What do you do with a Zillow Zestimate?

In the post below, I have shown comparisons of Sold price vs. Zillow Zestimate and Cyberhomes valution of the most recent recorded sales.  Why do we need to know this, and how do we use this information?

1) Short Sale vs. Zestimate – Was buying a short sale worth the extra hassle?

SS#1 – the Zestimate is identical to the 2008 assessed value. The Cyberhomes value is also almost exactly what the owner paid for it in March of 2006.  So neither was needed, as most buyers would look at assessed value and what the owner paid for it. This short sale is good for an “end user”, but not for an investor.  The discount of 5% under the Zillow Zestimeate and 10% under the Cyberhomes value equals the hassle, no more and no less for this buyer.  But there was a buyer before this buyer who waited around for 60 days for the bank to not approve the original offer price.  The first buyer flushed out what the bank would take.  The second buyer had the advantage of the first buyer’s hassle factor.

SS#2 – This is a good one.  The assessed value, Zillow Zestimate and the Cyberhomes values are all about the same.  This is down where current prices are about equal to 2008 assessed values in Auburn and Federal Way.  So this sold for 20% under fair market value and 30% under what the current owner paid for it. Hard to see the hassle factor, as it looks like they didn’t put this one as pending until they had bank approval, which was 10 days or so before it closed. This one is a stereotypical good Short Sale from the buyer’s standpoint and the Zestimate and Cyberhomes valuations and assessed value all confirm the discount.

Now that you know what a good and bad short sale looks like relative to a Zestimate, et al, you can see that SS#3 = not so good, SS#4 = Zillow’s way over on this one.  Assessed is $717,000 Cyberhomes is $794,000, the owner paid $803,000 for it in 2006, so not likely the Zestimate of $937,000 is correct. Compared to the Zestimate it looks like a screaming deal…but in reality it’s about the same as SS#1…OK for an end user but not for an investor.

For those who wanted to know Original Asking Price, I don’t know how it helps you to know that was $1.4 million on a property whose value is clearly just under $800,000?  Maybe I’m missing something, but asking price is never part of my valuation for  a buyer client.

Bottom line, looking at the Zestimate AND the Cyberhomes value AND what the owner paid for it and when AND the 2008 assessed value (not 2009) and the improvements or lack thereof, tells you a lot more than “the comps” these days.  Looking at comps is dangerous, as if you go back even 4-6 months, you are looking at prices that are higher than today’s current market value.  That may change into the second quarter…but the full area trend is MUCH more important right now than what the neighbors’ homes sold for back in June or July.

Zillow's Free Advertising – A Consumer Perspective

[photopress:warning.jpg,thumb,alignright] Before everyone jumps into the pool, every agent and owner must “LOOK before they LEAP”.

The Zillow Zestimate WILL appear, of course, in the same space as your “Property For Sale” listing. The printed data is also picking up the erroneous square footage info and number of bedrooms and baths from the tax records. So far it would appear that the owner can edit this data, but not the agent for the owner. Still playing with that.

Clearly, no agent should be listing a home where the Zestimate is less than the Asking Price, without first consulting with the owner, as I did last night BEFORE 9 p.m., having seen the proto-type last week. I am not particularly alarmed by this variance, but clearly the Zestimate being higher, rather than lower, would be a PLUS! 🙂 Attempting to turn a blind eye to the Zestimate, by not posting your home for sale there is no answer. Not here in the Seattle area where 82% of the buying public is likely to have seen the Zestimate, whether you invite them to do so or not. Seattle PI: “The company’s internal numbers (Zillow’s) indicate that 3.2 million people visited the site in November and that 82 percent of all homes in King County (WA) have been viewed on Zillow in the last 10 months.”

It is quite possible that the whole valuation process will pull in the direction of Zestimates, particularly in areas like ours with so many tech savvy buyers. In fact, I am already seeing a move in that direction for many properties on market and ones sold recently.

Whether or not you choose to post your home for sale on Zillow.com, these are issues facing everyone involved in real estate transactions. Buyers are making offers with the Zestimate price. Sellers and Agent’s for sellers will need to learn how to calculate the variance with some level of credible accuracy.

One of the reason’s David G. and Jeff, of Zillow, my parter Kim and I, met last week to review the new product, was to view first hand some of these potential pitfalls. While I did notice the Zestimate vs. Sale Price issue, the square footage discrepancy did not pop out at me during the presentation.

“Supporting New Business Models” and being an “Agent for Change” requires that someone jump in first to test the waters and assist with these little blips from the getgo, and not without the owner’s permission to do so.

