|How to Use Zillow to Search for Property Values Online
There are numerous websites offering detailed information about property values and tax assessments. However, this information is generally listed by geographic location, and is not always easily accessible. But one site, www.zillow.com, offers not only the assessed value of the property, but also valuable information on the property itself, including square footage, lot size, number of bathrooms and bedrooms, and the year that the home was constructed.
Zillow also offers photographs of the property that allow the user to look at the home and neighborhood from different directional angles and distances.
Zillow is the brainchild of Rich Barton (former CEO of Expedia) and Lloyd Frank, two Seattle-based entrepreneurs who were constantly on the lookout for new business models. In the early 1990s, Barton’s mother was a real estate agent, and he was intrigued with the idea of somehow incorporating her business online. In 2005, both he and Frank were buying real estate, and realized the need for a concise, computerized database that would incorporate all of the information that a perspective buyer would need. It seemed so obvious, and yet no one was offering this type of service online. Together, they obtained financing (said to be $57 million), set up the company, and began the painstaking work of gathering the information for their database.
In only six months, Zillow had become the 11th most visited real estate site in the United States and had information on approximately 70 million housed. In August 2006, Time magazine named Zillow as one of its “50 Coolest Websites.”
So how does this site work? It’s simple. The site opens to the search window called “Value Any Home.” You can search by address, street, or neighborhood, and by city, state, or zip code. Enter the information and click Go. Zillow will search the database for the information that you entered. If you have entered a specific address, a Google map will open with a call-out box that points to that specific property. The box offers an overview of the property, including the assessed value, the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, and the square footage of the home. Note that neighboring houses are identified by their assessed value as well.
To learn more about the home you have chosen, click “See Home Details” in the call-out box. A new page opens. This page includes Home Facts, which offers more details about the house, Sales History and Tax Info, and a separate photo window. To learn more about the home, scroll down the page and click “Show all home facts.” An expanded window opens offering all available information on this property.
Zillow also offers perspective buyers an opportunity to look at the home from various angles. They call this feature the Bird’s Eye View. To access, click on the Bird’s Eye View tab at the top of the photo frame. Then, click the directional links at the bottom of the frame. Each link gives you a unique view of the property from that direction. Use the + and – buttons to zoom in or out for a better view of the property. You can also view the street map or put the street map view and bird’s eye view side by side.
NOTE: To start a new search, click the Map and Search tab at any time.
What makes Zillow so unique is that, not only can you search for specific property, once you have located that property, you can compare it with other homes in the neighborhood. Simply click on another house and go through the same process. You can also use the Advanced Search feature to enter more detail about the home that you wish to use in comparison.
Zillow also offers free tools for determining mortgage rates and finding local interest rates for specific geographic locations. You can even apply for a loan online.
Zillow does have limitations. The database is not complete, but is being updated every day. It is limited by the amount of public information available, and in some areas, this information is very limited. Because the site uses Google maps, it is dependent on the availability of those maps as well. But overall, the site is a valuable tool for people looking to buy and sell real estate, and is so effective that some real estate professionals are rightly concerned about the potential for this site to have a powerful impact on their livelihood. So far, Zillow hasn’t entered the real estate business, but there is some speculation that this might be their next step.
Zillow is fun to navigate and very user friendly. There are even fun tools such as Famous TV Homes (the house used in The Beverly Hillbillies, the Osbournes’ house, the Friends’ apartment, and more).
Heat maps offer color-code housing prices in larger cities. However, as much fun as this site is to navigate – and it’s positively addictive - this site is set to become a real force in the industry.