Stale Listings On Zillow - Would Love Your Input Please

Services for Real Estate Pros with Zillow

Ok, Active Rainers, I would LOVE some input here to address the serious issue of properties on Zillow being marketing as For Sale, but are really Sold or Expired.   

Some background:  Very often we'll get a single listing from multiple data sources (for example: a broker,a mls, postlets and a virtual tour company).  Right now we have trumping logic to know which data to use as the source, it goes: agent entry, broker feed, mls feed (including Listhub) and then syndication services. 

Typical reason for sale listings are on the site even after they've sold: Say a listing is coming to us via a Broker feed, then it sells and comes out of the feed, and we in turn pull it off the site.  However, the agent doesn't take it out of all the syndication services they are using.  So while it comes out of the Broker feed, it then starts gets sourced by a virtual tour company until it comes out of that feed. 

I would LOVE your input on how we can solve this, because right now we are simply just displaying the information that we receive. 

Here are some ideas to get the juices flowing, but please feel free to shoot holes in them or offer your own solution.  One thing to note, because I am sure someone will just say to only use MLS data, is that only about 1.7M (rough guess) of the listings on the site are actually sourced by straight MLS data- as many MLSs do not feed to us directly. 

1) If a listing comes out of an agent, broker or MLS feed - ignore it in any syndication service for two months.  (would this hurt you from a pocket listing perspective?)

2) Once we get data from the country that home is Sold - ignore it regardless of if it is active in any feed.  In some counties this would work well, in others, it wouldn't increment data quality at all.   

3) If a listing is on the site for 180 days with no changes at all, pull it down.  (what is right time period?)

4) Stop taking feeds from partners who have a high percentage of stale listings in their feed (stale being defined at listings unchanged for more than 180 days). (but this means we would be cutting off some agents' syndication strategy?)

5) Your idea?

We really want to improve this situation on Zillow.  We recently made a big change to the site that helped clean a number of these stale listings up, which I talked about here.  But I know there is still more we can do.  I just want to make sure we do things that help clean up the data, but don't sacrifice your listing marketing opportunities. 




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Annette Sievert
CB Valley Broker - Corvallis, OR
Corvallis, Oregon

How about interacting with MLS and taking over their status info?

After constant trouble with Zillow and like kids over pricing recommendations, etc etc I bet that if you communicate with the MLSystems and via taht with the brokers they would welcome this info sharing, it is for the best for all of us

Sep 17, 2010 06:17 AM #71
Missy Caulk
Missy Caulk TEAM - Ann Arbor, MI
Savvy Realtor - Ann Arbor Real Estate

1) the highest authority is if an agent manually comes to the site and enters something.

So the question becomes is the agent who has the highest authority leaving them in there? If so then it would be advantages for Zillow to email them after 90, 120 etc days and ask them to delete it if expired or withddrawn, with a link in the email do to is quickly and easily.

3) MLS data.  This is if an MLS is feeding to us directly (only a small handful do) or if the MLS is using the services of Listhub or Point2 for their syndication. 

Ok I would figure out a way to get the local feeds from the local boards, a huge task but can be done. As you know all MLS Associations have different rules. For us in Ann Arbor each Vendor that wants it can pay 1500.00 one time fee and get our raw data feed. Easy for us. 


I know it is not simple with 500 Vendors bringing feeds in but IMO this is the biggest glitch as I said, most agents list and forget.



Sep 17, 2010 06:17 AM #72
Neal Bloom
Brokered by eXp Realty LLC - Weston, FL
Realtor CRS-Weston FL Real Estate


It happens to me frequently. What seems to be the feedback is for example..a listing I had maybe 4 yrs ago is still showing up even if I deleted it from any source...I'm still getting calls to this day on one and have to explain to the caller why. For was on wither postlets or vflyer but the html is posted on AR as well. I do usually type in its sold but either the consumer is not reading it or other sites that pick it up do not automatically change it. So its a two way street..we want maximum exposure everywhere but some sites that I do not even post on are picking the listings up and never change the status. I would think Zillow would just update it according to our MLS. This way when our status is changed...Zillow would automatically change it to the same. I'm not sure this makes sense.

