To Zillow, or not to Zillow …

That is sometimes the question. And, as in most areas of life, the answer isn’t entirely black and white.

No question Zillow and similar sites have changed the real estate business. But not as much as Zillow would have liked, nor as much as the doomsayers had feared. For most of us in real estate, and for our clients, Zillow is a decidedly mixed blessing. But, if used with care, it can be a real help.

So, what are the up- and downsides?

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Downside: Bogus information The biggest complaint against Zillow is the unreliability of their information. Their price-estimating algorithms are brilliant, I’m sure, but aren’t able to go inside a house to determine its condition, and cannot fully assess advantages or disadvantages of location. Their price “Zestimates” can get seriously unreal. Some too high, some too low, very few on the mark. Sometimes it makes me wonder what they've been smoking …
Regarding availability, all too often Zillow lists houses as still for sale when they’ve been sold for weeks. Even months. 
Problems arise when clients find properties on Zillow and get false information fixed in their minds. “But it’s gotto be true! I saw it online!” Realtors sometimes have to tell sellers their property isn't worth what Zillow says it’s worth. Or tell buyers that they can’t go see a house they found on Zillow because it was sold 6 months ago. I’ve been in this position too many times. Not fun – for me or my client.
Upside: Easy Shopping! This is the good stuff. Everything’s there and easy to see. Listed properties, unlisted for-sale-by-owner properties, and properties that aren’t even on the market. Buyers can shop all they want on line and send interesting properties to their realtor. I’m happy for my buyers to do this. Sometimes they find for-sale-by-owners that I haven’t seen. Sometimes while browsing, they find things they didn’t know they were interested in. All good! My primary value as a buyer’s agent isn’t finding a property. Anyone can do that these days. 
My value is bringing a sale to close through all the obstacles that can arise after the contract is bound. And that’s something Zillow can’t do – not now, not ever.