by Joseph Weisenthal

Filed Under:
real estate


Zillow Goes After An Area That Real Estate Agents Can't Touch

from the too-hot-to-handle dept

The rise of online real estate services like Zillow and Redfin has been a thorn in the side of real estate agents, who have voiced displeasure at the affront to their cartel. The basic tension stems from the fact that these services attempt to get around the professionals' control over real estate information. Now Zillow is looking to attack the industry from another angle. For various legal and ethical reasons, real estate agents aren't supposed to talk about certain details of a neighborhood, like demographics or crime rates, even though this stuff is pretty pertinent to would-be buyers. So in addition to its basic real estate data, Zillow plans to launch 6,500 new sites based around specific communities, where users can exchange information that they can't get from real estate agents. Going in this direction clearly makes a lot of sense, since it's a weak spot for real estate agents. If Zillow can use its existing position to become a home base for this kind of information, it should prove useful to people in the real estate market.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Shelty, Jul 11th, 2007 @ 5:39pm

    Here's What They Need To Know

    I'm down with that idea. Each summer a nudist group sets up a camp not far from my house, so I'll be sure to post that info.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Michael Kohne, Jul 11th, 2007 @ 5:49pm

    Fine line...

    There's a fine line between giving buyers useful information and committing housing discrimination via steering. That's why legit Real Estate agents are so skittish in most areas - the fair housing laws are kind of broad and something that seems innocent enough to you and me (how's the school district?) can turn into litigation at the drop of a hat.

    Zillow's going to have to be careful about this. I think they'll do well, but they need to be careful.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Jacob Buck, Jul 11th, 2007 @ 6:11pm

    Re: Here's What They Need To Know

    ummm, is your house for sale?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Rick Page, Jul 11th, 2007 @ 6:45pm

    Antiquated ethics and legal issues

    There are some outdated laws regarding steering and discrimination on the books that maybe applied to the 70's. The color todays's sellers are concerned with is green. Buyers should be able to get any and all information they need to make a decision. This industry needs to be pryed out of the hands of the elitest Realtors and Title companies who try to make their own laws. Not to mention all the other parasitic hangers-on. New surveys required by lenders, etc. What happened did the property move? No it didn't but there are kickbacks aplenty.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    VitaminCM, Jul 11th, 2007 @ 6:55pm

    Real Estate Shakedowns

    Here is another shakedown. Title Search!
    If the person that bought the house 2 years ago paid in full for a title search, why do I need to pay "In Full" for the same search going back 200 years. Why not the 2 years since the last search.
    If that's not bad enough, after I pay a "certified" title searcher to do the search, I need to pay for "Title Search Insurance". If I pay a "certified" electrician to do electrical work and it is not right, they are responsible, because they're insured. I don't have to by electrician insurance. What was I paying for in the first place?
    The whole thing is just a scam.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    GoblinJuice, Jul 11th, 2007 @ 7:06pm

    More information is always good. =)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Sal The Stockbroker, Jul 11th, 2007 @ 7:39pm

    Finally--useful info!

    What the article hints at but doesn't say is that Zillow will let you know where the blacks and mexicans live. Thank you zillow!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Pesti, Jul 11th, 2007 @ 8:05pm

    Racist B.S.

    The block I live on has 10 houses on it.Three latino families,
    two black families, The rest are white,including me. The "Offending" race's (according to "The Stockbroker") Have clean
    yards, decent kids, and really make an effort to care for our neighborhood. Well hey Sal, ever heard of white-trash? that's
    the reason my block has problems, so I'd be more than happy to send 'em all your way.......

