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US homeowner sues portal over online valuation. Could it happen here?

Illinois lawyer files suit against Zillow asking portal to adjust its valuation of her home for sale.

Nigel Lewis

One of the best-known property portals in the US is being sued by a vendor over its online valuation of her home in a suit filed at an Illinois court.

online valuationReal estate lawyer Barbara Andersen alleges that the sale of her townhouse, which she has been trying to sell in the town of Glenville and that’s listed on Zillow overlooking a golf course for $626,000 (pictured, right), has faced a ‘major roadblock’ because property portal Zillow’s automated valuation system puts her townhouse at considerably less – $562,000.

The lawyer is not seeking damages but instead is asking the portal to amend her property’s ‘Zestimate’. But the portal told The Washing Post that it believed her claim was “without merit”.

Like Zoopla, Rightmove, Mouseprice and others in the UK, Zillow has been offering ‘appraisals’ of properties for over a decade and has always put home valuations across the US at the core of its business.

Critical

And as in the UK, many agents and homeowners in the US have been critical of these estimates.

Henry Pryor online valuation“If you could commoditise property and price it accurately per square foot [via an online tool] then I would be out of a job,” says property expert and buying agent Henry Pryor (pictured, left).

“Where there is any element of artistic value in a property there is an opportunity for people to over or under egg the pudding, which gives agents the opportunity to achieve a premium or discount for a property in a way that digital data cannot ever predict.

“Remember that the value of property is part art, part science. The science element is pretty straightforward but the view from the window, or the proximity to a park or your mother in law does have a potential value – and very subjective.”

The Washing Post says that a quarter of Zillow’s online valuation data varies by 10% when compared to the final selling price, and by up to 20% for more than 10% of the time.

Andersen told the paper that she believes her property’s valuation is inaccurate because it compares her home with less costly properties from a different part of her town, rather than her road where values are higher.

What may make portals in the UK nervous is that a disgruntled UK vendor may attempt a similar thing, as will Andersen’s call for US portals to be licensed to make such valuations, and that home owners should be required to give permission before estimates of their properties can be created and put online.

May 15, 2017

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