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!

the switzer team alaska real estate

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·         Details can be wildly incorrect – some “cross over” from MLS, but others are from outdated tax records or old descriptions entered by previous owners.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.

the switzer team alaska real estate

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.

the switzer team alaska real estate

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

the switzer team alaska real estate

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.


the switzer team alaska real estate

Preparing to Buy Your Alaska Home Part II: Time to Make an Offer

Make an offer on your Alaskan home.
Photo credit: CheapFullCoverageAutoInsurance.com
  • You’ve found at least one dream home that seems to tick most of the boxes.
  • You’ve researched and read all the documents about the property that your agent sent you.
  • You know what you’re pre-approved for and what you can afford versus what you WANT to afford.
  • You have enough money in your checking account to write an earnest money check to go along with the offer paperwork, too.

So… It’s time to make an offer!

Click here to read Part I: Do Your Home Buying Homework

What goes into your offer?

Your agent is trained to help walk you through the process of writing an offer. The offer form is long and looks intimidating, but it serves an important purpose. It details exactly what you are willing to give in order to buy the specific property you want, and has protections built in and deadlines that both parties need to adhere to.

Here are some things to think about as you compose your offer:

  1. Asking price is one thing, but what is the maximum sales price you are willing to pay? You will most likely offer less to start unless the home is priced to sell and you really like it.
  2. Will you ask for the seller to pay any of your buyer’s closing costs? These costs are charged by the mortgage lender at closing and total about 3% of the total loan amount. Sellers are not obligated to pay these, but sometimes they are willing to assist.
  3. What else do you want to include in your offer as contingencies (items that must be satisfied for you to agree to buy the home)? A certain closing date? Do you want the home to be professionally cleaned before closing? Is there a special chandelier that you want to stay with the home? Do you need the yard decluttered and mowed before you move in?
  4. What items do you expect to come with the home? Carefully review the bill of sale they provide, or create one of your own to clearly document what you expect (i.e. refrigerator or window coverings) and how much you’ll pay for them with a separate check.

Meet your agent and write your first offer

Once an offer is made, sellers always have three possible responses: accept it, reject it, or counter it (negotiation has begun!). It is good to always be prepared for a counter offer unless your initial offer is extremely low (which can simply cause a non-response and may result in hurt feelings).

Photo credit: Audi_insperation

Waiting for a response

Waiting for a response to your offer can be an exciting time. Whether you realize it or not, the agreement your agent turned in for you has started a timeclock. You’ve given the seller a deadline to respond. They and their agent need time to get together and carefully review the offer you’ve submitted. If there are competing offers, they will need to review those as well, and they may call for your best and final offer in that case.

While you wait to hear some news, it’s good to put yourself in the seller’s shoes. Think about their potential response, and how you might respond to it. If you have looked for months and this MUST be your new home, you’ll be more  likely to meet their counter. If you know there are other homes out there that will work fine for your family, you may be willing to step out of the negotiation process and move on if they don’t concede in certain areas.

  • How will they likely feel about the amount – is it close to a full price offer, or a bit low? A “lowball offer” may elicit a negative reaction from the seller.
  • Did you ask for a price concession AND closing cost assistance? If so, they will be mentally deducting both dollar amounts as money/profit they stand to lose.
  • If the sellers counter your offer, decide what is most important to you: The total sales price (i.e. your monthly mortgage payment) or seller help with your closing costs (if you are short on cash in hand). The seller may only be willing to concede one of these items.

Inside the seller’s mind (Psychology 101)

  • Is the home more of a fixer upper than move in ready? They may be mentally calculating how much money they will need to spend on inspector-required repairs.
  • Is the home new on the market? They may not respond to a lower offer if they feel other buyers may want their home more and are willing to make a stronger offer.
  • How strong is your financing? They will look at your loan and ask their agent how likely it is to be underwritten and how much of a downpayment it required.
  • Does you offer have lots of contingencies that other offers may not? Are you asking for a longer closing period? Is your offer contingent on the sale of an existing home? These factors can make your offer look less desirable to a seller.

Do you have any tips to recommend? Add them to the comments section below!

You’ve Received a Response – What Happens next? Tune in for Part III

Tune in to my next blog entry for tips on what when a seller responds to your offer!

Valentine’s Day LOOOOVE

Have you seen the cute “love questionnaire” floating around Facebook?

Several friends have posted it, and it’s an adorable way to get a little glimpse into a couple’s life. I thought I’d surprise Nate and ask him the questions… live on video. Because that’s just the kind of loving wife I am. Look at that preview – he’s smiling but he’s SCARED. Ha! Enjoy!

We have an awesome giveaway running on social media! If you haven’t entered, please like and follow The Switzer Team on Instagram and Facebook! Find the post with the heart shaped pizza, and tag your Valentine or a Palentine. Winner will be chosen by drawing a name on Friday, 2/14.

Kids say…

Two of our four kids are home schooled, through a combination of online and in-person classes, cooperative schooling and workshops, and guidance from us. We work from our home office much of the time, and I always wonder what they think about what we do.

Last week, I assigned them each the task of writing a brief synopsis on self employment, and loved getting a little glimpse into their thoughts and impressions about our work.

These are their unedited responses. Enjoy!

Self Employed Parents
By Lydia Switzer, 12

“When your parents are self employed, it’s really different. You think differently, you react differently.

Sometimes I forget that a lot of people have to go to work in an office. I feel like, if my mom worked in an office, she would totally be the boss. (Sorry, dad.) It’s also different because they are real estate agents, so they choose who they work with and when. They take breaks by their choice, and they make their own agendas and working requirements. They are in control.

But the biggest reason I like it, is because they can spend more family time with me and my brothers.”

