Is Zillow a reliable resource for the Sebastopol real estate market?

Asked by Debbie, Sebastopol, CA Sun Apr 13, 2008

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Mike Kelly A…, Agent, Santa Rosa, CA
Sun Apr 27, 2008
When you look at the housing make-up of Sebastopol, with it's lack of truly "production" housing of conforming "models" with set square footages and lot sizes, it is ny impossible to have a computer give an accurate "reading" on pricing and home values. As Lisa states below, the area is very varied in lot/acreage sizes, year of home, square footages, etc. It is very hard to find "apples to apples" (keeping the Apple Blossom Theme going here!) when doing a market analysis. But that's what makes this whole area of our glorious county so much more interesting (let alone a City Council who thinks "Wifi" is dangerous!!). This also has a positive effect on home pricing eventually as no one area can get a big "hit" as we see in production home areas in Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park, Windsor. Contact a local Realtor or two or three and get some real evaluations from REAL PRO's!!
1 vote
Lisa Thomas, Agent, Santa Rosa, CA
Thu Apr 17, 2008
Hi Debbie:

That's a great question and I hear it alot. I'm very familiar with the Sebastopol market and the way that Zillow forms it's Z-estimates. This is done with complex algorithms that take account not only of tax records but of many, many other factors including past area sales, projected market movements, and many more. In my experience, Zillow is increasingly improving in its accuracy but it's still quite spotty. The main problem with it at the moment is that is looks BACKWARD not forward. With the instabiity in our local market and the recent downward trend, Zillow is having a hard type giving good results on CURRENT market values.

Furthermore, if you live on a tract subdivision type of house where most of the other homes in the neighborhood are very similar, you will get a better opinion of value than if your property is unique in some way.

I specialize in Country Property, which are very popular in Sebastopol. Zillow is very rarely accurate within even 10% on these types of properties.

The best way to determine your homes current market value is to either have it appraised or to ask a competent realtor to give you a comparative market analysis. Most good agents, myself included, will do this for you at no charge.
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1 vote
Terry Bell, Agent, Santa Rosa, CA
Wed Jul 3, 2013
Zillow can give a good estimate of value on tract homes that turn over regularly. For a unique community like Sebastopol, which is a large diversified area, you need a realtor familiar with the different zones and areas that have different appeal to a variety of buyers. This is a complex community including homes from small in-town victorians, small farmettes, sprawling ranches, orchards, executive homes and estates! I lived on Bloomfield Rd., back in the 70s and seen the growth of this west county town into a most desired avante-garde sustainable agri-hub. If you would like to know the value of your home, I would be happy to evaluate it in detail with comps that are hand-picked to show you what would be a realistic selling price.
Terry Bell, Realtor
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Carl Legg, , San Francisco, CA
Mon Jul 2, 2012
Debbie, it depends. On individual property estimates, Zillow, Trulia, and other sites can be way off. However, these same websites do a good job on their overall median value charts. For instance, Trulia shows that Sebastopol real estate values peaked some years ago @ $746k median value. Today, in 2012, that same home would sell for $406k, a 45% drop. This is accurate. Zillow's time-value metric is slightly different, and shows a 41% drop.

Use this time-value data to calculate the approximate value of real estate today. For instance, if the property you're looking at sold for $700k in 2006, it's fair market value today will be in the $400k range. There are many other resources with housing value data over the past 20-25 years, and they all pretty much agree within +-5%. You could also hire an appraiser, but if their numbers are higher than the historical charts, be wary.
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Tom.stone, Home Buyer, Sebastopol, CA
Fri Jun 8, 2012
No, not even close. Their AVM Algo depends upon the housing stock to be homogeneous.
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Don Tepper, Agent, Burke, VA
Thu May 22, 2008
No. Zillow isn't particularly reliable for any market.

Here's the text of a posting I wrote a few days ago. This dealt with a different area of the country, but I've done the same "test" in a number of different areas--Colorado, Virginia, etc. Each one comes out the same. Zillow produces a number, but when you look at what it considers "comps," they aren't. I invite you to try the same thing.


My earlier answer: If you think that Zillow provides consistently reliable estimates of a property's value, then stop scratching your head and do a couple of Zestimates. II can randomly select a typical property in a typical neighborhood and most of the so-called "comps" aren't comps at all. Let's try it. You game?

I plugged in "89449" in Zillow to bring up some homes in your Zip code. I came up with one on 138 Daggett Way. It's a 3 bed/2 bath single family home built in 1956. It's on the market for $399,000. That's what we'd call a "bread and butter" home--nothing fancy, but OK. The description says it does need some work: "A great price for this 3 bedroom 2 bathroom home with 1,512 sq ft of living space & almost 1/3 acre mostly flat & sunny.This is a perfect project for a contractor or handyman. This property has deferred maintenance and needs upgrades but the possibilities are endless for this Lower Kingsbury home."

