Zillow: The most comprehensive list of real estate for sale in America.

Don’t kill me. I’m trying to make a point.

I’ve dropped, drowned or lost more iDevices than anyone I know. So I often find myself on Craigslist, looking for a replacement. It seems like half the phones I inquire about are already sold, or scams, or people who never respond back either way. It’s really frustrating. But the next time I need a new phone, guess where I go? Craigslist. Even though Craigslist is full of inaccurate data, it still has the highest number of listings. I’m willing to filter out the garbage to find what I want. Sound familiar?

I’m planning to buy a home soon. I look at many sources. I know that the most up to date information about agent marketed listings is on the public facing web site from my local MLS. I use it quite often. However, you and I both know that the MLS is not a complete list of homes for sale. There are FSBOs, distressed properties, bank owned, new construction homes and listings that agents leave off the MLS. So I look in other places as well, including Zillow. Why? Zillow has the most comprehensive database of real estate for sale in America. I know that not all the listings are accurate. Just like Craigslist, I’m willing to deal with it. I think many consumers agree with me.

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You don’t have to tell me about the inaccuracies of data on sites like Trulia and Zillow. Been there, got paid to defend that. Doing the same zip code search on Zillow and my local MLS, I came up with 96 listings on the MLS and 125 agent sourced listings on Zillow. It’s fair to assume that a significant percentage of the 125  represent stale, off market listings. If you think agents are bad about updating listings, homeowners are even worse. So most or all of the FSBO listings could be out of date as well. Beyond that, the pre-market stuff is a mishmash of properties that may never sell. So yes, a bunch of these listings are a dead end. However, even if half of Zillow’s non-agent listings are duds, there’s still the decent possibility that I’ll find a home that wasn’t on the MLS.

In addition, we all know that every house is for sale. As a consumer, what better place is there to research homes that are not on the market? It doesn’t matter if the data is perfect. As a consumer, it’s the *best* I can find. Go ahead and tell me the data sucks. I don’t care. My bet is, neither do many of your customers.

No matter how many tools are built, reports are commissioned, or blog posts are written, search is something the consumer now thinks they can do on their own. In the consumer’s eyes, Zillow is the most comprehensive place for them to do it. Perception is reality.

You’re probably pretty annoyed with me at this point, but I said all of that to say this; having an MLS sourced IDX search tool on your website is great. It’s just not the lynchpin that’s going to convince your customers to use your site exclusively, and it doesn’t set you apart from any other broker or agent with an IDX search site in your market. Don’t put all your eggs in this basket.

Agents have a far higher value proposition in being the shepherd that can guide a consumer through the transaction. They hold domain knowledge about the neighborhood and local market that a portal simply can’t match. This is where I think brokers and agents have the greatest opportunity to differentiate themselves from Zillow, Trulia, and the competition. It’s not about your data. It’s about your expertise as a real estate professional.

10 thoughts on “Zillow: The most comprehensive list of real estate for sale in America.

  1. Surbiton

    My problem with Zillow is their refusal to correct or delete substantially wrong Zestimates when brought to their attention by the homeowner. Why do they take such an intransigent approach? Surely its in their interest to improve the quality of the data they publish rather than behave like a high school cyber bully imposing nonsense valuations on millions of homeowners and inflicting misery and financial damage.

    When Zillow itself accepts they have serious accuracy issues, with a median error rate of 8.7%, and 17% of homes having zestimates that are more than 25% wrong, they have demonstrated that they cannot be trusted to act in a fair minded way and it is time that some form of regulation was imposed on AVM’s like Zillow to protect homeowners interests as well. The absolute minimum requirement would be a http://www.DoNotZestimate.org website similar to the DoNotCall website to stop the telemarketers nuisnace calls.

  2. Jay Thompson

    Hey Todd, Jay T. from Zillow here. I think you hit the nail on the head with regard to “alternative listings”. Every real estate professional knows that not every home for sale winds up on the MLS.

    At Zillow we have a living database of 110 million homes — homes, not just “listings” — and accuracy is important to us. That’s why we, and our competitors, spend the resources we do to improve that accuracy, And we will continue to improve in that respect. In the mean time, today’s consumer wants data, lots and lots of data. It is indeed the role of the real estate professional to interpret that data and guide the consumer through the rough waters of the real estate transaction. NAR has the data to back this up, but more and more people are using a real estate professional than ever before. That’s not in spite of all the data out there, it’s because of it. Consumers can be overwhelmed with all the information available to them. Sounds like a perfect opportunity for the real estate pro to not be just the keeper of the data, but the interpreter of it.

    1. Surbiton

      Zillow may have a database of 110 million homes, but it is hardly a ‘living database’ as only 37 million homes have been claimed since 2006. One can guess that most of these ‘claimed homes’ have been listed by Realtors and facts updated by them rather than the homeowner. I would suggest only a small percentage of homeowners claiming their homes, either through ignorance of the fact that Zillow has details of their home published, or total apathy towards Zillow and other AVM websites.

