Zillow.com can give you a quick view of houses for sale (and more)

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Zillow.com is a popular online tool many buyers and sellers use to ‘zestimate’ current home values. You type in an address, and Zillow provides an estimate on the home’s value (whether it’s for sale or not) based on data the site pulls from tax records and other sources.

Information about a property Zillow.com provides also includes the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, square footage, lot size, year the property was built, and details regarding a recent sale, such as how much the home sold for and when.

You can also search Zillow.com to find properties by price, monthly payment, bedrooms, home type (such as single family home or condo), and other filters.

Like the Google Maps real estate search tool I mentioned earlier this week, Zillow.com can be a useful way to get a quick view of what’s for sale in your desired area.

But you might want to take some Zillow.com ‘Zestimates’ with a grain of salt. Here’s why:

* Variations between properties. A two-bedroom condo in San Francisco on a hill with views and a two-bedroom comparable condo in the same neighborhood but down in a valley may have similar zestimates. But that’s not reality. A property with views is always going to have greater value than a similar one without views. Or one home with the same number of bedrooms and square footage as another may have a brand-new kitchen, while the other is stuck in the 70s. Zillow.com Zestimates by default don’t take those kinds of differences into account in their calculations.

* Homeowners can claim the listing of their property. If you own a home, you can ‘claim’ it on Zillow.com and edit the home’s facts. For example, have you added a new room to your home, but Zillow.com’s square footage doesn’t reflect the addition? Simple—just update that information yourself. The changes you make can boost your home’s Zestimate.

Bottom line: If you’re searching for a home in a subdivision in Las Vegas or Sacramento, say, where there are only a few different floor plans and not much variation at all between units, Zillow.com Zestimates can be very useful. But for obtaining the most accurate estimate of a home’s value, in a dynamic place like San Francisco, it’s still hard to beat professional appraisals and comparable sales reports your real estate agent provides.

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