To Galen, who notes that it is difficult to simply load up listings en masse, perhaps this is fair warning that adding a home for sale should NOT be done en masse. Every agent and every owner must consider the potential consequences of showing the Zestimate price side by side against their Asking Price, and be prepared to justify the basis for the differences between the two with regard to square footage, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, finished vs. unfinished space, etc. and price.

This “FREE ADVERTISING” and the info contained “in the AD” is not entirely editable by the owner and the owner’s agent…so far anyway. I’m still working on it. Not a small matter, and one that must be addressed rather quickly if Zillow’s erroneous data is going to show side by side the owner’s “corrected” data.

So what did I forget to ask David G. last week? Did Pearl Harbor Day come up in any conversations concerning Zillow’s choice of unveiling the new upgrade? Did unveiling it at 9 p.m. on the 6th, camouflage any refererence to December 7th, when most would be waking up to see “God-Zillow” in their sheets with the morning paper?

Zillow your life – it's quite interesting

I grew up at 4950 Lancaster Avenue My parents purchased it for $7,000 in 1957 or so. They made nothing on it and it is now the hole that you see between the buildings. But they raised seven children there. I lived there from age 3 to age 20 or so when my Dad died. I say it owes them nothing for housing nine people there for 17 years. The entire neighborhood that still exists, only values out at $15,000 max. That’s only a 50% return over a fifty year timeframe. Yes, there are “wrong” places to buy property! Always has been and always will be…ALL property does not go UP! (or down) in equal proportions.

In 1973 when my Dad died, my Mom moved to 6626 Haddington Street I remember her picking up the phone and leaving messages on the answering machines of every real estate office in town. She said I have $8,000. If you have a house to sell for $8,000, call me. According to Zillow, that house has now increased by 470%. My Mom was always a little smarter than my Dad…but my Dad was a cool dude 🙂 I don’t remember exactly what my Mom sold it for in 1980, but I do remember that she got at least double what she paid, had a non-taxable gain AND carried a portion of the price as a mortgage to the purchaser, with a double digit interest rate. That house owes her nothing either.

I moved out by the time she sold that house in 1980. In fact my Mom followed me to Northeast Philly. I rented. She bought a house for $18,000 on Fairdale now valued by Zillow at about $55,000. She sold it for $46,000 or so. It is now worth three times what she paid for it, but she took most of the equity out when she left. I bought this house in Kipling Place in 82 for $45,000 and sold in in 84 or $65,000. Zillow values it at $74,000 now, so looks like I pulled most of the equity out of that one. Me and my Mom seem to be doing pretty good pulling equity out and getting in and out at the right times.

Gotta go and I want to see if these Zillow links last. I’ll pick up in 1985 in another post.

Zillow 2.0 is out – Westlake Village start your photocopiers

The folks at Zillow have just released an update to their web site (which first launched in February earlier this year). You can find out more details from the Zillow Blog.

The Cool:
One of the coolest features are scrollable heat-maps (frankly, I thought they’d do this, because it’s been on my Zearch 2.0 To-Do List for the past 4 months). So when you zoom around the map view, check “show heat map” check box, zoom out to the city level or higher, and see Zestimate/sq ft color coded all pretty like on the map. This is slick.


Another thing they’ve done is add is what they call MyZillow. The feature allows users to keep track of their favorite homes from one central location. You can create your own estimate (and make it public), add facts about your home to supplement the public record and compare it to right next to the Zestimate.

The Lame:
The map page now has 3 banner ads it (2 of which were animated). Although, I understand Zillow’s business model is based on the ads, I think they would be better served by having fewer ads. Even realtor.com only has 2 banner ads on it’s major pages. I hope the next release doesn’t have pop-unders and “hit the monkey for a free iPod” ads.

The Deep Thought:
What will happen if disgruntled reators (or hackers) start entering bogus supplemental data into their MyZillow? Will it effect Zestimates negatively?
Anyway, congrats to the Zillow guys for pushing the envelope a little further. It’ll be very interesting to see what version 3.0 holds and see how far Zillow can push that deCarta DDS box that they have sitting in their data-center.

RPA Zearch – Now with Turbo Zillow!

OK, I admit it. I got early access to the Zillow API. 🙂 And it’s pretty interesting stuff, it provides Zestimate values, comparable properties, Zestimates charts, and Zindex charts. Anyway, everybody knows I’ve done Zestimates before, but the charts are a new wrinkle I haven’t had the opprotunity to explore yet.

