Trulia Has Unicorns, Too

In her post “Zillow and Unicorns” on February 25, Kris Berg in San Diego analyzed the so-called “active listings” showing in Zillow in a particular zip code on a specific day. I urge you to read her piece because it will go through a lot of stuff you would like to know, so I don’t need to; and also, because it’s good, like darn near everything she writes.

The problem (as she notes) is that third-party real estate sites like Zillow have a lot of junk data, and overstate—usually wildly—the number of homes actually for sale. They make little if any effort to keep the data accurate. Conversely, they spend a lot of effort trying to sell advertising around the data—particularly to agents and brokers. The agents who buy this advertising get “featured” next to listings that may or may not actually exist, and if they do, the agents may or may not know anything about the home or neighborhood. They certainly are not the listing agents.

In any case, I undertook to do the same with the “active listings” showing in Trulia—Zillow’s major competitor excluding Realtor.com—for the zip code 22153 in my ‘hood.

On the date in question, February 27, Trulia showed 84 homes for sale in 22153. Of those homes, on that date, only 37 homes were really being offered for sale. Thus Trulia’s data overstated the number by 227%.

Here are the errors in Trulia’s data:

  • Homeowners late on payments (notice of default issued): 22
  • Bank-owned properties not yet for sale: 11
  • Already under contract, sold or withdrawn properties: 12
  • Duplicates: 2

Note that 70% of Trulia’s overstated “active listings” are derived from the hunger of the masses to get “a smokin’ deal on a foreclosure.” Trulia knows that’s what buyers think they want, and so they go for all the juice they can get to improve their Google ranking by stuffing their for-sale listings with not-for-sale properties. As Kris notes:

. . . requests for more information are funneled to their website where a buyer might pay to subscribe to a foreclosure notification service or be put in touch with a “neighborhood specialist” who will likely say something like, “That home isn’t available, but we have others!”

This is why agents call Zillow and Trulia the “Land of Make Believe,” and if you use these sites, you are just “Playing Zillow (or Trulia).” Have fun.

If you want to search seriously, use a real agent’s IDX site, such as this one.

And if you are serious about buying, don’t choose an agent based on their being “Featured” next to a home you like. They bought that placement, and you’re going to help them pay for it.

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