Rich Barton and crew finally got tired of all the jabs about how long it was taking to launch Zillow.com, their well-funded and well-publicized homebuyer website.
Barton even promised to shave his head if he didn’t get it off the ground by this summer. So today they pulled the wraps off. (To link up to an ongoing discussion about Zillow.com from an earlier post, click here. For an online article about Zillow by my colleague Tim Mullaney, click here.)
I'm wondering whether Barton rushed things a bit. First of all, the site apparently lacks server horsepower. When I checked in a minute ago it had been temporarily knocked offline by "overwhelming demand.") Second, it's incomplete. In tech lingo, Zillow says the site is in beta, which as I understand it is a Greek letter meaning "we realize we haven't fixed all the problems here but we can't let the world pass us by before we launch this thing."
Don't get me wrong. Zillow could be a big success some day. The idea is great: Give people lots of information to determine how much their own homes and other people's are worth. You can see detailed, aerial views of neighborhoods with "Zestimates" of current market values superimposed on every lot. That's catnip to homebuyers.
But it would be nice if it delivered on its promises now. So far Zillow has deep data for only certain parts of the country, including a lot of the West Coast. A couple of weeks ago, when Barton and his team came by BusinessWeek's New York HQ for a secret demo, I plugged in my house in New Jersey and was horrified to see it listed for about
40% 30% less than I think it's worth. The explanation: Inadequate data. I'm picturing thousands or millions of people across the country clicking on Zillow and getting that same stab of fear: "This can't be right!"
Not a great way to launch a much-anticipated website.
BusinessWeek editors Chris Palmeri, Prashant Gopal and Peter Coy chronicle the highs and lows of the housing and mortgage markets on their Hot Property blog. In print and online, the Hot Property team first wrote about the potential downside of lenders pushing riskier, "option ARM" mortgages and the rise in mortgage fraud back in 2005—well ahead of many other media outlets. In 2008, Hot Property bloggers finished #1 in a ranking of the world's top 100 "most powerful property people" by the British real estate website Global edge. Hot Property was named among the 25 most influential real estate blogs of 2007 by Inman News.