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
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June 13 2011 - US
We think we've answered this question for you!
 
 

Replies (356)

Profile picture for supercodydog
prairie- nice looking home. what do you think is a current fair price?
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June 21 2011
Profile picture for prairiestyle
supercodydog

Thanks, it's a great house to live in. Which, of course is something you can't capture in an algorithm. What you should be able to capture, however, is the math and your own rules for measuring "accuracy." 

I don't expect Zillow to know that my house was recently appraised at well over it's historical high (although I guess I should be glad I have a "history"). But I do expect Zillow to take account of recent sales on the same street for goodness sakes. With this new release, you actually have a house on the street that Zilllow shows as sold within the last year for 800K more than its current "Zestimate."

This is not, shall we say, in line with reality.


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June 21 2011
Hi Prairie,
I forwarded your home onto the zestimate team. I searched for any for sale homes or recently solds above 4500 sq ft in the area and couldn't find any. The lack of truly comparable homes is probably one of the biggest culprits. We'll be looking into this!
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June 21 2011
Profile picture for prairiestyle
Hi Rachel. Thanks for responding and please do have the team look into this. On the comparables issue you posed. Here are some same zip code examples of 4500+ sq ft homes that have recently sold (notice the similar steep drops)
http://www.zillow.com/homedetails/1484-Cherokee-Rd-Louisville-KY-40204/73459170_zpid/
http://www.zillow.com/homedetails/2121-Cherokee-Pkwy-Louisville-KY-40204/73618594_zpid/
http://www.zillow.com/homedetails/1289-Cherokee-Rd-Louisville-KY-40204/73455310_zpid/
Furthermore, here's an example of a home currently for sale that is one lot away from mine: http://www.zillow.com/homedetails/2427-Cherokee-Pkwy-Louisville-KY-40204/73457192_zpid/  You can see that the new Zestimates are wildly off what's actually unfolding in the market.
Please do have the team look at the broad Jefferson County accuracy and data feeds as well. As I mentioned Zillow's own data table page has changed to say there is no valuation data for Jefferson County and no houses from Jefferson County with Zestimates.  Which obviously can't be true, given all this drama over plummeting Zestimates in, you guessed it, Jefferson County.

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June 21 2011
Profile picture for northwest
Another blip on the revised algorithm. Am not looking for them, so when one pops out like this, it is just one more reason to consider restoring old system.. See 16919 Lakeridge Dr, Lake Oswego, OR 97034. There are 2 different zestimates on the same property, with a difference of about $100k between them. Jeech, can't possibly know how many more there are out there. Suppose you could do a set system querieris based upon feedback. If nothing else it might delineate some of the grossest scenarios out there, then rework logic/code appropriatrly.  
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June 21 2011
Profile picture for Pasadenan
They have already determined the primary cause is sparse sales data for selected areas without sufficient boundary conditions.

They have separate mathematical models for each of 3135 county areas.  And even those are broken down into smaller analysis areas.  The previous algorithm had 500k statistical and machine learning models.  The present one has more than 1.2 million statistical and machine learning models.

Going back to what they already know did not match the data very well in multiple respects is not the answer.  Adding the boundary conditions and additional "training" for the over 1.2 million models is.

Every "sample" of a "poor estimate trend" helps the staff of less than 10 people figure out what they need to tweak.  They have already posted that this is an interim release, and once the issues are worked out, they are recalculating the entire estimate history for the 97.284 million ownership housing units from 1996 on.  It is not at all a simple task; but those that provide samples of anomalies are helping tremendously.
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June 21 2011
Profile picture for supercodydog
prairie,

Could you say what you think the correct value should be?

I'm trying to get a sense of what the differential Z-value is from your baseline/benchmark

Thanks
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June 22 2011
Profile picture for prairiestyle
supercdog

A recent on-the-ground appraisal brought the property in quite high, but there's been a fair bit of enhancement to the property that I don't expect Zillow to be able to compute. A fair Zestimate is probably in the 1.05--1.15 range, which is simply a function of average sales price per sq ft. in the neighborhood (~$181/sq ft). The new Zestimates in my neighborhood (40204) have dropped the per sq ft price down to the low 50's. Also, very strangely, many of the houses were cut, from significantly different starting points, to the exact same Zestimate number--$309,000
 
Some likely culprits:

1.  Something seems to be generally broken with Zillow's data feeds/processing for Louisville, Ky (Jefferson County). The Local Info pages are throwing up conflicting data or announcing there is no data for the neighborhoods. Also, Zillow apperars not to be picking up many of the new sale lisitngs in the market. Trulia, at least here--on the other hand, is much more up to date.