Sep 17, 2010 08:47 AM #73
Maya Thomas, Broker
Tampa, FL
Please see my client recommendations.

Hi Sara,

With a 180 expiration you would soon have very few listings.  

I list homes for 1 year because it takes, on average, 270 days in my area to sell a home when you calculate the current sold listing.  That doesn't include the 2, 3 or 4 times some homes have been listed for sale.  Since 270 days is an average we have some that sell in 0 days.  I looked at a home today that has been on the market for 1,200  days.  We have short sales that have been on the market for 3 years.

If agents aren't updating their information now they certainly won't start updating it anytime soon. 

Sep 17, 2010 09:22 AM #74
Julia Odom
Select Realty Professionals - Chattanooga, TN
Chattanooga Homes for Sale

A client called me yesterday and said "I know you've told me not to look at listings on Zillow but I just found this house that I love....."

And of course it was sold back in NOVEMBER 2009. Like others have said, it really only gives me more legitimacy.

I like the idea of 180 days and gone or emails to the listing agent, no response, it goes.

Sep 17, 2010 10:53 AM #76
Sara Bonert
Zillow - Atlanta, GA
Real Estate Internet Marketing

#62, Christine - Good luck with your decision.  A very small trend I am seeing now is more MLSs considering doing syndication themselves, to have more control.  But the customer service third parties provide is nice too. 

#64, Corrine - I don't know the exact MLS coverage we have, but I would guess it to be about 75%?  Also with Listhub it is up to the Broker to decide whether or not to syndicate, so some agents need other alternatives if their broker doesn't do it. 

#65, Jeanne - You're right.  But they recently changed some of their policies, so they are a lot better (not 100% yet though).  I can't remember what they are doing now exactly, but I think it was something like you can enter all of your listing in their system and they stay up for 30 days, then after that they need to be actively advertised in a book.  I could be a little off on that description, but I know they did make some changes lately that purged a lot of old stuff.

#66, If you take it off Postlets, it will come off Zillow.  If you scroll to the bottom of the listing, you'll see the data source.  You're right about the duplicate data, that is ideally how it should work, but it doesn't always.  One reason I see this often is if a unit number isn't entered in the Postlets, then we don't know to deduplicate it. 

Sep 17, 2010 11:14 AM #77
Sara Bonert
Zillow - Atlanta, GA
Real Estate Internet Marketing

#69, Phyllis - Thanks for the detailed response!  Your suggestion are pretty close to what we do.  The manually entered data being the exception because usually the agent is paying for that extra advertising (manually entered listings are featured), so we want to make sure we are honoring that.  Your #4 is the heart of the matter and what you describe happens today.  The issue arises when the listing is gone from those other sources, but still in the #4 bucket. One thing we try to at least do here is seperate the syndicators into MLS-sourced and non MLS-sourced. 

#73, Missy - I just headed over to your blog post about this and answered your questions, plus some! :)

#74, Annoynmous - Would love more details please?  What are they doing differently that you like?


Sep 17, 2010 11:22 AM #78
Sara Bonert
Zillow - Atlanta, GA
Real Estate Internet Marketing

General comment -

Hey all - Thanks to everyone who submitted constructive suggestions.  I can assure this blog post and more importantly the comments, have been seen by a lot of people at Zillow this week.  Many emails have been flying around trying to figure out how to implement the things you are discussing here and I will be sure to do a blog post to let you know the results of it as soon as I can!

The 180 day with NO CHANGES pull is the easiest to implement.  After a lot of discussion this idea has evolved into not pulling it at all if the source is a MLS or Broker.  But if it is a syndicator, then putting that time trigger in place. So building different rules for different types of feeds.

A cross reference engine is more complicated to build, but we are investigating.  We've started the process of scoring syndicators for quality, but it needs a lot of work. Emailing the agents seems to be a popular suggestion here, but there are some legal hurdles of what we can and can't do with the email addresses we receive in the feed, but your interest will make us further investigate.  If you create a free profile on Zillow, you can recieve updates now about your listings every two weeks.

But I'll be in touch with these ideas! Thanks and have a good weekend.


