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Zeroing in on Zillow

Posted by: Tim Mullaney on April 13, 2006

Had a short chat yesterday with Spencer Rascoff, CFO of the new home-appraisal site, about a new feature that launches today (April 13). The new goodie is an upgraded satellite mapping feature that lets you zero in much more closely on a house you want to know more about. As Spencer says, “it’s the difference between seeing a picture of someone’s roof (on most satellite mapping sites) and seeing a picture of their house.” Zillow says the new feature covers markets that have about 25% of the U.S. population, including San Francisco, Seattle and Manhattan. See how it works, using this sample shot of a Zillow staffer’s Seattle home.

This feature's kind of cool -- but it's just icing. The cake at Zillow is whether its software is sophisticated enough to give you an accurate valuation, either of your own house or a house you may want to buy. The site is still in beta after opening to the public this winter, and it has taken a lot of well-deserved grief over many of its estimates not being very accurate. Peter Coy has blogged here that Zillow didn't come close to the valuation of his own house. But in New Jersey, where Peter and I live, that's not a surprise: It's a market where Zillow relies on very limited information from property-tax records since it doesn't have the latest comparables and market data available from easily automated public sources. (Zillow values my house at what I paid for it in 2000, which is about half of what comparable homes are now commanding).

My bigger concern is very inaccurate valuations I saw when I compared Zillow's valuations of homes in Dallas, where information is supposed to be a little better, with the prices those same homes are listed for sale at right now. It's not yet a pretty picture -- and it underscores how difficult a task automating home appraisals still is. Compare this to this.

Rascoff says Zillow has expanded the number of homes for which it offers estimated values by 5-10% since its launch, and is trying to make the estimates more accurate as well. I have noticed some anecdotal improvement in Zillow's accuracy in Dallas, a market I know pretty well, in the last few weeks. But Rascoff says Zillow has not yet done the testing to know whether there's been any improvement in this key stat: When they launched, Zillow believed its technology could get the value of 62% of homes tested accurate within 10%. "We're definitely working on it," spokeswoman Amy Bohutinsky says. As well they should. Beta is beta, and fair is fair, but the data has to get quite a bit more accurate before Zillow is more of a home trader's tool than a very interesting toy. No matter how low they can get a plane to fly over a house to take a picture.

Reader Comments

pete stopper

April 13, 2006 2:56 PM

For all the attentionyou pay to Zillow, every time i visit their site I get a failed search or wrong guys should find something newsworthy to write about.

Just because Inman raves about Zillow and the Microsofties who founded it, doesn't make it interesting.

How about lifting your heads up and writing about someting other than Inman's leads and yesterdays' news ( another article on the bubble is not news! you can just start reposting the old ones with new dates...)

I enjoy your site and the content is getting stale...pick up the pace!!!


Tim Mullaney

April 14, 2006 11:25 AM

It's a really simple answer. Rich Barton's last company was worth $9 billion when he sold it. The guy is news. Even on days when Inman has the news too.

Ryan James

April 14, 2006 5:41 PM

The new birds-eye feature looks like an interesting feature; especially if you are moving accross country and making an appointment to spend a weekend with an agent to find your dream home. However, I live in Los Angeles and was unable to get the feature to work. Looks like they still have a few bugs to work out in their system.


Jennifer Hershey

April 16, 2006 3:53 PM

I found Zillow reporting absolutely wrong asessments for the zip codes where I used to work as a real estate agent. For instance in South NJ 08078 it gives house prices TWICE lower than it should be - it shows average 3bdr house price under $100K.
I don't think it's a good tool. Pictures may make it better, but price database uses 5 years old obsolete data.

abe hoffman

April 17, 2006 3:03 PM integrates how much homes SOLD for nationwide using the google mapping technology. Simply select city and state from the city menu and click search. If you don't see data for your area simply email with your zipcode and or address and they'll update the site with your info and email you within a few days.


April 18, 2006 1:39 PM

I live in Dallas. When I did my house, it had no bathrooms - that totally messed up the valuations. I started clicking around - no one had bathrooms. I tried my parents house which is in another area - still no bathrooms. I think that is what is wrecking the data.

john wright

May 13, 2006 12:41 PM

given that the site is in beta test still, i think quibbling about the accuracies of specific valuations is missing the point. the big news here is that the sales history for comparable homes is now publically available in a much more useful and timely format. assessing home values has long been the realm of real estate professionals, who combine analyses of actual sales with their judgement of the local market. while i leave room that a professional may or may not have a better sense of the market than i do, i now have access to the same historical sales data that they do. in short, the individual now is in a much better position to determine the value of properties they are buying or selling. zillow is a valuable if imperfect tool that is long overdue. those in the industry with a vested interest in controling this information are right to feel threatened.


February 15, 2007 12:37 PM

I am trying to list a house in Inman with agreage that is worth a lot less than Zillow states. As a result, the seller and I are having a conflict on pricing it for the market. I don't know where they are getting their data, but in this area it is way off.


February 23, 2007 3:44 PM

For those in the southern california area, leaves Zillow in the dust. When I was searching for a house I used it several times a day.


March 2, 2007 3:06 AM

Zillow now lists "recent sales" homes and their prices, but I know in Dallas, TX media cannot publish the sales price, only the mortgage amount, which can be substantially different. If the "sales price" is not really the actual SAles price, then Zillow should not populate that field...just leave it blank.

John Triesch

May 5, 2007 1:37 PM

Zillow shows my neighbor's house valued at $522,000. But it sold four months ago at $460,000. Zillow notes the recent sale price, but still gives it the high valuation. It's just plain wrong. Very wrong. John Triesch

John Triesch

May 10, 2007 10:26 PM

One more thing. I think that Zillow must be owned by real estate companies. John Triesch. ong Beach

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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.

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