Zillow Fails a Test Drive

I have heard a lot of media buzz about Zillow.com, so I gave the site a look-see. Fancy, very cool, but wow! There numbers and basic facts are way off.
I decided to conduct a little experiment. I searched the investment property that my wife and I recently sold in Bridgehampton, New York. The satellite aerials are pretty cool. I can almost see my kids splashing in the pool. That’s where the “flash” ends.
The “Zestimator” prices the home at $1.63M and our neighbor’s home at $2.45M. Our property sold and closed two weeks ago for $1.8M and our neighbor’s is still on the market after six months at the suggested Zillow asking price.
Here’s where things really go south. Our home is listed on Zillow as having three bedrooms and two baths. I was there two weeks ago, and I’m positive I still saw three and a half baths. Maybe the folks at Zillow thought it’d be more Zen with only two?
I changed the specs, and upped the number of bathrooms from two to three-and-a-half. This made the value of the house decrease in Zillow’s estimation. That’s a new one!
If you haven’t guessed by now, I’m terribly unimpressed with Zillow and don’t see it as a useful tool for much of anything except seeing a satellite photo of your home (which is cool, I admit). I didn’t want to pass judgment based on that one search so I also searched my condominium in Manhattan which is not listed at all. Almost all others in the building are listed and have “Zestimated” prices that are at least 20% higher than current market values. Heck, for those prices I’d sell my current apartment right now, but that’s not happening.
I would like to take a Zillow representative with me to my next marketing presentation so they could explain to the seller just how they came up with their price. It’d be cool seeing them squirm.
I gave it one more shot by searching my mother’s address in Maryland. The “Zestimator” gave a price much closer to reality. That’s probably because Zillow has MLS data for Maryland (and not New York City or the Hamptons since an MLS doesn’t exist in these areas). I did notice that my mother’s neighbor’s house which sold in August was accurately listed and I believe that the price they have given for my mother’s home is somewhat accurate.
Overall I have concerns about Zillow. Their data appears to assume that each home is identical in every aspect except address, square footage, and lot size. The numbers don’t appear to take into consideration the level of renovation a homeowner has done and of course can make no estimate on the homeowner’s “taste” of renovation. There are ways you can adjust the data about your house to take those things into consideration, but even with that level of customization I’m a long way from having confidence in any automated pricing systems–especially in New York.
Zillow is fun but I would definitely not rely on it for anything but its snazzy satellite photos and perhaps some sold data.

This entry was posted in Market Insight. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Zillow Fails a Test Drive