Sep 17, 2010 11:33 AM #79
Anonymous Provider

Agents using third-party syndication services do have a tendency to "set and forget".   We allow a manually-input listing to run 30 days. It's then automatically retired into a sandbox (isn't distributed) and the agent is notified they must sign in and renew for the next 30 day period. If they don't renew during the next 30 days, the listing is permanently expired from our database.

On search engines which allow us to provide expiration dates, we tend to set them short so if a listing gets sandboxed, it isn't likely to persist on those search engines for long (assuming the search engine actually expires when we request it) -- probably for no more than a week at a time, advanced daily when we are re-polled.

What largely determines whether dead listings continue to be distributed is whether or not expiration is dependent on the agents to remove them. Good luck with that! ;)

Judging a listing "stale" after 180 days because it hasn't "changed" is simply arbitrary and bears no relationship to reality -- particularly in this market.  How many homes are selling today in 180 days or less, unless at a deep discount?  Do all agents with active listings actually go in and make changes on all their listing content at least every 180 days?

As to rating independent feed providers, please resist the temptation to go the google-geek route by trying to invent a fancy math "algo" to answer that question. It isn't that complicated, since local expiration policy and methods mainly determine whether dead listings will continue to be published by a feed provider.  If the policy is porked, so will be the result

The listing agent is the sole authority for content and listing status, and a listing should never continue in distribution unless the listing agent actively confirms it remains "active".  If they have a habit of overtly fibbing, you likewise have a business decision whether to continue allowing them to "claim" their listings if those claims too-often prove to be bogus.

But instead of belaboring your long-suffering engineers with the intellectually interesting but completely loss-making task of coming up with some kind of "measure" showing which providers are most reliable, why not just send each of them a questionnaire to inform you how they manage expiration? 

There are four possible responses to your inquiry:

1. They don't respond at all to your email after two attempts.  Solution: quit polling them.

2. They respond that they entirely rely on the agent to disable the listing to expire it.  Solution: same as above (but offer counseling).

3. They respond that they expire after such an extended time period that it's almost certain they'll be sending dead listings. Solution: advise them to shorten it. If they don't, then revert to the solution cited above.

4. They respond that they expire listings after a sufficiently short time period (we recommend very short) to assure zombie listings are a virtual impossibility. Solution: none required.

'Not a complete answer to all problems, perhaps.  But it is one of life's most valuable lessons that people do what you inspect, not what you expect.  If local policy isn't enforced by the feed provider to produce the outcome you want, you are perfectly entitled to require that local policy be amended so you get more of what you want and less of what you don't want.

Yes, getting those email responses from 500 providers would probably take some clerical time to sort through and triage.  In my experience, clerical hours are in abundant supply and cost far less than engineering hours which are not.

I expect you won't receive 500 responses.  After further sorting the wheat from the chaff, you'll likely have far fewer than 500 approved feed providers.  Cull the herd.  Hard.  Those of us who focus on doing it right aren't rewarded if doing it utterly wrong is equally acceptable.

Someone here or elsewhere suggested Zillow add an expiration tag.  Yes.  If a feed provider is being polled daily, Zillow should also shorten that expiration to a week.  Getting dead listings off the inventory requires short interval scheduling to make that happen as fast as possible.

There are a number of entirely valid reasons agents choose to use third-party syndication services.  Unfortunately, some agents also tend to believe the more places they post, the better their syndication results. There is considerable evidence weighing against that belief, but that's far off the topic of the OP.

Thanks, Sara, for bravely wading into deep water.  You (and Zillow) are to be supremely complimented for asking how to make things better.

Sep 17, 2010 11:36 AM #80
Laurie Mindnich
Centennial, CO

Sara, go ahead and yank the listing after 180 days (or whatever the suggestion was). With numerous sites to track, sounds fair.

Now, when listings are on the MLS- different story. I'm guessing that Fred is hugely mistaken re. MLS data being as bad as an ancillary site like Zillow, Trulia, etc.- I've made a single call to our MLS guy and he responds immediately- and the problem gets resolved. So, the issue that Zillow poses for me is, as a PAYING ZILLOW PARTICIPANT (I'm not- but for those who upgraded): why is my listing on a site with absolutely no authority themselves to insure data that my buying clients might view, amongst the unvetted listings/expired/sold showing up?

