Let’s talk about Zillow. I’ve been getting a TON of questions every week about what Zillow is doing and whether appraisers can use their purchases as comps.
Big news: First off, yesterday news broke that Zillow would be suspending buying anything else until 2022. Based on articles and a few conversations with locals in the know, it sounds like their rapid pace of buying has become backlogged, so they needed to hit the pause button to catch up. In the Sacramento region they own 372 properties right now and they’ve been on a buying spree over the past few months especially. Look, there could be more to this story, but all we have right now is what Zillow says.
Assumptions: I’ve heard some people think Zillow pulling back must mean the top of the market is here. Or maybe this shows the model isn’t working. Or it’s possible other iBuyers would soon follow in backing off. But here’s the thing. These are assumptions and it sounds like Zillow is going to be buying again in about two months. If this is true, it means these assumptions are misplaced. Of course Zillow is very likely losing money, but that may not be the reason they pulled back.
WILL APPRAISERS USE ZILLOW PURCHASES AS COMPS?
Yes and no. It depends. So many people are talking about what appraisers can and can’t do, but there’s so much misinformation. I hope this helps.
When Zillow buys properties directly from owners these are very likely NOT going to be used as comps. Frankly, appraisers might not even know about these sales since they don’t show up in the MLS where appraisers typically look for comps. But even if an appraiser knew about a few Zillow purchases, here’s the important part. If an appraiser cannot verify the nature of a sale that Zillow bought directly from an owner, then it’s not good appraisal practice to use the sale as a comp. If an appraiser has no clue about condition, quality of upgrades, or any sales concessions, for instance, using a private “comp” would essentially be a blind comparison. So if someone hands me a private Zillow purchase to consider as a comp, I’m going to say, “Thank you, but I don’t know anything about this transaction. But what I do have is 10-15 MLS sales to consider.”
Technically appraisers CAN use non-MLS sales as “comps” in an appraisal report, but only if the sales can be verified with someone principle to the transaction. In other words, the appraiser needs to be able to understand the nature of the transaction from someone like an agent, attorney, title company, buyer or seller. Yet being that Zillow is seemingly buying in suburban markets where the vast bulk of sales happen on MLS, there isn’t really much of a good reason for appraisers to use these private purchases as comps.
When Zillow buys on MLS, these sales are something an appraiser can consider just the same as any other comp because the details are transparent and it’s likely easy to talk with someone in the transaction. However, just because a property closes at a certain level doesn’t mean appraisers are going to automatically use the sale without consideration of whether it represents the market or not. In other words, if Zillow paid too much for a property they bought, it doesn’t all of a sudden represent the market or set a new price level for the neighborhood. As an example, a property sold for about $50,000 higher than any other similar sale. This sale was a clear outlier and it closed so high because the buyer likely bid too much out of desperation (Zillow wasn’t the buyer). I still used it as a comp, but I gave it far less weight because it simply sold for too much.
Keep in mind Zillow flips homes and appraisers can use the homes they re-list on MLS also. This is just the same as any other sale and appraisers simply have to weigh each potential comparable.
Is Zillow manipulating the market?
There have been quite a number of accusations about Zillow manipulating the market and I’m not here to defend Zillow, but so far I haven’t seen data to back up the accusations. I’m being careful about flippantly making such a serious accusation, but if anything comes to light I’ll be first to yell from the rooftops.
You may have seen the viral TikTok video below and this guy seems really cool. It’s just having one higher sale doesn’t all of the sudden make the market higher just like one lower sale doesn’t break the market. I get what this guy is saying, but I think we need data to substantiate such a claim.
For what it’s worth, this viral video helped put Zillow under the microscope and that’s a good thing. My observation is tech companies often get a pass from the public, but their activity and motives should absolutely be kept in check.
How many homes do iBuyers own in the region?
In the Sacramento region iBuyers own 747 homes (two weeks ago they owned 690). Zillow owns 372 units, Opendoor owns 350 homes, and Redfin owns 25 units. For reference, two weeks ago Invitation Homes had 77 units (since May) and now they have 91 units.
Is Zillow temporarily exiting good news for buyers?
I’ve had a few people ask if Zillow backing off for a couple of months is good for buyers. Well, it’s good in the sense of having one less cash buyer to compete with (for the MLS acquisitions at least). But realistically Zillow’s activity is not a significant chunk of the market, so it’s not like pausing operations is going to change the trajectory of prices or the feel of things in the trenches.
Where does Zillow own homes?
Here is a look at a few neighborhoods. The pins are different colors depending on whether properties are active (green), pending (yellow), purchased and not active yet (red), black (no MLS activity yet), or expired (purple).
Anyway, I hope this was helpful or interesting.
Thanks for being here.
Questions: Anything to add regarding comp selection? What do you think of Zillow exciting the market? Is the iBuyer model a good thing for the public?