Listing sites like Zillow, Trulia, Redfin, and Craigslist have become the go-to source for many buyers and sellers (particularly people attempting to buy or sell property on their own) to get information about the market, view properties, and connect with property owners. But while most people believe these listing sites are a reliable source of information, there's actually quite a bit of misinformation that can throw a wrench in your home search or sale. Here are the three things real estate apps commonly get wrong (and how you can avoid them while selling or buying your home):
1. Not all postings are real
One of the biggest problems on most real estate apps is that they don't require any verification from the people placing listings. So essentially, anyone with an internet connection can post any listing they'd like — including listings that are completely falsified. There are an immeasurable number of fake listings on these sites; posters either use the "bait and switch" method, posting photos of one property when they're really selling another (one New York real estate company was caught red-handed using celebrities' properties in a highly publicized bait and switch scam in 2015), or create a completely fake listing in hopes of gathering people's personal information for marketing purposes or, in some extreme cases, identity theft. For these reasons you may waste a lot of time and energy looking through and engaging with fake listings, which can keep you from finding real listings — the kind that could end up being your dream home.
2. Not all postings are up-to-date
Another big issue with these sites is that often times, listings aren't updated. So a listing you see for sale might have actually been sold the previous week or a listing that reads "sale pending" might actually be back on the market. This failure to update is a bad situation for both buyers and sellers. As a buyer, it means you might get excited about a home only to find out it's already been sold or you might pass on an amazing home, thinking it's already been sold... only to find out after the fact it actually was available. If your listing is out-of-date as a seller, it means you could miss out on potential buyers thanks to inaccurate information. Without up-to-date information, it's impossible to effectively manage either the search or the sale of your home. But unfortunately, when you work within these types of real estate listings sites, you're pretty much guaranteed out-of-date information.
3. Property information is often incorrect
On top of fake listings and out-of-date listings, many listings on these sites are just flat out incorrect. And this can be a big problem for both buyers and sellers. As a buyer, you want to know what you're getting into when you look at a property. But if the information is incorrect — for example, the listing states the property is 4 bedrooms when it's really only three or that the home sits on 2 acres when it's really only 1 — you'll end up wasting a lot of time looking at properties that don't actually fit within your parameters. As a seller, not only will incorrect listing information waste time by connecting you with buyers who are looking for something different from what your property has to offer, but it can actually affect the price of your offers. Zillow, one of the top real estate apps, offers a popular feature called "Zestimate" which estimates how much a property is worth whether it's on or off the market. Anyone can access this information, including potential buyers. And buyers use Zestimates as a way to come up with offer prices. Unfortunately, Zestimates are often inaccurate. In fact, they're off by an average of 8% nationally, which is a pretty shocking disparity. Apps and listing sites readily admit their information might not be accurate; most all have a disclaimer page stating that information on their site may be inaccurate and encouraging potential buyers or sellers to verify all information independently. Moral of the story: when you deal with real estate apps, you're also going to be dealing with a lot of misinformation, which can derail your home sale or search.
What to do instead
As you can see, real estate apps aren't your best bet when it comes to buying or selling a home. You'll end up wasting time and energy on fake or out-of-date listings or inaccurate information. That's why it's always best to work with a real estate agent. Agents have access to the most up-to-date, accurate information through the MLS, which will ensure that as a buyer, every home you see is exactly what you expect it to be, and as a seller, every potential buyer that comes to tour your home will know exactly what they're getting into.