Public records in Suffolk County, NY take 45-90 days to appear, if that's what you use in conjunction with diligent NY Realtors. I'm not certain that reported closings from July work. I had a for sale by owner call last week. She had based her listing price on your figures. Would that make you the entity who should console her after the foreclosure?

Greg's comment was so appropriate. I'm paying my MLS and board dues shortly. I want my seller's properties to be overseen in a way that makes the #s provided to buyers legitimate, so it's worth every penny. Your site takes a listing, allows competitors to pay YOU (not me, even though it's my clients house, my listing) to appear to represent it (or, an entire area)- not sure the concept is good anymore. But, your maps are fantastic, as are the property photos, provided a Realtor has entered them. Otherwise, not so much.

AN EDIT: maybe I should send a note along with my dues to MLS and my local board, and suggest that they PLEASE send our feed to that Zillow can charge me again! Note to self...

Sep 17, 2010 12:38 PM #81
Phyllis Lerner call 914.438.7556
William Raveis Legends Realty Group LLC - Tarrytown, NY
William Raveis Legends Realty Group

... dear Sara... forgot to bring up one other issue... stale listings are really not your biggest problem... your Zestimate home value estimator needs some serious re-thinking... it gives it's users some seriously flawed value estimates... boy-o-boy are they off...

Sep 17, 2010 12:38 PM #82
Erika Hansen
Coldwell Banker Mid-America Group - West Des Moines, IA


I don't have an answer to your question however just wanted to say how much I LOVE ZILLOW and being a premier agent! There is more success in that than an open house any day of the week!

Sep 17, 2010 01:31 PM #83
Janna Scharf
Keller Williams Realty Coeur d'Alene - Coeur d'Alene, ID
Coeur d'Alene Idaho Real Estate Expert

I have tried for 2 years to get my personal ressidence that closed over 2 years ago out of being FOR SALE on Zillow.  I haven't been practicing real estate there or living there for 2 years.  NOTHING I try works, and I have other dead listings still showing up years later. See for yourself, my home at 2601 Jewelstone Court, Fort Collins, CO 80525 closed 8/01/08.  Any attempts I have made to communicate with someone at Zillow to remedy the situation have been futile...

Sep 17, 2010 02:30 PM #84
Marlo Newman
W.J. Bradley Mortgage Capital - Scottsdale, AZ
Marlo Newman Mortgage Banker 480-326-9858

Sara, sorry for the repost from early this afternoon, but the issue is more than should we let all listings expire in 30, 60, or 90 days.


The simple realty is Zillow has the listing agents info and can easily send out an alert that their listing is about to expire, if you want to extend it another 30 days click here.

I understand the rational of who has the most listings to attract consumers but now that it's you and Yahoo and you are #1 it would be nice to see a leadership role.

This mornings question was Who has the authority, for the new folks who are just catching up with this thread now thats it's featured, I fell it's worth repeating. Thanks for indulging me.


Who has the authority?

The answer is whoever initiated the original listing is the authority for the information. Now let's talk about the problems:

1. Each of the individual sites is a business onto themselves and what they do with the data must comply with their own local policies which are publicly provided. No one has the authority to change the listing information except for the listing agent and or their broker. None of the engines will make any substantial changes to the data itself other than formatting.

2. The MLS's are pretty good as well as many independent vendors, but what happens is that each engine may have a different policy.

There is the policy but now lets discuss the reality.

Most will expire in a reasonable time. In fact you can set an expiration date as a syndicator for some of the engines (at least the top ones). Will the engines duly expire the listings as expected is anyone's guess. It will usually come down to the integrity of the site and obviously the ones with the best quality, technology and customer service will do the best job and win competitively in an open market. The moral hazard that exists is there is no penalty to the search engines for failing to do so.

3. The problem in regard to expirations is sometimes properties don't expire or some unprofessional organizations continue to push out listings that either they never got the notification or they are pushing it because of bad technology or incompetence.

