Don’t get me wrong: Zillow is a great place to look for homes. It’s a really big database and it’s very user friendly; they’ve gone out of their way to bring you lots of information extras and it’s nice to have one central place to look for homes.
That said, Zillow kinda sucks. Here’s why in a nutshell:
Zestimates are way off and Zillow wants you to know about it.
Let’s get this out of the way: Zillow is a website, not a human being. It’s never been to your home (or any other home, for that matter) and it doesn’t know how to differentiate between that tacky red shag carpet your neighbor has and your brand new chiseled teak floor. If a home that’s similar to yours in that community next door that ALSO happens to be next to a water treatment plant and doesn’t have your golf course view sells, Zillow is probably going to use it as a comp.
Don’t take my word for it – take Zillow’s. Here in Sarasota County, Zillow discloses that they come within 20% of the actual final sale price just 84% of the time, which sounds good until you start to do the math: on a $200,000 home, they’re off by at least $40,000 on a pretty regular basis. They come within 10% of the price just 60% of the time. I have better luck with darts.
Zillow’s Zestimate Accuracy Table is posted on their website so you can see for yourself.
The listings are out of date.
Zillow gets it’s listings from lots of sources including agent RSS feeds, foreclosure tracking sites, and basic IDX data. Those sources often have conflicting information, and Zillow has to somehow automatically sort it and decide which information is accurate and which isn’t. I get phone calls almost every day from people who want to buy houses we closed on MONTHS ago.
The only really accurate real estate websites are those that feed directly through the local Multiple Listing Service (MLS). Our site, incidentally, is one of those sites and the homes are updated very quickly to reflect the actual price, listing status, and details.
The agent you see on the sidebar probably isn’t the listing agent.
Zillow makes money by selling ad space to Realtors. For a relatively substantial sum, Zillow allows real estate pros to “purchase” ZIP codes and show up as a featured agent. That pro has probably never been to the house you’re looking at online but will be happy to take your call because he’s fishing for business (I know because I’m one such fisherman :)).
There’s nothing wrong with it: buyers need Realtors, and this is a great way to meet one. That said, you cannot rely on that agent to know everything about the hundreds of homes available in a particular ZIP code. Your best bet is to find an agent you trust, let them know your particular wants and needs, and work in tandem with a real, live person to find your next home.