I realize that the use of Zillow is fast and easy. With a couple of clicks, you can have a valuation prepared on the residential property of your choice. And that, I will admit, is entertaining. However, that is where my endorsement of Zillow terminates.
As a former real estate appraiser and current real estate broker (with combined experience of over 20 years) who specializes in a very small geographic area and sells over a hundred homes per year, I think that most reasonable people would agree that I have expertise in the valuation of residential real estate in the greater Hinsdale, Clarendon Hills, Western Springs, Burr Ridge area.
In the near-western suburbs of Chicago, we have custom homes, not tract-built, mass-produced subdivisions. These homes are custom-designed by different architects; custom-built by different builders; maintained and improved to varying degrees by homeowners.
To properly value these homes involves both science and art. The art side requires a "feel' for the mood of the market. The valuation of a house is actually a prediction of human behavior. It is an estimate of what a typical, informed buyer will pay for a home under a specific period of time. This art component involves intimate knowledge about specific sub-markets. For example, does the property being valued have a new kitchen or an old kitchen? Are the cabinets (one of the most expensive finishes in a home) a custom-made beaded inset design or a production cabinet made of an out-of-style material? How is the workmanship of the entire home? How is its condition? The floor plan? Are there any external factors which impact price - like a high traffic street or a park? Is the decorating current?
My assertion is that to most accurately value a custom home, you need to:
A. Know the neighborhood/market
B. See the inside
To most accurately value a home, you cannot use a mechanical price-per-square foot approach. That would be like valuing a car on a price-per-pound basis. Or getting a ziagnosis when you are sick. Qualitative analysis is required to most accurately predict what a buyer will pay for a home.
So please continue to be entertained by Zillow. Just do not ask me to explain why my thorough valuation reports differ from their one-click special!