Zillow vs Appraiser Part IV

Zillow vs The Coyle Group, Part IV

It’s been a pretty busy 2015 and I really haven’t had much time to blog. However, this is probably my favorite post to write each year. Since 2011, we’ve had a little contest between Zillow and The Coyle Group (see prior years). We randomly select a number of appraisals recently completed by our office and see how our appraisal values match up against Zillow’s Zestimates. This year we chose 16 properties across Philadelphia, Montgomery County, Bucks County, Delaware County and Chester County. Housing styles ranged from Roxborough rows to Center City condos flats to Main Line mansions.

Below is a chart of the results. The first column shows where the property is located, the second The Coyle Group’s appraised value and the third Zillow’s Zestimate. The last column shows how high or low Zillow was relative to our appraised values.

The Coyle Group - Zillow 2015

Once again, the results are pretty astonishing. Now, Zillow was pretty accurate on the Ambler Golf Community home; and the Merion Station Tudor was right on target. I’ll even concede that the Center City Condo was in range as well.  But when Zillow is off, it tends to be way off! For instance, with the Parkwood Row in Northeast Philly, Zillow understated the value by 34.62%. That’s a big miss considering how “data rich” the Northeast is. Also, it just so happens that this property is currently active for $190,000.  Zillow missed that little fact.  This is where having a human being analyze the market data is so important.

Another interesting example is the Wyndmoor Colonial. This property was over valued by more than 22%.  You see, what Zillow didn’t know was that this property was in original condition.  Original kitchen, baths, fixtures, shag carpeting, wallpaper, etc.  It was like stepping back into the 1960’s.  Again, this is where having a certified appraiser physically inspect the property really matters. Algorithms don’t differentiate between “Brady Bunch chic” and a knocked-out kitchen with granite and high-end stainless appliances.

It just so happened that only four of the sample properties were under stated by Zillow.   Granted, is a very small sample but, on average the Zestimates were under the appraised value by 22.98%. This is important to consider. If you are a homeowner selling your property and relied on a Zestimate to price your home, you could potentially under-price your house and leave some serious money on the table.

The other twelve value samples are all over-stated by an average of 8.83%. As a seller, if you over price your home in a competitive market, buyers will pass you by in favor of more competitively priced homes. Eventually, you’ll probably have to lower your price and run the risk of losing buyers that may have otherwise been very interested in your home.

Philadelphia and the surrounding markets are so nuanced that computers and algorithms can’t accurately take into account all of the individual market factors. For instance, things like specific location can’t be accounted for by Zillow. If your home is next to a garbage dump Zillow will look at it the same as if it were next to a park. As pointed out above, Zillow also has trouble factoring condition and updates into their Zestimates, as well. As of right now, there is no technology that beats having a knowledgeable appraiser to determine an accurate value on a property. Granted, the technology is getting better, quickly but it’s still not as reliable.

Don’t get me wrong, Zillow has it’s place. It’s great for gathering information on neighborhoods and general market trends. It’s comparative tools and graphs are very useful.  Zillow is a good place to start.  However, in the end, Zillow’s Zestimates are not appraisals at all and should not be relied on as such. If you need assistance in pricing a property, I suggest getting some input from a from a good local agent or a certified appraiser and passing on Zillow.
The Coyle Group’s team of Philadelphia appraisers are a leading provider of appraisals for Estate/Probate, Divorce, Bankruptcy, Tax Appeal and Pre-Listing. If you need a guest speaker at your next sales meeting, please give us a call. We would welcome to opportunity to speak to your group and field any appraisal related questions you may have. For more information please visit our website at www.TheCoyleGroupLLC.com You can also contact The Coyle Group at 215-836-5500 or appraisals@coyleappraisals.com


Philadelphia Trends thru July 2012

Now that Summer is coming to an end, we can begin to take a look back to see just how the Philadelphia Single Family and Condo market fared.  Below is a chart comparing year over year activity in Philadelphia for July 2011 and July 2012.  Based strictly on the numbers, the overall Philadelphia market appears to be improving, albeit in very small increments.  On a neighborhood by neighborhood basis, the trends may differ.

Let me know if this is what you see in your markets.

Click on the chart for an enlarged view (you may have to click on it twice).


 * Data provided by TReND MLS




HELP! My Condo Shrank!

