The Accuracy of a Zillow Zestimate

[photopress:2faced000.jpg,thumb,alignright] Much has been written about the accuracy, or lack thereof, of the Zillow Zestimate of a home’s value. What one must remember is that a property can sell at the low point or the high point of its Zestimated range.

I don’t pay much attention to the articles written on bubbles bursting and what kind of market we are in, because I always know what kind of market I am in. I feel it in my bones, the same way an old person can tell that it’s going to rain before the weatherman predicts it. I know just how far I can push a price in either direction, depending on market conditions and who I represent in the transaction.

Every agent wears two hats and is two-faced, because a home’s “value” has to be higher when I represent a seller and lower when I represent a buyer, and it is my “job” to “make it so”. The Zillow range of value represents my best hope for my buyer client at the low end of the range, and my highest hope for my seller client at the high end of that range. I have yet to meet an agent in the Country who can jump back and forth over that line as well as I do. I guess that makes me two-faced, but being very good at being two-faced has always been my forte.

When I represent a seller I try to get the seller to give me the key to his house for a couple of days and go away and give me “carte blanche”. Mainly because I look very odd when I am “doing my seller thing”, somewhat like “MONK” at a crime scene. I keep going out to the street and walking up to the house, at various paces from all directions, emulating a buyer getting out of the car from every possible available parking spot. The neighbors must think I’m looney.

I trim trees and bushes based on the angle of the “walk up” and what I can see and what I can’t see. “Good, that bush blocks that window frame that needs painting…bad, that tree is blocking the main feature, the rounded brick archway…then I trim the tree to “accentuate the positive” until I can see the brick archway from the position of the buyer driving by or getting out of the car, and leave the bush overgrown to “de-emphasize the negative”.

I walk into the front door 25 or more times and change things, until I remove any negative influence in my sight pettern (which is eye level side to side, without looking up or down). I always tell agents, “if you are standing in one place when you are staging a home you are “decorating” and not “staging”. Walk through and walk fast. Remove negative influence or distract the eye away from the negative with a bright vase or photo in the opposite place from the negative. If you can’t eradicate the negative, draw the eye toward the positive. That is staging, and that is why the agent has to do it themselves and not hire landscapers and decorators.

Staging is about the real estate, and a real estate professional must be in charge of what will and will not be done, to enhance the sale price.

Conversely, putting on my other hat, I take out my other face when evaluating homes with buyers. We both step into the house, and usually I walk one way and they walk the other, and I see things quite differently than they do.

They say they “love” it and I say “Oh, my God WHY?”. I get them to focus and point to what they like. Sometimes by forcing them to tell me what they like, it turns out to be a painting or a piece of furniture. I say great, let’s find that painting to put in your new house, but for now let’s go back and try this again and look at the “real estate” of this place. Sometimes, if it is vacant, I actually have to move the staging so they can see what I see.

To achieve the lowest possible price for my buyer, I either have to find a seller who has “left money on the table” or I have to find a property that is overpriced. If a house could have sold for $510,000 or $515,000, but the seller priced it at $519,000 and staged it incorrectly, I can usually get it for $500,000. That’s a standard best case scenario. If a property comes on at less than fair market value, which happens on occasion, I can usually swoop in and modify terms, to grab it while the vultures are still hovering.

Often people comment on the Zillow Zestimate wondering “Where exactly is the value of this house? Is it closer to the high end of the range or the low end of the range?” The answer is it is the agent’s job to pull “the value” in the direction of their client. When I represent the seller, I have to DO something before I hit that “live on the mls” button that makes it go higher. When I am representing a buyer I have to DO something to force it back in the other direction.

I pretend that all my clients are Captain Kirk, who command me to “make it so #2” 🙂

Improving Online Home Valuations?

This past week, Top Producer quietly rolled out a home valuation tool, called HomeInsight, for a few markets in California and Washington*. I was not part of developing the tool, but I like it enough to pass along the link to Rain City Guide readers before the local media picks it up.

What differentiates this product from others is that it not only includes sold data, but also real-time listing data. The result is a page of information for each home that includes:

  • an interactive map that gives details on ten similar nearby homes (5 that are for sale and 5 that have sold) and
  • dynamic charts that give the average/high/low listing price, the average/high/low selling time and the average difference between asking and selling price for the neighborhood of interest.


However, as with all things that sound too good to be true, there is a catch. In order to pull live listing information, the servers pulling this data have to go through an agent’s connection with their local MLS. (Don’t ask me to explain why, and definitely don’t ask Robbie, but anyone reading RCG for a while knows that the MLS’ have rules!) The result is it takes 5 to 15 minutes for the request to go to the local Realtor’s Top Producer account and then for the Realtor to initiate a report that pulls the data off the MLS servers (yes, a server call to the local MLS is necessary each and every time a request for a snapshot is made). Consequently, the only way to get your snapshop is from a link sent via email about 10 minutes after you complete the form.

So, how do you get a market snapshot for your home? Simply go to HomeInsight and fill in the required fields. (Remember it is only available in a few places right now!*)

If you don’t want to fill in the form, live in another part of the country, or feel guilty about sending people like Jim Reppond a “false” lead, then you can also check out this dummy snapshot filled with made up data.

And as much as I hate disclaimers, it is important to note that these are my opinions and my currently employer is not responsible for what I write on Rain City Guide.

* This tool is currently only available in parts of California (Hemet, Huntington Beach, Laguna Niguel, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Mission Viejo and Norwalk) and Washington (Bellevue/Eastside, Bremerton, Everett, Federal Way, Greater Seattle, Puyallup and Tacoma)