Profile picture for RussHatfield

Zillow Announces Zestimate Improvements

Starting this evening, we have expanded and improved our database of nearly all homes in the U.S., adding more data on more homes and improving the accuracy of our proprietary Zestimate® home valuations.

Read more about this exciting change in our Zestimate Improvements FAQ.

We understand that there may be many questions about specific Zestimates. As our Zestimate algorithm is proprietary we will be unable to answer with specificity why your Zestimate is what it is, or why it may have changed with these improvements. Again, we invite you to read our FAQs on the topic to get a better understanding of what Zestimates are all about:

Zestimate Improvements FAQ
What is a Zestimate?

We will also be updating our Zestimate Values and Accuracy data.

Update: We now have two blog posts on the recent changes...

Zillow Expands and Improves Database of Homes
Upgrading the Zestimate

Thanks for using Zillow!
Russ
Zillow Customer Support and Community Relations
  • June 13 2011 - US
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Answers (358)

Profile picture for Dunes....
Bumpity back to where we can be seen
  • June 16 2011
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@azdrydock @Sean1592

What is your address? We can definately take a look. My email is rachelr at zillow dot com

Regarding the Zestimate history: The new zestimate isn't changing past market trends. The trends still show that houses were at the top of their price in 2007. We are just making our estimate of what the value was MORE accurate.

Regarding "makes everyone wonder how inaccurate the calculations have been all along."  We have always been very transparent with our accuracy numbers. Also, we are the only ones to post accuracy numbers at all. With this launch, our median error, when compared to actual sale prices, is 8.5%. That's an improvement from the 12.3 percent previously.

@NCG528 Which markets lost %50? That is high. We would definitely like to take a look at those.
  • June 16 2011
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Profile picture for Dunes....
Back to the Top we Pop!
  • June 16 2011
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Profile picture for RowellK

Rachel@Zillow: "Regarding the Zestimate history: The new zestimate isn't changing past market trends. The trends still show that houses were at the top of their price in 2007. We are just making our estimate of what the value was MORE accurate."

Rachel, before Jun 14th, my home was valued on Zillow for about $220k around Jan 2008.  Looking at that same time frame today, my home is valued at $165k.  I purchased the home for $160k as a steal from the owner who was sinking because of having 2 mortgages.  AT THE TIME, the house was worth $220k; that was it's value then.  But when you look back today, you see the sale price ($160k) and adjust accordingly, saying my home was only worth $165k.  THAT is the problem.  You are looking at the history in HINDSIGHT.  You are not looking at the real history, of what the properties were REALLY valued at back then.  You are looking at data that was not available then and applying them to change history.  And therein lies my (and many many other users' problems with Zillow's "improvements").


Rachel@Zillow: "Regarding "makes everyone wonder how inaccurate the calculations have been all along."  We have always been very transparent with our accuracy numbers. Also, we are the only ones to post accuracy numbers at all. With this launch, our median error, when compared to actual sale prices, is 8.5%. That's an improvement from the 12.3 percent previously."

Saying that you've decreased errors from 12.3% to 8.5% means absolutely nothing when you have hundreds of users that look at their properties today and see literally tens of thousands of dollars difference in today's value, as well as the past 6 years.  If Zillow was that far off on historical data, how accurate are they today?  (My guess is, not much).  If an improvement of 4% in error reductions equates to house values changing 10%, that means that the price of any property on Zillow can be off by as much as 20%, which makes the site nearly useless.

I understand Zillow wants to improve data reliability.  That's commendable.  But when you go back and change your numbers 5 years back, and those changes are DRASTICALLY different (in my case, the difference was 25% in the home value), you're simply telling the world that your site and your math cannot be trusted.

What we users now have to deal with, if we plan on selling our homes, is dealing with potential buyers that visit this site, see the "new, improved" numbers and balk at the purchase.  By changing the history, you're impacting hundreds (thousands?) of potential sales because your data incorrectly devalues properties based on the economic climate NOW, and ignores the historical facts of the past.

  • June 16 2011
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Profile picture for Blue Nile
"The other house, identical in size and quality, was foreclosed on recently and sold by the bank for $650K." -

Zillow specifically excludes "distressed sales" from the model used for calculating the estimates.

If an estimate is calculated and there were no transactions of "similar", it is because there is enough other properties in the vicinity with enough data on size, baths, beds, property, etc. to be able to use that to model the area and extrapolate an estimate.