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Brad, Jul 11th, 2007 @ 11:43pm

    Non-transferable Reports

    One of the things that bothered me when I recently bought a house in California was that I couldn't give the reports I got to anyone else. I was looking at a house, and it ended up not passing one of the inspections (structural work wasn't done by a licensed contractor). Well, that cost me $200 to find out, but could I tell other interested buyers? Nope! Was the agent required to disclose this? Nope, because the information was "yielded through inspection". Awesome, local inspector got $200 from every interested buyer to re-print the same report.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    kevin, Jul 12th, 2007 @ 6:17am

    This is misleading, from our e-cards or websites we post information to help buyers and sellers with links to sites that have information on crime and other pertinent information. This article is totally misleading and goes to show you how misinformed people are including the author of this column.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Chuck Norris' Enemy (deceased), Jul 12th, 2007 @ 7:04am


    We bought a home last summer and I hired an inspector to do an inspection. We walked through the house, he looked at everything very carefully, he was quite thorough and had a lot of comments on little things. After we bought the house the previous owners left an accordion file with info on appliances and various home improvements, along with the home inspection they had performed a month prior, by the exact same inspector!

    Another good resource is the sex offender registry, if there is one. Of course, it is the unregistered sex offenders you should worry about.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    discojohnson, Jul 12th, 2007 @ 8:41am

    don't they already have this?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    David G from, Jul 12th, 2007 @ 11:23am

    Thanks ... and a correction.

    Hi, this is David from Zillow,

    Thanks for this review. We're very excited about expanding the Zillow community.

    I need to point out that Kevin is correct; this article is misleading regarding Realtors and their opportunity to participate in discussions about neighborhoods. A real estate professional is a GREAT source of neighborhood information and there's nothing stopping them from sharing it though I think I understand where the confusion comes from -- the Fair Housing Act requires that someone who advertises real estate for sale not state discriminatory preferences in their advertising -- but that applies to both sellers and agents.

    Real Estate professionals are some of the most active and helpful contributors to -- and reading their posts is a great way to identify a Realtor you'd like to work with.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Lord, Jul 12th, 2007 @ 1:08pm

    I agree. Agents have nothing to fear and much to gain by making this information readily accessible to the public. Too much of a straw man drumming up controversy where none exists.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    akrotiri, Jul 12th, 2007 @ 4:54pm

    Re: Finally--useful info!

    You dont need Zillow to find this type of info. You could just hang out in the neighborhood.

    Besides, it works both ways. Soon people will be talking about bigots like you in their neighborhood on Zillow!

    See more information always works both ways!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Brian, Jul 12th, 2007 @ 9:44pm

    I've Seen This...

    First...nice Howard Stern reference above "Sal The Stockbroker".

    Second...I am closing on my house (townhouse) tomorrow. During the process, I asked the selling realtor about the family living in the T.H attached to the one I was looking at. He got all spooked and refused to even tell me if they were young, old, or middle-aged. I finally asked him if he wouldn't tell me because they're black? He zipped right up. When looking at the house later, I discovered I was right. My realtor laughed and told me that if I had taken that information and decided not to buy because of it, she could file a complaint against him and get his license pulled. Stupid rules.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Brian, Jul 12th, 2007 @ 9:45pm more thing...

    Screw Zillow. I just tried to go to their site and they don't support my Safari browser.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    David G from, Jul 13th, 2007 @ 8:48am

    Brian -

    Please upgrade safari to the current Beta of Safari and you'll be good to go. It took the Safari team a while to catch up and support the web protocols we've used. Zillow also works GREAT on firefox which is an awesome browser for the mac.

    The FHA regulations are complex to understand and so in an attempt to rather be safe than sorry, most Realtors are taught a vocabulary of words to avoid altogether. So they often take it too far but frankly I don't blame them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    Marlow Harris, Jul 15th, 2007 @ 2:21pm

    If a Realtor tells you the neighbors are young, they can get sued for age discrimination. If a Realtor tells you someone's Christian, they can get sued for religious discrimination. If you tell if the neighbor is single, you can get sued for discrimination of familial status.

    The federal government can levy hefty finds of tens of thousands of dollars and often send in undercovery decoys to "test" Realtors and play "gotcha".

    Any wonder many of them refuse to answer questions? Who wants to be taken to federal court and sued? It's not the National Association of Realtors forbidding awnswering these kinds of questions, it's the fear of innocently violating the Fair Housing Laws just by truthfully answering some questions that make some Realtors clam up, in case they're being set up by a federal agent.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 17th, 2007 @ 2:30pm

    Re: Finally--useful info!


