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Are Newspapers Dead?

May 17th, 2007 · 9 Comments

I wanted to have a compelling title for a little experiment I recently did with my listing at 206 Palmita Place in Downtown Mountain View. It’s a newer construction home and I thought the location and price would appeal to couples or small families. Based on that demographic, I assumed more people would be searching for homes online, so I built a custom website for the house, and posted links to it on a number of real estate websites in addition to the ones like mlslistings.com that link to data on the MLS.

I also followed conventional wisdom and ran ads in the Palo Alto Weekly and Mountain View Voice newspapers, and an entry in the Open Homes Section of the San Jose Mercury News.

I then did some informal polling at the various open houses, asking visitors where they found out about the open house, leaving it as an open ended question. I also tracked hits to the website and looked at who the referring domains were. I found the results interesting and surprising.

Where did they come from?

Over the course of 4 days of open houses (Thurs and Fri evenings, Sat and Sun afternoons) we had 135 groups of visitors through. Of these, only 2 said they came based on the ad in the MV Voice, 1 from the Palo Alto Weekly and 1 from the SJ Merc. Another 11 groups had seen the open house directional signs (I blanketed the neighborhood) or the For Sale sign in the yard as they were passing by. That’s 14 out of 135 groups, or about 11%. The other 89% of visitors either found the listing online or were referred by their agents.

Online sources

I also tracked where hits to the website came from. There were over 2200 hits to the website, and initially 70% of those came from Movoto which is an online real estate information / referral site. After the first two days, mlslistings.com caught up, and after the first week was the source of about 70% of the hits. The house went under contract after a week, so I stopped tracking then.

While I admit that I am biased, I have had a theory for a while that newspaper ads for listings, especially in Palo Alto and surrounding communities, are more for advertising the agent and getting him or her more clients than getting potential Buyers into your home.

The National Association of Realtors estimates that 74% of home buyers begin their search for a home online, and the estimate for Silicon Valley is 92%. I’m still running an ad for my new listing in Redwood City, but it is only 1/4 page and that is because the sellers believe that potential buyers read the paper. I am also flooding the internet with placements and links, and I’m trying an experiment by posting the home on Zillow as well. It’s another experiment, and I’m partially doing it to get under Kevin’s skin as Zillow is a hot-button for him.

I’m tracking the marketing response on the Redwood City house as well, and I’ll do a post on the results from that when it goes under contract. In the meantime, I welcome your comments and hope for a bit of banter on online vs. print marketing.

Thanks for reading.

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Tags: Real estate

Zaccuracy Update

September 23rd, 2006 · No Comments

This just in … thanks to a contribution from Marlow Harris, we now have the skinny on the accuracy of the Seattle real estate data from which Zillow spins its magic, and the results are pretty much the same as here in Menlo Park: the mid 80%’s. If you have access to the MLS in your area and would like to contribute 10 data points, please email me at and I’ll send you an invitation to my iRows spreadsheet.

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Tags: For buyers · For sellers · Fun with Zillow · Menlo Park · Real estate · Real estate 2.0 · Real estate data · Zillow

Zestimating Zaccuracy of Zdata

September 22nd, 2006 · No Comments

While Gregg Swann was busy stirring the pot again (another post sure to bring wrath and retribution raining down on him) and the good folks at Sellsius were busy Carpal Tunnel-ing themselves (don’t these guys sleep?) and Patrick Kitano was explaining my friend Chris Iverson’s real estate “money back guarantee” (heck, if I weren’t an agent myself and I didn’t work for a competing broker, I might just take him up on it!), I was busy trying to answer a question I posed two days ago: how accurate is the data on which Zillow bases their controversial Zestimate?First, a big, big, big, HUGE up-front disclaimer, in keeping with many recent discussions: An automated valuation mechanism (AVM) a la Zillow is not and never will be a substitute for an appraisal done by a professional. It is an estimate, and an estimate only. Improving the accuracy of the data on which the Zestimate is based will not change that fact. ‘Nuff said.Based on my initial highly unscientific look at 10 randomly chosen properties in Menlo Park and comparing the data about those homes as presented in our local MLS vs. county records vs. Zillow, the county gets an accuracy score of 87%, and Zillow gets 84%.I intend to add a number of additional cities to the mix and see what patterns emerge. In the meantime, here are the results… (if you’re a numbers jock and interested in my scoring methodology, scroll down below the chart.)

