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Jul 26 2015

Zillow: Is it in trouble and how does it help you?

Over the years, I have used Zillow as a way to find new clients. That is, after all, how Zillow makes money. They charge real estate agents and mortgage brokers a fee for access to the folks that use Zillow. Zillow now also owns Trulia, arguably making them the Goliath of the online real estate information game. Despite that, and the common media story that real estate is booming – Zillow is not making any money. Not only that, the argument is being made that Zillow stock is currently being traded at twice what its value should actually be.

While there are plenty of reasons to wonder about Zillows future – when it comes to filling your needs, as a buyer, seller or investor in real estate – how does Zillow deliver?

Sadly, the answer is ‘Not very well’. So lets cover some of the reasons why Zillow may not be worth your time.

  • Incorrect information. You would be amazed at the number of leads I would get from Zillow users asking about homes that Zillow said were for sale, but were not. In many cases, these homes had sold years earlier.
  • Bad estimates. Zillow likes to brag about its “Zestimates” of value. While I have seen them come pretty close, usually they are off by enough for it to be very frustrating for that seller who thought they were going to get $870,000 for their home when the real market only supports a sales price of $810,000. In fairness to Zillow, one reason for this is the shortage of comparable data to work from right now. In many areas, it takes a little mojo to arrive at what is a good amount to list a home for.
  • YOU are the commodity. Zillow is not about selling real estate information. They are about selling YOU and your information to real estate agents.

So given all that, where should you be going for the best information on properties? The first place would be a real estate person. I know, that sounds very self serving, but the truth is that if you want the most accurate and up to date information, you should have a real estate agent create a search for you that emails you the results as soon as they are posted (you can. This usually means you get a notification arriving in your inbox within an hour or two of a home that meets your needs being listed in the MLS. It makes sense if you think about it, that agent is using the same database that is the source for MLS listings in that area.

But don’t panic! There is a second choice. If you hate the idea of having to talk to a real estate agent to set up your search (I mean really, who wants to talk to real estate agents?) you can use realtor.com. Realtor.com is run by the National Association of Realtors (NAR). All the MLSs in the country fall under this NAR. The only way you could get the information faster, is with a search started by a realtor for you. The accuracy on realtor.com should be just as good since it is plugged directly into all the various MLS systems across the country. Since realtor.com gets most of its operating income from the dues of real estate agents, you are not going to find your info being sent off to realtors quite as much. You won’t even see ads for realtors there. The only exception is if you find a home you like and ask for information, your info will then be sent to either the listing agent (if they are paying an additional fee) or to an agent who is paying to get your info in the case where the listing agent is not paying a fee. Just beware, if you do contact the listing agent, you are going to find yourself in a situation where they may try to “double end” the deal – represent both the buyer and the seller. This is not legal in all states but it is here in California. It is NOT in your best interests to let an agent represent both parties except for very rare situations.

I hop that this has helped you to figure out where to best spend your time if you are interested in what homes are on the market. If you want the best information without the additional hassle of an agent possibly laying a heavy pitch on you, realtor.com is the way to go.

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