For buyers, sellers, and real estate professionals alike, Zillow, an online database of homes listed for sale, provides a wealth of property data, but it is important for buyers and sellers to use other resources as well so they don’t miss anything. Buyers could potentially pass over a property, not on Zillow, and sellers could miss hiring an excellent, local agent who doesn’t advertise on Zillow.
Many buyers start their home search online with Zillow. They spend time perusing through photos of homes in areas they want to live and tend to call the agent advertised on the web page next to the listing. The agent, pictured adjacent to the posted listing, is not always the listing agent, but a paying REALTOR® client of Zillow (many real estate agents pay Zillow to capture leads and advertise themselves).
On occasion, online searchers will run across houses through Zillow that show they are currently for sale, but then Multiple Listing Service (MLS), the database that the real estate professionals rely on for information, shows that the house sold in three days and is no longer on the market. While Zillow is an excellent resource, sometimes the information is not always the most current.
Sellers look to Zillow when they start thinking about listing their house on the market and find the value of their current home through Zillow’s Zestimate. Zestimates are Zillow’s algorithm-produced appraisals. Zillow uses a computer-generated algorithm based on what has sold in the area, the square footage, and the number of bedrooms. However, Zillow doesn’t have inspectors checking the property to make sure their data is accurate.
For example, I own a house in Colorado on seven acres. We built a 5 bedroom, 4.5 bath house, plus two den home on the property — ground level is 2400 square feet and lower level (walk-out basement) is 2400 square feet. It also has a bonus room that is approximately 400 square feet (fifth bedroom). Zillow reports the property as a duplex, which it is not — it lists two different values for two units under $200,000. So, when I request Zillow to produce the Zestimate on the home, the value of the home, nor any comparables, are considered. Typically, Zillow’s Zestimates are pretty good if the home is in a neighborhood with several houses that have sold, so it is worth monitoring. However, it has trouble with unique or rural properties.
If you’re working with a REALTOR®, they’ve probably set you up with a home search. It is good to use both resources because if you find a house you are interested in on Zillow, you can check it against the data in MLS. On Zillow, you may see homes that fit your exact criteria and wonder why your REALTOR® did not send you the listings; but remember, sometimes the listings posted on Zillow are not accurate or available. MLS listings are automatically syndicated to Zillow, but the agent has direct access to the most current information. Also, the agent may know about a pocket listing or another property that is about to come on the market, which may not be on Zillow. REALTORS® set you up with home searches which are directly from the MLS. The MLS will be the most up to date home search you can get, and it will come directly from a REALTOR®.
It is also very important to interview your prospective real estate professional instead of choosing one that is advertised on Zillow, Realtor.com, etc. You may miss out on a really great local agent that doesn’t spend their marketing dollars to advertise online through these companies. This is really important if you are selling a house. The agent should not only help you with a pricing strategy that nets you the most dollars but gives your property maximum exposure in the marketplace with a marketing plan and reported results. Afterall, could the marketing dollars the agent is spending on Zillow be allocated to marketing your house? Remember, listings are automatically syndicated to Zillow, so if you list a house, the agent will enter it into MLS, and the property will post on Zillow whether the agent spends money through Zillow or not.
Make sure to look at all the online resources, such as the agent’s website, credentials, and professional background. Agents that advertise on Zillow post their own sales (see image below) and pay Zillow to rotate their profiles to online buyers when they start searching for properties.
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