Some common inaccuracies:
- properties that are not active but either already sold or under contract
- listings that have expired or been withdrawn from the market
- wrong property type (i.e. searching for a single-family home but getting condos mixed in with results)
- the similar sales or "comps" provided are neither recent nor are their size, square footage, and style similar to your home or the type of home you seek -- all important factors in determining market value
How often have you sent your Realtor® an "active" listing from Zillow or Trulia only to discover it doesn't really exist but already sold last year or recently went under contract? How often has an online estimation of a property's worth been proven wrong?
As a home buyer how has this bad data impacted your expectations of affordability and mobility? As a seller how have these numbers artificially increased your pool of available buyers and limited your actual circumstances?
Aside from the search results issue there are also inaccuracies in home valuation. Last week a Washington Post article pointed out Zillow's "Zestimate" of a property's worth is in many cases simply wrong. Unfortunately, the results you see on these sites represent a lot of data changing hands and being cleaned up in ways that are not disclosed to the public.
The situation has caused so much concern that some real estate brokers are now severing ties with listing syndicators completely, refusing to participate in a process that misleads consumers.
As reported by the San Diego Union Tribune, Zillow and Trulia include homes under notice of default, the first step in the foreclosure process. Not every homeowner who gets one of these notices ends up in foreclosure. Even so, these properties are listed as available. Taken together, all these inaccuracies and misrepresentations unnecessarily complicate the search process, confuse consumers, and muddy the data.
The sale or purchase of a home is always one of the most expensive transactions a person will undergo in their lifetime. As you move forward with your home search or attempt to learn the value of a home you already own it's best to educate yourself in how to evaluate the quality of data and the validity of sources.
In Washington, DC, Maryland, and Virginia Homes Database is the best source to obtain straightforward and accurate listing data. This site is the public component of the official multiple listing service known as Metropolitan Regional Information Systems (MRIS). Homes Database includes all properties listed for sale by licensed real estate brokers and is the most trusted and accurate source for consumers.
Your best bet? Contact a licensed real estate professional in your area for a market consultation. Real estate is a local phenomenon. A Realtor® with knowledge of the local housing market is better suited to accommodate your specific needs. Work with someone who not only understands your search parameters but who also has access to the most accurate sales statistics available from the local multiple listing service.