Event recap: Zillow Summit

Fun loot from the Zillow Summit–thanks, guys!

I took a break from all of the projects keeping Hawthorn extra busy this summer to check out Zillow’s New England Agent Summit at the Westin Copley yesterday afternoon. Nearly a hundred real estate agents from the Boston metro area showed up to hear presentations about how the market is changing as home buyers and sellers increasingly turn to technology as a trusted partner in their home search.

The event was hosted by some of Zillow’s staff from their Seattle office. Their chief economist, Dr. Stan Humphries, gave a fascinating talk about the models Zillow uses to estimate home values. Zillow’s “Zestimates” aim to be like assessed values—not exactly correlated to eventual sale values, but informative when determining a price—only better. The Zillow team grades themselves on the accuracy of Zestimates. In some markets, a large percentage of their predictions come within 5% of actual home sale prices.

Data runs part of the company’s business, but the other half is all heart. Speakers made a point to balance their emphasis on models with discussions about the intensely personal side of the home-buying experience. After all, Zillow, like everyone participating in the real estate market, is trying to put a price on an asset that represents a family’s hopes and dreams.

There are many online platforms home buyers and sellers (and home snoopers, we know who we are!) can use to find out more about the homes around us, the homes we wish we lived in, and even homes halfway across the country we have never seen. Information is making everyone smarter about how to find the right place to live; but some of that increased knowledge often goes out the window when feelings get involved.

The real estate market can sometimes feels as irrational as fashion and entertainment; you find something you like and you’ll wear it long after the trend has died, or pay way too much to get the limited edition DVD set. When you fall in love with a house, you might be inclined to leave letters for the owner asking them to sell, offer way over asking price, or spend a year building a dream house (oh wait, that’s what we do!). Zillow says, go for it! Their “Make Me Move” feature allows home owners to name a price at which their house could become your house. Some owners enter unrealistically high numbers, but others are more practical. Make Me Move gives a hint that maybe the home you have a crush on is more available than you thought.

The place you live should be a place you love. I came away from the summit excited about online platforms like Zillow that are opening new doors into the search for that perfect place.