As a Realtor here in the great state of Texas, I get asked a myriad of questions about everything under the sun when it comes to my job. Everything from, “You got a good plumber?” to “How do you think the president’s latest order will affect the housing market?” I do my best and answer honestly, even if the answer is, “Let me find out for you!” But there are certain questions that I get asked repeatedly, and things I find myself repeatedly stating, and so I thought I’d write a little about a few of them.
Zillow, Trulia, and other real estate websites
First, I’d like to say that there’s a lot Zillow and Trulia have done right. They have the most prolific marketing and, seemingly, the friendliest user interface of most of the other sites out there. HOWEVER! Zillow and Trulia have a fatal flaw. They are wildly inaccurate and, thus, create great frustration in both clients and agents alike.
“But, Emerald, they are so much easier to use than (insert any other agent/brokerage site) why shouldn’t I use it?”
You absolutely can Zillow and Trulia, if you are prepared to hear things like, “I’m so sorry, that home sold 3 months ago,” or “I’m sorry, but I’m not even sure where that ‘Zestimate’ amount came from, it’s nearly $38,000 off!” Basically, prepare for heartbreak and wasting your time. When it comes to Zestimates, or other opinions of value, they are pulling from public records or from information that was volunteered by either agents or home owners and inaccuracies abound in that field. Texas is a “non-disclosure” state, meaning, outside the Multiple Listing Service (the neat little thing that lets agents and appraisers know what homes really sold for, and that they pay a lot in dues to have access and maintain), there is no public record of the price at which a home sold and so the only public information available is the tax assessment values and the occasional amount of mortgage that was taken out on the home. (Note: Tax assessments usually do not reflect market value, but that’s not a bad thing.) Not to mention, Zillow has never been in your home and has no idea about carpet stains or the newly upgraded appliances. Both of those things have an affect on your value, and you don’t want to leave money on the table because Zillow told you to, do you?
“But, Emerald, why is it so inaccurate? And if it’s so inaccurate, why do I see advertisements for it everywhere?”
Well, I addressed a bit of the why it’s so inaccurate above, but to get a bit more specific, let’s split it up into buyers and sellers.
Inaccuracies on the Buyer’s side
So you’ve decided you want to start looking for a home, and you Google, or Bing, or Yahoo (if you’re old-school) and you find Zillow or Trulia, click the link and start searching. You put in a few points of what you are looking for in a home and you’re off! “35 homes found! Wow! I’ll have lots of options!” Well, hold yer horses. Remember that little part above where I talked about the Multiple Listing Service (MLS)? Well, that’s also the database Realtors use to share that homes are for sale, and the status of those homes. For example, I have a listing 123 Main Street and take the information, put it into MLS and, boom! other Realtors in the area now know 123 Main Street is available. They know the price, and lots of other details about the listing that their buyer clients will want to know. The MLS also allows me to make adjustments once the listing is ‘live’ in the system and let people know if there’s been a price reduction or some kind of special offer that’s available with this home. Life is good. So what’s the problem with Zillow & Trulia again? Zillow & Trulia do not have access to this database, thus, their information is anywhere from 3 days to 3 months behind! Going back to our original analogy, the “35 houses” that came up in your search? Of that 35 there’s really only 10 left on the market and there are 15 new ones that came on between last week and today that you know nothing about and won’t hear about until those sites pick them up in a few more days. By the time they are live on Zillow & Trulia, they’ve gone under contract and are no longer available, sad panda.
So what’s a buyer to do? My first answer will be obvious, CALL ME! If you don’t like me, or you’re in a different part of the world, still call me, I can hook you up with someone you will like and I won’t even be upset. “But, Emerald, I don’t really want to waste you or another Realtor’s time, I won’t be ready until (insert far off date here), so now where should I look?” Again, CALL ME ANYWAY! I can still get you set up with a portal link that is a direct feed from the MLS so there are real-time updates and I have no worries about when you buy or if you just want to be a nosy neighbor, I don’t judge, have at it! But if you’re really dead set on never speaking to me, I can handle that too. You are welcome to use either my website EmeraldSellsHomes.com or Realtor.com. Both are updated directly out of the MLS every 15 minutes and will also give you real-time updates. No, it’s not as pretty of an interface as Zillow or Trulia, but I believe in you, you’re smart, you will find your way, and if you don’t, CALL ME!
Inaccuracies on the Seller’s side:
I covered most of this in the previous paragraphs, Zillow & Trulia are not linked into the MLS and so their life is hard. Why should that matter to you as the seller? Besides giving you an inaccurate valuation of your home, it’s also not super awesome because it may be showing your home for sale long after you’ve left or chosen to take it off the market. You may have folks knocking on your door, or your new owner’s door asking to see the house. Not the end of the world, but inconvenient. Also, if you have a buyer that is trying to purchase your home without an agent of their own (not a good idea for the buyer at all, maybe not a good idea for you either) they may use the “Zestimate” as a basis for their offer and if it’s $38,000 low, that’s a tough bridge to build over that gap. Or the buyer may not be able to because they don’t have the financing for that amount. Another reason why it’s so very important to have representation!! Zillow & Trulia don’t know you or your home, but a Realtor can get to know both and be able to honestly help you.
“If it’s so wrong, why is it still around?”
Simply put, it’s a cash cow. The owners of the sites don’t need it to be 100% accurate because they are letting you use it for free. The old addage, “You get what you pay for,” is true in this scenario. They make their money off advertisers, agents and brokers who pay to advertise, and they make their money by selling your information. It’s true. When you click the link to find out more about a house, it sends your contact info to an agent (not necessarily the listing agent either), that has paid for your information as a lead. A lot of real estate sites do this, and it’s not all bad. If you are new to an area and don’t know a good Realtor, this might just be how you find them! But know that this is how it works, and please don’t be upset when that person who calls you back about that house, continues to do so. Be flattered! They want to work with you and feel they are their best person to do so! I applaud their follow up, actually.
A Quick Note About AGENCY!
Just so you are aware, in the state of Texas, agents and brokers are required to take a 30 hour course in the Laws of Agency prior to being able to take the licensing exam. That’s a lot of hours but, I’m going to break this down for you really quickly, the person with the sign in the yard, WORKS FOR THE SELLER. They may like you, you may like them, but if they are the one you are calling, their only obilgation is to the SELLER. Anything you tell them, will go right back to the seller, and they are legally obligated to keep their mouths shut about the seller unless the seller allows them, in writing, to tell you something. (Disclaimer, I am not a lawyer and cannot give legal advice.) Now, if you call the number on an agent’s sign, and decide the house they have listed is not for you, they can then work with you and REPRESENT you on any other transaction so long as it’s not a house they have listed. They can then become your BUYER’S AGENT. If you’re buying, you want a buyer’s agent. They are your advocate, advisor, confidant, and keeper of secrets. They will point out everything they can that will either help or hurt you and your negotiation position. They will pull information on previously sold homes in the area to help you decide if the price is right and advise on your next steps. AND, they are often free to you as they will usually have a commission split set up with the listing agent. NOT ALWAYS, but often. Either way, it’s a smart move to have a Realtor whether you’re buying or selling.
The Take Away
CALL ME. Really. I LOVE talking about Real Estate. I LOVE to answer questions about Real Estate. Questions give me purpose in life, so please, ask me. Even if you can’t or don’t use me as your agent, I want you to have the absolute best experience buying or selling your home, so ask away!
EXP Realty LLC, Dallas/Fort Worth, TX
legal advice. **