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Unzillowable: why technology still can’t do the job of a real estate pro

Years ago, the term “unzillowable” was coined, and many startups and algorithms have launched since then,but have yet to supplant real estate professionals.

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The “unzillowable” factors of a home

Back in 2006, Joseph Ferrara coined the term “unzillowable.” It represents all of those things about real estate that a piece of software and an algorithm can never capture or consider – traffic noise, smells, the fact your neighbors have a 1963 pickup with no doors up on blocks in the front yard, the cat that persistently jumps the fence to take a dump in your plants, the street light that brutally shines into the master bedroom window. The list is endless.

Fast forward to 2012. While technology has greatly improved the way we communicate and transact real estate, it has yet to substitute the unzillowable aspects of houses, neighborhoods, and lifestyle with a piece of software.

It’s not to say that it hasn’t been attempted. Pricing estimates are better, but only slightly. The technology space is in a rush to commoditize, package, and resell lifestyle. Yet still no score, rating, or website has been able to replace the experience of actually being somewhere.

This truly excites me. Not because I fear technology, but because I love real estate and the intangible things that distinguish a house from a home. To me, the unzillowable is what makes a collection of homes into a community.

The unzillowable makes a collection of homes into a community

See, the traffic noise doesn’t personally bother me, it’s quite soothing. It means I’m home, and I swear I can smell the barbecue smoke from Railhead every time I hit I-30 going east. The smell of slow cooked brisket slices through the city air like sweet perfume.

The A.M. radio still works in that 1963 Chevy next door. Every October, we sit around it and listen to the World Series with a few of our friends. The neighborhood cat sits shotgun and that street light shining in my bedroom gives off just enough light for us to see each other. It never bothered me anyway. I put curtains up.

Rest easy, blogosphere of yesteryear. Technology continues to help us do our job better, but the AVM has not replaced the agent, and a website will never define what it means to live somewhere. A neighborhood is made up of a collection of subjective stories that transcend physical location and time anyway. Communities still have their secrets. It’s a beautiful thing, if you ask me.

Greg is the principal owner of Fischer Real Estate Services, a Fort Worth firm specializing in customer value and community enrichment. He's also an MBA at TCU, and a proud member of the Naval Reserves. In his spare time - he sleeps.

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36 Comments

36 Comments

  1. AgentSteph

    December 7, 2012 at 12:25 pm

    Right on.

    • Greg Fischer

      December 7, 2012 at 12:59 pm

      @AgentSteph Thanks for the love Steph.

  2. StevePeeleII

    December 7, 2012 at 12:26 pm

    Couldn’t agree more.

    • Greg Fischer

      December 7, 2012 at 1:03 pm

      @StevePeeleII Thanks for the Cincinnati support Steve.

  3. StevePeeleII

    December 7, 2012 at 12:26 pm

    Couldn’t agree more.

  4. RichardDeVita

    December 7, 2012 at 12:39 pm

    Hear here !

    • Greg Fischer

      December 7, 2012 at 1:04 pm

      @RichardDeVita Thanks for the shout from FL Richard

      • RichardDeVita

        December 7, 2012 at 1:41 pm

        @Greg Fischer my pleasure. Well written, hits the nail on the head. Technology is great, we all use it, but, you cannot replace the boots on the ground local knowledge acquired by spending time in a particular neighborhood.

  5. MattThomson

    December 7, 2012 at 1:43 pm

    Just over 30% of my business this year is from buyers relocating from out of the state (or country). It’s fascinating how much they can learn using the Internet (Google street view, AVM’s, forums, neighborhood Facebook pages). Yet everyone of them is happy to have those tools and truly grateful to have my perspectives. That cute bridge over the lagoon on Google Maps? Yep, it’s tidal so 12hrs a day it’s not a lagoon, it’s a mud pit.  And the bridge…those aren’t Christmas lights, they’re brake lights ’cause it’s bumper to bumper 2x a day.
    My clients’ access to technology makes their job and my job much easier. Facetime and Skype allow me to walk through a home with my tablet while they’re 1000’s of miles away and they can really grasp the floor plan, but it’s me showing them how the floors upstairs all squeak or how off the master deck there’s a great view of the water that the agent forgot to put a picture of.
    Technology is great. It helps the client and the agent. Doesn’t replace us.
    The agent who uses technology WILL replace the agent who doesn’t, however.