4. Agents are notoriously bad at removing listings after a sale. The good syndicators will auto expire after 30 days and send out e-mail alerts to agents to extend the listing.

5. The bigger issue is this, have you have you ever taken a listing only to have client say that can't find it and they think you are incompetent. That because it is extremely easy for errors and omissions to take place that even the competent agent won't be aware of because they are not using a syndicator that is provided them error reports. This could be as simple as failing to provide the bedrooms and bathrooms.

If you post in all caps, exclamation points in the caption, or multiple exclamation points in the text goggle promises to fail your listing. That's just an example of what most agents don't know.

What you should be asking your syndication provider is if they provide reporting to you about errors in your listings that will make them fail at one or more engines.

If you are the agent and the only one with the authority to change that listing and you are not getting these reports then your listings failures will continue until you change them.

Even if you have feedback reporting from the few engines providing them, you still don't know if your listing fails from the other engines and you will get embarrassed by a client asking why it's not showing up. 

In the end the agent that is responsible for the listing and the more syndication providers they use, the more work they have unwinding when a listing expires and the reality is that many do not. This even occurs on MLS boards.

If you are going to use a syndication provider be sure to ask if they auto expire within a reasonable time.

The last part is to select a provider that can provide you with a report that you can give to your client showing hits and visits to all sites.

<Sara> BTW, I think 180 days is way to long and Zillow should reevaluate that. 

The simple realty is Zillow has the listing agents info and can easily send out an alert that their listing is about to expire, if you want to extend it another 30 days click here. 

Also list Hub charges 4k a month to carry their data, which is probably not much for zillow but for other sites it's prohibitive.

Sep 17, 2010 02:44 PM #85
Sharon Alters
Coldwell Banker Vanguard Realty - 904-673-2308 - Fleming Island, FL
Realtor - Homes for Sale Fleming Island FL

Sara, our average listing is 180 days - although some agents said they take longer listings. Yanking at that time will take care of many listings that are sold.  Listening to the MLS and/or Broker site makes sense and if that trumps the secondary sites, your data will be more accurate.

Sep 17, 2010 03:23 PM #86
Lyn Sims
RE/MAX Suburban - Schaumburg, IL
Schaumburg Real Estate

Janna:  Sara can put you in contact with her collegue Spenser Rascoff.  He can take care of the problem.

I look at it this way, you do not have correct information on your site, I do.  I have the MLS, you don't.  Why would I make your business model that competes with mine a success?  I tell all clients that it's inaccurate (hence this post) and that I will just put them into a reliable search in the MLS. Just like Broker Bryant mentions.


Sep 18, 2010 04:42 AM #87
Loreena and Michael Yeo
3:16 team REALTY ~ Locally-owned Prosper TX Real Estate Co. - Prosper, TX
Real Estate Agents

I actually don't mind the inaccuracies. I've learnt to make lemonades out of lemons. I say this respectfully.

Sep 18, 2010 06:55 AM #88
Joshua Katz
Fort Lauderdale, FL

Hello Sara,

The solution to your problem lies within the key relationships between the data tables that make up your database. The trumping logic that you have described does have merit, but it is lacking an overall connection.

Please see the email I will send shortly. Thanks.

Sep 18, 2010 10:25 AM #89

Hi Sara,

As a Real Estate Marketing Company, we syndicate listings and virtual tours. I believe that we supply one of the cleanest feeds out there because the integrity of our feed is important to our company, but more importantly to our clients, ensuring that the most up to date accuarate data is available to all of the sources we reach.

Although we are a small company, we are growing, and hope to provide our service to more folks. Hopefully Zillow and others would look to a smaller company like ours for the quality of our feed vs. the larger volume feed providers first. You may find that the chance of errors is smaller and the "stale data" dilemma is limited.

In order to keep our feeds clean and up to date, we make sure to actively communicate and involve our agents...something that a lot of the larger syndicates fail to do

It is my opinion that some of these larger volume feeds are just in it for the volume, rather than doing what is in the best interest of the clients they serve. I find that the statistical data is a bit fuzzy or just plain inaccurate and misleading.

