Didja Know… Zillow is Better than Eyes!

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Dave Towne

Certified Residential RE Appraiser at Towne Appraisals
AGA, MNAA, Accredited Green Appraiser - Licensed in WA State since 2003.
Dave Towne on e-AppraisersDirectory.com
Dave Towne

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Didja Know... Zillow is Better than Eyes! - Discern Quality Using Photos

How in the heck is Zillow supposed to discern QUALITY of these homes, and then magically produce a presumed value, when there is no actual data upon which to base a decision? Maybe it’s done with smoke and mirrors, rather than eyes?

Appraisers, I was busy churning out reports, and didn’t have time to send out this bit of news about Zillow earlier: Zillow is watching: New algorithm uses photos of your home to check quality and curb appeal.

Zillow is now claiming “it” can discern QUALITY of a home, just by looking at various photos they obtain from various sources! They claim that since QUALITY can be determined by its algorithm of looking at one dimensional photos, it’s Zestimate will be now much more accurate in determining three dimensional details… in fact, down to 2% accuracy!

Excerpt from the article:

“We’ve taught the Zestimate to discern quality by training convolutional neural networks with millions of photos of homes on Zillow, and asking them to learn the visual cues that signal a home feature’s quality,” Stan Humphries, Zillow’s chief analytics officer & chief economist, said in a Medium post announcing the new algorithm. “For instance, if a kitchen has granite countertops, the Zestimate now knows — based on the granite countertop’s pixels in the home photo — that the home is likely going to sell for a little more.”

Do any of you really wonder about this boast?

I do know one thing: training computer algorithms to understand property features is very difficult and time consuming… by humans making decisions… especially to get it right. I have seen evidence of how that works. It’s not easy to do.

But apparently, Zillow’s team is able to quantify the photo differences between laminate counters designed to look like granite, and actual granite… and apparently other items.

They claim accuracy is based on photos. What about the millions of homes (like mine) which have never had interior photos posted anywhere? I still live in the home we built in 1981. How in the heck is Zillow supposed to discern QUALITY of these homes, and then magically produce a presumed value, when there is no actual data upon which to base a decision?

Maybe it’s done with smoke and mirrors, rather than eyes?

Dave Towne

Dave Towne

AGA, MNAA, Accredited Green Appraiser - Licensed in WA State since 2003. Dave Towne on e-AppraisersDirectory.com

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33 Responses

  1. Lori Evans on Facebook Lori Evans on Facebook says:

    So what happens when the pics are enhanced or virtually staged?

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    • Avatar Koma says:

      Maybe that’s what people will start doing. Did you ever watch a show called Hoarders? Some (most of them not) of the exteriors of the homes look like really nice except when you get inside…oh the horrors!

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      • John Gazsi on Facebook John Gazsi on Facebook says:

        that’s where my smell vision works best. If i can smell a comp from the street there a problem

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  2. Avatar Carl says:

    What a joke! Even I can’t do that. With today’s technology, it’s hard to tell the difference between real wood and laminate at first glance during an inspection for example. But apparently not for Zillow!!

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    • Avatar Taunya says:

      How many times have we gone to the house thinking it’s one thing, based on pictures, only to find something else on inspection? Does anyone actually ever ask an appraiser what we do??

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      • Avatar Bill Johnson says:

        I had two this week Taunya. One turned out to be 700sf smaller because agents in CA have no idea what below grade means and just call it GLA. No big deal, just $150,000 less in value. The 2nd one is a classic, meaning the agent simply pulled public record files and listed the characteristics accordingly, but it turns out the original owner purchased from the builder an optioned/updated floor plan and thus had significantly more legal GLA, extra BR, BA, etc. I’m still working on it, but in this specific neighborhood (1.1 to 1.5 million) the difference could result in the appraised value coming in over $150,000 above contract price. No one seems to care, nor want to hear from the boots on the ground appraiser.

        Seek the truth.

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        • Avatar Koma says:

          Bill, different but similar in one of my counties the assessor always gives the GBA on houses but outside sources (even some agents) don’t know that and report it as the GLA.