      With 4 to 5 million real estate transactions a year over the 7 years of Zillows existence my algorithm tells me that approximately 30 million homes were claimed by Realtors and only 7 million were claimed by Homeowners. So hardly a living database when less than 7% of homeowners have ‘individually’ claimed their home and edited facts other than for the purposes of selling. Whatever the percentage of homes claimed by Realtors or Owners, it still means that 73 million homes on the Zillow database have not been claimed. Let me repeat “73 million homes on Zillow have not been claimed”, and probably never will until the owners list the home at a future date and a Realtor claims the home and updates the facts.

      The other unknown fact is how many of Homeowners do not want Zillow to publish a nonsense zestimate which serves no useful purpose and causes misery and financial damage when so many are substantially wrong. With 17% of Zestimates being more than 25% wrong it is unacceptable that Zillow refuse all requests from homeowners to correct or delete the erroneous zestimate the way Zillow does. A living database is one which is updated to reflect the correct valuation and not an imposed valuation computed using a flawed algorithm and badly interpreted data. One can only presume that Zillow enjoys the controversy and notoriety generated by its nonsense zestimates as there can be no sensible reason why they refuse to correct when requested to do so.

      PS The 37 million claimed homes number is a ‘fact’ from Zillows recent SEC 10K filing

  3. Michele Nixon

    This, of course, makes perfect sense.

    I think the stumbling block is (to use the example), it’s really hard to understand why anyone would pour through 125 listings on Zillow and weed out the crap listings. only to arrive at the 95 real listings you would have received from the MLS search.

    Yes, our roles are to interpret the data for our clients. I think that’s always been true. But, in this tech world where people are constantly looking for a way/app/system to “improve” their lives and make their days more efficient, in my opinion, they take a step back by overwhelming themselves and, very often, spinning their wheels looking on sites that are aggregated from mutlitple other sites (not just MLS).

    No offense, Jay! Love you! 🙂 I think Zillow is great for research (even though our area is in the 20% range of accuracy). But, to me, one of the most inefficient ways of working. Wouldn’t you rather be out doing something else and letting your agent work for you?

    1. Todd Carpenter Post author


      It’s worth it to me to sort through Zillow because there’s still plenty of houses that I won’t find on the MLS. Depending on the market 10-20% of sold properties never made it to the MLS. I certainly don’t use Zillow exclusively, but I wouldn’t use the MLS exclusively either. Zillow and Trulia’s traffic makes me think I’m not alone.

  4. Paul Hagey

    A good point that Zillow brings out in these accuracy debates. It’d be great to have representative data on how many listings Zillow has listed for sale in a few markets that aren’t listed in the local MLSs.

  5. Aaron

    While trying to throw my two cents in on this earlier, I accidentally got into a Twitter debate with Matthew Ferrera and others. Sometimes, (most times) 140 characters does not allow me to make a salient point. Matthew said he is interested in the most comprehensive local data and doesn’t care about Zillow having 110Mil properties nationwide. My point was the average consumer likely perceives Zillow as the best locally BECAUSE they have a vast amount of information (accurate or inaccurate) on a majority of the nation’s homes. Ave. consumer: “Look at all this info. School info, Mortgage info, Assessor data, listings all over US, and Zestimates and listing history for virtually every property. This is far more info than I could ever get from a local broker’s site”. The consumer naturally perceives it to be the most comprehensive because of the sheer volume of data provided vs local broker site. To top that off, Zillow and Trulia are nationally known brands, and they are best known for technology. Technology is supposed to make things easier, and provide more info with less hoop jumping than traditional means. Add all of that together, and it doesn’t make sense in the minds of the average consumer that a local brokerage with 4 agents could possibly have better, more accurate info than Z or T.

    Even if they do, in most cases.

  6. ryan

    Great article and I have been preaching this for years. Zillow is far from perfect but it’s where many many people look for homes. A few family members call me and ask about a home. I ask them where they found that home. Zillow. Every single client and family member over the last year or so give me the same answer Zillow.

    Like em or hate em, people use Zillow. I have MLS access and I use zillow to check areas and homes for sale. I know a good number of homes are not on the MLS, plus I can see how many rentals are in the area. See how many make me moves might be there. See how many REO’s. Gives me an overview of a neighborhood I can not get through MLS.

    As a matter of fact, I would like to get rid of my IDX search and use a Zillow.

    I think agents and brokers will eventually get rid of all the restrictive and limited IDX search tools on their web sites and migrate to embedding a Zillow search. I wold do it today if it was offered by Zillow. Assuming Zillow gets better listing accuracy.

    1. Drew Meyers

      “I would like to get rid of my IDX search and use a Zillow.”

      There is a growing trend for exactly that. But it’s only going to get bigger in the next few years IMO.

      1. ryan

        Agreed Drew…… Why spend countless hours, energy, and money to try and create and compete with what Z & T already have. Why worry about the latest app, does my site work of this browser, what are the latest SEO techniques, do I have enough Hyper local info.. and on and on and on. Instead I would rather partner with Z &T and leverage their 10’s of millions of dollars,maketing, consumer resources, agent tools, etc.. I’ll do what I do best, you do what you do best and we work together.
        Maybe that is far too logical for this industry.

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