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.
December 7, 2012 at 12:25 pm
December 7, 2012 at 12:59 pm
@AgentSteph Thanks for the love Steph.
December 7, 2012 at 12:26 pm
Couldn’t agree more.
December 7, 2012 at 1:03 pm
@StevePeeleII Thanks for the Cincinnati support Steve.
December 7, 2012 at 12:26 pm
Couldn’t agree more.
December 7, 2012 at 12:39 pm
Hear here !
December 7, 2012 at 1:04 pm
@RichardDeVita Thanks for the shout from FL Richard
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.
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.
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.
December 7, 2012 at 3:26 pm
@MattThomson thanks for reading and taking the time to comment Matt
December 7, 2012 at 10:07 pm
@micheleserro hey, thanks for the love
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.
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
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…
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
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.
Etobicoke Real Estate Specialist
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.
December 10, 2012 at 9:55 am
@acummings @Chris_Smth RIGHT ON!
December 10, 2012 at 10:15 am
@Chris_Smth thanks for the mention Chris
December 10, 2012 at 11:48 am
@lauramonroe heck some real estate pros cam’t even do the job of a real estate pro
December 10, 2012 at 12:30 pm
December 10, 2012 at 6:31 pm
@TBoard @LauraMonroe thanks for reading Teresa and Laura
December 10, 2012 at 3:00 pm
@narREach @Chris_Smth what great timing for this article. RenterLobby embraces this theory! Launch 2013.
December 10, 2012 at 6:26 pm
@GuaranteedRate thanks for putting this out
December 11, 2012 at 5:13 am
@FischRealEstate You’re welcome!
December 10, 2012 at 6:29 pm
@BrandonLCohen thanks Brandon
December 10, 2012 at 8:10 pm
@FischRealEstate thank you!
December 10, 2012 at 8:01 pm
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” 🙂
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?
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 🙂
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
December 27, 2012 at 5:42 pm
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.
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June 15, 2021 at 5:26 pm
Great article. I miss Joe.