A few days ago, I received a text message from one of the home buyers with whom I am currently working. She wanted to see a house that she found on the internet, so I looked up the address in our local Reno Sparks MLS, and could not find any data on it. I then put the address into Google and the first search result was a listing on Zillow.com. When I clicked the link and started to do my research in order to find out whether or not this home was still available for showing, there was no contact info on the page for the individual who listed the property for sale. Eventually I found a link at the bottom of the page that showed the location of the website where the data was being pulled from. When I clicked on it, I was taken to a clunky old website from a real estate wholesaler was using the Zillow listing to market their business. Right on the homepage was a picture of the house I was searching for on Zillow with a large “sold” sign on it. The picture stated that it was sold 4 months ago, but Zillow was showing the property as being available for purchase.

Zillow Scam WarningThe listing on Zillow did exactly what the wholesaler wanted it to do; it caused me to stop what I was doing and spend time on their website. They were using it as a free ad platform to get people’s attention and free web traffic. Since the wholesaler was not a licensed REALTOR® with our local MLS®, he cannot really be penalized for adding misleading information to Zillow’s database, since it is an open platform, without regulation. The major problem is that homebuyers do not know whether a listing on Zillow is a legitimate deal or a scam. Innocent online home shoppers will simply assume that a property for sale on Zillow is available, and may begin to get emotionally attached to it before finding out that it is a scam. Craigslist is known for having this same problem.

Anyone can go and list their house for sale on Zillow or Craigslist for free without consequence. If their data is bad, who cares, since there is no one there to regulate it. Basically, anyone can list a house for sale and put any price and information that they want to get people to contact them or visit their website, but their motivation for advertising this data may have nothing to do with actually selling a house. This is one of a few major problems that causes Zillow’s data to be inaccurate. Trulia.com and Realtor.com are not allowing the public to add listings to their websites at this time, but their data can be equally as inaccurate, since they pull data from hundreds of different MLS services across the country. They have all been known to show homes for sale weeks after they have been sold.

The best way to find accurate data on homes for sale in any given area is to search for local real estate websites that pull the data directly from the local Multiple Listing Service (MLS®). Usually, top REALTORS® in the area will spend thousands of dollars every year to develop websites that will display the local MLS data, along with other relevant local area information. Simply Google an area that you are interested in and look through the top results to find a website that is local and works well. It may not be as technically advanced as Zillow or Trulia, but the data will most likely be much more accurate and most of the time you will find much better results from the REALTOR(S)® maintaining and servicing the website.

Posted by Heath Montgomery on


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