Zillow Saves a Deal in Rockland County Real Estate Sale

Real Estate Broker/Owner with J. Philip Faranda (J. Philip R.E. LLC) Westchester County NY License # 49FA1074963

I have blogged before about the difficulties Zillow has caused. Typically, their "Zestimate" has caused people to 2nd guess the more accurate evidence on the ground and either over or undervalue a home, killing a possible transaction. The galling thing about it is that the more compelling evidence is right under their nose from the MLS, but that one number on a zillow page (which, by Zillow's own admission is typically off by 11% or more in Westchester County) has killed everything. 

However, this past week, Zillow zigged instead of zagged. My seller clients were agonizing over whether or not to accept an offer; the buyer on the other side was a parent buying a home for their son and his family. Pre approval letters help, but after several stops and starts in a 9-month odyssey, nothing could be taken at face value. I saw accepting the offer as an acceptable risk; my clients were once-bitten and twice shy and sought more certainty about the buyer. 

It is a daunting question. Is the buyer for real? Is the buyer qualified? Can this person really afford to buy a home for their son? Just where do they live now? That question resonated. I was asked if I could look the prospective buyer's address on Zillow for some insight. The address was on the binder, so we looked it up. Since Zillow's median margin of error in Rockland county is under 10%, we could expect a reasonable ballpark figure, as well as ascertain whether or not the buyer lived in a van by the river, a garden apartment, or a mansion.

Zestimate Accuracy 

According to Zillow, the buyer lived in a 5 bedroom, 3 bath, 3100 square foot home with an estimated value of about $650,000. Definitely not a van by the river. Still a skeptic, I ran the address on the MLS and found a 2004 sale for $800,000. Why did I need Zillow when I have the MLS and public records? I don't. But my clients don't have the MLS. If they had thought of that question hours after I left, they would have gotten the confirmation they were looking for. Lord knows I have seen enough deals die when people looked something up on Zillow, so it is about time. As Zillow gets more accurate, I have less to fear. 

Zillow still isn't off the hook for me. However, I have to give credit where it is due, and whether or not I was present at the time, they helped me make a sale. I hope it isn't an anomaly. 

Search the MLS like an agent here. New York's Premier Short Sale REALTOR. Read my short sale bog here. See the New York Photo blog here. J. Philip Serves Briarcliff Manor, Ossining, the River Towns, Westchester County, and the bedroom counties of New York City.

Comments (24)

Thom Kraley
NewCastle Home Loans, LLC - Chicago, IL

Why would a seller go through the trouble of guessing the value of Dad's (buyers) current house?  Sounds like the seller may not be a "real" seller.   

Jun 19, 2009 08:25 AM
League City, TX - Worrell Team, REALTORS, GRI, CNE
RE/MAX 1st Class - League City, TX

J.  I'm no fan of Zillow... then again Texas is a non-disclosure state... what about NY?

Jun 19, 2009 09:01 AM
Rick Davis

Had I not stubbed my toe in the morning a few weeks ago, I may have been the car in the accident with the big rig. Miracles do happen.

Jun 19, 2009 09:28 AM
Kerry Jenkins
Prime Properties - Crestline, CA

Zillow...very inacurrate and can't be as accurate as the MLS.  Glad that it helped a deal for you though!

Jun 19, 2009 09:36 AM
Joetta Fort
The DiGiorgio Group - Arvada, CO
Independent Broker, Homes Denver to Boulder

You're very nice giving Zillow credit for this. Of course, there's about a dozen other ways they could have gotten the info. Around here, all public trustee info can be obtaining by searching for the county name, then usually two or three clicks later there's the box to put in the address.  All free and available to anyone who has the internet.  Plus, it has the latest sale info.

Jun 19, 2009 10:19 AM
Jesse Skolkin
Independent New York State Certified Real Estate Appraiser - Fresh Meadows, NY


If what you're looking for is a ballpark number (within 10-20%), Zillow is fine.  I looked up my own address as an excercise and found that Zillow is about 10 - 15% below market in my case, but is probably factoring in a couple of estate or foreclosure sales into their calculations, which do not represent market sales of similar properties.

Just be aware that even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

Jun 19, 2009 11:24 AM
J. Philip Faranda
J. Philip Faranda (J. Philip R.E. LLC) Westchester County NY - Briarcliff Manor, NY

Joetta you are of course right, and I could have (and did) look up the very same information on the MLS. The problem with Zillow is that I can't be at my client's kitchen table every time they have a questions, and consumers are going to check Zillow at 11pm when they have a question and can't call me. 

In my expereince, 19 out of 20 times Zillow has hurt and not helped. This is an occasion where their information helped the outcome. I think it was because we weren't looking for a specific figure, but rather a general feel for a neighborjhood where the buyer lived. Go figure. 

Jun 19, 2009 01:09 PM
J. Philip Faranda
J. Philip Faranda (J. Philip R.E. LLC) Westchester County NY - Briarcliff Manor, NY

Thom-What are you talking about? The sellers built the house themselves in 1986.

Jun 19, 2009 01:11 PM
Deb Brooks
Brooks Prime Properties Wichita Falls Texas - Wichita Falls, TX

We must take our "professional" time to qualify if the buyer is real...thanks for the thinker. Deb

Jun 19, 2009 03:29 PM
Chris Olsen
Olsen Ziegler Realty - Cleveland, OH
Broker Owner Cleveland Ohio Real Estate

I can't stand Zillow unless you are in such a cookie-cutter neighborhood with tons of sales, tight #s, etc., But then...why would you need Zillow?

