Can you trust Zillow & Trulia?

March 24, 2014

The internet is an invaluable resource for realtors, buyers, and sellers alike. But not all real estate websites are created equal. If you’ve ever bought or sold a home, chances are the names Zillow and Trulia ring a bell for you. And if you’ve ever checked these websites hoping to find your recently listed home advertised in all its glory for eager buyers to stumble upon, you may be familiar with the unsettling feeling that comes with seeing your home listed in the wrong neighborhood, with the wrong list price, or with the wrong square footage. So what’s the deal?

It’s helpful to know what’s happening behind the scenes here. Zillow, Trulia, and websites like them are known as real estate syndicators, and they’re commonly used among consumers to search for area listings. The information on websites like these is pulled from a local Multiple Listing Service, or MLS. The MLS is accessed by realtors, and contains all of the necessary data on any given listing, including everything from list prices to noteworthy features of a home to whether the home is listed as active, a closed sale, or any other status. The MLS is hailed as the most accurate real estate resource available, and subscribing to its contents is a costly but worthwhile measure for real estate agents and companies everywhere. So it makes sense for a third party website to be able to take this very accurate information and make it available to the public, right?

Unfortunately, sites like Zillow and Trulia don’t get their information exclusively from the MLS, and even the information that does get pulled from the MLS can become twisted and misrepresented. In addition to the information they receive from the MLS, these websites will also gather information from third party sites like Craigslist, meaning they can host information that has been posted by anyone, regardless of the veracity of the content. It stands to reason that syndicators don’t have the same extensive and strict standards of operation that the MLS does, so its information can often be very misleading with little accountability. In a recent study by the technology-powered brokerage Redfin, it was discovered that approximately 36% of the allegedly active listings on Zillow and Trulia were actually no longer listed for sale on the local MLS. And when the study looked up brokerage-sourced listings on their own websites, the local MLS showed 100% of the listings available, while Zillow and Trulia only showed 79% and 81%, respectively.

Zillow and Trulia are still remarkably popular among home-seekers, and it’s not unlikely that you’ll run across them in your search for a new home. If you’re looking for a more reliable alternative, use the search feature on your local real estate broker’s website, and most of all, never hesitate to call your real estate agent with any questions you may have!

Happy house hunting!