But yes, anyone that is looking at the estimate should also look at the posted tolerance range, and should do a search on "recently sold" to see what sales it is being modeled to.

And then they still need to remember it is just a "starting point" approximation.  It doesn't take into account views, nor maintenance condition, nor noise, nor features like "waterfront"...
  • June 16 2011
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Profile picture for wetdawgs
@RowellK:  You wrote "that means that the price of any property on Zillow can be off by as much as 20%".   Yes, that is true and has always been well documented in the section Zestimates value and accuracy.    Zillow has never presented a Zestimate as an appraisal, nor CMA but a number generated by a sophisticated statistical model that is a starting point for comparison of properties.   The nature of statistics is that some values are high and some are low clustering around the mean.
  • June 16 2011
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Profile picture for AOTW
  • AOTW
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Yeah, Wetdawgs, a good portion of that range is represented in small type numbers that are one heck of a lot more significant than the very bold text "zestimate".

Even so, I have to wonder how the algorithm produced this: http://www.zillow.com/homedetails/18441-Hibiscus-Ave-Riverside-CA-92508/17876056_zpid/#{scid=hdp-site-map-bubble-address}
  • June 16 2011
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Profile picture for northwest

So that means it's OK and justified to make up to 50% valuation swings too? Past and/or present? The reports keep coming in.

Just sayin that no matter how much we pull out logical explanations, there are serious flaws in this release of "improvements". The logic may be sound, but the execution is not. It is not just a matter of natural market valuation changes.

  • June 16 2011
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Profile picture for wetdawgs
I hear that some bugs are being fixed in the new and improved Zestimate.    $4,000,000 is indeed out of line, keep an eye on it to see if the bug fix gets this one.
  • June 16 2011
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Profile picture for AOTW
  • AOTW
  • 35 contributions
Another specific problem: Whoever reports sales is sleeping on the job.

http://www.redfin.com/CA/Millbrae/1471-Hillcrest-Blvd-94030/home/1843408
  • June 16 2011
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Profile picture for Blue Nile
Zillow doesn't use redfin as a source of sales data. (Nor any MLS except maybe Texas).

They use the county records data as provided by the data collection companies, to minimize gaming by agents.

Zillow shows that the last sale for the referenced property is 1/19/11 for $750k.  It shows it was listed for sale by Stanley Lo of Green Banker on 4/9/11.  If redfin shows it sold 5/4/11 for $828k, then it will eventually show up on Zillow after the sale is recorded at the county and the data collection company for the area provides the new data, assuming that escrow actually closed.

Even so, Zillow's estimate for that property dated 6/15/11 (the most recent) indicates a range of $571k to $996k, meaning Zillow is "right on".

It typically takes an average of 6 weeks between the time escrow closes and the time Zillow receives the "sold" data.
  • June 16 2011
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Profile picture for Blue Nile
By the way, for http://www.zillow.com/homedetails/18441-Hibiscus-Ave-Riverside-CA-92508/17876056_zpid,.

The trend chart indicates the "change" may have occurred 11/1/10 or 4/1/11.

With the 4/1/11 date, I'm believing that someone posted major false information to that property (or nearby properties) as an "april fools" joke, and has since removed the fictitious info.

There is a similar corresponding discrepancy with the property directly to the north.

Although there may be some additional value for "land", the properties to the east indicate the estimates for both of these should be less than $230k each.
  • June 16 2011
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Profile picture for AOTW
  • AOTW
  • 35 contributions
Thanks Pasadenan

I was thinking false info too, but would that be in County records?
  • June 16 2011
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Northwest- what is the property address that changed 50% ? We will take a look at it..
rachelr at zillow dot com

  • June 16 2011
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Profile picture for AOTW
  • AOTW
  • 35 contributions
Here's another from that same area:
http://www.zillow.com/homedetails/15672-Russell-Ave-Riverside-CA-92508/17876026_zpid/#{scid=hdp-site-map-bubble-address}

