Zillow Review: Pros, Cons, and More | The Ascent by Motley Fool (2022)

Bottom line: Zillow lets you buy, sell, or rent a home; find a real estate agent; and search mortgage options, all in one place. If you only use one real estate app, you can't go wrong with Zillow, whether you're a seasoned real estate buyer or searching for your first home.

At a glance

What is Zillow and how does it work?

Zillow is a full-featured real estate app for anyone looking to buy, rent, or sell a home. From the search tab, you can browse millions of homes and apartments for sale or rent, using robust search filters to narrow your results.

Listings can include everything from 3D walk-throughs to publicly available tax information. If you find a home for sale or rent that catches your eye, you can contact the owner or listing agent from the app. When you're ready to work with an agent to buy or sell your home, you can use Zillow's real estate agent directory to browse local agents and read real reviews. And the app's mortgage tools are an easy way to estimate your payments or find a lender.

Homeowners can use the Zillow app to sell or rent their homes. The My Home tab lets you find and claim your property, see nearby comparables, check your home's estimated value, and create sale or rental listings. Zillow home listings are free to create, and potential home buyers or renters can contact you through the app.

Top perks

Here are some of our favorite features of Zillow.

135 million-plus homes in database

The Zillow app provides users with information about more than 135 million homes. In late 2021, the site had nearly 2 million active home listings. Plus, Zillow taps public databases to provide information, to the extent possible, on properties that are not for sale.

Zillow has been around for years, and it's become a trusted source for buyers, sellers, and real estate professionals. As a result, Zillow is one of the most popular sites for listing a home for sale or rent. It's used by owners wanting to do it themselves as well as seasoned pros who depend on ZIllow's huge network to get their clients the best deals possible.

Buy, sell, or rent property

While some real estate apps only let you search property for sale, Zillow users can search sale and rental listings. This includes for-sale-by-owner and agent-created listings, as well as rental listings from owners, apartment complexes, and property management companies. It's worth noting that Zillow also pulls listings from virtually all Multiple Listing Service systems in the country, so if an agent has listed a property for sale, it's practically guaranteed to pop up on Zillow.

You can filter searches to browse only properties that meet your criteria, and use a helpful map view (more on that below).

Listing quality varies based on the lister, but at minimum you can expect publicly available property data -- size, bedrooms, tax history, and so on -- and a Google maps or street view photo. You'll also see a Zestimate, Zillow's proprietary home valuation, based on things like tax history and recent comparable sales.

If you find a property you like, you can contact the owner or listing agent through the app to get more information or set up an in-person or virtual tour. This can be done through an email contact form or by phone.

As a homeowner, you can claim your property to create a sale or rental listing. There's no cost to list your home, and you can update listings at any time, right from the app. (There are limitations if you have an Android. See below.) You can add as many photos as you want, though there is a maximum photo size. You can upload video tours, or add a URL for a virtual tour hosted elsewhere. You can also craft your own description and fill in property details to help shoppers know if your home is the right fit.

Robust search filters

What sets a great real estate app apart from a basic one? The search features. The Zillow app filters by dozens of criteria. This includes basics such as square footage, property type, and number of rooms, as well as filters for specific amenities. Only want to see waterfront property, single-story homes, or properties with a certain number of parking spots? There are filters for all of that and more.

Once you've set your filters, you can browse your results via a list or detailed map view. The map view also unlocks extra search features. You can search by moving the map's view, or draw your own lines on the map to mark out the exact area you want. Save your searches to easily access the latest listings, and sign up for updates to receive alerts for new additions.

Real estate agent directory

The Zillow app includes an extensive directory of real estate agents. You can search hundreds of agents in your area, and see reviews from Zillow users. If you already have an agent or company in mind, use the name search to quickly find your exact match. You can also filter agents by service, specialty, price range, and what languages they speak.

Once you find an agent or company you like, you can contact them through Zillow's contact form. Alternatively, the app provides a phone number or website link to contact the agent directly.