Having Entrepreneurial Parents
By Elliott Switzer, 13

“Both my parents have been self employed for several years and over the course of this time there have been quite a few changes.

The most notable would be the amount of time we get to spend with dad. His job at the hospital was from 8 to 5 every day. So we wouldn’t see him in the mornings and when he would get home he would be very tired. Now that there self employed there schedules changed and we have more free opportunity to do activities. They also have much more choice on how much they work.

Overall, I think it was a very beneficial change.”

the switzer team real estate

Preparing to Buy Your Alaska Home Part I: Do Your Home Buying Homework

Congratulations – you’ve made a decision to buy a home. Whether it’s your first home purchase or many years from a prior purchase, it’s time to take the first steps. 

What are some of the things you need to give consideration to?

  • What type of home are you looking for? You have lots of options to consider! It’s a good idea to start where your needs are. If you have a spouse and no children, you may be quite content in a 2 BD 1 BA home on the third floor with no private yard. If you have a large dog and two kids plus a home office, a traditional home with a decent sized yard may be in order. If you’d like to be a landlord and have help with your mortgage, a duplex, triplex or fourplex can be a great investment.
  • What kind of payment fits your family budget? Remember that your mortgage payment will also include property taxes and homeowners insurance. In addition, you will have utility bills that will need to be factored in to your monthly housing expense.
  • Have you saved for a downpayment and buyer’s closing costs? Most mortgage loans require a downpayment toward the purchase of a home, whether it’s a condo or duplex. This may be 3.5% of the sales price or higher, depending upon the program. There are also buyer’s closing costs that are required before you take possession of your new home, generally about 3% of the sales price. For example, a 350K house might have a downpayment of $12,250 as well as closing costs totaling approximately $10,500 (you can ask a seller to help with some of these costs, but they are not obligated to).

Time to Get Preapproved

You’ve taken a hard look at the budget and your needs, and you’ve built up a nest egg that can apply toward a downpayment and your closing costs. The next step is seeing what kind of home loan you are eligible for. It’s time to enlist the help of a mortgage lender. These experts take a big picture look at your financial position and credit worthiness to determine the maximum they can loan you in the purchase of your home – be prepared with a few items to help them help you:

  • Think about the payment you are comfortable making. You may qualify for a larger home than you need. Remember to factor in taxes, insurance and utilities for the property – this information is generally available in MLS when you begin your home search with an agent’s help. As a renter or newly independent adult you may not have had to think about these expenses.
  • Collect the information your mortgage lender will need to prequalify you, typically the following:
    – last two years taxes and W2s
    – last two months of bank statements
    – last two paystubs
    – last 401k and/or investment account info
  • Find a mortgage lender you will enjoy working with! You may want to shop around and seek recommendations from friends or real estate professionals. Some lenders have special expertise that may apply to your unique situation (like VA loans or first time home buyer programs, or rehab loans used to purchase a foreclosure). Consider choosing a local lender who can be reached during normal Alaska business hours, versus an online lender that is difficult to reach.

Must Have Versus Really Wants – Which Home Fits the Bill?

You’ve met with a mortgage lender you gel with and decided what kind of property you’d like to purchase. You’ve been issued a pre-approval letter or 90 percent letter which states what kind of loan you’ll be using, the downpayment required and the maximum purchase price for which you’re eligible. It’s time to familiarize yourself with the housing market and what kinds of homes and features are available that will meet your needs, versus what qualifies as a dream home with everything you could ever want (at an amazing price).

What should you do next?

  • Create a two column document to detail what you absolutely need (in one column) against those things that would be a plus. For example, you may need a 2 BD/1 BA condo with one carport, but you would love to have a garage and pantry and two living areas. If you are making this decision with someone else, be sure to think about what you would be willing to compromise on.
  • Choose some possible locations. Location is a HUGE consideration when selecting a home. Is it near work? How long is the commute? If you have children, is it in the school district you desire? Are other activities nearby? Which areas feel safe to you?
  • Enlist the help of a real estate professional. An agent who is familiar with the area can be a great resource. We love to help buyers and answer those pesky questions that you may be reluctant to ask. While we are happy to give our opinion, our greatest desire is helping you to discover what you want and highlight some potential solutions. We know this is one of the most important decisions in your life, and not to be taken lightly.

What Your Agent Can Provide

You’ve got your smart phone, created a specific Zillow search and you’ve checked out a couple open houses but you’re just not sure if you have everything necessary to make a fully informed decision. Should you risk consulting with a REALTOR (C)? Yes! As a buyer’s agent, we represent you and your interests. We are committed to providing you great service at no charge. We know that it may take a little while to find that home that makes your heart sing – and there are lots of considerations along the way. Be sure to pick an agent whose personality jives with yours – don’t be afraid to interview a couple first!

Here are some benefits to working with an agent who really gets YOU:

  • We see the “invisible” stuff and send it to you, including any documents associated with the listing. A particularly useful one is called a property disclosure, which includes everything the current owner knows about the features and systems of the home. What has broken and been fixed? What has been upgraded or replaced? It should all be listed here.
  • We can show you any property in MLS. Open houses aren’t the best way to see a home, and neither are photos online. An open house does provide a good opportunity to see the area in person and to experience the layout of a home but the agent there is representing the seller and not you. Private showings are a great way to look at a property with no outside pressure and fewer time constraints – let your agent set an appointment that works for you!
  • Is the price of the home competitive? Your agent can research in the Alaska MLS system – we see what homes in the area have sold for, how they are similar/different and what the sellers’ helped with in terms of buyer closing costs–all information you needs to make an educated decision on whether this home is a contender.

Do you have any tips to recommend? Add them to the comments section below!

You’ve Found “The One” – Make an Offer! Tune in for Part II