It's interesting that Point2 and ListHub override some of the smaller feeds, just because they do get some broker/mls clients. Much of the Point2 listing data comes from their free agent service, which doesn't do much for solving the "stale listing" problem, especially if you are treating them as if it comes from the MLS. I think that alone may be harming Zillow.

Agents are busy. They also have been told, that the more places they put their listings, the more places it will be delivered. Unfortunately, all that does is muddy the syndication waters further, and leaves more places to clean up or follow-up. Agents may even find it hard to remember where they 'posted' their listings, thus making it hard to update a sold property.

Communication directly from the syndicate to the agent is key.  It shouldn't be Zillows job to contact all the listing agents and remind them to update their listings. It should be the responsibility of the companies that feed the listings to Zillow, to keep in touch with their agents/clients, and manage the integrity of their own feeds.

It is Zillows responsibility to make sure they are accepting feeds from syndicates that make it a key business practice to communicate directly with their clients and take ownership of providing a clean and accurate feed.

Sep 20, 2010 04:13 PM #90
Robert Capetillo



So you want to solve the issue of stale listings?  The way you do this is to give us an option where we can detach the property from a feed and attach our own feed source.  We need to be able to control where the content to our listing is coming from.  This way we can do one of two things.


1) we can then manage our listing through the feed by updating our site, which in turn feeds zillow any changes.


2) we can then manage the property manually if no feed is selected.  However, with this option there will be a host of other options to help avoid stale listings...such as:

the option to select how often an agent should sign in to zillow in order to keep the manual listing overriding the feed (the amount of time should be determined by the agent but capped at a maximum of 180 days).

The option to select when to revert to the feed if certain criteria arent met...for example, if no changes to the listing have been made in the past six months (i.e. price drop or status changed to sold) and the listing agent hasn't signed in then it's time to reattach the feed and see if there has been a sale or a change in the listing, then update it at that point and keep it on the feed until the agent returns to manually override the feed.  Honestly, if no changes have been made in the past six months then the listing really should be pulled from the site because the seller/agent aren't making a realistic effort to sell the home by not dropping the price or adding photos or remodeling the home...whatever it takes to get it sold.

If an agent isn't keeping on top of their listing they probably aren't very good and will probably be fired by the owners at some point and another agent will take over the listing and they need the ability to change the feed source to their website so that they don't have to continually log into Zillow if they want to just control the listing via the feed and make all their changes at the feed origin (their listing website).


Why is this so hard?  Feel free to contact me if you have more issues, I'm sure there will be more questions, but it isn't that revert to the feed if the manual method is stale for a predetermined amount of time, and you rely on the agent to be professional enough to set a realistic timeframe for certain "trigger" events to take place such as reverting back to the feed.  In some cases you'll have an owner that will want to control the listing or want to make some this point they will need to make the e-mail is sent to their agent and they will okay them or deny's not that hard...but at this point a dialogue is taking place between the agent and owner.  if the owner wants to drop the price they make the changes on the website just like the listing agent and if after 3 days if no response is had from the agent then the changes are applied...if the agent comes back to a messed up listing then they can "undo" the last change that was made by the owner or "revert back" to their original listing.   If an owner is unhappy with an agent there should be an icon "fire this agent" and then the agent should be removed from the website and the listing should then become the property of the owner and if they decide to no longer list it or mess the listing up that's their thing...they own the property, right? 

I guess this would put in place the checks and balances needed for the owners of properties not to feel like second rate citizens...I mean if I want my agent signing in every day otherwise the listing reverts back to the live feed, I deserve to have them deny my request and call me on the phone and tell me that isn't going to work for them for reasons x,y and z.


It's so simple, but there are just a lot of changes that need to take place.  The right balance of checks need to be made and they just arent there right now.

It seems right now an owner can't make any changes to a listing once an agent has claimed it regardless if they are the right agent or not.  Plus, what about owners that pay a fee to have their listing put on the MLS but don't have representation?  They should be able to "Fire this agent" and then take over the listing from there.  It makes it so that an owner is first in line and the agent is second in line...because if an owner has a falling out with an agent it can get ugly and the last thing you want is a zillow property battle between an owner and ex-listing agent.





Oct 04, 2010 10:09 PM #91
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