Mortgage tools

For many, finding a mortgage is the hardest part of buying a home. The Zillow app offers a range of mortgage tools to make the process less painful. Take advantage of a variety of mortgage calculators to estimate your payments or see how much house you can afford.

You can click "shop rates" to see what today's lowest mortgage rates look like, with options to sort offers by reviews, fees, rate, APR, or monthly payment. Or fill out a few questions to get prequalified.

Although some users might be buying solo, home buying is often a team sport. In addition to letting you save searches and favorite homes, the Zillow app lets you tag and share listings.

You can add a shopping partner to your account to easily share listings with a spouse or friend who also uses the Zillow app. Or if you prefer, you can share any listing using other apps on your phone, like email or social media. .

Want to remember why you saved a particular listing? Zillow allows you to add popular tags, like "price" or "house size," and create custom tags to help you browse your favorites or share your thoughts with a shopping partner.

What could be improved

There's no such thing as real estate app perfection, and these Zillow characteristics leave some room for improvement.

Property value estimates can be inaccurate

Every listing on Zillow comes with a Zestimate, Zillow's home value estimation. Zestimates are better used as educational figures than as equivalents to a professional home appraisal.

Zestimates are generated using Zillow's proprietary valuation algorithms, which include factors such as property details and tax history. Because Zillow relies on a lot of publicly available data to generate an estimate, the number can be quite a bit off. Values for properties with limited information available or in less-populated areas can be particularly inaccurate.

Agents can pay for better placement

One of the main ways Zillow makes money is through fees they charge real estate agents. As a result, the featured real estate agent at the top of the directory may not be the best agent, simply the one paying for the privilege. Property listings also usually include a few local agents -- frequently those who have paid to be there. This can make it more difficult to find the right agent, rather than the one with the deepest pocketbook.

No way to hide specific listings

One big shortcoming of the Zillow app is that you can't exclude individual properties from your results. For example, if you've checked out a property and it doesn't meet your needs, you still have to deal with it showing up in your search results as long as it meets your search filter criteria. Some apps let you block listings, a helpful way to streamline results.

Android version of app is limited

You can take ownership of a property via the app on your Android device, but the editing features are limited. For example, you can't upload photos on Android. You'll have to log in from a computer. iPhone users don't have the same problem.

If you want an app to find a certified Realtor: Realtor.com is the only real estate app powered by the National Association for Realtors, and it's the best place to find certified REALTOR® real estate agents to help you buy or sell your home. If you want to do everything yourself, Zillow is the better option.

If you want an app for commercial real estate: LoopNet is the most popular real estate app for commercial property. The LoopNet app can help you find everything from new office space to an established franchise. If you're only in the market for residential real estate, stick with Zillow.

Downloading and using the Zillow app is free. This includes browsing listings, contacting agents, setting up home tours, and even listing your for-sale-by-owner property.

Instead of asking users to pay for the app, Zillow makes its money primarily through fees from real estate agents and other advertisers. It's free to list your home for sale by owner on Zillow, but if you're renting a property, only the first listing is free. After that, it costs $9.99 per week per rental listing.

Zillow offers both its own mortgages -- available through Zillow Home Loans, LLC -- as well as a selection of third-party mortgages in its comparison tool. Zillow's direct mortgage rates are roughly on par with the national average, though it varies based on the type of mortgage, your location, and the specific company.

When it comes to a basic 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage, Zillow's direct loan rate (those loans from Zillow Home Loans, LLC) is comparable to the national average and may even be slightly lower. However, when using Zillow's built-in mortgage loan comparison tool, Zillow's direct loan rates are often slightly above those offered by partner lenders. Again, this varies by location and company.

One thing worth noting is that Zillow's direct loans tend to come with higher APRs than many of the other lenders featured in Zillow's comparison tool. This is generally a result of higher loan fees, which is the main difference in APR vs. interest rates.

The Zillow app is good for any home shopper who wants the ability to see all or most of the active listings in the area where they're looking for a home. It's also great for a landlord who wants to list a rental home.

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