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Opinion Editorials

Zillow’s rocky history with accuracy of Zestimates – algorithm updated

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AVM accuracy always in question

The truth of the matter is that even with modern technology combined with genius mathematicians, coders, economists, hackers, designers and executives, no website can accurately put a price tag on a home. There is no magic robot that can compute an accurate AVM (automated valuation model) of every home in America, but some have taken a shot at it anyhow.

Years ago, real estate search site Zillow.com launched “Zestimates” that attempt to be that magic robot based on a combination of public records. For years, agents disputed Zestimates and offered tangible evidence of drastically incorrect prices assigned to homes, and the price tags were referred to by the industry and even many consumers as being used “for entertainment purposes only” and agents advised web consumers to use it as a starting point, not a CMA.

New tweaks to the algorithm = more accurate?

Over the past years, Zillow has tweaked their algorithm and the median margin of error for Zestimates has gone from a nearly unacceptable number to today’s announcement from Zillow that they have altered the Zestimate algorithm to “more accurately reflect housing market volatility and updated home facts provided by millions of users” bringing accuracy to an 8.5 percent median margin of error. Some would argue that an 8.5 percent margin of error is acceptable and the closest thing to a magic robot possible, while others would argue that if they were wrong nearly ten percent of the time, they would be risking their real estate license.

What an AVM will never be able to do

AVMs are always questioned for their accuracy because they can’t possibly know everything an agent on the ground knows. No website today in existence knows that the local zoning committee will be debating claiming eminent domain for a proposed ball park this fall, nor do websites know that there is a rapist on the loose in the west side and no one wants to move there right now, nor does a website know (as a Realtor does) that the three houses that look to be priced properly but continue to sit on the market are likely doing so because of the massive collection of yard “art” consisting of giant concrete statues, gnomes, cars on blocks, old soda bottles and the like. No website knows that up the street, a new high rise is about to break ground and the rumor is that the deals will be so amazing that an entire neighborhood is sitting still while waiting to see what will happen. No website knows that the house on the end of the cul-de-sac isn’t selling because there was a murder in it last month before going on the market or that the elementary school is on the brink of losing their funding because of missed AYP (adequate yearly progress) benchmarks as required by the No Child Left Behind Act.

You see, robots can’t know what people know because until computers are predictive and psychic and know human emotion and sentiment on an extremely micro level, there will be no such thing as a 100% accurate AVM/Zestimate.

Does Zillow know this? Yes, which is why they continue tweaking and updating their algorithm. Is it a lofty goal to push for consumers to adopt AVMs? Yes, and after a rocky start, Zillow has been fairly realistic and doesn’t claim to be a crystal ball and the terms of accuracy are much more clear on their site than at launch.

The catch 22 of Zestimates

The catch 22 in this scenario is that AVMs based on today’s technology are wildly flawed and at an 8.5 percent median margin of error as one of the most accurate on the market, but consumers now understand what an AVM and most (not all of course) understand that it is not a CMA. Realtors have been on the front line making it clear the difference between an AVM and CMA which has helped. If AVMs were outlawed tomorrow, consumers would be angry and frustrated (and likely blame the evil Realtor empire), so they aren’t going away, therefore we applaud any effort to make AVMs more accurate.

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19 Comments

19 Comments

  1. Rainer

    August 25, 2011 at 7:34 am

    IMO, agents have a margin of error of about 10%. A CMA can be written anyway the agent wants, yo either get the business with a higher value or to get a price reduction with a lower one. How do you value that pool or that extra bedroom versus comps? It's a flat out guess. Appraisers even say theirs is an estimate of value. So, 8.5% is pretty good. 🙂

    • Fred Romano

      August 25, 2011 at 11:43 am

      I agree, I think the Zestimate is not too far off the mark, compared with agents "CMA's" which are inherently flawed in many cases because they want to "get the listing" — so anything goes!

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Opinion Editorials

Strong leaders can use times of crises to improve their company’s future

(EDITORIAL) In the COVID-19 crisis, some leaders fumbled through it, while others quietly safeguarded their company’s future.