    • Greg Fischer

      December 8, 2012 at 2:39 pm

      @MattThomson excellent points Matt. Technology really helps all of us do a better job. I hope agents stop being scared of it and instead embrace and harness it for its true potential. I also, love all of the low-tech and no-tech opportunities we encounter as real estate pros.

  6. FischRealEstate

    December 7, 2012 at 3:26 pm

    @MattThomson thanks for reading and taking the time to comment Matt

  7. FischRealEstate

    December 7, 2012 at 10:07 pm

    @micheleserro hey, thanks for the love

  8. RobertaMurphy

    December 7, 2012 at 10:29 pm

    And it is up to us, as agents, to make our listings and neighborhoods unzillowable. We present them and live them as no technology can.  But through technology, we try–in a way that Zillow cannot.

    • Greg Fischer

      December 8, 2012 at 2:42 pm

      @RobertaMurphy we are neighborhood ambassadors, and it’s also our job to help clients find their best fit. Technology helps us do this, but ultimately we are all such different people, leading very different lives, and therefore have different experiences in our environments. That’s the wonderful thing about real estate. Your experience as my neighbor might be totally different from mine, and I think that’s pretty cool

  9. Mark Brian

    December 8, 2012 at 11:47 am

    Perfect example of unzillowable: Former client emails today about how the zestimate has risen on his home. However the algorithm does not drive over the bridge just around the corner from this property everyday. The algorithm does not know that due to the drought that lake levels have dropped and this “lakefront” home is now about a quarter mile from the water…

    • Greg Fischer

      December 8, 2012 at 2:43 pm

      @Mark Brian we saw some issues with this in northwest Fort Worth over the last couple of years. It’s unfortunate for the land owners, but agree – very important for potential buyers to understand the ramifications of it. An expert insight on your part

  10. davidpylyp1

    December 8, 2012 at 1:14 pm

    With all the listings available to be seen, we are vital to sit through the application and interpretation of all that RAW DATA>   You need to understand what the market barometer is; Buyers or Sellers Market and the Temperature of that Listing  Is it Hot or Cold.   Other wise you never pull the trigger fast enough  or struggle to negotiate with Listings that are over priced and don’t get it.
     
    I welcome the new changes   I’m able to provide outside the Box solutions.  Its the Results that Matter.
     
    David Pylyp
    Etobicoke Real Estate Specialist

    • Greg Fischer

      December 8, 2012 at 2:48 pm

      @davidpylyp1 David, some of the neighborhood nuances are so fascinating here. We are talking about block by block major differentiators based on a variety of factors. Proximity to the interstate, school, east of a certain North/South thru street can all have major impacts on the listings ability to sell quickly. The interesting thing is, these nuances are positive for some, and negative for others.

  11. SilverySage

    December 10, 2012 at 9:55 am

    @acummings @Chris_Smth RIGHT ON!

  12. FischRealEstate

    December 10, 2012 at 10:15 am

    @Chris_Smth thanks for the mention Chris

  13. TBoard

    December 10, 2012 at 11:48 am

    @lauramonroe heck some real estate pros cam’t even do the job of a real estate pro

    • LauraMonroe

      December 10, 2012 at 12:30 pm

      @TBoard 🙂

    • FischRealEstate

      December 10, 2012 at 6:31 pm

      @TBoard @LauraMonroe thanks for reading Teresa and Laura

  14. RenterLobby

    December 10, 2012 at 3:00 pm

    @narREach @Chris_Smth what great timing for this article. RenterLobby embraces this theory! Launch 2013.

  15. FischRealEstate

    December 10, 2012 at 6:26 pm

    @GuaranteedRate thanks for putting this out

    • GuaranteedRate

      December 11, 2012 at 5:13 am

      @FischRealEstate You’re welcome!

  16. FischRealEstate

    December 10, 2012 at 6:29 pm

    @BrandonLCohen thanks Brandon

    • BrandonLCohen

      December 10, 2012 at 8:10 pm

      @FischRealEstate thank you!

