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If only that ‘Zesstimate’ was accurate

Scott N. Miller
Vail, CO, Colorado

If my house was worth what Zillow.com says it is, it would have been on the market two weeks ago. But it isn’t, so there’s no for sale sign in the yard.

Zillow.com is actually a pretty clever Web site. Putting public information from local tax assessors into a system the company claims is mind-numbingly complex, the site will provide a value estimate for just about any home in the United States (although I failed to find my mother’s home northeast of Greeley and a co-worker’s condo in Avon in the database).

The site will also provide users with information on property tax bills, comparable homes for sale in town and all kinds of other information, much of it presented in colorful charts and graphs. The site provides advertising that’s pretty cheap, in the range of $100 for 10,000 page views.

That might be a good addition to your sales arsenal, but if you’re selling, you probably want some help, especially today.

For one thing, Zillow’s estimates can be a little, well, off. Actually, they can be off by a lot. The site mentions over and over that its estimates aren’t official appraisals, and tells users that appraisals will be needed to sell and buy property. Still, using Zillow’s estimates, even for an educated guess, can be risky.

According to a National Public Radio feature on the company, Zillow acknowledges its estimates can be off by 30 percent in some cases. Given that prices in Gypsum have dropped a little over the last few months, I’d be pretty happy to get about 80 percent of the Web site’s “Zesstimate.”

On the other hand, if a co-worker who lives in Eagle put her place on the market, she believes she could get pretty close to what Zillow says her home is worth.

As an aside, even if my Eagle co-worker and I could get the full “Zesstimated” prices for our units, it would still be tough to trade up. I’m amazed what my little townhome is worth, but astounded at what it would cost to get into a duplex.

While it can be fun to play around with Zillow, at least one local real estate agent is worried that Zillow and similar sites may be doing a disservice for customers.

“A lot of younger people take the Internet as gospel,” said Joy Ortiz, a broker in the Gypsum office of Prudential Gore Range Properties. “You still need a personal opinion from someone in the area.”

Internet estimates have put Ortiz and other agents in the position of explaining the difference between the realities of the local real estate market and a Web site’s best guesses.

While she’s not privy the way Zillow calculates value, Ortiz believes that the Seattle-based company may put too much stock in Gypsum’s proximity to Vail and Beaver Creek.

Despite the presence of the Brightwater Club up Gypsum Creek, the valley’s most-western town is assuredly not resort country.

“You need to sell at a realistic price,” Ortiz said. “And you need to listen to your Realtor.”

Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 748-2930, or smiller@vaildaily.com.


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