Zillow's chief financial officer, Spencer
Rascoff, says that if he were getting ready to sell
his home in Seattle, he would refine the estimate by
including a new garage roof and making sure that the
comparables are, in fact, comparable. "Then I might
well print my Zestimate out and distribute it to prospective
The site is supported by advertising and
doesn't intend to compete against real estate agents,
Rascoff says: "What we're doing is trying to put
tools and information into the hands of the consumer.
We expect most people to seek out the expertise and
advice of a professional real estate agent."
Zillow was preceded by two Web sites that
do compete against real estate agents. Homekeys
provide estimates of home values and real estate brokerage
services, too. Homekeys represents buyers and sellers
and has been online since March 2005. Redfin has been
posting home price information for a couple of years,
and early this year started representing buyers in real-estate
Whereas Zillow.com is national, Homekeys
and Redfin are local. Homekeys' scope is limited to
three South Florida counties -- Miami-Dade, Broward
and Palm Beach. Redfin so far is limited to King County,
Wash., where Seattle is.
When Zillow went online in early February,
bloggers and reporters criticized it for some inaccuracies
and gaps in data. Rascoff acknowledges the problem and
says, "We'll look for ways for individual homeowners
to correct that information for us."
asking prices and amenities at Realtor.com
Realtor.com, a Web site run by the National Association
of Realtors, doesn't estimate home values, but it lets
you know how much your home-selling neighbors are asking,
and it gives details about the homes for sale. A Bankrate
reader in Gainesville, Fla., says he checks the Realtor.com
site when homes in his neighborhood are listed on the
Multiple Listing Service, or MLS. "Then I look
in the public records a couple of months later to see
what it really sold for," he says.
He frequently updates a spreadsheet with
details about houses in his neighborhood -- asking price,
sale price, square footage, price per square foot, and
even distance from a major road. "There's no effect
on price!" he says in an e-mail. A number-cruncher
by profession, he is comfortable using a spreadsheet.
Another Bankrate reader, Troy Kleve, peruses
MLS data on the Web site of his local newspaper, The
Sacramento Bee. "If you check the site frequently,
you can stay on top of any price reductions and see
how fast homes are selling after they hit the market,"
he says. Visitors to Realtor.com can do the same.
There is a drawback to Realtor.com: You
can't search by address. When you spot a neighbor's
new "for sale" sign, you can't just run to
your computer and find the listing immediately on Realtor.com.
Instead, you have to search by city or ZIP code and
then click on page after page of listings until you
find your quarry. Once you do, just write down the MLS
number and use that as a shortcut whenever you want
to check up on the listing.
away from the keyboard and visit comparable homes for
It's not enough to let your fingers dance across a keyboard
and mouse. You've got to expend shoe leather and tire
rubber by visiting comparable houses that already are
on the market. Someday those houses might be your competition.
Linda Lenox says she does a number of
things to monitor the climate and temperature of her
Bay Area neighborhood. She peruses the classified ads
in the newspaper, gathers fliers from "for sale"
lawn signs, attends open houses to chat with real estate
agents, visits new housing developments, keeps real
estate advertisements that arrive in her mailbox, and
looks at real estate Web sites.
"I then look through these fliers
and papers once a month or so to get the feel of prices
and how long the houses are on the market," she
says. "I don't tabulate anything, but I do get
a feel of what is happening."
That's fine. Keeping track of your neighborhood's
real estate is an art, not a science.