As some of you know, I’ve been working with Gordon & Jay of Real Property Associates (old site) to develop their new site (beta). Although the site is about a month away from going live, I thought I’d let the world know so they beta test my favorite new Zearch feature which I call “Turbo Zillow”.

So if you run a search for Eastside communities, below the map (sorry about the lack of pushpins folks – the server is having a bad geo-coding day), you’ll notice the new Zillow control. The control will populate with every city & zip code that was in your search results. (PS – Will the agent who entered a 00000 zip code into the MLS for MLS# 25147354, please fix it, don’t get me started). It will then let you plot a Zindex chart based off location, dollar/percent appreciation, and 1/5/10 year durations. So the control, looks like something like this…


This is really cool, because getting a new chart, is as simple and changing the drop downs to what your interested in, and the watching the chart change. Comparing city & zip codes median price histories has never been this easy on Zillow. The details page of a listing will also have a Zillow control that will show the chart of the listing, the zip, the city, the state, and the USA in the same way. Currently. the details version of the control appears to have a bug with getting the USA chart if Zillow can’t find the Zestimate. So if you see something that is way off. it could be my bug, or it could be Zillow’s bad Zestimate. Either way, I think charts & data visualization are the next big thing for MLS searches after everybody gets the AJAX maps out of their system.

On the Zillow site, to get this information, I have to click here for Bellevue, click back, click here for Redmond, and then back, and then click here for Kirkland. Why do they make getting Zindex charts so hard? I have to scroll to the bottom page, for everything and then click? Why can’t you do some Web 2.0 map magic instead of a sea of links (or just put the links it at the top of the page)?

OK, enough mini-flaming, I have to give credit were credit is due and I thank the crew at Zillow for having the guts to release an API to the public and having the courage to let me put it through it’s paces. Perhaps my experiments will inspire them to greater things, more APIs and a better UI for the Zindex pages? Until then, I’m using “Turbo Zillow” for my ZIndex fix.

Visit http://www.rpare.com/search.aspx, do your thing, have fun the fast lane my friends!

10 Questions For Yahoo! Real Estate

Today I got an email from Haley at Yahoo announcing their new and improved real estate site:

Today Yahoo! Real Estate announced a revamped site which includes comprehensive tools and services to help home seekers chose their dream home. Yahoo! Real Estate is now more tightly integrated with Yahoo! Search and Local, giving users inside information (like mortgages, local market rates, even ratings and reviews on local restaurants, businesses and schools) for the more than 3 million homes listed on the site.

Below you’ll find a release detailing the improvements. If you’re interested in learning more, I’d be happy to arrange an interview with a Yahoo! Real Estate spokesperson, please feel free to email or call me on XXX.XXX.XXXX.

It is really not appropriate for me to do the interview, so I’d rather turn this back on RCG readers… Are there any questions you have for Yahoo about their new site?

If you do have questions, let me know ASAP because I’d like to aggregate the 10 best questions and pass them along to Haley by the end of the day today!

Valuing Real Property in the Seattle Area

[photopress:lega_emc2_l.jpg,thumb,alignright]My engineer friends are asking off screen for more details on a “scientific” approach to valuing property. You know, something they can put on an Excel Spreadsheet 🙂 Here’s a fairly tried and true method of valuation here in the Seattle Area. This method was so accurate a couple of years ago, that many agents were using this calculation to list property, and many owners knew it and were insisting on this method of valuation. That was before Zillow came out of course 🙂

I do have to caution readers from outside of the Seattle Area and the State of Washington, that this may not be reliable in other areas of the Country.

Here in the Seattle Area we have little niche markets everywhere. West Seattle, Downtown Kirkland, North Queen Anne, Ballard on the Freemont Side, Crown Hill, etc… Every pocket of value is self contained and is often called everywhere around the Country, the “snob” factor. I sometimes call it the “nosebleed” section, particularly in “view corridors”. Every place I have ever worked has had many, many imaginary lines that determine value pockets. Like the little sliver of area that has the zip code of the lower valued area, but the school district of the contiguous higher valued area.

OK, my engineer friends are getting bored with all the words. Here goes. When I first arrived in the Seattle Area and was working over by Green Lake, it was well known that everything was selling at 1.3 X assessed value. “Everything” meaning “all things being equal” and the “good-average home” without a view. Flippers were looking for anything and everything they could get their hands on that was selling at or below assessed value and using 1.3 or more x assesed value as their “worst case” after improvements value benchmark.

