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Why is the information on Zillow so confusing? Is it accurate or is it old?
Dated: May 11 2021
Reasons your confusion is real, and why enlisting the help of a realtor will help you achieve clarity.
Zillow. Realtor.com. Trulia. We’ve all heard of them, seen their Super Bowl and SNL commercials, and probably used them. They are convenient. They are flashy. And they are some of the most popular third-party consumer real estate websites for homes listed for sale.
These sites actually pull their information from realtors and the Multiple Listing Service (MLS); the MLS is the official site where a realtor typically lists your home for sale. Realtors agree to share their MLS listing information with sites like Zillow, Trulia and Realtor.com in order to increase exposure for your listing.
But it’s important to understand that Zillow, Realtor.com, and Trulia ARE NOT the MLS. Using these sites often confuses consumers, who then end up losing opportunities in this fast-moving and competitive real estate market.
These sites view you, the consumer, as a ‘lead,’ and they collect you for your valuable consumer data. These sites might actually sell your data or connect you directly to a realtor, lender, or title company, for a fee that’s paid by these entities.
And that, my friends, is what you boil down to when you are beginning one of the most emotional transactions of your life...you are a ‘lead.’
To help you feel a little less like a ‘lead’ and more like a ‘human,’ let me help you by answering some questions I often hear about the information on and experience with these sites.
Does Zillow use the same information as the MLS?
Yes, often it does. Zillow, Realtor.com, etc. pull in information from MLS listings. When a person lists their house for sale, their listing agent gives them the option to opt-in to share their MLS listing data with sites like Zillow. If the client doesn’t opt-in, the MLS information is not shared with 3rd party sites.
Are the listings on Zillow current or even available? How can I tell?
Sometimes - what we often see is that data on home availability can really lag; in other words, a home can show as available when it is not. The reason for this is simple, and it may surprise you. If a consumer thinks a home is not available, because it is showing words like ‘contingent’ or ‘pending,’ then the consumer won’t call Zillow to inquire about it. If they don’t call Zillow on homes, agents don't see the value in paying fees to Zillow to buy consumer leads. Therefore, it behooves Zillow to slow the data down enough to drive call volume from consumers. But it puts you, the consumer, in the predicament of looking at property listings that are old, many of which have already closed.
How about the estimated monthly costs/mortgage price? Is it right?
There are a lot of apps websites that use mortgage calculators to estimate the monthly cost of buying a home. While these are simple and convenient, they are not 100% accurate. In reality, an awful lot goes into determining the exact cost of buying a house; your credit, your assets, and your history are big determinants of what your interest rate will even be. A lot of information is factored into the true cost of buying a home, most of which isn’t accounted-for in online mortgage/monthly payment calculators, so the calculator results can give you, the consumer, a false sense of security. Look at the online estimates as a starting point to consider a possible range of your costs, then partner with a good lender who can work with you on specifics and precision.
Is Zillow accurate when it comes to home values?
There is a lot of buzz about ‘Zestimate,’ which is Zillow’s home valuation estimate algorithm. Like Zestimate, other programs like RedFin and Black Knight use multiple data sources to form an aggregate estimated value of a property for sale. Sometimes the estimates are actually in the ballpark. But because of the conditions of our current market, you are best-served to look at property value data with a fine-toothed comb by a HUMAN, not an algorithm. Right now, even certified appraisers are having a hard time figuring our home values. How can we expect a computer to keep up with all of the fluctuations and nuances in home valuation? We can’t. Consumers should avoid the trap of believing inaccurate estimates offered by auto-valuation programs.
Is there a better way for me to find out the value of my current home in case I want to sell?
Yes, absolutely; use a human realtor to give you a comparative market analysis (CMA) on your home! There are a lot of factors that go into determining the value of a home, and they go way beyond pulling up an algorithmic list of homes that have sold recently; these algorithms often have a massive margin of error. A CMA is part science, part art, and part intuition. This can’t be replicated with a computer program.
Is there a better way for me to find current homes for sale in my area?
Yes there is! Partner with a realtor who will be your professional advisor in all steps for your journey. A good real estate agent will connect you with financial lenders, home inspectors, contractors, accountants, title agents, and a whole network of other professionals who will help you on your home buying or selling journey. Your real estate agent will not only pull timely and accurate MLS data for you, but they can also scour the market for off-market (aka: pocket) listings and reach out to their extensive network of fellow agents for insights that are not available on sites like Zillow. And great realtors will even go so far as to door-knock to find your new home for you. Zillow, Trulia, and Realtor.com can’t touch this level of service; only a realtor will be able to tap into this intimate knowledge of your needs.
What does all of this mean? Zillow, Realtor.com, Trulia, and all the other property listing websites are here to stay, and they are useful as a basic starting point. But they cannot replace having a real estate agent by your side as you navigate the ever-changing, unique, and wondrous home-buying and home-selling adventure.
Contact me today to start your journey - 952-292-6623.
Licensed Realtor, Stand-up Comedian, and Retired Police Sergeant. I took my 25 years of law enforcement experience, threw in my experience as a stand-up comic and college teacher, and used those ideal....
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