Carlsbad Real Estate News and Views: What Carlsbad Homeowners Should Know About Using Zillow

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What Carlsbad Homeowners Should Know About Using Zillow

What Carlsbad Homeowners Should Know About Using Zillow


As a Carlsbad home owner you no doubt like to know what the value of your home is, even if you are not planning on selling, at least not for some time. Heck, as a Carlsbad Realtor I like to know, too.


Lots of home owners I know and have talked to use Zillow, and to a lesser extent Redfin, for their online valuations that provide an estimated value with a quick click.


Indeed, I’ve had plenty of sellers, and buyers, say “I know you guys…meaning us Real Estate agents…don’t like Zillow, but Zillow says…”


I won’t tell you not to use Zillow, but there are some things to be aware of before you check it out, see your home is worth far more than you even thought possible, and decide “let’s sell!”


For starters, I suspect you know Zillow provides online estimates of value for homes called Zestimates. They are not the only ones, now, either.


What home owners don’t realize is that Zestimates are often incorrect – they may be low, or they may be high, for a given property, and sometimes that difference can be tens of thousands of dollars. Unfortunately, sometimes homeowners who are going to sell want to price their homes based on Zestimates, and other online valuations, which are incorrect, and that’s a big mistake. Why?


MoneyOnline estimates use algorithms that do not take into account factors that Realtors and appraisers know influence a home’s true market value, such as location, views, amenities and condition.


Plus there are things Zillow might include in their valuations that do not enhance the accuracy – a recent refinance on your home, for example, or single story comparables when your home is a 2-story – as well as data submitted by the public or Zillow users which may be incorrect.


It’s one thing to be mislead into thinking your home is worth more than it is, or possibly less. But the problem as a seller with using an estimate that is high to determine your list price is that overpricing a home can keep buyers away. And if, by some remote chance, a buyer actually offers what you want there could be a problem with the appraisal coming in low.


On the flip side a low price based on Zillow, while it might encourage an auction effect and multiple offers, could possibly result in you leaving money on the table since the home could sell for less than it’s worth, depending on the kind of market you’re in. In our competitive market here with multiple offers that's less likely to happen.


A related issue is that we know buyers commonly consult Zillow, and some like to make offers based on what Zillow says, which may be very low compared to the true market value, rather than based on comparable sales, even if their agent counsels them otherwise. As a seller that low doesn’t do you much good if you want to sell, does it? Oh, you might counter, but if that buyer sticks to their guns, and love for Zillow, no deal.


I look up my own house from time to time, and of course as a Carlsbad Realtor I know what it’s reasonably worth based on nearby comparable sales. Recent Zestimates have it 5% – 7% above what I would consider generous market value, and Redfin’s estimate was 10% too high when I checked just the other day.


Bottom-line, I would never make a buying or selling decision based on Zillow, or any other online valuation. And that’s NOT just because I’m a Realtor!


All that being said, there is nothing wrong with looking these estimates up, as long as you are not unduly influenced by them or take them as gospel.


A prudent seller will not make listing decisions based on these online estimations but will list their home based on market data from a knowledgeable Realtor who knows the local market conditions, recent comparable sales, the competition for the home, and pricing, and not just what Zillow says about the value!!


To be fair, Zillow acknowledges there are margins of error in their Zestimates and states this, along with statistics, on their website, although that commentary is not readily seen.


They also point out that Zestimates should be viewed as “a starting point in determining a home’s value, and not an official appraisal.” Very true, if you actually listen to that advice.


But the fact remains…online valuations can be way off, by a lot, and you won’t know by how much unless you get expert advice.



As a home owner, and more importantly as a seller, relying on Zillow or other online home valuations, or making key decisions based on this information, is not in your best interest financially.


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Comment balloon 38 commentsJeff Dowler, CRS • July 28 2018 01:19AM


I am glad to see you expose your community about what Zillow can and cannot do...

Posted by Paul S. Henderson, REALTOR®, CRS, Tacoma Washington Agent/Broker & Market Authority! (RE/MAX Northwest.) 7 months ago

This is good information for home buyers and sellers. It is always good to get the market analysis from an agent who has seen the house.

Posted by Gita Bantwal, REALTOR,ABR,CRS,SRES,GRI - Bucks County & Philadel (RE/MAX Centre Realtors) 7 months ago

Morning Jeff.

Regardless of all the negative news about Z and the others, I still get people telling me they check with Z and it stated their home is worth xxx. Most are not prepared to hear the truth

Posted by James Dray, Exceptional Agents, Outstanding Results (Fathom Realty AR LLC) 7 months ago

Great post, Jeff. This is exactly what I discuss with my clients when they call me hysterical with happiness or despair after checking what their home is worth on Zillow. When I sold my last house, Zillow said it was worth $100,000 more than what I had it listed at. I sold it at what was then the highest sale price ever achieved in my subdivision at full asking price. Maybe, if my home was a mile down the road in the country club, it would have been worth $100,000 more... those are the things that Zillow doesn't take into account. As a broker, I knew better, but you can see how a member of the public would take it as gospel truth.