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strong leaders

Anthony J. Algmin is the Founder and CEO of Algmin Data Leadership, a company helping business and technology leaders transform their future with data, and author of a new book on data leadership. We asked for his insights on how strong leaders can see their teams, their companies, and their people through this global pandemic (and other crises in the future). The following are his own words:

Managers sometimes forget that the people we lead have lives outside of the office. This is true always but is amplified when a crisis occurs. We need to remember that our job is to serve their teams, to help them be as aligned and productive as possible in the short and long terms.

Crises are exactly when we need to think about what they might be going through, and realize that the partnership we have with our employees is more than a transaction. If we’ve ever asked our people to make sacrifices, like working over a weekend without extra pay, we should be thinking first about how we can support them through the tough times. When we do right by people when they really need it, they will run through walls again for our organizations when things return to normal.

Let them know it’s okay to breathe and talk about it. In a situation like COVID-19 where everything was disrupted and people are adjusting to things like working from home, it is naturally going to be difficult and frustrating.

The best advice is to encourage people to turn off the TV and stop frequently checking the news websites. As fast as news is happening, it will not make a difference in what we can control ourselves. Right now most of us know what our day will look like, and nothing that comes out in the news is going to materially change it. If we avoid the noisy inputs, we’ll be much better able to focus and get our brains to stop spinning on things we can’t control.

And this may be the only time I would advocate for more meetings. If you don’t have at least a daily standup with your team, you should. And encourage everyone to have a video-enabled setup if at all possible. We may not be able to be in the same room, but the sense of engagement with video is much greater than audio-only calls.

We also risk spiraling if we think too much about how our companies are struggling, or if our teams cannot achieve what our organizations need to be successful. It’s like the difference in sports between practice and the big game. Normal times are when leaders game plan, strategize, and work on our fundamentals. Crises are the time to focus and leave it all on the field.

That said, do not fail to observe and note what works well and where you struggle. If you had problems with data quality or inefficient processes before the crisis, you are not fixing them now. Pull out the duct tape and find a way through it. But later, when the crisis subsides, learn from the experience and get better for next time.

Find a hobby. Anything you can do to clear your head and separate work from the other considerations in your life. We may feel like the weight of the world is on our shoulders, and without a pressure release we will not be able to sustain this level of stress and remain as productive as our teams, businesses, and families need us.

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Opinion Editorials

7 sure-fire ways to carve out alone time when you’re working from home

(EDITORIAL) It can be easy to forget about self-care when you’re working from home, but it’s critical for your mental health, and your work quality.

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Woman in hijab sitting on couch, working from home on a laptop

We are all familiar with the syndrome, getting caught up in work, chores, taking care of others, and neglecting to take care of ourselves in the meantime. This has always been the case, but now, with more people working from home and a seemingly endless lineup of chores, thanks to the pandemic. There is simply so much to do.

The line is thinly drawn between personal and professional time already, with emails, cell phones, and devices relentlessly reaching out around the clock, pulling at us like zombie arms reaching up from the grave. Working from home makes this tendency to always be “on” worse, as living and working take place in such close proximity. We have to turn it off, though.

Our brains and bodies need downtime, me-time, and self-care. Carving out this time is one of the kindest and most important things you can do for yourself. If we can begin to honor ourselves like this, the outcome with not only our mental and physical health but also our productivity at work will be beneficial. When we make the time to do things we love, our mind’s gears slow down that constant grinding. Burnout behooves nobody.

Our work will also benefit. Healthier, happier, more well-rested, and well-treated minds and bodies can work wonders! Our immune systems also need this, and we need our immune systems to be at their peak performance this intense season.

I wanted to write this article because I have such a struggle with this in my own life. I need to print it out and put it in my workspace. Last week, I posted something on my social media pages that so many people shared. It is clear we all need these reminders, so I am paying it forward here. The graphic was a quote from Devyn W.

“If you are reading this, release your shoulders away from your ears, unclench your jaw, and drop your tongue from the roof of your mouth.”