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    Randy, Jul 18th, 2007 @ 11:34am

    Re: Real Estate Shakedowns

    I agree. This is all about fear and security. I have lived in countries where title could be a concern but here I think it is a great profit driver. Just look at the statistics of premiums collected versus claims paid.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. identicon
    MWm, Aug 1st, 2007 @ 5:35pm

    Re: Real Estate Shakedowns

    Title companies offer significant discounts in most areas if you provide a copy of the prior title policy. That means they don't have to go back 200 years, just 2. If you're not getting a discount, someone's not watching out for you (mortgage loan officer, real estate agent, etc.)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    Tom, Sep 8th, 2007 @ 12:22pm

    Re: Non-transferable Reports

    In California, if the agent finds any defects through this report and does not disclose it, they are liable for damages and worse.
    I doubt the poster knows anything or hired a corrupt agent in the first place. IN FACT ALL REALTORS MUST DISCLOSE OR THEY ARE JUST HACKS.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. identicon
    TOM, Sep 8th, 2007 @ 12:28pm

    Re: I've Seen This...stupid rules

    Well this rule was forced upon agents... and yes they will get sued for even writing black in a notebook regarding any buyer or seller. THEY SEND OUT BLACKS TO TEST US, WASTE OUR TIME IN THE PROCESS AND TRY TO GET US TO SAY ANYTHING TO SUE US FOR

    Also, if a person dies in a house, we must disclose.. unless AIDS WAS THE CAUSE... PC or what....

    so many federal rules issued
    IN CALIFORNIA, agents cannot represent buyers if a NOD is filed.. some exclusions but not the norm. So the ones who might get help are screwed over.. lose the house.HONEST, YOU will not believe all the stupid laws

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. identicon
    Tom, Sep 8th, 2007 @ 12:32pm

    Re: Brian -

    One favorite. If we have a house set up with wide doors and ramps, we were prohibited from advertising the fact.. no we could not say "Handicap Accessible"
    We cannot say: Family neighborhood, Executive home... you get the picture? Multicultural.... next, we won't be able to say close to synagogue.... wait, we can't now.....

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. identicon
    MJP, Sep 13th, 2007 @ 8:46am

    Zillow Valuation

    Zillow lists the following:
    920 Amanda Dr Mansfield TX 76063
    3 beds, 4.0 baths, 4,172 sq ft;

    ZESTIMATEā„¢: $648,079

    It sold by a realtor and closed on 8/28/07 for $415,000.00

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27. identicon
    Brian Flaherty, Oct 16th, 2007 @ 6:05am

    Connecting to Zillow

    I can't access the site from my work computer firewall(websense) come on you guys where's the back door to this site. Can I trust the Zillow estimate on my houses value?

    Also, one thing that really has me pissed off! When I bought my house I paid for the survey and when I got to the house I was surprised to find there were no boundry stakes. My lot is on an angle and now I want to put a fence up and guess what I have to pay for another damm survey!! I asked the title company what the hell was going on and what did I pay for They gave me a sheet of paper with a drawing of my house and the measurements. Told me it would have cost an additional 60.00 to have it staked so they didn't bother. Now I can't tell if my neighbors are encrouching on me or not!!! Buyer beware!!!
    PS Anybody know a cheap surveyor!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28. identicon
    Kara Phadael, Dec 7th, 2007 @ 5:01am


    I am a real estate agent who actually loves Zillow. I regularly add information on listings in my home town, I know that people will be looking there for info. They'd rather not sign up for a service to have email sent to them until they're ready to actually go out and look with an agent. So, my information is on Zillow next to every house for sale in my town. Zillow drives people to my website (which still needs work). I also get phone calls from Zillow. I let every person who calls me know that I am not the listing agent and I have picked up buyers that way. Best of all, it is free to me. How can I resent Zillow.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29. identicon
    Out of work Agent, Dec 14th, 2007 @ 9:56pm

    Zestimates of out of work agents

    The last part of 2007 sucked for sales. Down hill every day. Zillow should have red flags for declining sales area. I did have ten buyers from that site. All were hard sales with all kinds of stipulations..

