In just a few short years, Zillow grew from a fledgling startup to the powerhouse it is in today's real estate market. It's accomplished this by aggregating public records, street-level photography, as well as user-entered data to create a seamless home shopping experience that allows home buyers to browse through millions of homes online before deciding which homes to see in person.
Their search interface is powerful, yet simple, allowing users to filter homes based on map-view, price, or even year-built. In addition, all these features are available on both the desktop as well as the mobile apps they've made available for people on the go. Even with all these great features there are still some lesser known Zillow features that could further enhance your home buying experience.
One Company Many Sites
The Zillow Group is the parent company of Zillow.com. However did you know their company actually owns several of the top websites in the real estate market, including Trulia.com and RealEstate.com. Each site provides a slightly different feature set and targets a different market demographic. However the core dataset between all of their web properties is largely the same.
Tour Exclusive Neighborhoods
Trulia.com has a great search feature that lets you filter for only Open Houses in your search criteria. Open Houses are a great way to learn more about the homes in a new or exclusive neighborhood. Alternately, touring Open Houses in exclusive neighborhoods can be a great weekend outing for a hip young couple.
Calculate Total Monthly Cost
RealEstate.com has a tool to help calculate the total monthly cost of owning a home. This lets you look past just the mortage to see taxes, insurance, utilities, and all the other costs that factor into home ownership. This tool should help young families better prepare for the realities of home ownership before jumping in too deep.
School and Crime Data
Very helpful for families are the tools that provide school ratings and crime statistics for each home. The school rating information is provided by third-party data providers including GreatSchools.org and Pitney Bowes (as of the time of this writing). And the crime information is obtained through public records. Third-party transparency makes their school and crime ratings more accurate and reliable.
Market Research and API
Beyond the basic UI tools, Zillow also offers a treasure trove of market research data and even a developer API for the Excel geeks and hobby programmers. These raw datasets and custom programming tools are obviously helpful to business, but can also be helpful to the average home buyer if they have the skillset to create pivot tables, complex data models, or enjoy raw data analysis.
Zestimate Not Always Accurate
The Zillow Zestimate is a fairly compelling estimate of a home's value. However the Zestimate is compiled using publically available data which misses certain key elements of a home's actual value. The Zestimate does not always account for a home's physical condition, so a home in disrepair may be over valued, whereas a home in pristine condition may be undervalued. In addition if county records haven't been updated, then major renovations like room additions may not be included. The most accurate picture of a home's value should always be obtained through a professional appraiser.
Overall Zillow has provided a great set of consumer facing tools that help home buyers shop and buy homes with greater ease and efficiency than ever before.