Buying a home or renting an apartment is a big commitment, and not an easy one to make. There are many choices, and between choosing from available homes, real estate agents, and lenders, it can all become quite overwhelming.
One option to help relieve the stress and help you make wise choices is Zillow. Zillow aims to simplify the house hunting process by giving you all the information you need on one site, a task it excels at – mostly.
How It Works
Like many other home buying or apartment hunting websites, Zillow posts sortable listings for homes and apartments for sale and rent throughout the United States. However, Zillow offers more than the typical real estate site.
Homeowners can use the mortgage calculator to estimate their monthly mortgage payment or search through current mortgage rates from dozens of lenders. Renters can search through both apartments and houses for rent. Zillow also offers listings for local real estate agents, articles and guides for homeownership and rentals, and a mobile app for house hunting while on the go.
- Available Listings. Homebuyers can search through real estate agent listings, for sale by owner, and foreclosures. Renters can search a broad network of apartments and houses available for rent. Both search options have filters that allow you to search by price, size, year built, and number of rooms.
- Monthly Payment Calculator. By utilizing the calculator, you can calculate what your monthly payment would be based on the sale price and your down payment amount. There are also filters that account for homeowner’s insurance costs, monthly neighborhood association dues, and private mortgage insurance fees. The calculator defaults to the best interest rates available for those with excellent credit, so if you have less-than-excellent credit, click on “current rate” to change it.
- Current Rates. The “Compare Mortgage Rates and Lenders” feature allows you to filter through lender offerings according to the total purchase price, your estimated down payment, and your credit score. As a result, you’ll get current rates from several different lenders based specifically on your personal needs.
- Advice. Zillow has information on buying a home, mortgage refinancing, and even decorating tips. And with the “Ask a Question” feature, you can ask other community members for advice on topics not covered on the site.
- FAQs. The FAQs allow you to filter your search by other questions posted by members, discussions started by other members, or guides written by Zillow.
- Professional Listings. The site has listings for local real estate agents, mortgage lenders, and professional contractors. Each listing features a profile and may include customer reviews.
- Local Information. The “Local” section contains information on demographics, schools, and homes for sale in any given neighborhood, and even photos of different hotspots around town.
- Mobile App. The Zillow mobile app companion eliminates the need for printing or saving different addresses and information. With the app, you can search while you’re out house hunting, or quickly look up demographic information for a specific neighborhood.
- Recently Sold Properties Comparison. The “Recently Sold” section of Zillow lists the selling price, property information, and photos for recently sold homes in your search area. Looking through the sell price of homes in your neighborhood can help you determine a competitive price to list your own home for sale, or to see what people are paying for homes similar to what you wish to buy.
- Zestimate Feature. The “Zestimate” feature provides you an estimated market value of a home. While the listed amount is only an estimate based on the size of the home and the neighborhood in which it is situated, it is not an appraisal. It does, however, give you an idea of what a particular home is worth.
- Free. Any of the tools on the site can be utilized for free.
- All-in-One House Hunting. Some sites have mortgage calculators, others have listings, and others have advice. Zillow has it all in one place.
- Integrated. When you add your home on your Mint profile, for example, you can link to property value information on Zillow. Having this information easily accessible makes it simpler to calculate total net worth.
- Up-to-Date Homepage. Zillow tracks your location on both the website (based on your IP address) and the mobile app and presents the most pertinent information on the homepage. Having information such as recent listings, current home values, and local advice on one page simplifies the buying or renting process.
- Lacks Some Local Information. Some areas have more complete profiles than others, which takes away from the experience if you’re hunting in under-represented areas. For example, smaller cities, like Belen, New Mexico, have fewer listings and information than larger cities, such as Santa Fe.
- Few Reviews. If you like using customer reviews as a guide, you’ll find Zillow lacking in that department. While Zillow does allow users to submit reviews of professionals, most real estate agents, lenders, and contractors listed on the site do not have any submitted reviews.
- Focuses Mostly on Home Buying. Renters can still use the different listings to find property, but most of the advice on Zillow caters to homeowners and buyers. While I found the different articles a good read, not much was useful to me as a renter.
- Zestimate Feature Doesn’t Provide Concrete Numbers. The Zestimate feature considers factors such as your square footage, and number of bedrooms and bathrooms when calculating your home’s value. It does not account for any home improvements or special features your home has that may set it at a higher value than other residences in your neighborhood. The Zestimate is a good jumping-off point for pricing your home, but you’ll still need help from a real estate agent or property appraiser to get a concrete value.
- Not a Comprehensive Professionals Guide. The real estate agents, mortgage lenders, and home contractors listed on Zillow are not the only professionals available in your area. Many professionals are not listed on Zillow, but are listed on other directories or even in your local Yellow Pages.
With everything Zillow has to offer, you could find the right real estate agent, mortgage lender, and house all from one site. Once you make a purchase, you can continue to keep track of your home’s value through Zillow.
Personally, I think the for sale and for rental listings are the most helpful aspects of Zillow. They’re easy to read, and include clear descriptions and have an abundance of photos. Plus, the “Make Me Move” search filter makes it easy to find great deals on rentals and houses for sale.
However, the site still lacks in a few key areas. Despite its many positive aspects, it will require a bit of growth before Zillow can be considered comprehensive. For now, it shows great potential and can be a great tool to help you find a new house.
Have you used Zillow? What is your favorite feature?