Are websites like Zillow accurate? My last five appraisals vs. Zillow

Are websites like Zillow accurate? Let’s compare my last five appraisals with Zillow estimates. These are all subdivision non-custom homes in the Sacramento area. I won’t give the property addresses of course because that would violate client confidentiality.

1) House in Tracy: Zillow high by 9.2%
Zillow said $295,000, whereas my appraisal was $270,000. The condition of this house makes a huge difference in market value. Actually, if this house was in decent shape, $295,000 would be a bit on the low side (quick sale value). 

2) Elk Grove House: Zillow low by 1.4%
Zillow said $207,000, while my appraisal on this 95624 property was $210,000. Not too shabby. Pretty close.

3) Elk Grove House: Zillow high by 6.25%
Zillow said $170,000, while my appraisal on this 95758 property was $160,000.

4) Rancho Cordova House: Zillow high by 41.6%
Zillow said $177,000, but my appraisal on this house in the 95670 zip code was $125,000. Zillow most likely used an area as square footage that should not have been used since Tax Records shows this property with a much larger square footage than it actually has. Zillow was also unaware of condition issues. Even if the property was pristine, $177,000 would still be on the high side since remodels are typically $150-160K right now for this area. The market is fairly patchy too in this neighborhood as some streets show much better than others.

5) Sacramento Property: Zillow high by 30% 
Zillow said $94,000, but my appraisal for this property in the 95824 zip code came in at $72,000. Remodeled or flipped properties tend to sell closer to $100,000 in this neighborhood. The subject is average in most regards- not a fixer.

Conclusion: It’s really hit and miss with Zillow. As I said in a previous article, websites like Zillow seem to have greater accuracy in tract markets with ample sales, but even then they are only so good because they cannot sift through value indicators like condition, important neighborhood boundaries, the difference between distressed sales and regular sales, upgrades, and a local appraiser’s knowledge of the market area.

Will websites like Zillow replace real estate appraisers some day? Personally, I’m not so concerned because: 1) These websites are not very accurate and therefore probably not a good source for making legal or lending decisions. 2) Lenders and other users of appraisal services need to use real humans who can do a professional and accurate job – and humans carry E&O insurance (ding, ding, ding). The bottom line is that it all comes down to money. Lenders probably can’t sue an online “machine” for messing up their value, but they can sue a human.

What do you think?

If you have any real estate appraisal, valuation consulting, or property tax appeal needs, contact me at 916.595.3735, or via Facebook.


  1. says

    I can’t tell you how many times I hear, “But Zillow says…” I will be forwarding this to my clients who are in love Zillow and for some reason don’t believe me on values. I do like Zillow for a quick average value check on an area though, but nothing compares to actually being at the property and knowing the area.

  2. says

    Hi Ryan – I live near the Napa area and can relate to finding comps on the web on the unique properties in that area. Even appraisers have a tough time in some of these areas.

    Zillow is very open, transparent, and up front about our zestimates.

    A Zestimate is just a starting point for visitors to gather information that will help them in moving forward with their buying, selling, borrowing, or relocating process and decisions.

    We ALWAYS promote and support that our visitors get their Zestimate from Zillow, but then get their “Zactimate” from a local agent or appraiser.

    It’s nice knowing there are folks out there like yourself who are willing and able to help sellers and buyers do exactly that.


    PS. Your question about will sites like Zillow ever replace the appraiser? The answer is without a doubt, NO! We need you in the local homes and streets where we can’t go. 🙂

    • says

      Hi Brad, thanks for responding. I always appreciate how quick Zillow employees are to interact online. I appreciate your words and understanding of the difference between what you provide and what a state licensed appraiser provides.


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