Zillow vs Certified Appraisal. Let us first start out by explaining what is Zillow? Zillow is what is known as an AVM an Automated Valuation Module. Locally in Pittsburgh, Allegheny County and next, the surrounding Counties, we are all too well familiar with an AVM although we don’t know it. This is the same type of computer program that has and is creating each and every properties’ assessed value and we all know how that is turning out. Raw data from the assessment offices are inputted into these computer programs and out pops your property’s market value, or so they want you to believe.
As appraisers, we have had many ‘run-ins’ with these AVM’s. For at least the last 15 years we have been telling the banks that AVM’s don’t work in our region. At the time the banks didn’t want to hear it and I’m sure the thinking was, the appraisers are just squawking NIMBY, because our value module is supreme and we’ll be able to make so much more money because we won’t need appraisers. You see, at the time the banks were huge proponents of AVM’s and were using them all the time to lend, which I’m sure is partly to blame for the inflated values and the financial collapse. But that may be left for another day.
We all have heard the old adage ‘Garbage In, Garbage Out’. Well, that holds true with the AVM for valuation purposes here in South Western Pennsylvania. Many of the problems start with the local county assessment offices. To put it bluntly, their assessment information is not 100% accurate and on many properties, it is downright misleading, which leads me to the title of an upcoming blog ‘Data Flaw in Regional Assessment Process’. There are many homeowners that will be concerned about that one. However, to move on, many in the industry have firsthand knowledge of the assessment fiasco due to working as hearing officers while also being Realtors and Appraisers. However, we are not hear on this day to pass judgment on the local OPA’s (Offices of Property Assessment), but to get into how an AVM just doesn’t work in our region.
Let us first look at the local area. Our region which includes the City of Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, Beaver County, Butler County, Fayette County, Somerset County, Washington County and Westmoreland County just to name a few in recent history have had settlers here since the early 1700’s. Many of the properties are over 200 years old. It is not uncommon to have entire neighborhoods 150 years old. Additionally, you may have 150 -200 year old homes located in the middle of 100, 75, 50 and even possibly 25 year old homes or newer. With a region as old as this, it is not uncommon to have such diversity in the properties. In fact, you have such differences such as age, style, quality of construction, exterior condition, interior condition, lot size and usability which are just a few of the differences. So let’s be fair to the OPA, in Allegheny County there are roughly 550,000 properties. The taxpayers would NOT want to foot the bill to have every property appraised by a certified appraiser for a realistic value. So they punt and do the best they can and leave it up the poor individual taxpayer to expend their resources & finances to have to prove the County value is inaccurate.
Now, with much of the background laid, it brings us to the main point of this blog and the online property valuation programs such as Zillow and others. As you can now see, the data that is collected is somewhat um, skewed? Therefore, considering they get their data from the County Records the degree of accuracy is only as good as those records. In fact, this blog was in the works for some time but just was never created, only due to Northwood Realty pulling ALL of their listings from Zillow for the exact same reasons outlined above did we consider to create this blog post. In fact, the Post-Gazette has an article which goes into more depth as to why Northwood pulled their listing from Zillow which is a good companion article to this blog.
So you see, while these online valuation sources are great money generators for the online valuation companies themselves as a whole, when it comes to accurate values for your property stick with the professionals and consider an appraisal from a certified appraiser. You will be handed much more detail about your property along with a clearer and more accurate value.
I hope you found this information helpful and if you have any additional questions please don’t hesitate to give us a call at 412-831-1500.
Bostedo Appraisal Services – We specialize in divorce appraisals, bankruptcy appraisals, date of death appraisals, estate appraisals, pre-listing appraisals and more throughout the Pittsburgh and 7 County region.
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