  17. Roslynw0ztrdge0

    December 10, 2012 at 8:01 pm

    @BucksCtyRealtor https://t.co/UYEt5qDg

  18. Brian Hickey

    December 11, 2012 at 10:51 am

    Chicken or the egg?  Aren’t the things that are discovered to be “unzillowable” only evident after being “Zillowed” 🙂

    • Greg Fischer

      December 11, 2012 at 11:17 am

      @Brian Hickey Brian, I believe not. In my article I describe a few items that people claimed were unzillowable in 2006, things like traffic noise which they claimed couldn’t be considered in an AVM. I took this slant to be a slightly negative one, and so I went on to describe how traffic noise was not a negative item to me, along with some of the other factors, which were actually things I loved about the neighborhood. If we all experience the same neighborhood in different ways, how can we possibly capture the experience in software?

      • Brian Hickey

        December 11, 2012 at 12:16 pm

        @Greg Fischer  @Brian Hickey Greg,
        I understand your position in your great article and share your thoughts.  My point was simply to bring up the fact (what, some 30+million people visit Zillow each month?) that in order to get to the physical attributes of housing a whole bunch of people start at Z, T, R, RE.com etc. (as an example).
         
        No negativity here……….just twisting, turning and trying to provoke some thought 🙂
         
        Thanks,

  19. Joe Loomer

    December 17, 2012 at 10:39 am

    I loved this post, Greg.  Reminds me of how I typically take buyers off the beaten track to point out the things I love about my own community – pointing out dog parks, sports complexes, museums, libraries, parks, best places to eat, etc….  I consider it part of our agent credo to be an ambassador for our towns. 
     
    Navy Chief, Navy Pride

  20. Tommy Unger

    February 23, 2015 at 1:22 pm

    It’s not even about “secrets”. It’s merely the fact there are many more factors (or, more precisely, combinations of factors) than there are homes for sale. I’ve worked at Zillow and Redfin and I completely share your sentiments.

  21. Pingback: How Much Is My House Worth? A Road Map To True Market Value - PropertyCashMoney

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Opinion Editorials

How to turn your complaint mindset into constructive actions

(EDITORIAL) Everybody knows someone who complains too much. While being open is important for mental health, constant bellyaching is not.

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Everybody knows someone who complains too much. While being open is important for mental health, constant bellyaching is not, so here are a few tips on turning your complaints into constructive actions.

It’s important to understand the difference between “complaining” and “addressing.” Talking about problems which mandate discussion, bringing up issues slated to cause larger issues down the line, and letting your boss know that you have the sniffles all fall into the latter category due to necessity; complaining is volitional, self-serving, and completely unnecessary in most contexts.

Complaining also puts you in an excessively bad mood, which may prevent you from acknowledging all the reasons you have not to complain.

Another point to keep in mind is that complaining occasionally (and briefly) isn’t usually cause for ostracization. Constant or extensive complaining, however, can lead others to view you as a largely negative, self-centered person — you know, the kind of person literally no one actively seeks out — which is why you should focus more on redirecting that negative energy rather than using it to remind your barista why they gave up their dream of becoming a therapist.

Complaining stems from two main sources: the need to be validated—for example, for others to know what you’re going through—and the need to be comforted. Addressing a chronic complaint mindset, then, is largely about validating and comforting yourself. This is a simple solution which nevertheless can take years to manifest properly, but you can start by doing a couple of things differently.

“Focus on the positive” is perhaps the hokiest advice you’ll get from anyone, but it works. In virtually any situation, you can find a positive aspect—be it an eventual outcome or an auxiliary side-effect—on which you can concentrate. Think about the positive enough, and you’ll talk yourself out of complaining before you’ve even started.

It’s also good to remember that no one, no matter how much they care about you, can handle constant negativity. If you find yourself constantly hitting people with bad news or tragic personal updates, try mixing up the dialogue with some positive stuff. That’s not to say that you can’t be honest with people—friends, family, and colleagues all deserve to know what’s going on in your life—but make sure that you aren’t oversaturating your listeners with sadness.

Lastly, keep your complaining off of social media. It’s all too easy to post a long Facebook rant about being served cold pizza (no one likes cold pizza on day one), but this just results in your loding a complaint reaching a larger number of people than vocalization ever could. If you have to complain about something in earnest, avoid doing it anywhere on the Internet—your future self will thank you.

Being honest about how you feel is never a bad thing, but constant negativity will bring down you and everyone around you. If you can avoid a complaint mindset as a general rule, you’ll one day find that you have significantly less to complain about.