    I just started a new job with a regular income.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30. identicon
    Gresham Real Estate Guy, Dec 23rd, 2007 @ 4:12pm


    I think Zillow is a great tool. But getting a good value on a property requires much more then just random neighborhood data. Half the comps zillow uses are incompatible most of the time. Also some homes are remodeled others are fixers. Zillow will used comps that are not always right for the correct value. Dont get me wrong its a great site and I use it. But I think sellers will use it to size up the property value and in the end hire a professional to do the job.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31. identicon
    Sabe, Jan 3rd, 2008 @ 12:45pm

    Zillow values

    I think Zillow is a great tool, but I can point out a few flaws.
    First, if there is something different/unique about your house the Zestimate won't recognize it, so you are left to your own devices to let potential buyers know what is unique. Second, the data is not always correct - it shows my home as a 3/1 built in 1969, but in fact ours was the first home ever built on the property in 2003 and is a 4/2 - not sure why the discrepancy, but it lowers my Zestimate substantially. Third, I have a single family home on the first street in my neighborhood, and because of the way Zillow works, it is comped to condos & villas in the adjoining neighborhood as well as homes in a neighborhood on the other side of the tracks because of its proximity, rather than homes within my 'neighborhood' - which also substantially lowers my Zestimate.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32. identicon
    Jim, Jan 15th, 2008 @ 1:13pm

    Re: Inspection

    Home inspectors are worthless. They are often referred by realtors, and an inspector certainly doesn't want to get a reputation as a deal-breaker!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33. identicon
    Who Cares, Jan 22nd, 2008 @ 1:29pm

    Zillow Sucks

    Zillow is so stupid it rated a $150,000.00 home I bought as being worth $249,000.00. They are such jerks.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 1st, 2008 @ 4:05am

    Mapping database problem

    I am living in a newer neighborhood (the first tracks built in 2006) that is generally not present in their mapping database, despite that will have this info. Maybe because of this fact, Zillow's database does not include the homes in the search results. However, if you search for a particular address, the information will be displayed, but on the wrong location. This leads me to two conclusions: (1) they use an older mapping database (2) don't handle error conditions correctly. Another site that uses Zillow's database ( has this problem even more rectified.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35. identicon
    Portland Real Estate, Mar 16th, 2008 @ 8:57pm

    It's what people want

    Zillow is successful because they give people what they want. I don't think that real estate agents are prohibited from sharing factual neighborhood information, as long as it's based on real data and not anecdotal evidence.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36. identicon
    jacquie, Apr 2nd, 2008 @ 11:18am

    zillow sucks

    Zillow's home estimates are terrible. First they get all the pertinent facts on homes wrong, Then they compare the house to others completely out of their neighborhood. I have noticed that they will have two homes side by side, almost identicle, and will value one 100k above the other. They have undervalued our home by about 100k. Much less then the actual appraisal.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37. identicon
    Kandy Walsh, Apr 26th, 2008 @ 2:56pm

    Zillow's Inaccuracies!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  38. identicon
    Kandy Walsh, Apr 26th, 2008 @ 3:02pm

    Zillow's Inaccuracies!

    As a professional realtor in Tucson, Az. (full time for only 28 years...) and one who sells from 70 to 100 properties per year, my only problem with Zillow is: THE SITE IS TOTALLY INACURATE!!
    In the Catalina Foothills, it is either 100k high or 100k low or somewhere in between but always wrong!! The public thinks that a nationwide website is authentic,credible and correct--not so fast, Mr. Zillow, you have none of those attributes--your disinformation just confuses the public which is NOT NICE!
    Kendall "Kandy" Walsh
    Long Realty
    Foothill Office

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  39. identicon
    Thom, May 5th, 2008 @ 2:49pm

    Re: Non-transferable Reports

    I'm pretty sure that California is like Texas here. That report belongs to the person who bought it; not to the inspector. It is not his to resell. If he did that here he wouldn't be in business for long. Don't you have seller's disclosures there? Don't they have to be ammended to reflect discoveries after the initial disclosure?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  40. identicon
    Thom, May 5th, 2008 @ 3:02pm