Posted by Nina Hollander, Your Charlotte/Ballantyne/Waxhaw/Fort Mill Realtor (Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage ) 7 months ago

Zillow is blind to improvements, updates, ...reality...we just say no!  We still get for one particular home we sold several years ago...monthly updates indicating a rise and fall of the "current Value" often thousands and thousands of dollars difference in a very short time...oh no !

Posted by Sally K. & David L. Hanson, WI Realtors - Luxury - Divorce (EXP Realty 414-525-0563) 7 months ago

Good morning Jeff. Really want to know, call a pro! Enjoy your day!

Posted by Wayne Martin, Real Estate Broker - Retired (Wayne M Martin) 7 months ago

And in non-disclosure states, like Texas, Zillow is worthless. Try expaining that to the public!


Posted by Lorrie Semler, REALTOR® in the Dallas area. Call/text 972-416-3417, Real Service. Real Results. Real Estate (United Real Estate) 7 months ago

Thank you Paul S. Henderson, REALTOR®,CRS, 

It's important education for those who don't know so they can make informed decisions!


Posted by Jeff Dowler, CRS, The Southern California Relocation Dude (Solutions Real Estate ) 7 months ago

I totally agree Gita Bantwal  as long as the agent knows what they are doing.

Hi James Dray  I think most buyers and sellers I have talked to do this. I think it's helpful to know so there can be good discussion about it!


Posted by Jeff Dowler, CRS, The Southern California Relocation Dude (Solutions Real Estate ) 7 months ago

Hi Nina Hollander 

I have had the same discussion multiple times with sellers, and buyers. It's important they understand the complete picture!


Posted by Jeff Dowler, CRS, The Southern California Relocation Dude (Solutions Real Estate ) 7 months ago

Hi Sally K. & David L. Hanson 

It's pretty surprising how much the estimates can vary and change. I had a listing a couple of years ago and the Zestimate was $200K too high - totally out of whack. Hard for sellers to understand.


Posted by Jeff Dowler, CRS, The Southern California Relocation Dude (Solutions Real Estate ) 7 months ago

That's pretty smart advice Wayne Martin  I find many buyers and sellers do understand but the lure of online values is pretty powerful to them. Who doesn't like hearing their home is worth 10-15% more than is really is?!


Posted by Jeff Dowler, CRS, The Southern California Relocation Dude (Solutions Real Estate ) 7 months ago

Crazy and it rarely happens this way but, I had the opposite experience this week, Jeff! Owners who I had sold to several years ago texted me a zesimate and were elated that their home could be worth as much as was quoted. I saw the number and know the neighborhood quite well and thought it was probably considerably off. I pulled the CMA and it was almost $150K LOW! 

I'm certain that Z used 'neighboring' homes and not just their community. Nonetheless, we're in the car this weekend, finding them a new, even higher priced home since they realize they've got some major equity in their current home. We'll work on the sale soon as well! 

HOWEVER, that is a rarity - I have the 'recital' down pat when the question is posed regarding online valuations. "You know, those computers on the West Coast have never walked through the comparable properties that they used to establish your valuation. I HAVE!"

Posted by Debe Maxwell, CRS, Charlotte Homes for Sale - Charlotte Neighborhoods ( | The Maxwell House Group | RE/MAX Executive | (704) 491-3310) 7 months ago


Oh so true, and the sad part of Z is that some agents rely on those numbers...A

Posted by Ron and Alexandra Seigel, Luxury Real Estate Branding, Marketing & Strategy (Napa Consultants) 7 months ago

Great post Jeff Dowler, CRS This is one of the first things I tell my clients: "please don't rely on Zillow" If anything A good Realtor would give your a accurate and realistic information than Z. I'm going to reblog this Jeff. 

Posted by Abby Stiller, Professional Bilingual Realtor (239) 284-8637 (REMAX Realty Group) 7 months ago

Jeff excellent post. It’s what we all need to do in our respective markets. Making it crystal clear about the truth of ‘Zestimates ‘ to our clients is the right thing to do.

Posted by Anna Banana Kruchten CRB, CRS 602-380-4886, Arizona's Top Banana! (Phoenix Property Shoppe) 7 months ago

Zillow's Zestimate is a fine tool to play with, but you always have to take the value with a grain of salt. They are always off by a large amount here, either way high or way low depending on the community.

