Even if you are not in the market to buy a new home, odds are you have still spent a fair amount of time on the popular real estate search sites, Trulia and Zillow. I am asked often why Realtors are insistent that our clients obtain their real estate data and information from our own sites, when those like Trulia and Zillow are so "pretty" and "easy to use." Let's dive in to some of the things I don't like about Trulia and Zillow.
Accuracy of Listing Data
I experience this phenomenon so many times: One of our wonderful buyer clients emails to excitedly say "I FOUND it! I found the HOUSE! It's perfect for us!"
I have the nagging feeling in the pit of my stomach as I flip my computer tab over to the MRIS (Metropolitan Regional Information Service) and look up the address our client has provided.
Sure enough, the home is not active and available on the market. Even though it showed as such on the popular websites Trulia and Zillow, often times those homes are either no longer on the market, have been placed under contract already, or has (yes, this happens) been an intentional and fraudulent entry where the home hasn't even been ON the market in recent days, weeks or even years!
While you may love the look of the popular home search websites, they cannot replace the actual and real live time data of your local Multiple Listing Service. While you do not have direct access to this list, by utilizing the services of a professional Realtor, you can search on their personal websites such as this one: Find Northern Virginia Homes or request your Realtor to set up a "listing alert" which means you will provide parameters and at your request, you will receive up to date information on homes that fit your criteria.
Advertising for Realtors
The other common thing we talk with clients about is the assumed popularity or talent of a particular real estate agent on Trulia and Zillow. We hear things like "Agent Joe Smith MUST be the best around, I see his photo EVERYWHERE!" Contrary to popular belief, the frequent presence of a specific agent on multiple sites and in various locations is likely simply the culmination of many advertising dollars being paid out so that you are given the illusion that the agent's presence equals his ability to serve you and your family in the best way possible.
For example, take a look at one of my listings, 1511 Barksdale Drive SW, Leesburg. I am no where to be found on that listing information, yet those who have paid to be "premium members" (advertising dollars!) show on the left column as though they are associated with the listing somehow.
Looking at that same listing of mine on Zillow (at least Zillow shares that I am the listing agent, however, it's in such light gray type that there is little differentiation). This also showcases one of my dislikes about the way Trulia and Zillow highlight the presumed like-ability of an agent's branding/photo selection.
Oh the Zestimate. Ask any Realtor what they think about the Zestimate and you will likely hear many groans! From Zillow's website:
“The Zestimate is not an appraisal and you won’t be able to use it in place of an appraisal, though you can certainly share it with real estate professionals. It is a computer-generated estimate of the worth of a house today, given the available data. Zillow does not offer the Zestimate as the basis of any specific real-estate related financial transaction. Our data sources may be incomplete or incorrect; also, we have not physically inspected a specific home. Remember, the Zestimate is a starting point and does not consider all the market intricacies that can determine the actual price a house will sell for.”
Gee thanks Zillow. The piece "you can certainly share it with real estate professionals" is a bit of slap in the face because research has proven that on average the Zestimate numbers are consistently NOT providing the actual value of the home (they are too high about half as often as they are too low). Studies actually show that the Zestimates are within 5% of the actual value of a home only 50% of the time! Can you imagine if I missed the mark on pricing a home that often?
This latest ad from Realtor.com is pretty clever:
If you are in the market for real time, up to date information about the housing market you are interested in, contact a professional Realtor directly and utilize their time, talent and ability to guide you in your search!