Zillow: My Favorite New Software-as-a-Service Application

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If there’s a better way to introduce me to a new software as a service offering than by informing me that my loft is worth a hundred grand more than what I paid for it last spring, I don’t know what it would be. But that’s exactly what Zillow did yesterday evening when I checked it out via Digg. Unsurpringsly, Zillow is my favorite new Software-as-a-Service application. Ever.

But even setting aside the fact that the amount is likely off by a fair amount [1] – Nicholas Carr says Zillow was out of date for his place, and in truth Zillow’s sq footage for my establishment was off by a hundred feet or so – this is a remarkable new service.

Not so much because of the interface, which is slick and capable, if not truly groundbreaking in a Google Maps fashion. What’s truly compelling about the application from the founders of Expedia, rather, is the degree to which is renders transparent something historically very private. Want to know what your friends house is worth? Look it up. Interested in seeing how much your friends’ parents paid for their new McMansion? Odds are, it’s in there. By opening up data that was previously ministered only by the high priesthood of realtors, Zillow has in one fell swoop changed the landscape of what’s public and what’s private.

Besides the privacy angle, which is likely to concern many, the other salient point worth calling out is the impact it has on existing businesses, i.e. realtors. In the PI piece linked to below, Zillow’s competitors are already going out of their way to FUD the service, calling it a “Wal-Mart entering the territory of a small retailer.” And undoubtedly there is some truth to that; portions of what Zillow provides would have been difficult, if not impossible, to extract without the services of a professional realtor. In that respect, Zillow is all about paying attention to the man behind the curtain.

Zillow may be, however, but one example of what can occur once previously disparate or closely held data stores are integrated with other relevant data. The resultant recombined data feeds might be lethal to those who prey on customer ignorance, but a real boon for businesses that can leverage and differentiate off the data.

In any event, I suggest you give Zillow a look if you haven’t already.

[1] The Seattle PI does mention, however, that the Denver market is particularly data rich and therefore off by less than 5 percent on average.


  1. I just want to point out that a lot of this data is already publically available. For instance, here's the sale history for my house http://www.co.douglas.nv.us/databases/assessors/m…. I don't mind pointing it out, because anybody with my address can look it up themselves.

    Where Zillow wins is that it makes the data more accessible. For instance if zillow sold the rights to query their database, it would be boon for marketeers who are trying to hit a specific segment of the market.

  2. steve- it wouldn't be your favorite SaaS if you still lived here in Maine. I got this "We do not have home data for this state, but we hope to in the future. Please check back!" oh well, the price for being off the mainstream… 🙂 -brenda

  3. Several services like this have popped up in the UK over the last year or so (e.g. http://www.nethouseprices.com). They don't do the mapping integration but will tell you what any given property sold for. The government captures the price at which every property changes hands for (and has done for years)…. and they've finally realised there is money to be made by selling the data to sites such as nethouseprices. It has completely changed the dynamic of flat/house-hunting.

    One interesting consequence is that I've found estate agents considerably less willing to give out the full postal code of a property before you visit it with them. Of course, it's still easy to find but they're no longer prepared to make it trivial 🙂

  4. I have a friend that is a home apprasier and he's been comparing his appraised value for homes to Zillow's numbers. All of them so far have been within $100 – even if they are in Denver. Needless to say he is pretty impressed.

  5. FWIW, the data for my house is about 20% below an appraisal I just had done and the floor space is likewise a bit low, but not bad overall.

    The whole issue of what used to be "privacy by obscurity" really hasn't been resolved yet. Whether for this sort of information or the arguably more sensitive types of things uncovered by rapsheets and the like, I don't think that we as a society have really come to grips with the fact that a lot of legally public information can increasingly be accessed by a few keystrokes rather than physically visiting a dusty old office.

  6. If you checked out Zillow and weren’t happy with their tax assessed “zestimates” check out http://www.HomePriceMaps.com

    HomePriceMaps.com integrates Home Sale prices pulled from public records with google maps.

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