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How do 2 comparable homes on the same street have $20/sq ft difference in zestimate?

The homes are comparable in age, location, size, etc...how does the zillow algorythm work to yield such desparate values. It brings into question the validity of the tool.
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January 01 2012 - Wake Forest
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Zillow is using the Wake county tax details which account only for square footage and neighborhood; not interior finish.  Point is in my neighborhood I know the builder who built the majority of homes and in ours I picked out a 3x6 Kohler whirlpool tub rather than the standard 5 foot tub/shower in most other homes.  I paid for $3200 for that tub than.  Ditto when I bought the skylight while the roof was being framed.  Then again, I went with hardwoods; all other homes had hardwoods in living and dining with carpet in the rest.  In mine I upgraded to red terracotta tiles in the rest other than carpet.  Just those two things make my house worth more per sqft than the neighbors.  Also, remembering that Zillow only uses the county tax information which is based upon the plans submitted by the builder.  My builder had a math problem in doing the square footage when he personally had drawn up the house plans (he thought he was saving money doing the drawings himself).  When the initial appraisal came in for the mortgage the appraiser measured it at 200 sq ft larger than the plans submitted to the county.  As we contracted for a per sqft price with the builder we got the 200 extra square feet (+12%) basically for free.  Then again, he miss measured the depth for the front porch footings extending the front porch 10 feet off the front foundation (plan called for the porch to be 8 feet deep).  Do the math 36 feet wide x 2 extra feet on a covered front porch gave us an additional 72 feet there too.  Should I mention he also framed up the fireplace wrong - it's 8 feet wide not the normal 5 feet in the plans.  The mason filled the space with bricks! He also was the one who first noticed the footings being 10 feet out for the front porch.  As he said then, "you know it and I know it but builder soandso doesn't yet."  I did buy him a case of beer that day!
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April 04 2012
@mojo

" The homes are comparable in age, location, size, etc...how does the zillow algorythm work to yield such desparate values. It brings into question the validity of the tool."

As you have probably worked out there is no validity for the zestimate and the charade of a 'clever algorithm' is a marketing tool to attract visitors to the website and thus generate revenue. Zillow doesn't care if zestimates are incorrect as even if you can demonstrate logic errors their final words are 'it's a difference of opinion'. They refuse all requests by homeowners to correct inaccurate zestimates, and the time has come for sites like zillow to be subject to regulation as they cannot be trusted to act in a fair and responsible manner with homeowners who have to suffer their intrusive and unwanted erroneous valuations. 
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January 01 2012
Contact a local realtor who can give you a comparative market analysis of this area. Its frustrating for sure to see this. The homes may have different upgrades inside though or one owner may have claimed their home on Zillow and then shown the upgrades where the other didn't. I can pull it up on our local Raleigh Multiple Listing Service and give you a better idea of try to see why there is that difference.
A zestimate, is just that, a guesstimate of value. Paying an appraiser or requesting a comparative market analysis from a local realtor is always the way to go.
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January 01 2012
The main purpose of the tool is to give the consumer a range of pricing. There is no way for the algorithm to actually know the condition, the measured and verified square footage, exterior material, land size, lot desirability etc. Some hope that tools like the zestimate will replace the agent in the process. In the few cases that this has happened; the consumer has been hurt, in that they priced their home according to information they found on line and either did not sell or sold for far too little. It is a risk not worth taking. For a true picture of your homes value in today's market speak to a full time Realtor and or Have a full appraisal. I am the team leader for the GEO team at RE/MAX One realty and could help with this if you would like.
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January 01 2012
You're right - the Zestimate is a tool - and only one tool, to help homeowners determine the range of values for their home. The location of the master bedroom, the year built (for some reason a 2006 home is worth less than a 2008 in many zestimates), the claimed number of bedrooms (some are 3 beds + bonus, some are 4 beds) and many other factors are at play.  Is the $20/sqft a 20% difference, 15%?  If you're considering selling your home in 2012, the best method is to then contact one or more Realtors to get their professional, in-market, opinion on the market value of your home. Good luck! 
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January 01 2012
 
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