Commentary March 24, 2012

No Officer, Despite What Zillow Says, it is Not My Listing

Full disclosure: I am a Zillow customer, as well as a paying customer to Trulia and

Our office received a phone call from the town of Kent Police yesterday to inform us that there was some undesirable activity at  my listing. Of course, the only problem with that- aside from youths partying at a vacant house in town- is that the listing isn’t mine. It was listed by one of my agents and expired 2 years ago. But, hey, it said it was my listing on the Internet, so they reached out to me as the broker to see if I could secure the property. I cannot; my firm has not had any authority to market the property since 2010. Despite what the Internet says, I cannot help.

The nearby city of Peekskill contacted me a few months ago on another of “my listings,” and in this case it was a complaint from a neighbor about debris on the property. I never heard of the place. When I asked the lady at the city building department on the phone how they came to believe it was my listing, she said that they looked up the address on Zillow. I explained that Zillow sometimes makes errors. She was fairly understanding, but not happy that she wasn’t any closer to solving the issue than she was before calling me.

Now, I can sort of hear what some of my friends at Zillow might say: “Hey! sell her a house!”

Um, no.

When a cop or a building department official calls me about a problem with a property, they are about as likely a prospect as the person behind the counter at DMV when I am renewing my license. They are at work and have a problem to solve. They don’t want to get pitched, and it wouldn’t be terribly responsible to try either. They are cops and code enforcers. They are on the clock. As a tax payer I wouldn’t want them listening to an agent pitch anymore than I’d want them perusing an Avon catalog.

It isn’t just a Zillow issue, as other aggregators have all kinds of accuracy issues. Yet because Zillow has risen so high in search engine results, they bear the brunt of the issue. Does that mean I should give them a break? No.

To Zillow I would say, with great power comes great responsibility. I don’t want to hear “Phil, all you need to do is log on to Zillow, edit your listing and …” because the problem is not that I am neglecting my own listings. The property in Peekskill was not my listing. The house in Kent was not indicated as being for sale, but the public doesn’t always see status of the listing clearly on these sites.

There is a lot that I am leaving out of this post. I won’t go into all the rude calls I get from frustrated people screaming “don’t you know your own listing?” into my ear over a home I never saw where I am listed as a contact. I won’t go into the odyssey I had with a utility company over an old listing I had that was now vacant and abandoned.

The controversy and tension between Zillow and the brokerage community, well documented elsewhere, is one reason why I am sure they are hiring well regarded people like Jay Thompson as the outreach guy to brokers like myself. That is all well and good, but right now there is a data problem that has to be fixed, and I am tired of PR-spun answers. It would be refreshing to get some accountability that does not involved me logging onto their site and doing free work to solve their data problems.