First odd thing is that the Zestimate for that house is $574,000. Might actually be a good deal...if the Zestimate is accurate. So, let's look at Zillow's "comps."

Well, there's 1521 Bonita--a 3/2 built in 1970. Not too far off. But Zillow says it sold for $125,000. Sounds a bit low. Can you really buy that sort of home for $125,000? If so, then even the list price on Daggett is too high. But let's continue.

Another comp: 4081 Greenwood. It's a 5 bed/3 bath built in 2007. Now, I wouldn't call that a comp to a 3/2 built in 1956. It sold for $1.3 million.

Another comp: 4027 Crest. It's also a 5/3. This one was built in 1977. Again, not what I'd call a comp. It sold in December for $845,000.

Another comp: 395 Sherwood. Zillow doesn't have the number of beds and baths. And it was built in 1978. Not a great comp, since we don't know beds or baths, and it's 22 years newer. That one sold for $980,000 in January.

Most of the other comps are just as, well, incomparable.

Debbie: The guy who'd posted the question got upset with my answer. He thought I was suggesting he was an idiot who couldn't tell the difference between comps and non-comps. Not at all. My point to him and to you is that, yes, Zillow will produce a number. Something in black and white. The problem is, when you look behind the number, you can easily see how shaky it really is.

Look, Zillow's fun. and there's some useful information on that site. But it's not a "reliable resource."

Hope that helps.
0 votes
Chrisje Mays, , Riverview, FL
Thu May 22, 2008
I have seen Zillow off base by thousands of dollars, on both the high side and low side. To get the most accurate value of your property or a property you wish to purchase, contact a local real estate professional. An agent in your area should be able to provide the most reliable information as they have access to the most recent maket activity.

Best of luck with your property search! By the way, where is Sebastopol?

Chrisje Mays
Prudential Tropical Realty
Tampa, Florida
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Wendy Geary, , 94928
Thu May 22, 2008
I agree with Sharon-I have seen zillow off the mark by tens of thousands of dollars-contact a local professional real esate agent who is familiar with prices and is currently active in this unique market
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Sharon Shaw, Agent, Montgomery, TX
Thu May 8, 2008
In my opinion, Zillow has not been accurate. There are many more reliable sources to find a fair market analysis of your home. Start with your local real estate agent. Most will give you an unbiased complete market analysis of your home without any charge to you.
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Curtiss B. C…, , 06067
Thu May 8, 2008
No, Zillow is not a reliable source in any area.
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Kelley Eling, Agent, Palm Desert, CA
Thu May 8, 2008
No, zillow is not a reliable source.
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Deborah Madey, Agent, Brick, NJ
Sun Apr 27, 2008
In areas where I know market values and have compared real values against Zillow, I have consistently found wide discrepancies. These can swing under or over actual market values.

Throughout the country, agents report similar findings in just about every market.

Zillow offers it’s own disclosures advising the public about their own Zestimates.

Although I have not compared Sebastian values to Zillow, the pattern above seems to give clear indications.

Good Luck,
Deborah Madey - Broker
Peninsula Realty Group
(732) 530-6350
0 votes
Alise Sheehan, , Sonoma County, CA
Wed Apr 16, 2008
Another note Debbie, Sebastopol and Sonoma County is a unique market, with many towns close to eachother, all with varying decreases in value due to the very recent market changes. Which is why it is so important to rely on local Realtors that know the most current property values first hand, all the way down to the street you are looking on.
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John Paunan, Mortgage Broker Or Lender, Schaumburg, IL
Wed Apr 16, 2008
From personal experience on a number of properties that I've checked, the tax information seems accurate. I guess it all depends upon the accuracy of whatever municipality is reporting the data and how up to date they keep their reporting.
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Alise Sheehan, , Sonoma County, CA
Wed Apr 16, 2008
Hi Debbie,

It is my understanding that Zillow relies on County tax records which for many reasons are not accurate. Let's say your mother sells her property to you for a small amount of money, well that gets recorded as the value when the deed is recorded. Or many times they use tax assessed value which is never current. Talking to a local realtor that really has their finger on the pulse of the market right now is the quickest and most reliable way to know values in Sebastopol, and also to help you locate a great property at a great value. Which by the way there are alot of now! I am more than happy to help you with this information. My number is 707-280-6523
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Sandy Shores, Agent, Melbourne, FL
Sun Apr 13, 2008
Here is another resource for the real estate market

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