Ellen Pitts NC Realtor
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It won’t be news to many that Zillow is the #1 Real Estate Search Engine in the United States. Trulia, also owned by Zillow, is the second most visited real estate site. However, it may surprise you to find out that Zillow and Trulia are not connected to the Multiple Listing Service in the Triangle. When searching for homes in Raleigh, Cary or other Triangle cities, you should know why Zillow will limit the properties you can find.

Zillow and Trulia are not the MLS

What exactly is the MLS anyway? The MLS, or Multiple Listing Service, is the database where Realtors™ advertise their listings. You must be a licensed Realtor™ to advertise in the MLS. Licensed Realtors™ are subject to state laws that protect buyers and sellers from unscrupulous practices. For example, we must disclose defects of a property for sale, while the homeowner is not required to do so.

Each geographical area has their own MLS service, which operates independently and is not connected to the other MLS services throughout the country. Each region chooses their own software, which varies from location to location. The different technology makes it difficult for any national agency to collect the data necessary to provide easy searching on a national level. ListHub is the only company that has done this successfully.

Zillow is a national company. They are not members of the National Association of Realtors and do not have access to the MLS. Before 2015, they had a contract with ListHub, who provided them with the data from the MLS. But that contract expired in 2015 and was not renewed. At that time, Zillow had to secure a relationship with every independent Multiple Listing service in the country. But not all of them were willing to give Zillow the information they wanted (you’ll understand a little better why further down) and our local Raleigh Cary MLS, the Triangle MLS, was one of those who refused to work with Zillow. 

Zillow.com Only Has Some of the Homes for Sale

As you may have guessed, since Zillow and other similar national sites are not directly connected to the MLS, it only has a limited number of listings available for viewing. Zillow depends on agents and their brokerages to independently advertise their listings on Zillow.com. Many professionals agree that about 30% of Zillow’s data is either missing or inaccurate. My own independent analysis of Zillow has shown that estimate to be accurate.

Zillow Needs You More Than You Need Them

Zillow is not a real estate company. They have no licensure, nor do they have any responsibility to you, the buyer and seller. So you have to ask yourself, why is Zillow willing to allow me to use their multi-million dollar platform for free?

They’re not. You give them something very valuable when you use their platform: your information.

Case in Point:

I went to Zillow to find an example of how they do this. It took me about 60 seconds to find a great example. I went to Zillow and searched Cary, NC. On the right hand side there was a tab that said Cheapest, so I clicked on it.

The first listing that looked legitimate (not land or New Construction ads) was a condo in Cary for $140k. Yes, it’s a  bit of a unicorn, but they definitely come up on occasion. The development is in a fabulous location, walkable to Academy Street. Anyway, with two bedrooms and a remodeled kitchen, it looks like a great property!

Then I went to the Triangle MLS and saw that the property closed over a month ago. But Zillow still has it listed as active on their site.

Take a look at the right hand side of the screen shot, where the arrow is pointing.


Because it is so difficult to find a decent property in this price point, this property likely got more hits than any other Cary property. A TON of people surely filled out that contact box...for a property that didn’t exist. Zillow then takes all those names and sells them back to Realtors™ who pay them a monthly fee for this information. Zillow isn’t concerned with accuracy. They just want your information so they can fulfill their obligations to Realtor™ contracts. Realtors are guaranteed a certain number of names for that fee each month.

By the way, I never buy these names from Zillow or other companies. I figure if I provide information that you find valuable, I won’t need to hunt you down and convince you to work with me.

You can conduct an exhaustive property search without Zillow on my website. Harmonyrealtytriangle.com is directly connected to the MLS and updated every 15 minutes for the most accurate search in the Triangle! We also have more customized home searches already set up so you can search by price, by school zone, by location, by style of home such as downstairs master or pool community and many more. If you've thought of it, we probably have it. 

Zestimates are Based on Inaccurate Criteria

I've covered the Zestimate extensively in my article Are Zillow's Zestimates Accurate, but at the most general level, Zillow takes an average of the property values in a geographic area to generate the Zestimate. However, it can't tell the difference between a doublewide trailer and a luxury home. So if your home is near properties that are significantly different from yours, such as older custom homes next to newly constructed homes, your Zestimate will likely be way off. 

For more reading on Zillow see these great blogs:

Where Can I Find Homes for Sale by Paul Sian

Zillow's Home value Estimates: Accurate or Not? by Kyle Hiscock

Why Zestimates are Zillow's Weak Spot by Chris Highland

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About the Author Ellen Pitts

Ellen is the founder of Harmony Realty, a socially conscious realty company. Ellen believes in empowering her clients through education and open communication. Ellen is a number-cruncher at heart and takes great pleasure in following and analyzing the trends of the housing industry. She loves communicating the big picture to her clients and helping them to understand how the market affects their sale or purchase. Her honest and down-to-earth approach allows her clients to make informed and intelligent decisions to get the most out of their offers and negotiations.

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