Posted by JL Boney, III, Columbia, SC Real Estate (Coldwell Banker) 7 months ago

Very well put, Jeff Dowler, CRS , but unfortunately buyers and sellers both seem to refuse to realize the inaccuracies perpetuated by these   online 'services'

Posted by Sandy Padula and Norm Padula, JD, GRI, Presence, Persistence & Perseverance (Realty National) 7 months ago

Good afternoon Jeff - you treatment of the topic is fair and the best way to explain to buyers and sellers.

Posted by Grant Schneider, Your Coach Helping You Create Successful Outcomes (Performance Development Strategies) 7 months ago

Right on, Jeff. I spent a day with the Zillow folks a few years ago, and they were telling me the percentages they were off in different markets. They were close in some and way off in others. The reality is, it's always best to trust a local pro who knows the market. Why go anywhere else?

Posted by Mike Cooper, GRI, Your Neighborhood Real Estate Sales Pro (Cornerstone Business Group Inc) 7 months ago

A conversation like yours is invaluable to home sellers and buyers alike Jeff. Like I have said before, Zillow is fluffy and misleads the public with erroneous information. Congrats on the gold star!

Posted by Wanda Kubat-Nerdin - Wanda Can!, So Utah Residential, Referral & Relocation REALTOR (Prado Real Estate South) 7 months ago

We all should be pitching and peddling what we discovered and how it works. Zillow found something and it is working in the consumer world. Results don't lie. Add people believe giant corporations, follow the wide road and anything they see in print or online as truth. Zillow has a price opinion as does appraisers, tax assessors, neighbors, sellers and agents. Who to believe? I found the old axiom of "people buy from people first" true blue. When its my say so goes to work. Credibility up close is hard to dismiss

Posted by Richie Alan Naggar, agent & author (people first...then business Ran Right Realty ) 7 months ago

Thank you for sharing this post. Oh so true... Talk to a Realtor in your area and guess what sometimes a property is very unique getting an appraisal of the property may be in the best interest of a seller. We can give an estimate of value but can not do what an appraiser can do. We talk to appraisers all the time to better understand what they are thinking when they look at a house. This helps us very much... We are thankful the appraisers in our community are so helpful in talking to us in general. Have a blessed day. 

Posted by Laura Filip, What can we do for you today? (Laura Filip Broker , Opening doors for All Seasons of Life ) 7 months ago

Well written, Jeff Dowler, CRS. Unfortunately, many people put their faith in the proven to be inaccurate Zillow (and others) information rather than their local professional. It's important to establish your value over the online information. Not always an easy task...


Posted by Bruce Kunz, REALTOR®, Brick & Howell NJ Homes for Sale (C21 Solid Gold Realty, Brick, NJ, 732-920-2100) 7 months ago

Hi Jeff: I love that you took the approach of talking directly to the homeowner--they really are enamored with Zillow and one of the most difficult discussions I have ever had with a buyer was about Zestimates. Buyers especially, think that a zestimate on a property is accurate regardless of what they are told! I told this one particular buyer 10 times not to use the zestimate to "decide on your offer" and still, there she was making a low ball offer on a hot property. I also have a listing that has been on the market for a very long time because the owners believed that their research on Zillow was where they needed to go to get the listing price! I turned them down the last time they wer going to re-sign the agreement--I told them that the price needed to be reflective of what has sold nearby in the last year or I would not sign the agrement again!. they changed their price and I have 2 parties now bidding on it...Great post!

Posted by Paula Hathaway, REALTOR, LBA, ...The Most Informed Agent In The Hamptons! (Douglas Elliman Real Estate) 7 months ago

Oh, those fabulous Zestimates Jeff Dowler, CRS what a great post for consumers to understand the magic algorithms...

Have a wonderful weekend!

Posted by Lisa Von Domek, ....Experience Isn't Expensive.... It's Priceless! (Lisa Von Domek Team) 7 months ago

Jeff Dowler, CRS 
You are so correct about your statement that And if, by some remote chance, a buyer actually offers what you want there could be a problem with the appraisal coming in low.

Been there - done that!
All the best - Lynn

Posted by Lynn B. Friedman, Concierge Service for Our Atlanta Sellers & Buyers (Atlanta Homes ODAT Realty Call/Text 404-939-2727 Buckhead - Midtown - Westside -- and more ...) 7 months ago

While I know that sellers are often concerned about Zillow's low zestimates... they're afraid that buyers will see the low zestimates, or that banks will view them and they won't be able to sell for their actual higher value.

In actuality, I never... not even once... had a buyer stick to their guns on the zestimate...  they have occasionally brought it up, but when working with a buyer's agent they are easily educated when exposed to the actual comparables.

