What We Wish You Knew: Insider Tips for Buyers and Sellers Using Zillow

As a full-time professional real estate agent, I’ve been using Zillow to build my business for five years now. It’s an incredibly valuable and user-friendly tool for agents and consumers alike, but there are some things I wish every buyer and seller knew. Here are a few things (most) insiders know – and we wish you knew, too.

When you click “Contact Agent,” you’re not necessarily contacting the listing agent. This is pretty confusing for a lot of people - even some agents who might not know how Zillow works (roughly 25 percent of my calls come in from agents wondering why my name and number is next to their listing). When you click "contact an agent," you could be contacting the listing agent, a homeowner (in the case of for-sale-by-owner properties), or another agent who has paid big bucks to appear next to listings in their target area. Please know that any one of us can help you with any questions you might have and show you the property in question. Also, you will likely be better served when you have your own representation -- vs. working with an agent who has already been hired by a seller. 

Data is often out-of-date or downright wrong. Zillow is a third-party site that gets most of its information via a feed from local MLS sites. Sometimes, the syndication isn't working as efficiently or effortlessly as we might like, and in other cases, Zillow does not recognize or reflect certain status changes by individual MLS organizations (hello, attorney review asterisk!). I get a lot of calls on homes that have already gone into attorney review (which means an offer has been negotiated and accepted) or under contract, and have to break the news that a home is no longer available to countless excited buyers. That said, I try to know the inventory in the towns I cover very well, so if the house you fell in love with online has already been spoken for, I can usually tell you about something else that might interest you. 

Sale prices (not listing prices) on comps are most important when determining a list or offer price. I hear this all the time from clients and potential clients -- "So-and-so down the street listed his house for xxxx; I should be able to get that much, and maybe more!" In a dynamic market, list price is a good tool to use as a point of reference and to determine how your home might be viewed among the competition. However, sale price is the best metric for determining what your home is actually worth, and accurate sale information can often be challenging to find in Zillow. Contact an agent you trust for comps that are best suited for your home in terms of style, condition and location. 

Trust – but verify. I often joke that erroneous and out-of-date information on Zillow keeps me in business. If you have a question about a house, a trend, something that seems too good to be true on Zillow, contact a real estate agent you trust. Because we're in the trenches every day, we can usually give you the inside scoop -- and if we don't have an answer right away, we can get it for you relatively quickly. 

Meghan Mullin is a Madison mom, writer and real estate agent. If you have questions about Zillow, the dilapidated but majestic house on Park Avenue, or any other random real estate topics, please feel free to text her at 973-845-8375. Interestingly enough, she also still answers her phone, so you can dial that number too. Just don’t ask if she's got Prince Albert in a can, because she doesn’t.