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Tags: For buyers · For sellers · Fun with Zillow · Real estate · Real estate 2.0 · Real estate data · Real estate mapping · Zillow

Fun with Zillow — #4 — Exploring Zillow’s new features

September 20th, 2006 · 2 Comments

Hats off to the Zillow team for adding some ridiculously “z-addictive” features to their offering! The real estate blogosphere is abuzz with comments, some relatively positive and some negative.In this post, I’ll describe what I found, and in the next one, I’ll provide some commentary on what impact I think these features will have on the agent community and the general public.

While you can continue to use Zillow as before without registering, you do need to get a Zillow account before you can use some of these new features. Once you’ve done so, you search for a property…

…and click on “See home details” which gives you, uh, the home details…

…and three options.
“Save Favorite to My Zillow” is pretty tame. The other two options, however, have a lot of folks hot and bothered. Let’s see what the fuss is about…

“Owner Tools” gives you three further options:

Confirming ownership sounds a bit dubious at first, and indeed the first time you do it you only have to confirm the owner’s name:

Thankfully, to claim a second or subsequent property as your own, you have to enter your credit card information (which Zillow dutifully promises not to use for spurious purposes), enabling them to match their ownership records with the name associated with your credit card.On to the next feature…editing your home facts. They’ve made this ridulously easy to do. In my case, the basic features of the home were correct, but Zillow was missing information about the type of heating and cooling system, the roof type, and a few other items.

The third feature, “Create an Estimate and Make it Public” was also pretty straighforward. You start by editing basic home facts, if necessary……followed by adding home improvements……and other features… …and finally by specifying which comps make the most sense for your home:

When you’re all done, you get an updated personalized estimate, which is different from the public Zestimate.

Go ahead, give it a spin yourself! Warning — it is addictive.

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Tags: For buyers · For sellers · Fun with Zillow · Real estate · Real estate 2.0 · Real estate data · Technology · Zillow

Fun with Zillow — #3 — Negotiation

September 17th, 2006 · No Comments

Twice in the last month, in the course of representing a buyer, the listing agent tried to use the property’s Zestimate (conveniently high in both cases!) to convince me and my client that the home was worth more than we thought it was. Hey, whatever works!

In neither case did it work, however. We had a pretty firm (and, we believed, accurate) idea of the homes’ true values, and since neither case involved multiple bids, we were able to stick to our guns and didn’t go any higher.What was interesting in both cases was just how much stock the listing agents put in the Zestimate — and it wasn’t just negotiating bluster. They honestly thought that quoting a Zestimate would be a compelling closing argument, that somehow we would fold in the face of such overwhelming evidence.
I often come up with a Zestimate of sorts of my own, using straightforward Statistics 101 regression. I find it quite helpful to get an initial estimate of a property’s value before seeing it. However, I and my clients (I make sure of that) understand that it’s simply an initial estimate, not a hard-and-fast number.
Lots of people, especially this guy, seem not to understand the “estimate” part of a Zestimate. Zillow’s help page is pretty explicit:
(Comments mine)

Next time I’m in negotiations with those two listing agents, maybe I’ll try to use the same strategy?

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Tags: For buyers · For sellers · Fun with Zillow · Zillow

Fun with Zillow — #2 — Blind dates

September 4th, 2006 · No Comments

It was fashionable for a while to Google a blind date to find out more about him/her. Now there’s a twist on that strategy — you start with a Google search as before, then you follow it up with a Zillow. Now you know not only that he/she is an amateur Klingon linguist, but that his/her home is worth $1.2M.Wonder if there’s a new verb for a Google-Zillow search? GoogZillow? GoogZill? GoogLow?

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Tags: Fun with Zillow · Zillow

Fun with Zillow — #1 — Job interviews

September 3rd, 2006 · No Comments

I frequently come across interesting and entertaining uses of Zillow, so I thought I’d start a list. Here’s one a friend of mine mentioned to me yesterday… When interviewing a job candidate, Zillow their home address. The Zestimate may help you figure out what salary range they’ll be expecting. Hiring a new CFO whose home has a Zestimate of $3.5M? She might not be too thrilled with that $100K you were planning on offering!

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Tags: Fun with Zillow · Real estate · Zestimate · Zillow