2. Sparse Sales Data--here I agree with Pasadenan. This  will be a problem for Zillow broadly, particulary at the high end of the market where large homes come up less often and move more slowly even in brisk markets. 

3. Comparables & Boundary Issues--This is related to the sparse sales data and is exacerbated in neighborhoods where you have a wide range of housing like mine. Unlike many planned suburban developments within and around city beltways that tend to have a consistent, comparatively narrow price bands, older nearer-the-city neighborhoods have a crazy unplanned mix of mansions-on-the-hill and entry-level starter shacks. This is difficult for a model to deal with, and combined with slow sales data argues, I think, for expanding the "recent" sales timeframe and the comparables boundaries/consideration set when calculating Zestimates in these neighborhoods. 


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June 22 2011
Profile picture for supercodydog
praire,

so you feel the upgrades you did, kinda are equal to the overall decline most house prices have fallen in the last few years?

From reading other posts, I'm going to guess that lots of folks never pulled building permits or had physical tax assessor inspections, so their local tax file doesnt reflect upgrades and hence zillow doesnt pick it up.
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June 22 2011
Profile picture for Pasadenan
Even if the county records were updated; the last sold price extrapolated for sold date does not adjust, and the "appraised value" does not adjust proportional to market value, but only relative to the "improvement", thus the estimates are still skewed for properties with improvements since the last sale date.  Similarly, properties with deferred maintenance will be skewed the other direction.

The data they use for the estimates are:
1) house sqft
2) lot sqft
3) # bedrooms
4) # bathrooms
5) # stories
6) year built
7) tax assessed value (adjusted for local rules)
8) last sold price extrapolated from sold date
9) covered parking (if in the county records).

The only place where things like "views", "noise", gold fixtures... are factored in is the "last sold price extrapolated for sold date", and "tax assessed value adjusted for local rules.

Presently, the major issue in many areas is not the "improvements", but the relatively few sales.  And it is even harder in non-disclosure state areas as they can't just pull the "sold" data from the county records, so they have to rely on other sources for what they are modeling to.  (Possibly "list prices", or "initial mortgage amounts", or tax assessed values when tax assessed values change substantially).
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June 22 2011
Profile picture for prairiestyle
scd

Basically, yes, but remember I'm only talking about what I imagine a fair, rational model might spit out based on what it knows, not what the property is actually worth on the ground. 

Given the relatively "recent" local sales data and the sq ft comps, that Zillow should and does have, the new model has spit out something way out of bounds. To Pasadenan's earlier point, this is a good diagnostic case for the model. Learning how and why it misses the mark so wildly here in my neighborhood should improve the model (and/or how they apply it) over all.


The tax issue is an interesting one. I wonder if people are going to start petitioning their property tax boards, drastically chopped Zestimates in hand, insisiting they're being over-assessed?
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June 22 2011
Profile picture for supercodydog
I'm a fan of quant algos, so I kinda get it.

But....if you model to sales data that doesnt exist, (eg, asking prices, even if days on mkt is significant), it kinda says that the "market" is rejecting the ask prices and for true price discovery to occur, the offer price needs to be lowered until a buyer shows up.

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June 22 2011
Profile picture for AOTW
  • AOTW
  • Contributions:35
Thanks Pasadenan,
That explains some of the example I put up... not sold since 1950.
Still, 711k est against 3.6 million sold is a bit much.
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June 22 2011

@NW
Thanks for pointing that out. When there are duplicate properties is usually means, one is user created. Such as a user manually posted a home for sale, by posting manually instead of searching for the first and posting from there. The zestimates are different because of the difference in data.
this one:
http://www.zillow.com/homedetails/16919-Lakeridge-Dr-Lake-Oswego-OR-97034/48229231_zpid/
has 4bd/3ba and past sales history along with other data missing from the other one.
This one:
http://www.zillow.com/homedetails/16919-Lakeridge-Dr-Lake-Oswego-OR-97034/2146591045_zpid/
has 6 bd and no sales history.
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June 22 2011
Profile picture for Pasadenan
"Still, 711k est against 3.6 million sold is a bit much." -

This reminds me of an interview I heard on National Public Radio, "Science Friday", with a Google Representative, this past Friday...

