Posted by Marie Presti on 10/9/2017


 Zillow has been testing the market out with a program called Instant Offers, which some of you may have heard of by now. Zillow is claiming this program is a quick way for someone to sell their house to investors — all with no prep, no waiting, and no uncertainty. It sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? So I looked into it, and there are pitfalls.

This program is not available in all markets yet, but I found out that Instant Offer only showcases real offers, if a large Zillow investor is ready to buy the home and not an actual person who would live there. There are many other things you must understand before you determine if this service is right for you. The price the investors will offer you is based on the data that Zillow has on record. This data usually comes from the assessor's office of your local municipality. Most of the time, this information is right, but many times it’s not. In fact, in the past year, I’ve had only one out of eight properties listed accurately on the site. Either the lot size or the square footage was wrong. Or there were too many or too few bathrooms. In several cases, important features, like a garage, fireplace, and central air were not listed. Of course, these missing elements will sway investors’ offers. The bottom line: Make sure you know the real market value of your home before you consider selling.

Investors scouring Zillow’s site will also look at a ‘zestimate’ before making their offer. According to Zillow, the Boston market ‘zestimate’ has a median error percentage of 6.1 percent.  Let's look at the month of August, as the most recent example of updated figures. According to the Greater Boston Association of Realtors,® the median sale price of a single-family home (in their jurisdiction) during that month was $610,000. That equates to a potential error of $37,210. Few of us can afford that kind of mistake!  

In The Presti Group’s market, Newton, Mass., the error rate is even higher.The year-to-date median sale price of a single-family home there is $1,295,000. With the Zillow error rate of 6.1 percent, the zestimate could be potentially off by $79,000. Maybe even more. Illustrating this point, one of our most recent listings was priced at $749,900. Zillow’s ‘zestimate’ listed the property at $802,000. I knew this was too high a price, as the house was in rough shape. We worked with the seller to fix up the place a bit, staged it, took professional photos, and executed quite a bit of online marketing. As a result, we got substantial traffic into the house in just its first week on the market. We received six offers and the house sold for $100K more than the original listing. Had the owners accepted an Instant Offer on Zillow, they would have washed at least $50,000 down the drain, because of the condition the property was in to start with. By using a Realtor®, they were able to use the complete services provided by The Presti Group to put the seller in the catbird’s seat.

While Zillow can give you a general idea of what's out there, it doesn't know the local market conditions, the property, neighborhood, or features of the house.  And it can’t help you decide to target a large investor or a first-time homebuyer. Or negotiate and advocate on your behalf. Most importantly, “Instant Offer” buyers may try to rent it out or fix it up and flip it for a profit. So they may not even live in the house and care for it the way that you did.

So when all is said and done, whom would you trust with one of the most important assets in your life? A national website that uses algorithms to compute a home’s value? Or a local real estate pro who knows the insides and outsides of the market and has the negotiating chops to get you the best price? I know what I would do. But whatever method you choose, don’t sell yourself short.

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