As a real estate market junkie, I love the web site Zillow.com and return to it occasionally to check on the latest market estimates for our primary and vacation homes, as well as those of our neighbors and friends. But I certainly don't trust its accuracy and wouldn't price my house based on Zillow's estimates.
Zillow, which accumulates its data from many public sources, claims 70 million U.S. homes in its database, but a one-hour search of homes up and down the east coast left a little to be desired. I plugged in the addresses of a dozen homes in golf course communities we have visited, and only a handful showed any results at all (although figures for homes in the immediate neighborhood were listed). To give Zillow a fair shake, I made sure not to include any home sites or homes less than two years old.
Also, when I tried to get a value for our eight-year old condo unit in Pawleys Island, SC, in a building that comprises five other units, just two of the six units were displayed, even though they were built at the same time, sold roughly at the same time and their records are kept in the same county office.
Sometimes the estimates are a little loopy. Zillow provides one set figure but also includes a range from low to high estimate. Our next-door neighbor's condo unit - ours was not assessed - has a Zillow estimate, or "Zestimate," of $502,000. Trust me, that is way over the mark by at least $125,000.
We scanned a few real estate sites in the southeast for homes currently for sale and then matched their asking prices against Zillow's estimates. In Aiken, SC, either folks are smoking something when they list their houses, or Zillow's estimates are ludicrously low. For example, a four-bedroom golf course home at 437 Woodlake Drive is listed at $598,000, but Zillow's estimate is a paltry $270,000 (and the top of its range, $429K, doesn't come close to the asking price).
Another Aiken listing for a four-bedroom home, at 312 Willow Lake Court, shows Zillow's estimate $180,000 less than the asking price of $640,000. On the other hand, Zillow did a pretty good job of nailing an estimate for our primary house in Connecticut, although clearly it hadn't caught up with some major renovations we did on the house two years ago.
In the end, Zillow is most helpful as a clearinghouse for selling prices in your neighborhood or the area you want to move to. It is just another tool at your disposal when selling or buying a home, but as with a hammer or saw, use Zillow with some degree of caution.
Web site: www.zillow.com