Not every real estate broker in the West Penn MLS sends their data to Zillow and Trulia. (For the rest of this article, when I use the word "Zillow," I mean both Zillow and Trulia. After all, they are one and the same company.) In fact for years, a large Pittsburgh-based real estate firm didn't even share its data with Zillow. Throughout the United States, various real estate brokers continue to struggle with Zillow and the situation is fluid on a nationwide scale. Many small brokers and some large brokers don't share their data with Zillow.
On the other hand, the firms that comprise the West Penn Multi-List share virtually all their listings with each other (through a contract called Internet Data Exchange or "IDX"). Thanks to the IDX agreement between broker-members of the West Penn Multi-List, local home buyers are assured to receive the most accurate, current and thorough data - bar none. And where can you find such high-quality data? AchieveRealty.net, for starters. Also, every other local broker-member of the West Penn Multi-List has the data too. But not Zillow.
Since the West Penn MLS doesn't share their data with Zillow, they have a major problem keeping their data accurate. As a result, the data on Zillow can be old - presenting listings that are already "under contract" or sold; or failure to reflect changes in listing prices. There's nothing worse than conducting an exhaustive online search, and finding the perfect house - only to find out that the house closed two weeks ago. We hear stories like this all the time.
Over the years, our listing clients have complained bitterly about the quality of their data on Zillow. We even went so far as to provide Zillow with a data feed of our listings. But they couldn't ever get that data right. After I repeatedly complained to Zillow, they are decidedly unable (and seemingly unconcerned) about solving this problem. I finally gave up on trying to get them to accurately display our listing information.
And then it occurred to me: Zillow truly doesn't care about getting the data right.
Complete and accurate data don't matter to Zillow because they don't sell houses. Instead, they sell buyer and seller leads to realtors. When you search Zillow and you see a real estate agent's photo, just remember that the agent paid huge money to appear on Zillow. Zillow, in turn, spends that money for Google adwords to keep web-surfers coming back to their site. In theory, the money Zillow makes from the real estate agents should exceed the money Zillow spends for the Google adwords and the technical expertise to keep the site running and visible on top of every Google real estate search page in every local market in the United States. So far, that hasn't worked so well. Zillow hasn't yet turned a profit.
To Zillow, the data has to be just good enough to keep consumers coming back for more. They have an attractive website and app; they hire economists to write insightful articles; the local real estate agents' headshots are there. All these things enhance the apparent credibility of Zillow. And let's face it, many of us trust information we see on the internet more than we trust information from individuals, like real estate agents. Unfortunately, Zillow's site doesn't include a disclaimer to warn consumers about its shortfalls. But these shortfalls render Zillow little more than a form of entertainment, not unlike a video game.
The West Penn Multi-List does share and regularly sync its data with Realtor.com.
Bottom line: if you want to get the most up-to-date, comprehensive and accurate listing information, choose Realtor.com or choose a local site like AchieveRealty.net. The big difference is that our local website is going to provide you with more local, more detailed "insider" information and introduce you to our highly qualified agents. So now you understand why you should leave Zillow to the folks who like searching for homes as a hobby.