Friday, October 08, 2010

Zillow - pulling stuff out their butts?

I like data. It makes me feel like I'm reducing uncertainty. But Zillow has been driving me nuts lately.

I've been using Zillow for a couple of things. One is the actual sales data - this seems to all be correct. It's how I know about all of the condo foreclosures/short sales in our zip code. I've also been using it to track our condo's value, but something seems to be off. There are 6 condo buildings in our neighborhood, thus there are at least 6 "perfect" comps for our place. One of them sold a year ago for $144K and is currently valued by Zillow at $148K. I saw the pictures of the interior when it was listed for sale - they had laminate hardwood flooring in the living room and kitchen, but our kitchen appliances/cabinets are newer and our bathroom looks nicer. Yet for some reason Zillow is valuing our place 10% lower?

I've been frustrated by that for months, but I just found a new issue. I was also using the Zillow Local data to guesstimate how much houses will cost in Leesburg by the time we're ready to buy (by taking the median home value and then correcting for current the rate of year-over-year change). Last month Zillow listed the median home value as $316K and the y-o-y increase as 2.4%, putting us at about $326K by mid-2012. The data updates once a month, so I checked today to update my figures. Zillow is now listing the median home value as $399K?? That's nearly $90K higher after the y-o-y correction is done. And yet Zillow only reported a 0.1% month-over-month change. I don't even know what to believe from that site anymore.

So the moral of the story is that a) I have no idea how much our place is worth/might sell for, and b) I have no idea how much money we will need. Rawr.


Eric said...

If you're trying to assess the value of a property in Leesburg, here's what I would suggest:
1) Go to Realty Watch ( and click on "Advanced Search Options" and select the zip codes for Leesburg. You can also select search parameters like "single family home".
2) Look at the properties that are for sale and select one that is appealing to you.
3) Go to the county real estate assessment website ( and enter the address of the property you liked from Realty Watch.
4) Click the link in the "Tax Map No. PIN" column, and then click the Recent Sales button. This will tell you all the comps for that house to give you an idea of it's value (along with the list price on Realty Watch).

Any county should have similar real estate assessment websites. That's always public info, so you may be able to look up comps for your house too. I use the Fairfax County website to keep up with my townhouse's value.

Courtney said...

The trouble with the county tax assessments, at least for our place, are two-fold: one is that MoCo only updates every three years, and the other is that we have something called a homestead exemption that says an assessment can't go up by more than 10% a year. So when we bought our place, the 'assessment' was only like $140K even though it was worth much more at the time.

Eric said...

Yeah, I don't care so much about what the actual tax assessment is. What's more meaningful to me is the list of recent comparable home sales that the tax assessment is based on. Then you can draw your own conclusion about how that affects your home's value.

Courtney said...

Hmm, I will check it out. As another example of the craziness that Zillow purports as "data" I also offer this example: This place is roughly the same sqft as ours, and was last purchased 6 months after we bought our place for roughly the same price. The building is over a decade older than ours, but somehow currently is valued $40K higher?? Our tax assessment has been higher than that place every year listed (2004-2009). I am pretty much ready to throw in the towel on that site.

Courtney said...

As a follow-up to my previous comment, the place that I've linked there has had a $34K valuation "correction" in the past 30 days - Zillow's way of saying, 'OMFG we missed the mark on that one'? But it is still valued at over $8K more than ours. Meanwhile the gap between the identical unit that sold last year and our place has grown to over 12%. I guess the moral of the story is we just won't know until the appraisal.