Posted by Alan May, Helping you find your way home. (Coldwell Banker Residential) 7 months ago

Jeff, you did an awesome job of explaining Zillows estimating system and why buyers and sellers should not rely on the information. It's interesting that you looked up the value of your own property on Zillow. I have not done that, but why not? I think I shall, if only for the entertainment value. I bet it is off by a great margin... To be continued.

Posted by Pat Starnes-Front Gate Realty, 601-991-2900 Office; 601-278-4513 Cell (Front Gate Real Estate) 7 months ago

Jeff Dowler, CRS - great post! How true and unfortunate it is that Zillow and others are more trusted with valuations etc ... I cannot stop and wonder why they ‘discovered’ that niche and need to fill consumer’s wants butnot the NAR & MLSs ... but I digress. 

Posted by Bo Kociuba & Buster Elliott, HOME is Where Your Story Begins (Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Anderson Properties ) 7 months ago

Great post and so true!.  People don't understand that Zillow doesn't peak into your house and see the $40,000 kitchen renovation you did, or the great bathroom makeover.  It would be very scary if Zillow REALLY did know what every house was worth, truly big brother!!

Posted by Shirley Coomer, Realtor, Keller Williams Realty, Phoenix Az (Keller Williams Realty Sonoran Living) 7 months ago

Hey, Jeff. Zillow has changed. You probably have not noticed this because you don't use it. Most reputable Realtors do not use Zillow because we have access to far better tools than those available for free to the public.

However, what Zillow has done now is change its value after you list the house. You think I'm kidding? Ha, ha, ha, I am not. Check it out yourself. The Zestimate before you list and the Zestimate after you list are two different things. The value might be $600,000 before and $675,000 after.

Generally the Zestimate after listing comes in right at or very close to your listed sales price. Which is why I tell buyers, hey, go look at Zillow! You want to believe in Zillow so much, well, pay what Zillow says this home is worth then.

Posted by Elizabeth Weintraub Sacramento Real Estate Agent, Top 1% of Lyon Agents, Put 40 years of experience to work for you (Lyon Real Estate) 7 months ago

Yes, yes, yes.  As a layperson (ahem) I have consulted Z and the values of homes fluctuate in my opinion up or down for no apparent or good reason.  Sometimes it seems the entire area is stagnant and the algorithm downvalues a particular house.  If I have my roof redone, does that show up as extra value?  What about the house on the street that doesn't get painted properly, the yard looks like a mess, and the trim is falling off?
Jeff is right, only a Realtor has a clear idea what a house is really worth based on a variety of facts that Z cannot factor in.

Posted by John Henry, Residential Architect, Custom Home Design (John Henry Masterworks Design International, Inc.) 7 months ago

Good morning Jeff Dowler, CRS,

So glad to see this post featured because the consumer doesn't understand that relying in this information is not reliable. We live in a non-disclosure state so they don't have our sold date from the MLS. They are often 20-30% off in our state.

Posted by Dorie Dillard CRS GRI ABR, Serving Buyers & Sellers in NW Austin Real Estate (Coldwell Banker United Realtors® ~ 512.750.6899) 7 months ago

Beautifully written - the public should be aware, and many ARE aware that Zillow and sites like it are not the authority when it comes right down to accurate home values.  I tell folks to think of it as entertainment that educates, but to not depend on it.  As Dorie Dillard pointed out, our sales prices are not public information in Texas and those Zestimates can be extremely inaccurate for Texas propreties!

Posted by Mary Ann Daniell Realtor, Delivering Successful Results Since 1999 (Coldwell Banker United, Realtors - Subsidiary of NRT LLC ) 7 months ago

I have come to embrace Zillow.  The buyers know what is on the market, though sometimes the listing information is outdated and some of the homes have been long sold and not removed.  It is user friendly and impossible to get a buyer to not look at it.  As long as you explain the pitfalls of the dreaded Zestimate and you as the professional can show the real value, it is not an issue.  It is just another tool that buyers and sellers can use to give them a starting point.  Great post.

Posted by Karen Feltman, Relocation Specialist in Cedar Rapids, Iowa (Cedar Rapids/Iowa City, IA KW Legacy Group) 7 months ago

Homeowners get sucked in by those high Zillow estimates, even if they are inaccurate and automated.  What's real is what someone will pay for the house at closing!

Posted by Mary Hutchison, SRES, ABR, Experienced Agent in Kansas City Metro area (Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate-Kansas City Homes) 7 months ago

Great Post! Zillow is so far off base in Alaska it is pitiful. We are a privacy state and do not disclose sales price for the public record. They are totally off the mark here. Still people want to believe them usually to their own detriment!

Posted by Debra Leisek ( Bay Realty,Inc Homer Alaska) 6 months ago