In this case the anomalies go back to 2007. Something odd is going on.
  • June 16 2011
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WOW. -Thanks! Hopefully that will be fixed by tomorrow. We'll keep an eye on it.
  • June 16 2011
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Profile picture for mnack
This is a class action lawsuit waiting to happen.  Your new formula is hundreds of thousands of dollars off from recent appraisals on both of our properties.  What the heck are you guys doing?
  • June 16 2011
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Profile picture for mnack
I also like how the historical charts show the data based on your new formula like it was always that way.  Nice job.
  • June 16 2011
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Profile picture for Dunes....
Bump Bump
  • June 16 2011
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Profile picture for gannon302
If Zillow really believes that it does not affect the market, then what is the purpose of the Zestimate, surly they can't believe that it does not play a part in the perceived value of homes in many peoples minds. My home value just dropped 25% by Zestimate and I am unhappy, if it would have gone up I would have been happy, hence affect on perceived value. You can not claim with a straight face that you do not have an effect on market. Very ill timed changes to Zillow, when all eyes are on real. values and role played in economy, believe Zillow just opened a pandora's box. Just lost my trust, back dating accuracy what greedy fool thought that one through.
  • June 16 2011
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Profile picture for Fred Barry
Rachel from Zillow states:

"Regarding 'makes everyone wonder how inaccurate the calculations have been all along.'  We have always been very transparent with our accuracy numbers. Also, we are the only ones to post accuracy numbers at all. With this launch, our median error, when compared to actual sale prices, is 8.5%. That's an improvement from the 12.3 percent previously."


Rachel, I have to break this up in a few posts because Zillow seems to reject it as one post, but those claims are unpersuasive and somewhat presumptuous, and don't withstand much scrutiny.

"We have always been very transparent with our accuracy numbers."

I guess it depends on your definition of "transparent."  I am not aware of Zillow releasing any of the underlying data on which it calculates the "accuracy" of its own data.  As far as I can tell, it's entirely self reported as a simple set of conclusions and, thus, there is no way to independently verify Zillow's claims of purported "accuracy" of its estimates.  Fair enough, that is Zillow's prerogative, but I wouldn't trumpet the practice as being particularly "transparent."  For all anyone knows, Zillow could be wholly fabricating its "accuracy" statistics.
  • June 16 2011
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Profile picture for Fred Barry
Second post:

"Also, we are the only ones to post accuracy numbers at all."

Again, fair enough.  Nonetheless, the fact that other competitors do not post "accuracy numbers" does not really support the claim of supposed "transparency" of the calculations offered by Zillow, nor verify or support the actual "accuracy" of those calculations.
  • June 16 2011
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Profile picture for Fred Barry
Third post:

"With this launch, our median error, when compared to actual sale prices, is 8.5%. That's an improvement from the 12.3 percent previously."

Simply put, this claim means almost nothing. 

First, as noted above, because there is no way to verify the supposed rate of "accuracy," there is no real evidence to support the assertion - except for Zillow's own possibly self-serving statements, which obviously are not independent and free from conflict of interest. 

Second, have you examined how Zillow defines "median error"?  It is a very curious definition which basically provides that the "median error" is the percentage by which Zillow claims the actual value of half of the homes in a particular area came within the estimated value provided by Zillow, with the actual value of the other 50% of the homes being beyond "median error." 

For example, if the "median error" in a given area is 9.5%, this means that the actual value of homes when sold were either 9.5% higher OR lower than the values estimated by Zillow.  Of course, Zillow doesn't indicate if it tends to overestimate or underestimate the value of such homes that fall within the "median error" range. 

Further, Zillow fails to provide any information regarding how far off the estimated values were for the other HALF of homes - indeed, that subject is a total black hole, perhaps not unintentionally if Zillow's estimates were proven grossly and wildly inaccurate.
  • June 16 2011
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Profile picture for Fred Barry
Final post:

Third, Zillow similarly fails to provide any data regarding the "mean error" that could apply, which would be far more indicative of the accuracy of the estimates, even if Zillow does not provide the supporting data for verification.

Fourth, because Zillow has clearly used available data in hindsight - i.e., apparently taking actual sales data and applying it RETROACTIVELY to recalculate the estimates, as has been conclusively proven by many different folks and examples - I certainly hope Zillow "improved" its "accuracy" in the "median error" over a historical time period!  Anyone using any current information and then applying it backwards over history should be able to improve their "accuracy" of predictions on any given matter.  By way of example, if I run a political polling company that makes prediction on who will win an election, take the actual election results and then use them to recalculate my prediction, I sure can improve my rate of "accuracy"!

