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Ask Matt ... how Zillow adds up

Q. I heard that Zillow can determine my home’s value but when I checked it the value came out way over my tax assessment. Is that true across the county?

If you are unfamiliar with the company, Zillow is an online free real estate database that uses housing analytics to calculate the value of almost every home in the nation. Want to know what your neighbor’s home is worth? Just type in the address and in seconds you have a boatload of data. It’s easier to navigate than Henderson County’s GIS site but Zillow is not an official record nor is it always accurate.
Out of curiosity, I randomly compared County tax value to Zillow’s value for a typical home in seven different neighborhoods. I found that in all but one case the “Zestimate” – the value Zillow puts on each house in its huge database – was higher than the county’s assessed value. The homes I compared in Blacksmith Run, Celedon Hills and Timber Creek had Zestimates within 10% of the County’s listing. Surprisingly, the biggest differentials were in Brookland Manor (32%), Riverwind (32%) and Livingston Farms (16%). The one exception was a house on Lake Summit where Zillow’s figure was 6% below the County’s. Zestimates do better in large developments of similar sized homes.
I asked local realtor Noah George for his take on Zillow. He agreed that Zillow’s values go both ways but by their own admission can be 20% off. “When determining the value of a home, nothing can replace boots on the ground,” said George. He said that Zillow estimates can often be very misleading. George remembered a seller who was convinced that his home was worth the posted Zestimate but George was able to sell it for much more. “If he had started with the Zillow figure he would have left $25,000 on the table,” said George.
Zillow’s current CEO, Spencer Rascoff, co-authored the book Zillow Talk. In it he talks about how the overall margin of error for Zestimates went from 13.6 percent to less than 7 percent. I found it fascinating that their website uses more than 3.2 terabytes of data each day (a terabyte is a thousand gigabytes). It’s also surprising what they could do with the all the data they have assembled. For example, Rascoff said that homes on streets with the word “lake” are 16% higher in value than the national average but having “sunset” in your street name only gets you a 10% more. Zillow Talk looked at street name suffixes and found that on the average a house on a “court” was worth more than a comparable house on a “street.” Also “lanes” were better than “avenues” but a “place” suffix gets top dollar. Want to change your street name? Here’s one more – a Starbucks coffee shop in the neighborhood increases home values by 31 percent.
So is Zillow a good resource? Maybe yes, maybe no, but each month 90 million people use it. What’s your home’s Zestimate?

Send us your questions about a local issue, event, sighting or anything that is puzzling you and Lightning’s Matt Matteson will hunt for the answer. Email Matt at: