How Zillow, Trulia, & National Real Estate Sites Work

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Anyone who’s interested in buying or selling a home knows about Zillow and Trulia. They are two of the most popular listing websites nationwide, and the first place people look when they have real estate on their mind. Zillow just recently bought Trulia, an interesting move that will affect industry dynamics, but not the focus of this article.

It’s important to understand how websites like Zillow and Trulia work so you have some context when browsing them. Most people take what they see on the web for granted, they figure that if it’s up there on a popular website, than it must be true. Users should realize that these websites are great at what they do, but like any other complicated system, there’s plenty of room for error.

If You are Buying a Home

Zillow and Trulia are listing websites which show houses for sale across the country, but how do they get those listings? In the majority of cases, local brokerages (like Keller Williams) send their listing data to them in order to gain more exposure for those listings. Here’s the first potential point for misinformation: brokerages don’t have to send their listings to Zillow and Trulia, and some don’t. That means if you’re browsing these sites you are not getting the full picture, you could be missing a whole swath of homes for sale.

Or you could be looking at a listing and making a decision based on incorrect or missing information. The data feeds that brokerages send to these sites can sometimes have technical issues, and certain things like price or even address can be incorrect or missing. Sometimes the errors are more severe, making listings look like they’re not for sale, or even registering a house that isn’t for sale as available. These sites also often allow businesses and individuals to input listings of dubious quality, many times theses homes are not actually for sale, and the listings are only their to drive leads.

PRO Tip: Local Realtor sites like ours get their data directly from the MLS, on these sites you will find the most accurate listings of homes for sale in Mechanicsburg PA.

If You are Selling a Home

Other features, like Zillow’s Zestimate, can also be more problematic than helpful. Zillow generates it’s Zestimate from publicly available information like tax data, past sales, and nearby prices to provide it’s best guess at the property value. The Zestimate has no ability to adjust for non-arms length transactions, neighborhood desirability, seller concessions or property condition. Zestimates are a ballpark estimate at best, in fact Zillow even encourages buyers to contact a real estate agent for a comparative market analysis for a more accurate assessment. Zillow is upfront about Zestimate’s accuracy too, they concede that Zestimates in Pittsburg, for example, are within 5% of the actual sale price only 35% of the time. That’s a pretty good batting average, but not very good when it comes to valuation accuracy.

To get the most current, accurate, and complete look at available listings in your area, your best bet is to contact a local agent. Agents have access to your local MLS (multiple listing service), which brokerages must send their listings to. They also have local market knowledge and insight that you simply can’t get from a national listing website. Every market, sometimes on a block by block basis, has its own unique dynamics, so it’s very important that you work with someone who understands those trends.

If you have any questions, would like to get the full picture of listings in your area, or are curious to see how your Zestimate compares to our valuation, feel free to contact us at 717-224-5827.