    Re: Re: Inspection

    Gee, Jim. Think you have a wide enough paint brush? As a professional Inspector with 10 years Inspection experience and 30+ years of building experience, I respectfully submit that you are full of crap. There are plenty of good inspectors everywhere, including where you live. Those of us who are professional survive without fear of being a deal breaker. We thrive on Client referrals. Sounds like you have experience with a poor grade inspector. Usually that translates to the ignorant view that "they're all the same; gimme the cheapest you got" buyer mentality. How many Inspectors did you interview? Did you choose the cheapest or the best? Or, did you just let your Realtor choose? Put your big boy pants on and suck it up. You went for the cheapest and you got what you paid for.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  41. identicon
    seiscat, Oct 14th, 2008 @ 5:40pm

    Re: Re: Inspection

    My home inspector missed a lot of things that have since cost me a lot of money to fix.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  42. identicon
    seiscat, Oct 14th, 2008 @ 5:43pm

    Re: Re: Re: Inspection

    My inspector was recommended by the employee move assistance company hired by my employer. You would have thought they would have offered good recommendations.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  43. identicon
    seiscat, Oct 14th, 2008 @ 5:46pm

    Re: value

    The comps for my house were quite far off in features and price.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  44. identicon
    seiscat, Oct 14th, 2008 @ 5:48pm

    Re: Zillow's Inaccuracies!

    The sight does give information about their statistics that basically says that they have large error bars.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  45. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 16th, 2008 @ 1:53pm

    Zillow fails even to be credible in some key ways: for my building there are multiple listings for each unit, often varying in amount by more than 10%. So their computer program read entries for the same property and (a) didn't recognize it was the same property and (b) came up with divergent estimates! Then, you have the lovely oddity that the smallest unit in the building is listed as more valuable than the largest unit in the building, despite having info on the fact that the smallest unit is probably 400+ sq feet less, lacks a garage, doesn't have the nicer finishes, is one bedroom, one bathroom and one other room smaller, etc. In fact, the best and nicest unit in the building has the lowest estimated value and a unit that is much smaller is estimated at a value above it by close to 25%!

    Their system is crap and more should just admit it. Zillow's comments that they are a "starting point" only just fail to recognize the depth of the flaws in their model.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  46. identicon
    Beau Jangles, Jan 13th, 2009 @ 4:36pm

    Zillow is a great idea

    I just wanted to say that I think the Zillow concept is a great idea. Of course it has its flaws -- but they can be fixed with additional programming. Of course, nothing will ever replace HUMAN interaction, but sites like Zillow provide a wealth of information that was at one time hidden, unavailable and/or difficult for consumers to access.

    I think real estate agents are dinosaurs and quite unnecessary in the real estate buying and selling process. Agents are receiving far too much $$$ for each home transaction. Fees of $10,000, 20,000, 30,000 per sale, in this day and age, are unjustified. Agents are not putting in THAT many hours or doing anything so complex that justifies such fees.

    Three cheers to services such as Zillow and may continuing innovation and technology make us all savvier consumers and sellers.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  47. identicon
    shutdownzillow, Feb 6th, 2010 @ 7:25am

    Shut down zillow and see how the housing market will stabilizie.
    They fo now know what is in the backyard.
    They do not know what the home improvements are.
    How can they estimate.

    Spread the word "SHUT DOWN ZILLOW"

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  48. identicon
    ched palerno, Jun 4th, 2010 @ 4:42am


    I dare you name your website! I have not seen any realtor website that gives link/s to information about sex offenders living in the area or insoection failures. I have two daughters ages 5 and 10 and I almost bought a house in bergen where 12, yes, not 2 or 4, 12- sex offenders lives in a 2 miles radius within the 3Beds/1.5bath house I almost bought for, guess what, $ 399,000.- no thanks to greedy real estate agents.
    Thanks Joseph for the information. Bless You!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  49. identicon
    Jackie, Jun 17th, 2011 @ 9:31am

    That's definitely useful info for Zillow to provide. However, any individual who is internet savvy can easily obtain info like crime and demographics info via a Google search. Sites like City-Data are also quite good on providing this type of info/

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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