Zillow: Hero, Zero, or Somewhere In-Between for Alaskan Real Estate

Shout out the word “Zillow” in a mixed crowd and you may get several reactions: “I love it – I found my current home on Zillow!” “It says my house is worth $30,000 more than I paid for it two years ago.” “Ugh – you can’t trust it at all.”

I have my own perspective after working as a real estate agent the last few years. I don’t harbor any ill will toward the popular site that attempts to be profitable and serve up “zillions” of data points in a consumer-friendly package and that rhymes with “Pillow”, conjuring images of a cozy home. I do not personally receive any money or leads from Zillow and I am a paid subscriber of the Alaska Multiple Listing Service (MLS) which is the sole repository of the most accurate property information.

Here, I’ll document some of my experiences with Zillow and those of clients I’ve worked with. (Along with some of my favorite memes!)

As a home buyer you may like using Zillow because:

·         It’s a super slick way to look for homes online anytime, anywhere and get to see photographs of homes both inside and out (did you know that these actually populate from the MLS automatically once a home is listed by an agent?)

·         It gives a predictable summary of the property including nearby schools, an estimate of what Zillow thinks it may be worth, similar homes for sale in the area, any open houses coming up and how long it’s been listed for sale

·         You can subscribe and favorite homes, see when prices change and read reviews of real estate agents you may want to work with

As an agent, I often have clients send me a Zillow link via text to research for them. It’s easy for me to look up the property in MLS and send them documents that really illuminate the condition of the property (all homes are required to have a “property disclosure” that a seller fills out with details about issues/improvements/fixes made to the home). Use Zillow for this – I love it!

Issues for buyers:

·         The Zillow listing doesn’t tell you anything about the condition of the home

·         Pictures alone may be deceptive – get to an open house or a private showing with your agent (The Switzer Team, right?) to better experience curb appeal, layout and features that weren’t photographed

·         Details can be wildly incorrect – some “cross over” from MLS, but others are from outdated tax records or old descriptions entered by previous owners. Price information is often wrong and homes found on Zillow may no longer be on the market

My clients have sent me listings of homes listed as “pre-foreclosure” when they are not even for sale (Zillow has an algorithm that tries to guess when these homes may go for sale).

I’ve also had buyers call me from my for sale sign on a listing wondering why I was not yet there to show them the property. They had called an agent that appeared under the Zillow listing (a premier agent who pays to get these kinds of leads) who was supposed to meet them for a showing, but that agent never showed up. They gave me a phone number for the agent but it was a unique Zillow-generated number that only works for the consumer who clicks the link, so I couldn’t help them. Frustrating, right?

A current client found a home on Zillow and was “assigned” a Premier Agent to help her buy the home. The agent was unfamiliar with the area where the home was listed, and client and agent just didn’t seem to click, personality-wise. My client felt “let down” and then realized that she could pick her own agent to work with that wasn’t just trying to sell the first home she viewed in person.

Prospective home sellers love that Zillow provides a “Zestimate” that attempts to estimate what their home is worth in the current market, based on publicly available information (tax records, limited MLS data, etc.). Zillow tries to clarify that it is only an estimate and not an appraisal of what the home is worth.

Unfortunately for Zillow, Alaska is a non-disclosure state. In other words, municipalities and boroughs are not allowed access to final sales prices (these are only available in the MLS system). Zillow can only “guess” these values based on last available list prices it can “see” from data that MLS shares publicly.

In other words, Alaska’s data on Zillow may be slightly to wildly inaccurate.

Why sellers like Zillow

·         They can “update” their Zillow listing, customize the “What I love about this home” description, and add personal photos taken of the home’s landscaping – as an agent, I manage all of this for my clients who list their homes with me to sell!

·         Lots of exposure – anyone can see that a home is for sale and inquire digitally for more information.

·         Anyone can see a video about the home, when open houses will take place, and other information that crosses over from Alaska’s MLS

·         It’s exciting to see how many views your property has and how many people have “favorited” it

Things to watch out for as a seller

·         The Zestimate is generally high and has no bearing on Alaska’s current real estate market – it can cause frustration when the home sells for thousands of dollars less.

·         Lots of views can initially make sellers excited, but these views can be from browsers around the world and not actual interested potential buyers

·         Home buyers want to see the home in person – your agent should write an accurate description and include professional photos that draw interested buyers into making a showing appointment – bad photos can work against you.


As agents working with you to sell your home, we have access to all sales and pricing history recorded in the MLS database and we use that to create a comparable market analysis (CMA) of your home. We take into consideration any upgrades you’ve made to your home since you’ve owned it. Conversely, we can see what similar homes sold for and how they differed from yours.

Zillow can be a great tool to work for buyers, sellers and their agents. Learn the secrets to make it work for you and not against you, and Zillow can be your friend and a tool to help your achieve your real estate goals!

Thanks for reading. Please contact me any time if you have any questions about your Zestimate or homes you find on Zillow! You can also set up your own customized search with us on OUR MLS-linked website, www.theswitzerteam.net. And sign up for our newsletter here.


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