Hundreds of thousands of people go to Zillow and similar websites every day 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?!
"When Zillow rolled out the feature back in 2006, it had an error rate of 14%. When NerdWallet last reviewed Zestimates in 2015, they had a national median error rate of 8% Recently, Zillow says the margin of error is 4.3% nationwide. That means half of Zestimates were within 4.3% of the final selling price, and half were off by more than 4.3%." -NerdWallet
True, 4.3% doesn't seem like a lot. For a $180,000 house, the wrong values could be as much as $8,000 above or below that price. But for a $500,000 home, that Zestimate is more than $20,000 off! That's a huge amount of money and could almost certainly change a buyer's mind!
Why using Zillow isn’t always the best idea
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.
Zillow Information Isn’t Always Accurate
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.”
The Sellers' Settings
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 the Zestimate, 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.
How to use Zillow
If you know how to use Zillow, it can offer a number of excellent resources. Look at the history of the homes around you. You can see the value of the homes when they last sold and this could give you insight into the real estate trends in your area. While it could give you the wrong value on your home, it will tell you what homes have sold for in the past accurately. (That information is pulled from tax records.)
Because you're getting information directly from the tax records, you can learn the taxes in a particular area prior to looking for a new home. Home buyers sometimes forget to include taxes in their monthly mortgage payment, and it can make a big difference. If Zillow has the wrong home values, you can rest assured that it has the right tax values.
The best way to use Zillow is to search for homes currently for sale on the market. If you can just use the neighborhood and photographs of the home, and take the statistics relatively lightly, you won't be let down. It's a great tool to guide your Realtor in the right direction, as well. Show him or her which homes you're most interested in and why while you're browsing on the app or website.
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!