I have talked to several people recently who were searching for homes using Zillow and Trulia. For those who don't know, www.zillow.com and www.trulia.com are national home data aggregators. Both are platforms where Atlanta real estate agents can list your home for sale and home buyers can search for available homes. Both offer a multitude of data to buyers and search interfaces that usually are far cooler than most Atlanta real estate agents can offer (that's what millions in venture capital will get you!).
The people I talked with were using Zillow and Trulia (to be affectionately referred to Z & T for the remainder of the post) exclusively without searching on a local brokerage's IDX site (i.e. a local Coldwell Banker, Prudential, or Clickscape). IDX stands for Internet Data Exchange and through an agreement with the local MLS and member brokerages, it's how all the Atlanta real estate brokerages get access to other Atlanta real estate brokerage's listings. It's how Harry Norman's listings show up on Keller Williams' agents sites and vice versa. Because Z & T are not real estate brokerages (they make their money from real estate agent and other real estate related advertising), they don't have access to the MLS (Multiple Listing Service) data feed. Without this crucial component, they rely primarily upon getting a direct feed from local real estate brokers or having local agents manual enter their listings. The problem is that few brokers subscribe to the direct feed and while many agents do input their listings into Z & T (highly recommended, btw), not all agents do. What the approximately 34,000 agents and 2,300 Atlanta firms that are members of the MLS do though IS upload their listing into the MLS system because of the great exposure the MLS gives their sellers and because member firms are required to input all listings within most metro-Atlanta counties.
In explaining this to my friends, I became curious to see if Z & T (who can outdo about 99% of Atlanta real estate brokerages in terms of search features and functionality) could in fact deliver the goods when it comes to actual home listing data. It turns out that other brokers have wondered the same. I came across this great blog post about the Phoenix real estate market that helped take my post to the next-level.
Let's take a look at the data from Atlanta real estate market:
|City||Clickscape||Zillow||Zillow % Coverage||Trulia||Trulia % Coverage|
As you can see, what the lack of a local Atlanta listing feed does is create holes in Zillow and Trulia's coverage---definite, undeniable, and disturbing holes.
Based on my research, Zillow routinely provided 80% or less coverage in large metro-Atlanta areas---including only 65% of Marietta homes for sale and 76% of Atlanta homes for sale. Trulia is seemingly much better offering 90% coverage of Atlanta home listings. Trulia's coverage was as low as 80% coverage of Smyrna homes for sale and as high as 96% of all Suwanee homes for sale. Overall for all the Atlanta areas researched, Zillow had 18,024 Atlanta-area listings and 77% coverage. Trulia had 89% coverage overall which sounds great until you realize that the 11% of listings that are virtually invisible to Trulia searchers account for 2,497 homes. If Trulia is the only place you search then I sure hope your dream home is not one of those nearly 2,500 homes that doesn't exist on Trulia! A Zillow-exclusive search would be even more limiting as 5,400 homes would vanish.
With this kind of local coverage, it doesn't matter that Zillow portends to have 3,469,282 listings for sale right now on their site. That's great and all, but if I am buying a home I want to know I am looking at ALL the listings in my search area. Z & T cannot guarantee that and in fact can't even come close. If those listings aren't in the area you are looking, then it does you (an Atlanta home buyer), zero good. Do you care that there are over 1300 homes for sale in Kalamazoo, Michigan? I think not.
Finally, I would argue that their coverage is even worse that the 77% and 89% stated above. If you have trolled around Trulia or Zillow you realize that there are countless listings that haven't be updated. Comments abound from homeowners who are attempting to have their home taken off Zillow's site as an active listing because it has already sold or been taken off the market. Homes that have been sold, withdrawn, or expired still somehow remain on the their site. Once these non-active homes are removed from the equation, how much coverage remains? I would venture a guess that they could lose another 10% or so of their total listings if homes that actually aren't for sale were removed. Z & T don't take any proactive measures to police this because the more listings they have (whether they are current or not), the better. It makes them look even better and bigger than they really are (which is still pretty big).
Don't get me wrong, Z & T are great sites and should be utilized by both Atlanta home buyers and sellers, but they should not be the only sources of information and searches. For the most up-to-date, accurate list of Atlanta homes for sale, it is imperative for home buyers to look locally. Find an Atlanta real estate brokerage that has great IDX search functionality and user experience and feel safe in knowing you'll have the most accurate database of current metro-Atlanta home listings.