Last week, while looking at condo in Center City, the owner showed me a copy of her tax record which indicated that square footage of her unit was 3,155SF.  She was concerned because a previous appraisal stated that the unit was 2,678SF.  In her mind she was sold (and was paying taxes on) a unit that was 3,155SF.

As I measured the unit, I showed her my measurements and made the calculations in front of her.  I came up with 2,698SF, which supported the numbers from the first appraisal.

Then why did the developer, the agent who sold them the unit and the tax records all say that their unit was 3,155SF?  The answer is pretty simple. 

When calculating a unit’s square footage, developers and architects will typically include areas taken from the approximate centers exterior walls to the approximate centers of interior demising walls.  They will also include portions of perimeter walls, ducts, chases, beams and other concealed areas contained within the boundaries of the unit.  This can really add up, especially if the exterior walls are 1’ to 2’ thick like some of the older condo conversions in Philly.  To perpetuate the problem, the tax assessors will typically get the square footage for a unit from the developer or architect’s plans.

Appraisers tend to measure condo units from interior wall to interior wall.  We look at “useable interior living space”.  If you can’t stand on it, it’s generally not included in the Gross Living Area (GLA).  This method is consistent with guidelines published by Fannie Mae.

This can really pose a problem for appraisers when making comparisons to other units.  Often, we have to rely on the public records, condo plans or a developer’s website when researching comparable units.  Who is to say that the GLA reported in the records is representative of the unit’s “useable living space” or if it includes portions of exterior walls?  This is why it is so important for appraisers to know their market, intimately.  It is just as important for the appraiser to clearly explain and reconcile the inconsistencies in GLA; and make an adjustment when necessary and deemed reflective of the market.

This is also something that agents must be aware of, as well.  Make sure you educate your clients about possible discrepancies in reported square footage.  If your client thinks he’s buying a 1,200SF unit, you better be sure that’s what you’re selling.  The number one reason that agents are sued these days is for misrepresenting the size of the property.  If you’re not 100% sure that the square footage is correct, measure it yourself or hire an appraiser to measure it for you.

How would you feel if you paid around $1.5MM for a condo only to realize that its 457SF smaller than you were told?  What’s the big deal you might ask, it’s only 457SF?   Well, that’s a  21′ x 22′ room.   Assuming that at 3,155SF the price per square foot is $475/SF…that missing living space cost them approximately $217,075!   That’s another reason why using price fer square foot (the go-to method for many agents and developers when pricing units) is not a valid technique for valuing condos but, that’s a discussion for another day.


Zillow vs Appraiser

It seems that Zillow is every nervous homeowner’s best friend (and in some cases their worst enemy). Hardly a week goes by that I don’t hear “Zillow told me my home is worth (fill in the blank).” 

The Zestimates that homeowners often present to appraisers can produce some interesting (and misleading) results.  So much so, that I thought we could do a comparison of 12 randomly selected appraisals that were completed by our office and match them up against their Zillow Zestimates.  Keep in mind that the appraisals have the benefit of a full property inspection by a human being.   Zillow uses public records and complex algorithms.  Here are the results. 

Lafayette Hill house Appraisal: $600,000 Zillow: $529,000


Oreland house Appraisal: $230,000 Zillow: $209,500


Gladwyne house Appraisal: $585,000 Zillow: $633,500


Roxboro twin Appraisal: $206,000 Zillow: $186,300


Conshohocken house Appraisal: $350,000 Zillow: $279,600


Blue Bell house Appraisal: $335,000 Zillow: $314,900


Chestnut Hill twin Appraisal: $300,000 Zillow: $334,200


East Falls twin Appraisal: $411,000 Zillow: $427,100


Center City condo Appraisal: $755,000 Zillow: $634,200


Penn Valley house Appraisal: $585,000 Zillow: $561,000


Rittenhouse Square townhouse Appraisal: $1,900,000 Zillow: $898,700


Chester Springs home Appraisal: $1,000,000 Zillow: $871,700


As you can see there are some pretty significant deviations between the appraised value and the Zillow Zestimate.  In one case, Zillow was off by more than 111% (this seems like a fluke) but, in other examples as close as 3.77% (not bad!).

Bottom line, Zillow is a tool…a starting point.  It’s wonderful for neighborhood data, graphs and general sales information.  It’s probably not the best place if you’re looking for assistance with making definitive decision.

If you have any real estate appraisal related questions, please feel free to contact us…215.836.5500 or appraisals@coyleappraisals.com