There now, isn’t that remarkable? It is a great first step. Let go of the tension in your body, and check out these ways to make yourself some healing me-time while working from home.

  1. Set aside strict no-work times. This could be any time of day, but set the times and adhere to them strictly. This may look like taking a full hour for lunch, not checking email after a certain hour, or committing to spending that time outdoors, reading, exercising, or enjoying the company of your loved ones. Make this a daily routine, because we need these boundaries. Every. Single. Day.
  2. Remember not to apologize to anyone for taking this me-time. Mentally and physically you need this, and everyone will be better off if you do. It is nothing to apologize for! Building these work-free hours into your daily schedule will feel more normal as time goes on. This giving of time and space to your joy, health, and even basic human needs is what should be the norm, not the other way around.
  3. Give yourself a device-free hour or two every day, especially before bedtime. The pinging, dinging, and blinging keep us on edge. Restful sleep is one of the wonderful ways our bodies and brains heal and putting devices away before bedtime is one of the quick tips for getting better sleep.
  4. Of course, make time for the things you absolutely love. If this is a hot bath, getting a massage, reading books, working out, cooking or eating an extravagant meal, or talking and laughing with a loved one, you have to find a way to get this serotonin boost!
  5. Use the sunshine shortcut. It isn’t a cure-all, but sunlight and Vitamin D are mood boosters. At least when it’s not 107 degrees, like in a Texas summer. But as a general rule, taking in at least a good 10-15 minutes of that sweet, sweet Vitamin D provided by the sun is good for us.
  6. Spend time with animals! Walk your dog, shake that feathery thing at your cat, or snuggle either one. Whatever animals make you smile, spend time with them. If you don’t have pets of your own, you could volunteer to walk them at a local shelter or even watch a cute animal video online. They are shown to reduce stress. Best case scenario is in person if you are able, but thankfully the internet is bursting with adorable animal videos, as a backup.
  7. Give in to a bit of planning or daydreaming about a big future trip. Spending time looking at all the places you will go in the future and even plotting out an itinerary are usually excellent mood-boosters.

I hope we can all improve our lives while working from home by making time for regenerating, healing, and having fun! Gotta run—the sun is out, and my dog is begging for a walk.

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Opinion Editorials

The one easy job interview question that often trips up applicants

(EDITORIAL) The easiest interview questions can be the hardest to answer, don’t let this one trip you up – come prepared!

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Women sitting nervously representing waiting for a remote job interview.

A job interview is tough, and preparing for them can seem impossible. There are some questions you can expect: what is your experience in this position? How would you handle this situation? And so on.

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But what about this question: what makes you happy? Though it may seem straightforward, getting to the right answer is not such an easy path.

Work engagement

According to research, less and less employees feel like they are truly engaged at work. Some blame the work environment but truth be told, it is not a company’s responsibility to make you happy.

Without a passion for what you are doing, you will never enjoy the job.

It is the best case for everyone. More engaged workers are more productive in addition to feeling like they serve a purpose.

Do your due diligence

So before finding yourself in an interview where you have to take an awkward pause before answering this question, the best thing is to do some research. It all starts with the job search.

When looking for a job it is easy to get caught up in high profile company names and perks.

For instance, although “Social Media Coordinator” may not be your thing, the position is open at the cool advertising agency downtown. Or perhaps the company offers flexible hours and free lunch Fridays. The problem is that these perks aren’t worth it in the long run. Working for a cool company can be exciting at first, but it is not sustainable without passion for the position.

It’s important to pay attention to is the position you are applying for.

Is this work that you are passionate about? Take a look at the job responsibilities and functions. Besides figuring out if those are things that you can do, ask yourself if they are things that you want to do. Is this an opportunity that will match your strengths and give you purpose?

Let your passion protrude

With all things considered, when asked “what makes you happy” at the next interview, you will be able to answer honestly. Your passion will be apparent without having to put on an act.

Even if they don’t ask that question, there is no downside to knowing what makes you happy.

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