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Tell the world: Zillow.com is bunk . . .

I wrote Debunking Zillow.com on July 25th, two weeks ago today. Without being arcane or technical, I think it completely demolishes the idea that Zillow.com can — or ever can — provide reliable home values. Nathan Hughes at Richmond Business and Commercial News wrote about my post, and, in a comment there, I said:

The Zillow mystique is analogous to the aura that surrounds the nutritional supplements business. No one can possibly confuse a clerk in a GNC store for a physician, but people like the idea of being liberated from the dictates of their doctor while going one up on him at the same time.

We know that Zillow.com rides the Cluetrain, or seems to. When I teased them, they teased back.

Why, then, have they not responded to the much more serious allegation that their base epistemology categorically forbids the very results they promise to deliver? I believe that what Zillow.com does would be actionable professional malfeasance if done by a real estate licensee. If the owners of Zillow.com think I am wrong on one or both points, why haven’t they risen to answer my charges? If they can prove me wrong, why haven’t they done it?

Google me this. Or this. If I am wrong, they need to shout me down right now.

But I’m not wrong, am I? Cum tacent, clamant. Their silence speaks louder than any words: Zillow.com is bunk.

It is the duty of the entire real estate community — and in this company I include the recent dot.com entrants, licensed and unlicensed — to guard consumers from hoaxers, con-men and frauds. I have no doubt that the owners of Zillow.com have the best of intentions. Nevertheless the results they produce are necessarily erroneous — and I have zero doubts that they know it. I think this is a case where everyone who cares about the true value of homes — or simply The Truth in the abstract — should stand up and be counted.

The fact is, if you eat whole bottlesful of the quack nostrums they sell at GNC, nothing will happen to you. The contents are completely inert, with the sole added-value being your own gullibility. But being gullible about the value of a home can have disastrous, life-long consequences. If we are silent when confronted with the public’s gullibility toward the Zillow.com fraud, we are complicit in that harm.

Zillow is bunk. Tell everyone you know…

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14 comments

14 Comments so far

  1. David G from Zillow.com August 8th, 2006 12:53 pm

    Hi Gregg, thanks for your continued coverage of Zillow.com. Your perspective is always interesting and your writing has expanded my vocabulary more than once (even in Latin).

    We’re obviously reading your stuff and one of the most rewarding things I do is engage bloggers in conversation about Zillow and the future of the industry. I replied to your earlier post because I had something to add; your explanation of the workings of our AVM was incomplete. That seemed appropriate. I haven’t found it appropriate to comment since then, but because you’ve asked, here I am; commenting about not commenting.

    So, why is it inappropriate to comment on your “debunking Zillow” series? Well, frankly, I think you’re entitled to your opinion and I respect it. I may disagree with you; but how does saying that help this conversation?

    In many respects, I actually agree with you; Zillow does not replace visiting a house and its comps or a strong knowledge of the local market. It is not Zillow’s plan to replace Realtors. Trust me.

    Also, I find your argument applies equally to any AVM. These tools have been used by Realtors for ages and so, an opinion that AVM’s are not useful is obviously bunk but I don’t see the value in trying to convince you otherwise. That said, Zillow differs from (most) AVM’s in two respects; it’s free and it’s available to consumers. Now, if you have a problem with “free” or with empowering consumers, you are entitled to that opinion too and yes, I’d disagree but I would not comment.

    I hope this clarifies our silence. Thanks again for writing and congrats on the new blog.

    David G

    In future if you need to get my feedback, feel free to e-mail me [davidg (at) … the rest you know].

  2. Greg Swann August 8th, 2006 1:22 pm

    This is a non-denial denial. If you requested a broker’s opinion of value and the broker quoted you a value for a house that had in fact burned down, you would regard this as willful deception and fraud. Do you dispute this?

  3. Daniel August 8th, 2006 3:02 pm

    I have my own blog, and just recently discovered yours. I love it.

    I was working on my own post about the ineffectiveness of Zillow, and most other similar sites, for that matter, when I came across yours. I think you are right on the money. I have clients who, when I offer to look up comparable sales information, et al., they reply by saying, “Oh, I can get property information from Zillow or (insert alternative site here).” While I appreciate their eagerness to help, I always have to politely tell them, “No, you can’t.” Usually, they don’t believe me, but they can uncover the truth in a minute or two.

    Zillow IS bunk. I shall pass it on. . .

  4. amazed August 8th, 2006 4:58 pm

    zillow.com saved me a fortune on my new home! you guys dont have a clue. you want me to pay ‘your price’ and you make more bucks………you are a joke!

  5. Cathleen Collins August 9th, 2006 8:33 am

    Dear amazed. Do be sure to let everyone know how much you love Zillow.com when you go to sell your home.

  6. […] David G. from Zillow.com replied to my post yesterday which argues that Zillow.com Zestimates are bunk, which I had proved to my own satisfaction in an earlier post. I’m revisiting the topic — to everyone’s delight, no doubt — because I want to drive the point home, and because I want to illustrate how a business like Zillow.com could do a better job — which would nevertheless still fall short of Zillow.com’s fraudulent promises. […]

  7. […] It is the duty of the entire real estate community…to guard consumers from hoaxers, con-men and frauds….If we are silent when confronted with the public’s gullibility toward the Zillow.com fraud, we are complicit in that harm. (Greg Swann, from Tell the world: Zillow.com is bunk) […]

  8. […] It is the duty of the entire real estate community…to guard consumers from hoaxers, con-men and frauds….If we are silent when confronted with the public’s gullibility toward the Zillow.com fraud, we are complicit in that harm. (Greg Swann, from Tell the world: Zillow.com is bunk) […]

  9. Alex January 27th, 2007 5:28 pm

    I am in no way connected with the real estate industry. Zillow.com does have error and they acknowledge that fact and actually show it for every house. I would say that every appraiser has just as much if not more error, but they take 1,000 times longer to compute the valuation. In f act, a recent University of Texas study showed that on average Zillow.com was 8% more accurate to actual home sales prices than appraisers around the country. Just my $.02.

  10. Sondra@CabinsInArnold.com February 2nd, 2007 10:33 am

    I have been in Real Estate for several years. I was turned on to zillow.com by one of my clients who was a frequent viewer of zillow.com. I lost a sale to this client because of zillow. Zillow was less than the appraisal of the cabin my client was interested in purchasing. I strongly recommend that anyone who is buying or selling, DO NOT use zillow.com.

  11. […] It is the duty of the entire real estate community…to guard consumers from hoaxers, con-men and frauds….If we are silent when confronted with the public’s gullibility toward the Zillow.com fraud, we are complicit in that harm. (Greg Swann, from Tell the world: Zillow.com is bunk) […]

  12. budo November 12th, 2007 6:52 pm

    How correct this is!!! Zillow is clueless to say the least. They constantly show homes in our area that are several hundred square feet smaller, without a pool or pool enclosure, less acreage and in less condition for $50-60K less. It is incredible where they retrieve their numbers!

  13. Peter September 22nd, 2008 7:36 am

    How do I get my house removed from that fraudulent website?

    I am sure zillow is a perfect gold mine for the company owners as there is and will be enough people swearing by it but stay away from my property!

  14. Bob October 5th, 2008 7:54 pm

    Zillow “zestimates” are a complete joke. They claim that people should use their estimates as a starting point. When that starting point is as much as 40% off, what’s the use?

    Zillow does not use up to date sales data. Who knows what they use, fuzzy dice or a ouiji board?

    I hope zillow has the stones to go public. I would be very happy to short their stock.