Anyways, it sure seems to me that Zillow - while disclosing the fact that it does so - uses a somewhat unorthodox and misleading definition of "median error" that doesn't really match the traditional statistical definition, fails to disclose the underlying data by which its accuracy claims can be verified and other relevant statistical information, and came up with a backwards referenced way to calculate estimates of value that improve "accuracy" at the expense of other indicia of reliability. 
  • June 16 2011
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Profile picture for knga
New algorithm shows 10% error. Value history now seems eratic and random. >>  I own a home at 9007 Mohawk Lane in Bethesda MD (although Zillow photo shows it wrongly as construction next door!).  The new Zillow algorithm dropped current value 13% in one day and also shows a 10% gap between Zestimate and purchase price at time of purchase in July 2004. Zestimate shows us 24% above zipcode average in 2004, but only 16% above it now. Zillow shows our house value to have fallen below Zestimate at time of purchase in 2004, while Zip and City Zestimate have gone higher.  Our tax assessed value is 50% higher than in 2004, but Zestimate is lower.  Relationship between Zestimate for homes on our street and their actual size & quality no longer makes any sense. On the bright side (for me): Much nicer and larger home around the corner is now worth only 15% more than mine ...rather than the 40% more when both were purchased at same time.  Really, folks, your zestimates for this neighborhood make no sense, house to house, although they were not bad a month ago. 
  • June 16 2011
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Profile picture for Natn
Looks like Zillow pulled data out of peoples private estimates made using the estimating tool. This is a big no-no. Private means that the person did not want the public to see it, otherwise they would have made their estimate public!
  • June 16 2011
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Profile picture for northwest
Rachel, there have been several instances where people have reported 50% swings amid all the various questions and threads over the last few days, I did not note them down, and don't have time to go back and search for them. Hope Z is keeping a consolidated master list of discrepancy and trouble reports as they come in. 

Orignially we were all being pointed to a statement that said individual property questions would not be addressed because of Z's time constraints. That was convenient at the time, but not very user-friendly. Glad to see this approach being modified. Good luck with those fixes and enhancements.

If I were a paying customer... well won't go there now. As it is, I'd take my property out of the game if given the option. 
  • June 16 2011
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Profile picture for Fred Barry
I have to add this, despite my better judgment.

Rachel - I understand your expertise is in public relations/"community relations," and I've seen the post from Zillow's CEO on this topic, but in my experience advising companies in similar situations, Zillow is far better off just stating that it is considering the reports of dissatisfaction from users of its services, taking them seriously and investigating them properly, and will address any confirmed errors in the valuation methodology appropriately.

As a general matter, what Zillow should not do is entrench itself, become defensive and try to justify what it has done with its valuation methodology, especially if it generates absurd and frankly insane results that are easily detectable and identified by the public at large.  If that happens, Zillow should disclose, correct, apologize and move on.  Because I can assure you, nothing undermines public confidence more quickly than denial in the face of clear evidence to the contrary.

This may be especially relevant if Zillow wants to proceed with an initial public offering.  Certainly, Zillow and its legal advisors should convene on this subject, but I suspect that, to the extent Zillow's revenues rely on advertising and page views in any meaningful part, and traffic from visitors to the site will be impacted by dissatisfaction with the new valuation method - which appears to be the case based on the posts in this thread - maybe it should be disclosed by Zillow's officers in any SEC filings.  Just saying.  I'll leave it up to you guys if it's "material" for disclosure purposes.
  • June 16 2011
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Profile picture for Dunes....
Movin on up..Bump
  • June 17 2011
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@mnack First a zestimate is not an appraisal. We will definately take a look however, if you send us the address.
rachelr at zillow dot com


Regarding changing the historical data
:
What's interesting about the Zestimate historical data , is that it can't be compared to say Kelly Blue Book, or a stock price chart. A stock price chart is actual fact of what a stock did sell for that day in the past.  The only factual part of the Zestimate history are the price points with regards to past sales information. Those facts did not change. Every zestimate between those sales prices are calculations of what the value would be (using the algorithm we had at that time) Our new algorithm doesn't just improve current accuracy, it improves historical accuracy, giving consumers a better idea of what a home was worth over time.


@Fred Barry We calculate accuracy based on actual home sale prices, which are a matter of public record (anyone can access home sales from their registry of deeds).
I'll try and get more information to you from our data team.

regarding: "Zillow is far better off just stating that it is considering the reports of dissatisfaction from users of its services, taking them seriously and investigating them properly, and will address any confirmed errors in the valuation methodology appropriately."  --WE ARE and HAVE been doing that.


@Northwest I've been asking people to email me their home address for investigation.
  • June 17 2011
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