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  3. Avatar CA Appraiser says:

    It’s a joke. My home was built in 1926 and they have all the data wrong on my property. They show 1 bedroom and 1 bath less than what it actually has. I have a 4bd 2ba home and it shows lower value than my neighbor across the street which is a 2bd 1ba home. How is this possible? I purchased my home back in 1999 and have completely remodeled my home and just like Dave, there’s never been any pictures of my home out there. So I do believe it’s smoke and mirrors…..

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    • CA-You are familiar with California Constitution Article XIII, aren’t you? That is one way you and a neighbor with identical houses could have different taxes and assessments.

      It is also possible your house was originally built as a 1 br 1 ba and had subsequent additions that were either not permitted and reported, or were permitted but not updated in county records. Ultimately if you want corrected county data reported it is strictly up to you to do it. Better find out possible tax impacts first.

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  4. Avatar Greg says:

    So Zillow will will elevate the quality of a house built by a volume builder based on interior material
    upgrades such as granite counters (which are becoming as common a feature as the key-less door lock for a car). Can Zillow discern the difference between thin builder’s stock carpeting and better quality carpeting over heavier decking? They can’t, but buyers walking through can. .

    Can Zillow algorithms smell the stale stench of cigarettes from a prior occupant? Or the stench of urine from pets that did not always make it outside? Does Zillow know about failing septics, school referendums that will raise taxes, pending curb and gutter replacements for a property resulting in a special tax? Can Zillow discern, or even be aware of, a poor floor plan? How about cupping and curling shingles which are not easily seen on photos or discussed in the MLS comments? Can Zillow discuss a change in the neighborhood trend where homes are being bought to be razed to make room for another structure for another use? Hence the need for an HBU analysis. Does Zillow know if the home has easements on site, or needed to access the property? Does Zillow know that a house with taste specific colors (think purple and pinks) and cabinet selections may need to be replaced even though they may be somewhat new? Would Zillow know the cost to cure? Does Zillow look up traffic counts to adjust for busy streets that in many markets are a drawback?

    I am sure that Zillow will recognize the crummy house that has old cabinets, floors and a bad roof, but that has a granite counter harvested from another house and installed incorrectly by a DIYer, will sell for more.

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  5. Avatar CJK says:

    Zillow has my property at $319,000, same model home on the same street sold for $340,000. Zillow also has an old google photo from 4 years ago. What about the new exterior paint, new roof, new cutters, new luxury laminate vinyl (wood) floors, new interior paint, new vinyl double pane windows?

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    • Baggins Baggins says:

      Various tech companies, of which there is a new one every day of the week, often may draw that data from google street and aerial photos, or similar. Google over the past few years has apparently been updating the time of photo date stamp, while not updating the actual photo itself. I know because my home has a complete new fence system, not reflected on google street which bears a current date stamp. Because new construction projects from 8 years ago are finished and expanding, yet googles dated aerial image views now maintains a 2019 date stamp, just developing land from 10 years ago. It appears that after the 5 year mark, they just update the date stamp.

      Big tech is dealing with the symptom of overly rapid expansion, without the manpower or properly allotted resources to keep data accurate, current, and consistent. It’s probably time for me to create an official google account, and ask for my homes image both street and aerial to be blurred for privacy reasons. Everyone here, as a notice of objection, should do the same. I gave Lowes my email the first time ever, due to a large material purchase. Surprisingly, they had on file an old business address and my now absent fax number, even though I had never once gave them any personal data. Big data. Big illusion.

      There are plenty of people just like me who feed big tech false information in an effort to slow this technocratic expansion. Rely on that. It’s a safe call to predict that all new tech integration will result in dramatically reduced privacy, and dramatically increased data brokerage for anyone’s info who dares to get a loan. Get off of facebook already, you can access this site in an unrestricted uncensored manner by simply typing the web address in, even on a mobile. CJK, cross compare against assessors records for a better reference. The real benefit of tech in real estate is coming soon and everyone will enjoy ultra current taxation, assessors will no longer be in the arrears.

