As I wrote March 2, Towson Zillow Zestimates in general, are statistically off by a large amount.

Last week I had a client call me because his HELOC was reduced by a large amount right in the middle of construction to improve his home. He could not understand how the bank could make the determination that his Towson house value had dropped over $200,000 in the past 18 months since he opened his HELOC.

Upon speaking to the bank, the representative pulls up Zillow, and proceeds to tell him this is how they discovered the value change.

“Is this true? Has my value really dropped by THIS much? I knew we were in a depressed market, but did not think it was THIS bad,” he asked me.

Based on a true market analysis, his value has really only dropped by $25-50,000. So how is Zillow off this much?

Enter the powers of social media!

I was able to find both the COO & the Director of Community Relations for Zillow on Twitter.

I contacted COO Spencer Rascoff and he tweeted back:

“Lenders shouldn’t rely on Zestimates. Use an appraisal.” “We have “a Zestimate is not an appraisal” language all over the site.

He then emailed me directly because he wanted to get to the bottom as to why they are so far off.

Director of Community Relations David Gibbons tweeted:

“…it may not change outcome by he {sic} can’t reduce heloc based on Zestimate alone.” “Lenders are supposed to use commercially licensed AVMs & appraisals, not Zestimates!”

While they are both correct, and I agree with them wholeheartedly, lenders ARE using their site, and if the site’s purpose is to provide real estate information, then the site should be more accurate.

Through emails and more discussion, I was able to find out more about how the Zestimate values are determined.

David direct messaged me that it: “looks like your purchase price and taxes have the biggest impact on your Zestimate…”

I asked what that had to do with a current value of a home, because there is no correlation whatsoever in the real estate market from what you paid for it and what it is worth now.

His answer: “homes only sell on average once every seven years so when figuring out what a home is worth its last price is important – though 2002 is…we count past sales in less and less over time … a sale last year would have much greater impact.”

NO WONDER the values are off so dramatically. And if Zestimates continue to be calculated in this respect, then we should be looking for values to be tremendously off in 2013-2014 in the other direction. So my client can be assured that in 3 years his Zestimate should be approximately $200,000 OVER true value!

Please be aware that the Zillow Zestimates, at least in the Towson market area, may have no relationship to the true value of any home.

This reiterates the point that REAL ESTATE IS LOCAL and, as COO Rascoff wrote: “a Zestimate is not a replacement for a real estate agent. Far from it.” For your free Towson Home Price Estimate, contact me today!