Hundreds of thousands of people go to Zillow and similar websites everyday to search for houses. Because Zillow gets all its information on homes for sale directly from the MLS (the same site used by Realtors), there’s no reason to think you need a Realtor to search for a home. Right?!
Zillow does download data for homes for sale directly from the MLS, and that’s great. But it doesn’t download regularly. A one, two, or even three-day lag time leaves sites like these notoriously unreliable for up-to-date information. That means when a homebuyer finds a steal online and calls their Round Table Realty Realtor, they often get the disappointing news that the home is already sold - it just hasn’t been updated on Zillow yet.
Photography is also an issue with sites like Zillow. While pulled directly from the MLS, homes for sale are often not updated with the latest photography. That means if the home is still for sale by the time you find it on your app, it might not look the way it did in the pictures. “It happened to my mother,” one Round Table Realty client said. “She found the perfect house on Zillow and when her Realtor drove her to the property, he thought she knew the entire place had been gutted. Obviously, she was surprised, and her Realtor was surprised that she was surprised! They’d been looking at two different sets of pictures.”
What’s worse is Zillow’s sellers’ settings. If you own a home, you can “claim” it on Zillow by answering a few simple questions that only you would know. The trouble is there is no human on the other end of the keyboard double-checking your answers. Someone who doesn’t own a home could easily run through the questions five or six times until they get all the answers right and then change valuable data and information on the home manually. By figuring out how to manually verify an owner’s identity, even when you’re not the owner, both simple mistakes and malicious intentions can seriously affect the sale of a home.
A lawsuit currently filed against Zillow in California is addressing this very thing - an individual who did not own a home claimed ownership of it and changed the list price. Whether this was malicious or not is yet to be determined, but it seriously affected the home’s ability to sell. So far, Zillow has only openly admitted to the fact that this automated system never includes a human being double checking the computers. The case is still pending.
So what’s a home buyer to do?
The best way to use Zillow and sites like it is to keep in mind that it’s simply a search tool. You can use these sites to create a list of homes you’d like to see with your Realtor and he/she can check off the homes that are already under contract or sold. You can use it to get an idea of what you like and don’t like, as well as understand the different neighborhoods in the areas you’re looking. Just remember that data is often not up-to-date and occasionally just plain wrong.
There’s no doubt you can find some great features on these Real Estate sites! But there are other sites, like Round Table Realty, with the same search features that actually pull information every minute directly from the MLS instead of once every few days. The MLS is constantly being monitored and updated but real people so there’s less concern about mistakes. If you’re looking for a home now or doing some Real Estate research, check out RoundTableRealty.com, or call the office to speak to an agent who will do a search based on your own criteria!