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Mortgage CalculatorDear Vicki,

I’ve discovered the website Zillow and started tracking my home’s value using their Zestimate tool. I’m wondering how accurate it could be. Is this valuation comparable to an actual home appraisal? — Signed, Zoe

Dear Zoe,

Thank you, dear neighbor, for this important and timely question. Over the past several months, I have met several home sellers who swear by their Zillow Zestimate. I mean come on, Zestimate? Just try to say it with a straight face.  As my mother always said, start with the positive. I think Zillow is a great website for visiting new neighborhoods from your kitchen table. You get photos of houses for sale and their asking prices. It can be a great place to begin your home search.

Now, let’s get back to that Zestimate. Zillow’s calculations are based on public and user submitted data. This is not home specific information, it is a generality based on limited information. Their website even states that their estimates are just a “starting point in determining a home’s value.” So to answer your question outright, no, it is not comparable to an actual home appraisal.  To really discover the value of your home, you have two trustworthy options. The first is hiring an appraiser to visit your home for a full home evaluation. Appraisers typically charge $300-$400. For our historic homes, I have found that appraisers with specific historic neighborhood experience are worth their weight in gold. They see the value in every detail that make our homes so unique.

Secondly, and less expensively, invite a licensed Realtor or two into your home to give you their honest opinion. They’ll do it for free! Realtors will base your home estimate on comps in your neighborhood in addition to your home’s special charms. They are in the trenches every day and see exactly what homes are listing and selling for in your area. It’s a big part of a Realtor’s job so don’t be hesitant to ask for their help.

So, don’t be zilly. I can assure you that a Zestimate is not going to give you an accurate estimate, but zen-assured, you will find no one more zealous in that pursuit than a licensed appraiser or Realtor.

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