The Google person was explaining how they test thousand of possible "improvements", both with paid testers, as well as random distribution of the proposed revision, to see if they click more toward the top of the results, or not.  And that most of what they try is not better, and thus "scrapped".  Well less than 10% are actual "improvements".

So, one "example" he gave was with mobile applications, and how they were using the geocode provided by the device to select locations that were closer for the sort order.  He stated that each time they increased the importance factor of closest distance, it got better results... so, he had them maximize the weighting of the distance factor, and then for things like "American Express", it was returning the 3 closest shops that accept American Express Cards, instead of an American Express office that could actually deal with American Express issues, thus making the search results absolutely useless.

There is a real art to selecting appropriate importance factors.  It is not just math, science, and guesses.

Even if linear regression was used (which they say it is not), one still needs to select the terms one is going to use (second order, 3rd order, inverse...), and what one is going to do if a data field is missing... (since "missing" absolutely does not mean "zero").

I have some ideas on what they might be able to do for the properties that have had improvements since purchase; but I think they really need to concentrate on the sparse data issue first.
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June 22 2011
Profile picture for ayelowitz

The Zestimates for Lexington, KY are absolutely crazy. Zillow claims that my house is valued around $200k, while the houses in my neighborhood go for $700k-plus. And values all over my city are far lower than actual sales pices. You would have thought that the designers of the algorithm would have conducted a "sniff-test" to see if their modeling made any sense. With an easy-to-access MLS and a free PVA site in Lexington, it is clear Zillow didn't do its homework.

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June 22 2011
Profile picture for jackie1957
We bought a house in December 2010, when zillow's zestimate for it was $950,000. Recently (after the June 13th changes of Zillow's zestimates) our house is now valued at $840,000. Not only has the been a huge drop in it's estimated value, but it also now has the graph giving it a zestimate of $840,000 for December 2010. I can possibly understand changing future estimates, if it gives a more accurate picture, but I don't think you can change what the estimate was previously. We used Zillow's zestimate (and so did the real estate companies) to help estimate it's value in December 2010, and now zillow is admitting that it had the estimate wrong by over $100,000!!! I had faith in zillow - now I've lost it all! 
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June 22 2011
Profile picture for northwest
@Rachel

Thanks for explaining re duplicate posting. Maybe Zillow can develop an edit to block manual input such as you pointed out if its going to create duplicate zestimates for the same property. No need to respond. Figure ct his has probably already been discussed/addressed elsewhere on this or another thread.
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June 22 2011
Profile picture for ncdzllw
Zillow messed up my neighborhood values from last month to this month. My property value (and neighborhood) is incorrectly listed (way low). I get monthly estimated value from Zillow with their comment on increase %. April 2011 - $351,000; May 2011 - $353,000 (Your Zestimate has increased 0.6%); Jun 2011 - $309,600 (Your Zestimate has increased 0.8%). For the month of June it was increased by 0.8% and the value is shown 12% less than previous value. This is unrealistic and make very wrong picture of the property value for potential buyers. 

Zillow must correct this and think about their "improved" algorithm.
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June 23 2011
Profile picture for nibornotsla
Your algorithm is broken in 40204. RECENT sales are 2-3 times the Zestimate.
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June 23 2011
Profile picture for ncdzllw
How can Zillow (or anyone) change the facts in past? The past estimates (graph) also show huge drop than they posted a month ago. 

Shouldn't improvements improve the accuracy of data? Looks like they haven't tested their algorithm for any reliability before they implement in public.
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June 23 2011
Profile picture for Pasadenan
A "machine generated opinion of approximate market value" is not a "fact".  And if the math shows that revisions will improved the correlation to actual sold prices for each time period by a factor of 33%, then you do the revisions.

Sure, there are a large percentage that are not getting that improvement due to "sparse sales data", and not handling the sparse sales data conditions properly; but they are working on it.  Keep providing them the anomalies so that they can test various proposed solutions to this problem, so that the next revision will come out sooner.

And don't forget Zillow's disclaimer... it is a "starting point" for comparison; not an appraisal, and is not to be used by itself for transaction decisions, nor loan qualifications.  Using it for loan qualifications is a violation of the terms of use.

