Zillow.com, a home value estimation and research site launched their beta today. Given that we're planning to put our house on the market next month, this seemed a happy coincidence. As almost anyone who's tried to research their home's value or get comp sales data off the internet can attest, usually doing so leads to a host of sites demanding your personal data in the hopes of pairing you up with a real estate agent before they ever get to giving you the numbers you're after. But Zillow promises to let you skip all the hassle. It's simply a resource (eventually one that will be ad supported) and the information is hidden behind nothing more than your address. Sounds great.
And in practice, it is great. At least it looks great. Simply plugging in your address reveals a map of your whole neighborhood with the estimated value of not only your home, but all those that surround it. Clicking on any particular house gives you the details such as square footage and bedrooms. And at the bottom is a section that lists the actual recorded sales of homes in your neighborhood. The layout is slick, intuitive, and when you want to go deeper into the data, there doesn't seem to be anything that Zillow isn't willing to tell you.
The only problem is with those 'zestimates'. Much as I would love to believe it, I think Zillow has my house at least 100k over the real value. Furthermore, according to Zillow, our place has appreciated a whopping 30k in THE LAST WEEK. Bubble or no bubble, I highly doubt that's the case. If so, I'd wait a few more weeks before selling and simply retire.
Zillow does offer an estimated range and they concede the larger the range, the less certain they feel about the exact value of the home. But even the lowest figure they gave seems really high. I found similar situations when running some of my friends homes, and in my mom's neighborhood, nearly identical houses next door to one another ranged wildly in value from 115k to 350k.
It is a beta, and more than worth a look for the comp sales data alone, which is all you'll get from most sites and only after a lot of hassle. However, until they get a chance to tweak some of their calculating methodology I wouldn't recommend using your zestimate as an asking price. You'll likely be asking for a long time.