Zillow or Not to Zillow

What is Zillow ?

By now most people are familiar with Zillow, the popular real estate website and mobile application that has revolutionized the way the public searches for real estate listings.  Zillow features “Zestimates” on what they think your home would sell for if it were on the market today, but is Zillow.com the best place to get your real estate information?

Zillow boasts more real estate listings than anyone else.  Well there’s a reason for that!  Zillow does not remove the Sold and Under contract listings out of their database.  If you want to know what a Realtor’s nightmare of a day looks like; its getting emailed 10 listings by a buyer you’re working with who has been searching on Zillow over the weekend.  Half of the listings aren’t even on the market, but it will take the Realtor about an hour of research to find this all out.

Well I saw this foreclosure on Zillow….

When a homeowner stops paying their mortgage the bank will file the initial paperwork to begin a foreclosure on the property.  This process can take anywhere from 6 months to 4 years depending upon the circumstances.  So yes the house is in foreclosure, but no it is not on the market for sale, or it has been foreclosed on but the bank hasn’t listed it with a Realtor yet.

But maybe we can go to the bank directly and buy it….

No you can’t.  With all the shenanigans surrounding the financial crisis the banks have insisted that the bank take an “arms length” approach to selling and marketing these properties.  They want to make sure in some cases that employees of the bank aren’t buying these properties up either.  After the foreclosure has been issued by the court, it can sometime take up to 6 months before the house is listed with a Realtor and placed in the MLS.

Zillow “Zestimates” Home Values

Let’s talk about those “Zestimates” too.  Zillow has an algorithm (that’s computer speak for a round about system of how something works without actually having to explain it).  They take the sales prices of homes that surround a certain home and on a price per square foot basis come up with a value of the property.  Sometimes they are spot on and sometimes they are way off.  It works best in neighborhoods where the houses are of similar size and similar amenities.  It is less accurate when homes vary in age, size and whether or not they have an incredible location, like oceanfront or navigable water. Again a Realtor’s nightmare is also having to explain to someone why their house is worth $50,000 to $100,000 less than the Zillow Zestimate.

Obviously Zillow is a great tool for someone getting started looking at Real Estate.  They pull county records and can tell you what the home last sold for, where the schools are and give you an idea of what your house payment could be if you purchased the home.  But just like everything else you need to then consult with an expert.  Let’s face it you’re not going to treat your child for an illness based on information on the internet.  Just like you shouldn’t try to buy a house based solely on the information found on Zillow.com. Your local Realtor is invaluable for fine tuning the information you have and dispelling any inaccuracies that you might find there.

Have questions about other real estate related topics?  Give me a call at 904-834-9770 or shoot me an email.