The beauty of this method is that you can extract the factor from each pocket neighborhood, and then apply the factor to the assessed value. I’m going to use the mls, but Galen and others, if you let me know of a site that has sold data that includes the inside photos of the sold property, let me know, so I can give the tutorial pointing to sites the Average Joe can access.

I just sold a property that closed at 1.54 times assessed value. Prior to that sale the top rate for that neighborhood was 1.33 times assessed value or less. Agents sometimes hold the market value down on the seller side of things by pre-ordaining the snob factor. Sometimes I can extend the imaginary line and drag the snob factor ratio of 1.5 to 1.6 times assessed value over to the nearby area that has not gotten a fair shake by the local agents for too long a time.

Take all of the solds in the same zone, as in nearby homes of like kind. Like kind meaning you compare view properties to other view properties and non view properties to other non view properties. You don’t have to consider square footage or number of bedrooms, as the assessed value will take that into consideration by going up and down to accommodate the inherent differences. This method is often more accurate than using the number of bedrooms and square footage reported in the mls.

Take the sold prices of each home divided by the assessed value of that home. Once you get the range of value for that area, say 1.4 – 1.48 times assessed value, you look at the assessed value of the home for sale and multiply it by that given area’s factor. If you pay more than that, then you know you are at the high end of the value range and might have to hold the property longer to come out whole. If you pay at or lower than the low end of the range, you can likely sell it whenever you want and make a profit.

View property will generally go for 1.6 times assessed value. The problem comes with flip projects. Flip projects and remodeled homes have jumped to 1.8 to 1.9 times assessed value. These homes, while they may be worth the price, must be evaluated with regard to the improvements of the basic systems and not just the comsmetic changes. If the roof is three layers and the wiring is original and the basement is yukky, but the kitchen has granite counters and the bathrooms are remodeled and the home is staged…be very careful. To garner 1.9 times assessed value, the home should be “like new” not only based on aesthetics, but all of the main components and systems of the home as well AND be a view property.

By calculating the 1.? times assessed value, you can determine how picky to be about the inspection, how much is too much to pay and where you are paying for “snob factor”. If nearby homes are selling for 1.4 times assessed value or even 1.9 times assessed value, and your offer is 1.8 times assessed value…that should tell you something you may need to know.

OK you data crunchers out there. Time for you to test your valuation using the x assessed value method and compare it to your Zestimate. Let’s hear what you come up with. This should work in any part of the Country that does not re-assess based on sale price, such as California.

What else is Zillow good for?

If your Zillow Zestimate is higher than what your home sells for, than you will likely have no trouble appraising for the buyer’s loan, AND you can let it bid up if you get multiple offers without fear that it will not appraise.

If the Zillow Zestimate is lower than what you are able to sell your house for…don’t count your money until after the appraiser leaves, and be sure to take the offer with the most money down, and the buyer who is willing to make up the difference between sale price and appraised value in cash.

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” 🙂

How cool is our home search? Ice Cold!

In case you haven’t dropped by our home search tool recently, we’ve made some improvementsicecube. Changes include…

Market Analysis Tool Improvements
We thought it would be helpful, if you could get a second opinion when you get an estimate. So, we’ve made arrangements with Zillow to use their Zestimate web services on our Market Analysis page. That way, when you type in a property address, we’ll give you our estimate, get your property’s Zestimate (and the link to it’s page on Zillow), and save you some typing.

Radius Search
Want to find the all houses, within 2 miles of your house or office? Now you can here! And yes, the search results pages are Bookmark-able, RSS-able, and Google Earth-able. (I wouldn’t have it any other way).

Improved Location Search
The list boxes on the location search page are multi-selectable. Big whoop, I hear you say? Well, ours doesn’t refresh the entire page when you change the city or download a big city / community list when you first navigate to the page. Yes, you are seeing AJAX in action. It’s not something most people are going notice, until they wonder “Gee how come your page is so much faster than all the other ones”?

As always, the results from the improved location search are Bookmark-able, RSS-able, and Google Earth-able.

What’s next
Well, it’s a given that at some point I’m going have to have Virtual Earth or Google Maps integration, instead of static Yahoo Maps. If I’m going to compete with the big boys of real estate search, I gotta do maps. I’m probably going to have to create profiles, so you can save your searches, favorite properties, favorite places and other stuff that requires server side persistence.

What features would consumers and realtors like to see next? I’m more interested in hearing what realtors would like to see next because they are the ones who’ll be writing the check, when I eventually decide to release this. I have a billion ideas for what I’m going to do, but I’d get to some more feedback to find out what features I should implement next. Otherwise, I’ll continue to make it up as I go along…