How To Use Zillow When Buying Or Selling A Home

My wife and I are about to begin the process of trying to sell our current home, and for a while now we’ve also been searching around to find a new home – or barring that – where we could find a lot to build a new construction home.

Throughout the process we’ve done a lot of research online using a wide variety of resources available to us.  My in-laws are real estate agents, so through them we’ve had access to the MLS service to get up to the minute information on what homes are available and what homes are already under contract, sales data, etc. The information available there is pretty vast, but unfortunately we don’t have our own usersnames for the MLS service, so we can’t always be on there researching.

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One site that has proved invaluable for us over the years when doing home research has been  Zillow has a wide range of data and tools available to users, and it has helped us out a great deal when in the process of both buying and selling homes.

So today I thought I would do a quick review of Zillow, and talk about some of the reasons why we use it when buying and selling a home.

zillow website review

Zillow History

zillow reviewZillow was launched in 2005 and has since become one of the go to places on the web for real estate information and research.  Here’s a bit of background on their history from Wikipedia.

Zillow is an online real estate database that was founded in 2005 by Rich Barton and Lloyd Frink, former Microsoft executives and founders of Microsoft spin-off Expedia.

Zillow has data on 100 million homes across the United States, not just those homes currently for sale. In addition to giving value estimates of homes, it offers several features including value changes of each home in a given time frame (such as one, five, or 10 years), aerial views of homes, and prices of comparable homes in the area. Where it can access appropriate public data, it also provides basic information on a given home, such as square footage and the number of bedrooms and bathrooms. Users can also get current estimates of homes if there was a significant change made, such as a recently remodeled kitchen. Zillow provides an application programming interface (API) and developer support network.

In December 2006, Zillow launched three new pieces of functionality: allowing users to post homes for sale and set a “Make Me Move” price (an informal way to pre-market a home), as well as a real estate wiki. In 2007, Zillow teamed with Microsoft to offer Bird’s Eye View, a feature in Microsoft Virtual Earth, that shows (in certain areas) clearer aerial photographs taken from airplanes rather than conventional satellite imagery. Zillow uses this functionality for entertainment-focused features on famous homes.

In December 2009, Zillow expanded its services to include the rental market. The addition of rental listings enabled users to list a home for rent and search for both rental homes and homes for sale.

So Zillow has grown over the years to include not only data over 100 million homes, but has expanded to include research tools, an interface to “ask the experts” and of course a place to sell or rent homes through their interface. It’s a robust site with a lot of features. Let’s start looking at some of the ways you can use it when trying to sell your house.

Use It To Set A Sale Price

When you’re selling your home, one of the biggest keys to selling your house quickly is to make sure that you set a fair asking price.  How do you do that?  Usually your listing agent is going to take a look at the homes in your area, do a market analysis of current listing and recent sales prices and give you an idea of what they believe your home is worth, and what the ideal listing price would be.

But what if you’re listing your house on your own, or you’re not ready to list but you just want to do some research?  Just pull up Zillow, do a search for homes in your city or area, and then look at comparable homes, and more importantly, recent sales in your area.  If there are homes extremely similar to yours in your neighborhood that are selling for around $200,000, you may have a hard time selling yours for $260,000.  All the homes that have the data available will give you historical sales prices for homes as well as listing prices and reductions in price, to give you an idea of what homes are actually worth.

zillow price history

Use It To See How Your House Compares To Other Area Listings

Another way to use Zillow when you’re selling your home is to see what else is for sale in your area, and how favorably your home compares to those other homes.  You can see what other homes are selling for and compare your pricing to theirs. You can also compare features of homes that are for sale, and compare pictures to see just how well your home is staged for making the sale.

Find what sets your home apart, and feature it on your ads for your home.

Use It To Sell Your House

One important thing to do is to go to Zillow, and other sites, and make sure to update your home’s information.  On Zillow you just claim your home and you can then edit all of the information about your home.  Add important information to the listing like any renovations, extra features and more. Set your home apart by adding some nice professional looking photos to your listing as well (instead of the standard overhead satellite view).

If you’re thinking about selling your home, but aren’t looking to actively market the home, you can claim your home on Zillow and then set a “Make Me Move” price.  Then if people are interested in your home they can make an offer on it. It might be a good way to pre-market the home and gauge interest for the home at certain price points before you sell.

Finally, you can sell your house via Zillow.  You can post a free listing on Zillow, which also gets sent up to Yahoo Real Estate, so you essentially get two listings for the price of one. When selling your house on your own it pays to list the home on as many free sites as possible.

Use It To Find Out If You’re Getting A Deal On Your Home

So how can you use Zillow when you’re buying a new home?  First, you can use it to check prices of comparable listings in the area you’re looking to buy in and make sure that you’re getting a decent deal on the home you’re interested in. If not, consider using the information you’ve learned to adjust your offer.

Check previous sale prices on the home you’re buying, and other homes in the area.  Figure out what real world values in that area are.  You can also look at the “Zestimate” values provied by Zillow.  I’ve found that in my area the values have gotten better over the years, but they’re still to be taken with a grain of salt as they tend to be a little high.  Looking at actual sales prices usually offers a better picture.