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Opinion Editorials

What Musk’s tweets say about toxicity of modern work culture

(EDITORIAL) Musk is an inspiring figure, but his recent tweets speak volumes of what’s wrong with work culture, especially in tech.

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Oh, Elon. Haven’t you learned yet? No? Your beautiful, sweet, brilliant mind. I don’t know whether you need a hug or a stern talking to — maybe both — after your crazy, erratic tweets, but Elon Musk’s Crazy Tweet of the Week™ shows a huge problem growing in the tech industry and modern work culture.

In case if you missed it, here’s what went down:

1. On Sunday, the WSJ wrote that Tesla is the “hot spot” of young job seekers and engineers, in spite of or even because of Musk.

2. Par for the course, Musk responded on Twitter with the following comments:

3. Twitter exploded with replies such as these:

If anything, this opens a discussion on a toxic tech — and honestly, American — work culture. But we’ve written about that. It seems like we’re slowly learning that 40 hour workweeks are often okay, and here’s why:

Elon isn’t normal and we shouldn’t compare ourselves.

The thing is, Musk does get more done in the average workweek than a normal person. But this is because he’s brilliant and has figured out ways to beat the system, and he has a million different ideas that other people are implementing. Elon shouldn’t compare himself to the average person, because, well, he isn’t. It’s clear he’s brilliant (and knows it), so we shouldn’t compare ourselves to him, either.

Something we can take from him: learning to automate the remedial tasks and spending our time to maximize efficiency and not waste time. And for the average person, that probably means getting a good night’s sleep or eating well (that means not just drinking Soylent. Looking at you, developers!) so you can actually be effective the next day at work or with your loved ones.

Improve your efficiency.

Are there productivity tools that you haven’t been using that you can? Are you tracking your time and how you’re spending it? If you’re an entrepreneur, or better yet, solopreneur, are there small tasks that take a lot of time that you can do better, faster, stronger? If you need some ideas, check out the years of tips accumulated here on AG.

Elon knows where his strengths don’t lie, and he has a lot of people doing those jobs. So take some of the things he does, but take it with a grain of salt. But unlike Musk, treat your employees well, don’t burn them out, and empower them to do the tasks you don’t do as well.

Most “average” humans have normal responsibilities: families, maintaining a healthy lifestyle (this means sleeping well, eating well, and exercising), and maintaining balance with other interests that make us better employees, bosses, and entrepreneurs. Remember: you’re a human being, not just a worker bee. Don’t let Elon’s Tweetstorms lead you astray.

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Opinion Editorials

How to crush your next remote job interview

(OPINION EDITORIAL) Working remotely is becoming more and more popular. Learn how to excel during a remote job interview.

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As the career landscape continues to change, so does the way in which we interview. With an increase in remote workers, there is also an increase in video interviews.

What immediately comes to mind for me was three years ago when I had a video interview with the fabulous COO of The American Genius. Since the company is based out of Austin, and I’m in Chicago, we had a video chat to see if I’d be a good fit for the company.

While it took some of the pressure off being able to be in my own home for the interview, there was definitely the con of…being in my own home for the interview. Fear of any noise or interruption posed as a slight distraction.

Like an in person interview, there are some pressures that go along with a video interview. The main one being that you need to sell yourself as an extremely responsible individual who can handle the freedoms and rigors of remote work.

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This can be done through use of time trackers and proactive reporting. Keeping track of each task you do, and the time spent doing it, will provide something tangible for your employer. Be sure to explain during the interview that this is something you will provide to the employer.

Next, because there is a change in environment, and arguably a change in responsibility level, the questions asked during the interview may be different from your standard interview.

A few questions that may pop up to keep in mind: what hours will you be working? What is your remote experience like? Is this something you’re seeking for supplemental work, or trying to do full-time? What is your home workspace like? What tools do you use to keep yourself on task? What is your preferred method of payment?

In turn, there are some questions you should be prepared to ask, as in any other interview. For example: What would a typical day look like if we were working together in-house? Do you offer advancement opportunities? How many of your team members work remotely and how do we all stay in contact?

Working remotely can be a whole different beast in terms of proving yourself to your employer. Having yourself fully prepared for an interview can help start you off on the right foot.

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