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Zillow backlash: Local realtors say the website distorts real estate values

Not that long ago, a home buyer would start a search with the Sunday newspaper.

Now it’s straight to Zillow or similar sites like Redfin or Realtor.com

One recent buyer told Boston 25 News, “I use it all the time. We just bought our house a year and a half ago and I was obsessed with Zillow.”

Another woman told us, “I do like Zillow. It’s very helpful and informative and it just helps narrow down the searches of doing it on your own on Google.”

These sites are a way to track real estate that’s grown at a faster pace than the price of a single-family home in the suburbs.

“Zillow is the most visited real estate marketplace in the country with nearly 200 million monthly unique users,” said Amanda Pendleton, Zillow’s home trends expert.

But some backlash to these online platforms is now bubbling up as some realtors say they’re actually a disservice to buyers and sellers.

At the core of Zillow’s appeal is the Zestimate.

“The Zestimate is Zillow’s best guess of what your home is worth,” explained Pendleton. “It is an AI powered computer algorithm that takes in millions of data points, mostly public information about your home.”

“Unfortunately, an online algorithm is highly inaccurate because every house has different variables, different characteristics,” countered Gene Hashkes, a realtor with William Raveis Real Estate in Newton.

Hashkes says to really understand what a property is worth someone needs to physically look at it. “The algorithm doesn’t account for aspects such as the house’s condition, whether a major ticket item like a roof or heating system has been replaced.”

Marie Presti of The Presti Group of Stoneham and Newton doesn’t trust the Zestimate either.

She says Zillow might look at two similar houses on the same street and value them the same way without accounting for one backing up on conservation land and the other on a busy supermarket.

That can create a distorted sense of the overall market according to Presti. “I have sellers who are looking at the Zestimate and they feel like their house is worth $100,000 more and I have to say, but you have these adjustments and it’s difficult. . .but you also have to set their expectations.”

“We like to say that the Zestimate is an estimate with a Z in front of it,” said Pendleton.

She says the company believes the Zestimate is a great starting point for buyers and sellers. “It’s really Zillow’s best guess at what a home is truly worth, and it doesn’t replace a great local agent.”

Home buyers and sellers we spoke with say these sites can be addictive. “It’s fun to look at, just see what’s out there and what the prices are and what the market is like. I mean, I love Zillow.”

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