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Five Tips for Improving Your Zillow Search

After being launched in 2006, Zillow has slowly become a staple in the real estate industry with the goal of “empowering consumers with data, inspiration, and knowledge around the place they call home, and connecting them with the best local professionals who can help” (

Anyone who looks for homes online has likely used or seen Zillow, so here are five tips on how to best use Zillow during your home search in West Michigan:

  1. Choose if you want to see the potential listings:
    • One of the search criteria options on Zillow is “potential listings.” This feature can be a good way to research properties that may hit the market in the future, but it’s important to know that the “foreclosed” or “pre-foreclosed” homes are not actually for sale. They simply are (or were) at some stage in foreclosure.
    • There are several steps in the long foreclosure process, and so it could be months or years before the bank actually owns it and can sell it.
    • If you’re looking to buy a home now, most of the “potential listings” are not where you want to spend your time.

  2. Use other websites to verify information:
    • The nice thing about Zillow is that you can find a lot of information about homes. The downside is that you don’t know where they got that data, so you have to go straight to the source to verify.  Here are some other sources to verify the information:
      • The MLS (Multiple Listing Service) is software that real estate agents have access to. This is where they upload the details about the house, pictures, and the sales terms. From the MLS, the information is spread to other websites.
        • the best way for the public to check the sale status of a home. Once a seller accepts an offer on their house, the real estate agent should mark the property as “pending” on the MLS. This means it’s unavailable and they are moving towards closing with a buyer.
        • Unfortunately, Zillow does not always get the update to “Pending,” so unless you check the MLS, you may be chasing a home that already sold.
      • To see approximate parcel lines, try using your county’s GIS system. Click here to see Kent County. (Insider tip: Look for the basemap gallery for the satellite view).
      • You can access the local municipality’s data about taxes, find the current owner, and see previous sales by clicking here and selecting the municipality you are looking into.  (Note: some municipalities have more information than others, and some have a small fee to view the records).

  3. Check total living space vs above grade:
    • “Above grade” square feet refers to everything above the ground, and this is typically the number that the MLS and appraisers use to identify the size of the home.
    • The basement square footage is indicated separately.
    • Zillow, however, lumps a finished basement in with the “above grade” square footage. That’s why you may see conflicting numbers on different websites.
    • To figure out the above grade or main level size, find the basement square footage to subtract from the total.

  4. Don’t click on the advertisers:
    • You may notice something called a “Premier Agent” when you look on Zillow.  These “Premier Agents” are simply real estate agents who pay to advertise on Zillow. 
    • When you search for a home in the zip code they bought advertisements in, they will show up on your screen.
    • If you give your contact information to Zillow, you will likely be contacted multiple times by various real estate agents who want to work with you.
    • If you’re trying to contact the listing agent with a question, look closely to see if the agent listed is the listing agent for that listing or is a Premier Agent who paid for advertising. 
  5. Use a buyer’s agent
    • We recommend using a trusted Realtor as your buyer’s agent.
    • Not only do Realtors have access to the MLS for additional information, but they negotiate on your behalf to get you the best deal possible.
    • To find out what a Buyer’s Agent does and if you need one, click here. Choose someone that you know you can rely on, and they will help you through every step of the process.
    • The seller is who pays the buyer agent’s commission – so you get professional representation for free!

If you’re planning on buying a house in the future, let me know and the Spica Real Estate team can help you make a game plan to put you in the best position possible.

Brandon Garnaat
Realtor, Spica Real Estate
Phone: 616-706-8104
Message me on Facebook/Instagram

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