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  6. John Gazsi on Facebook John Gazsi on Facebook says:

    Apparently they perfected smellvision cuz that’s how I find all the really big problems.

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  7. Becky Lowell on Facebook Becky Lowell on Facebook says:

    Wow.

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  8. Helen Bereznik Grace on Facebook Helen Bereznik Grace on Facebook says:

    Maybe that’s why they estimate market value at $150, 000 over what it’s worth!

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    • Baggins Baggins says:

      It’s the click game. Why does zillow post amazing appealing high numbers? More clicks.

      We demand the right to be forgotten. Requesting a loan for real property or even owning real property should not come with a de facto requirement we relinquish our right to privacy.

      Scam artists are having a field day in America. Big tech has facilitated crime on a previously unheard of level. Some time in the next few years, over one half of all Americans will have been the victims of successful data or identity theft scams of one sort or another.

      People used to wonder why I never participated. Now they themselves wonder how they can get out. Lead by example. Trust is earned, not given. The latest big tech propaganda floating around goes something like; That argument for privacy sailed a long time ago, there is nothing we can do, you have nothing to hide so why worry, it’s important that we adapt to big tech changes and let that happen.

      The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

      Zillow and Google have seized my personal data without a warrant, and put it on display for the world to see. Right to be forgotten is just getting started, the argument is not settled. Hell no I do not want to ‘take advantage of automation’ or forgo ‘long standing checks and balances systems’ if I ever have the unfortunate pleasure of needing another home loan.

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  9. Avatar Diana N says:

    The sad part is that consumers believe what the read on Zillow and that’s what agents and appraisers are faced with. Very sad they are ruining our industry.

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    • Baggins Baggins says:

      Americans in their ignorance, no longer having a solid understanding of the constitution and our rights, have allowed it to happen to themselves. It’s very simple. Big tech companies are violating our inalienable rights to privacy and that is why they should have absolutely no say in how government operates, and should be regulated to the dustbin of history. In some scenarios, government can be good. What government is supposed to be limited to in the first place, protecting inalienable rights of legal citizens. In this case the 4th amendment because without having violated that, there would be no zillow or google in the first place, not in their current form.

      Buy a copy for yourself today… I keep them on my garage wall and I often love to read the Declaration, Constitution, and Bill of Rights, when I’m drinking an evening whiskey and having a smoke. We can take this and any other industry back from the clutches of tyranny, with the right effort, and the right patriotic sentiment. The boston tea party happened for much less, something under 5% taxation and the occasional stationing of troops in homes. These days Americans abide over 50% cumulative taxation and both private corporation and government oversight is riddled through our lives, public and private. Where is the line?

      https://www.nationalarchivesstore.org/products/u-s-constitution-1-page-poster

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  10. Avatar SB says:

    Welcome to the world of IBUYING folks.

    Zillow wants to buy up to 5,000 homes a month. They not only know where people are buying, but where they know where people are looking as well, which can be a great leading indicator.

    Why would a 7 Billion Dollar company give an F about appraisers?

    For appraisers to survive…….. it’s adapt to change or prepare to be steam rolled by technological disruption.

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    • Helen Bereznik Grace on Facebook Helen Bereznik Grace on Facebook says:

      We will wait for them to lose their shirts!

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      • Avatar Koma says:

        Exactly! Helen they will try and blame us, but this we will not have a hand in. I will be waiting to clean up this mess soon enough because these methods will not last long before they lead us into the next crash.

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    • Baggins Baggins says:

      It’s more devious than that. Big tech tyranny is taking on many new interesting forms. When you fill out an income survey, this will directly affect your coupon access, your online pricing, and even the products offered to you through a wide range of online stores. Kiss your bogo coupons and lower priced item access goodbye if they see you coming. There are multitudes of disclosures in just the past year of people dealing with changing prices once they actually get to the store, because the companies use the correlation of their known data profile, along with the gps phone tracking, to custom tailor a ‘fair and equitable’ pricing plan for that individual.