Use It To Check Property Taxes In Areas You’re Thinking About Living In

Another great feature of the Zillow site is that they have historical data available in many areas of what people are actually paying for property taxes.  This can make a big difference at times. We were looking at homes in one area at one point, and then at homes in another city altogether. We found that on similar homes in similar neighbhorhoods, the one city had property taxes that were 40% more!  That means thousands of dollars a year and can really factor into any buying decision.

zillow tax history

You can also see how that particular municipality’s property taxes are trending, if they continually go up year over year.

Use Zillow To Get Advice

I recently used Zillow’s advice section in order to get some advice and feedback from real estate agents and insurance salesmen as to how homeowner’s insurance companies assign replacement values to homes.  I listed my question on their advice section and within an hour or so I had several answers to my question.  The feedback we got there helped encourage us to get our homeowner’s insurance rates reduced by almost $1000/year!

You can ask questions on anything from mortgages, buying or selling a home to advice about renting your home out.  There are a ton of experts on there that are usually willing to help (sometimes in hopes that you’ll use them later on for selling your home, or for insurance needs).

Get Mortgage Quotes

While I wouldn’t use Zillow exclusively for getting mortgage quotes, they do have  a quote engine that you can try out in order to get a decent rate on your mortgage.  Running it against what we were looking for it come up with quite a few competitive rate quotes based on our purchase price, down payment and credit score.

Great Mobile Apps

Out home shopping? Zillow has mobile apps available for Apple products, Android and even Windows Phone.  You can also just access their mobile site.

Using the apps on the go you can view homes near you, see previous sales prices and even view what they pay for property taxes on a given property right while you’re sitting in the car in front of it.

I’ve been using the Android version on my tablet lately and I love how you can actually draw on your tablet screen around an area you want to see houses in, and then it will show houses in that area and allow you to view details about them.  You can also save favorite homes, or homes similar to yours to do research later on. Their mobile apps are full featured and a pleasure to use while you’re relaxing on the couch.

zillow mobile app

Zillow: A Home Buyer and Seller’s Best Friend

When Zillow first launched 8 years ago it had some decent home data and was an interesting site to surf. Over the years it has become an essential tool for home buyers and sellers. While their home data may not always be up to date as the MLS service, and their “Zestimates” home value estimates may not be 100% accurate, the data and tools that they do offer are well worth using.

Their historical pricing and tax data, as well as data about recent sales are extremely helpful. Being able to get local information about cities you’re thinking about living in, or getting feedback from real estate professionals is great as well.

If you’re not using Zillow already, it’s worth it to give a try next time you’re thinking about finding a new home, or selling the one you’re living in.

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Last Edited: 21st February 2013

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    Share Your Thoughts:

    • says

      It really is addicting, especially the historical data showing how much people paid for houses, and how much they’re paying in property taxes. I can’t tell you how often I’ve been amazed at how much value people have lost in their homes over the past 5 years or so.

  1. says

    Jay T. from Zillow here. Thanks for the terrific write-up on Zillow Peter! Glad you and Maria are finding Zillow useful, and good luck on the sale of your home!

    Yeah, those mobile apps are crazy addictive, be careful!

    My favorite part of this story? Saving $1,000 on your insurance. Well done!

  2. says

    Hi Peter, I was looking for moneymaking tips and I’ve happened upon your blog. I must say that this post is my best find in a while. I am planning to move in a month or so, and this detailed introduction to Zillow helps a lot. Many thanks!

  3. says

    Zillow is a great tool, but I would never rely on it exclusively or even primarily. I’ve seen properties where the Zillow estimate was way off.

    Even if you don’t use a real estate agent to sell your house, you can still have one do a competetive market analysis, and that will be more precise. Just be sure that if you do decide to list with an agent later that you use the same agent who did the CMA.

    Failing that it may be worth it to get an appraisal done by a licensed appraiser (best way to know). It’ll cost a few hundred dollars but it is also an excellent document to pull out during price negotiations.

    • says

      I agree, Zillow probably shouldn’t be your only tool, but it’s a good “quick look” tool. I think for me I tend to depend on it a bit more using the previous sales data as opposed to the zestimates. We live in a cookie cutter neighborhood where most of the houses have the exact same plan, so seeing what your house is worth is relatively easy compared to some other neighborhoods. Most of the houses are exactly the same. We just look at what the same/similar houses sold for, and it’s usually pretty accurate. My in-laws are realtors as well, so we can just go to them when we need a more accurate CMA.

  4. Gary Ockunzzi says

    This is an EXCELLENT ARTICLE on how to use the tool of Zillow and their Zestimates to sell your home! Differentiation is essential in the marketing of all products. You can do side-by-side comparisons with your competitors, show value by cost per square foot and much more. Zillow is what I deem as “effective third party documentation.” It’s not me, Mr. seller, saying it, it is someone, some other source. I will make use of this in my marketing. Thanks for writing this.

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