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June 23 2011
Profile picture for webdell
Russ,

About your banal comment about your new Zestimate, I have been a long time user, however, I have moved past your data intergity screwup on June 14.  Your money losing operation won't be around long.  Zillow employees should dust off their resumes and hit the market.  One high point, Seattle unemployent is better than most.  Good luck.
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June 24 2011
Profile picture for webdell

The house next to me has no finished basement.  Mine has high rent upgrades, including finished walkout basement. My house has $260K in upgrades which the other house does not have. This is a note in your writeup about my house  You valued this house with a $20K higher value than mine.  The lot & view are the same.  My home value dropped 21% on June 14. 
I am a long time user of Zillow, however, this data integrity scewup from a money losing company is getting tiresome.  You need to fix it or go out of business. I would appreciate a specific response and evaluation.  Zillow, please respond.  Waiting for an answer.

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June 24 2011
Profile picture for webdell
Money losing Zillow with their data screwup will not be around long.  You do not screw up your data and infuriate many of your customers and survive
.
Zillow employees - good luck.  On the positive side, Seattle unemploymet is better than most.
 
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June 24 2011
Profile picture for jimmy57
I think this is about getting someone to buy Zillow, not about "improving" it.  Somehow the goal is to make it more appealing, either to advertisers (to make it temporarily more profitable) or potential buyers.
Or maybe the plan is to make it so disruptive that someone will buy it just to make it stop. ;)

An older article, but on point.
http://gigaom.com/2010/01/13/zillow-ipo/

I would say though, that the Zestimate "history" charts have been changing all along; they were never documenting Zestimates as fixed in time.  I was writing down Zestimates for certain properties as I began tracking them, thinking those would be benchmarks.  Wrong.
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June 24 2011
Profile picture for kunjirs
 I noticed that my home value went down by $50,000 with recent Zestimate logic update on June 13. I started researching the updated home ZESTIMATES for my neighbourhood and something is definitely wrong. Few points to note:
1. My home 141 Fulbright Ln, Schaumburg, IL value before June 13:  $3,98,000 ; My home value after June 13: $345,900
2. Value of next home 143 Fulbright Lane, Schaumburg, IL with exact same specifications (End unit facing golf course, same 2491 sqft )  after June 13: $394,500
3. Value of another end unit in my building 149 Fulbright Ln, Schaumburg, IL with 200 Sq ft less: $3,90,800
4. Value of all other end units in the community with 200 sqft less than mine are around $3,90,000. Why my townhome value reduced by $50,000? I checked information for my townhome on Zillow and everything is correct.

The updated history values does not make any sense. Zillow needs to fix this if they want people to believe in Zillow.
Example. My home value before June 13 was about $398,000. After June 13 it went down to $345,000.  At peak in June 2006, the home value shows $529,000 and  in Nov 2006 it shows $203,000 !!!
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June 27 2011
Profile picture for Pasadenan
"I would appreciate a specific response and evaluation" -

Well, without a "specific address", it is really not possible to give a "specific evaluation" nor even "specific response".

But "upgrades" have never factored into the Zestimate, nor can they.  Even if one gets a permit for the work and it is recorded at the county level, the work does not change the price paid for the property, nor does it change the tax assessed value proportional to the potential new "appraised" value.

Similarly, "differed maintenance" cannot be factored into the estimates.

So, usually, "very high" Zestimates means it is a "fixer", and "very low" Zestimates means it was bought as a "fixer" and already "fixed".

As for the wildly fluctuation estimates?  That means there wasn't sufficient sales in the area to establish any market value.  All the fluctuations have always had to be "ignored" by the users of the data.  This problem is not "going away", but some of the sparse data issues are being worked on and should be mostly resolved in the next release of the calculation method.
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June 28 2011
Profile picture for Pasadenan
"Or maybe the plan is to make it so disruptive that someone will buy it just to make it stop. ;)" --

Although the public will soon be able to buy a "share" of Zillow, the "owners" of Zillow already have substantial "shares".  There are even two separate grades of the existing shares!  Sure, employees are getting "shares" as part of their compensation package; but it is not the "preferred shares" as in the venture capital money that was put up to start the company and build the website...

The website and company and partnerships continue to take larger and larger market share of on-line housing data websites, so anyone thinking it is just going to "sell out" or "fold" is obviously wearing blinders.

Sure, the company has been running in the red since it started; but it keeps getting closer to "breaking even", which means it will eventually make money.

Now whether that means it is a good "investment" to buy their stock?  No one has any clue.  Certainly new stock holders will not have a majority share of the stock, so they will have no leverage in company decisions, other than to drive the value of the stocks sold down or up.
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June 28 2011
Profile picture for Dunes....
Bump back to the Front Page...where this belongs
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June 30 2011
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