      Adapt or change you say? I suppose just go with it because price and value are relative and in a socialistic model, it’s only fair that you pay more and help carry the load for the next guy. Be careful what you wish for. I’ll put liberty ahead of income, but if you want to crash and burn by trying to adapt to tyranny in order to appease a multi national corporation, feel free.

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  11. Avatar Koma says:

    Dave, That’s all they see is the money, they do not care about anything else.

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    • Baggins Baggins says:

      I just did a back flip regarding your revelation that; Corporations are greedy and put profits before people. Wow, any other groundbreaking contributions to make? Adopt the defeatist argument at your own peril.

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  12. Baggins Baggins says:

    They’ll change the color of skies, alter the floorplan of the house, swap out materials in view. With photoshop, anything is possible. Some downloaded app is not going to provide adequate controls. More fraud opportunity in real estate promoted by big tech and big lenders. What’s new? There are many examples just search real estate listing photo photoshop services, or something like that. With big tech, the doors for brand new fraud schemes and an open invitation to erase jobs and dismantle entire industries is very real.

    https://www.picsera.com/real-estate/
    https://www.boxbrownie.com/

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  13. WHEN successful, Zillow has only learned what it was specifically exposed to. It cannot handle unique circumstances.

    More importantly, was zillow photo interpreter trained to view foundation cracks? A clogged toilet or tub? Uneven flooring? Mildewed walls, cracks in tile caulking that have allowed water seepage into the underlying wood below (rot)? Does it recognize termite droppings or rodent waste? How about that trail of ants? Cockroaches? Dead rat smell in the attic? How about chartreuse and brilliant purple and orange wall paint? (OK that last was a bit of a stretch, but the point remains).

    FIRREA required MINIMUM standards after the S&L crisis. Those minimums were pared away before the ink was dry. Had just 1 in 10 of all appraisals done been field reviewed, the TARP fiasco and Too Big to Fail WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN POSSIBLE!

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    • Baggins Baggins says:

      Has anyone asked the question; What about the home inspection service? Are they being automated away alongside appraisers? Perhaps we’re asking the wrong questions.

      It may be somewhat random, and perhaps rare, but I can see a scenario where a home sells multiple times, always selling to well qualified borrowers whom would qualify for waivers or avm’s in lieu of a full appraisal service. It’s possible that homes which continue to flip over could never be seen by an appraiser at all for decades into the future. But what about the home inspector? An avm is a robo signed opinion of value. Remote inspections? Why not.

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        • Avatar merv conlan says:

          Ford, the most important part of appraising is the INSPECTION. period. Its not quadratic equations, not squrilly stats, not conic sections, not E&O ins, not market direction analysis, in face, not any sort of analysis at all.

          Without an inspection there is no Big Data. period. and a Google street shot ain’t gonna do it.

          Reminder Folks: appraising is a JOB, and a job entails putting on a Ben Davis & getting bruised knuckles.

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          • Helen Bereznik Grace on Facebook Helen Bereznik Grace on Facebook says:

            I inspected a house with differences in GLA from tax records different bath count. Is a third party qualified to determine whether it is in similar quality to the rest of the dwelling? Do they notify appraiser of possible non permitted addition? Will Zillow know the difference? Will anyone care until someones house burns down and insurance refuses to pay?

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            • Avatar Koma says:

              Helen, unfortunately none will care except the home owner who gets stuck with it. Well you can say they can sue, but that’s no easy task.

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  14. When they can not dazzle us with actual brilliance they are still willing to try to baffle with Bulls***

    ***”“We’ve taught the Zestimate to discern quality by training convolutional neural networks with millions of photos of homes on Zillow, and asking them to learn the visual cues that signal a home feature’s quality,”

    A mix of deception; hyperbole and software gibberish to intimidate those unfamiliar with a dictionary and “SKYNET, Hal or overwhelming failure of Big Data to accurately predict much of anything. Heck, they can’t even get it right with hindsight! (Check Zillow after a property sale).

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Didja Know… Zillow is Better than Eyes!

by Dave Towne time to read: 2 min