Jun 19, 2009 04:29 PM
Lana Robbins Realtor ® Licensed Real Estate Broker
Aloha Kai Real Estate - Clearwater, FL
Licensed in Florida, Washington, and Hawai'i

Argggh. Some of the data at Zillow is extremely annoying-ly inaccurate. Ironically these inaccuracies offer an avenue to realtors ® since some of us have some data that is accurate.

Jun 19, 2009 06:49 PM
Gene Riemenschneider
Home Point Real Estate - Brentwood, CA
Turning Houses into Homes

There is nothing like an agent to personally look at the value of the home.  When I did my own home I had to correct Zwillow and changed my house from 4 bedroom to 5 bedroom, leaving all else the same (My Den had a closet) and lost $70,000.00.

Jun 20, 2009 03:57 AM
RealTAG .com
iLeads.com - Newport Beach, CA

No matter how I post this, I am warning everyone up front that this response is going to sound like a blatant product come on!  So that being said, there is an alternative out there to give you a huge amount of accurate up to date data at your fingertips for just such a situation: RealTAG

The following is from our profile page comparing RealTAG's features / data to all of the consumer based services:

"Zillow®, (along with all of the free services) typically provide some type of home valuation solution to consumers.  However, there valuation models are usually very low end solutions are typically inaccurate, and rely heavily on consumer input to increase their "accuracy". 

With RealTAGTM, you can have at your fingertips detailed information that is both highly accurate, as well as unavailable elsewhere.  Detailed data that gives you an edge in every transaction".       

Feature / Benefit


Zillow®, / Others

Verify homeownership?



Identify the homeowner(s)?



Estimate annual household income?



Provide the homeowners likelihood to transact (score)?



Uses the same high value AVM solution for property valuation that lenders use?



Gives estimated equity in the property?



Provide lien information for the property (loan amounts / date last mortgage taken)?



Check for foreclosure / Notice of Default on the property?



Gives surrounding neighborhood foreclosure counts?



Provide an easy to use "light CRM" to capture prospects?



Generates and sends an automatic CMA to your prospect.



If anyone would like to give RealTAG a try, give us a call, or see us in the "Business Builders" section under "Leads and Web Traffic". 

Jun 20, 2009 04:10 AM
Lyn Sims
RE/MAX Suburban - Schaumburg, IL
Schaumburg Real Estate

I have to chuckle because the Z price is $250,000 lower than what the guy paid for it.  Now that's accurate? Is that today's price? Who knows, it's all made up.  BUT, it did tell you what type of neighborhood they live in which made your sellers feel more comfortable with the offer situation.  Good post.  Thinking about taking a laptop & connect to the MLS yet?

Jun 20, 2009 07:11 AM
J. Philip Faranda
J. Philip Faranda (J. Philip R.E. LLC) Westchester County NY - Briarcliff Manor, NY

Lyn, I was on my laptop and we did connect to the MLS. We went to Zillow 1st, but the point is that had they thought of looking on Zillow after I left it would have helped instead of hurt. 

Jun 20, 2009 12:02 PM
Kathy Opatka
Serving Ocean City, MD, & The Delaware Beaches


Thanks for this post..... it's nice to hear "something good" about this site.

Kathy Opatka

Jun 21, 2009 06:08 AM
Michael Daly
Redfin Real Estate - Huntington, NY

Fact is that Zillow exists and many of our customers, both buyers and sellers, use it.

If we are in denial of that and just discredit it with a broad brush, it makes us look as though we are trying to hide something.

Addressing it head on, with professional advice, giving it credit where credit is due, is both intelligent and practical.


Good post, Phil!

Jun 21, 2009 07:11 AM
George Wilson
Lincolnton, NC - Lincolnton, NC

Zillow is fairly inaccurate because it is based on tax record sales; also I have found that most of the time the house location is wrong. I have had buyers/sellers show me a print out of their Zestimate and when I backtrack them through the MLS I show them that on several "comps" that yes the property sold for $140,000 but in reality the sellers netted about $134,000 after subtracting seller's closing costs & buyer's costs ($3,000 seller contribution). It leads to a good conversation about using a REALTOR to list & sale their home at a competitive price and depend on Zestimates to determine value. Also stressed to them that the Zestimate 9 out of 10 times bases their "comps" on square footage vs like sales & properties. I use Zillow to find possible comps that sold as FSBO but I then go to the tax records/deeds to verify sale (true sale or sold via estate deed or to relative).

I use Zillow as another method to advertise my listings and I have always had to move the map location in addition to correcting missing items, ie: year built, # of rooms, HVAC, bedrooms, baths, etc.

As with everything one needs to know how to verify internet info & unfortunately MLS info at times (I have found inaccurate info there also). Like the saying goes with computers: "Garbage In, Garbage Out".

Jun 22, 2009 06:27 PM
Thom Kraley
NewCastle Home Loans, LLC - Chicago, IL



It sounded to me that the seller of the subject property was checking on the value of the buyer's home.  Is this correct?  I don't understand why they would do that.


Jun 25, 2009 06:04 AM
Bonnie Ramsey
AnotherME - Marietta, GA

I think you were just lucky on this one. But, you did the right thing.

Jun 29, 2009 09:42 AM

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