was moving from 2000 miles away rented it sight unseen and thought the basement would be perfect for their mother in law who lives with them, but when they arrived they were shocked to find there was no longer a basement. So who is responsible for this mess up?
Zestimate: Zillow uses a computer to estimate the value of a home by searching a radius of homes that sold around the subject’s home and then averaging the price. This is a very crude and inaccurate way of determining a home’s value. If all the homes in one radius were built by the same builder, in the same year, with all the same amenities then this might work, but what if you just put in a $50,000 remodel and upgraded your amenities, how would a radius search know this and add value. If you live in a town like Jacksonville, where Third Street has both $200,000 homes and $800,000 homes, how can you average all the homes that have sold to come up with a value? Zillow adds a “Zestimate” value to every listing on their site and we as Realtors have to overcome objections of “Why is the Zestimate $100,000 lower than the listing price”. We have a home in escrow on South Oregon for $539,000 that has a “Zestimate” of $461,000 and Trulia says it’s worth $844,000. Zillow’s CEO says that nationwide Zestimates have a “median error rate” of about 8%, but NAR states they have a median error rate closer to 20%.
Foreclosures: Zillow buys foreclosure information from multiple sites and presents homes both in default and in foreclosure to buyers looking on the site. A foreclosed home for sale is just listed like any other home for sale with a Realtor representing the bank that owns the foreclosure but homes in default are not necessarily homes for sale! The way Zillow publishes defaults is misleading as they call them Pre-foreclosures soon to be on the market. A home on a default list (Pre—foreclosure) is there because the owner hasn’t made consecutive payments. There are four ways a home can get off the default list 1) The owner catches up on the payments 2) The loan is modified 3) The home is sold as a Short Sale 4) The home goes back to the bank. So to publish defaults, call them “Pre-foreclosures” and state they will soon be on the market for sale is misleading and Zillow should be clearer to the buyers using their site that the likelihood of these homes coming up for sale anytime soon is low.
Zillow is now scrambling to negotiate with all the 850 local Multiple Listing Services across the country and buy the listing data directly from them in lieu of buying it the data from the NAR. Although this is technically possible to do in a short period of time, Zillow is completely bogged down with their legal department trying to negotiate 850 contracts with different MLS’s which could take years. Currently our local MLS, Southern Oregon Multiple Listing Service, has agreed to sell the listing data to Zillow but they too are bogged down with Zillow’s legal department to get an acceptable contact completed.
In the meantime, Realtors wanting their listings on Zillow have to enter the listing date by hand via a system Zillow has set up to enter “For Sale By Owner”. Most Realtors are not bothering to post their listings, and the ones that do, have to keep the data current and remember to change the price if it decreases or take it off when it goes pending. At the same time, Realtor.com, which is the second largest real estate site and licensed directly by NAR, is running a nationwide print, radio and TV campaign stating they are the most accurate real estate site which is a correct statement as all their listing data comes from us, the Realtor, who is selling the house.
So will Zillow die and Realtor.com take over? As Realtors we get really tired of telling buyers that the homes they see on Zillow are not necessarily for sale, or talking to sellers and telling them there is nothing we can do about the “Zestimates” being published by Zillow that are grossly underestimated. As a Marketer, I have to say Zillow is too big not to advertise on -so we will continue to advertise our listings on Zillow until their last breath!