3 Big Reasons Why Buyers and Sellers Shouldn’t Rely on Zillow

3 Big Reasons Why Buyers and Sellers Shouldn’t Rely on Zillow

Originally published Friday, October 26th, 2018; Updated February 1st, 2022

According to market research company Statista, 93% of homebuyers turned to the internet for at least part of their homesearch in 2018. And that was before the pandemic, when in-person searches became impossible for some. One of the most often used websites for real estate internet searches is Zillow, with its top-tier name recognition and big marketing budget.

Zillow and other real estate websites can be helpful—as long as buyers and sellers understand their limitations. These sites can be a fun place to get ideas for a wishlist or to see a basic range of prices and availability in a certain area. But there are some gaps and inconsistencies in the information they provide. Most importantly, Zillow can never replace the personal service of a real estate agent. 

There is nothing wrong with searching on Zillow early in the buying or selling process. But as putting the house on the market or the house hunt begins to take shape, keep these three issues in mind: 

The List of Homes for Sale on Zillow Might Be Inaccurate

The information about homes for sale on Zillow is often incorrect or outdated. This is because it is up to local brokers to update their listings on Zillow. If they do not inform Zillow every time a price changes or there is a contract pending, the information online will be wrong. Some agents opt out of working with Zillow altogether, and others may not have the time to keep up.

Sometimes homes for sale on Zillow are actually in pre-foreclosure, and not technically for sale yet. Not only that, what is shown online as the asking price might actually be the amount owed on the home loan. While a lot of people might be in the market to buy a foreclosure, the owners may come up with the money to satisfy the bank and avoid foreclosure. 

When an interested buyer sees a house online, the listing price might be wrong, it might be under contract, or worse yet, already sold or not on the market yet. This can be disappointing as well as a waste of time.

How Close are Those Zestimates?

Looking over spreadsheets to compare Zestimate accuracy

The Zestimate is Zillow’s catchy term for a home’s estimated value. It is not an appraisal, but the result of an algorithm that combines known data about the house. This includes the recent sales prices of nearby homes as well as basic data about the age, size, and features of the home.

Zestimates are a pet peeve for many real estate agents when they differ from the asking price or the actual appraised market value of the home. They can confuse buyers who are trying to figure out what they can afford and sellers determining an asking price for their house.

Zillow itself has disclaimers on its website and shares statistics about the accuracy of its Zestimates. For example, 94.5% of homes sold within 10% of the Zestimate amount, but only 79.2% sold within 5%. For a buyer or seller who is paying close attention to their budget, these differences can amount to quite a bit of money. 

No one from Zillow sees the house in question. The algorithm can not distinguish between shoddy workmanship and expert craftsmanship on an upgrade, for example—not to mention unique features or those personal preferences that can make a house desirable or undesirable. A nearby park, an award winning rosegarden, a walkable neighborhood, or the way the sun lights the home can be appealing and worthy of a higher offer. On the other hand, a junkyard down the street, traffic noise, or odors from a nearby factory might make it less so. The Zestimate does not take any of this into account, but only calculates the basic facts.

Zillow is Not a Real Estate Broker

Zillow can not do the things that real estate agents do for their clients. Only local agents have full access to the MLS database, as well as the inside track on homes that may not be on the market yet. This means that the status of each home will be up-to-date and accurate, as will the asking price.

Real estate agents know their local market and are skilled at determining what will sell quickly, and at what price. They advise sellers on what to fix or update to make the home more inviting, all the while keeping the seller’s time, energy, and financial abilities. Their local network allows them to recommend vendors of all kinds to help get the work done to fix up and stage a home to go on the market. Zillow offers none of these personalized services.  

Finding the right agent means working with someone who asks the right questions and comes to understand exactly what a buyer or seller wants and needs. As mentioned in the section above, they will see what makes a home special when they tour it in person. They have the human ability to think creatively and offer suggestions that their clients may not have thought of—and certainly would not have sought out in a Zillow search.

Zillow makes its money through advertising dollars and by generating leads for brokers. When someone clicks a link to learn about a property, they are directed to a local agent anyway. Zillow is fine, and even fun, to browse early in a search. But when it’s time to buy or sell real estate it is best to go straight to the source: a dedicated agent.

Browse on Zillow, Buy With Select Properties

Looking at homes for sale on Zillow is a bit like shopping for clothes online, but the stakes are a lot higher. You truly don’t know if something will work out until you feel the fabric and try it on for size. It is essential for buyers and sellers to keep this in mind and not rely solely on Zillow for real estate information. Instead, contact an experienced agent like Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Select Properties to view up-to-date, accurate, and real listings.

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