Zestimate-More Fake News?

Zillow has a Bridge it Wants to Sell You

In February the CEO of Zillow, Spencer Rascoff sold his home for 40% less than its “Zestimate” of $1.75M.  Ultimately the selling price for a house is not determined by an algorithm but by what a buyer will pay for it… In Spencer Rascoff’s case, the market decided it was worth $700,000 less than Zillow.

In the words of Zillow, the Zestimate home valuation is Zillow's estimated market value, computed using a proprietary formula. It is not an appraisal. The Zestimate is calculated from public and user-submitted data, taking into account special features, location, and market conditions. We encourage buyers, sellers, and homeowners to supplement Zillow's information by doing other research such as:

·       Getting a comparative market analysis (CMA) from a real estate agent

·       Getting an appraisal from a professional appraiser

·       Visiting the house (whenever possible)

So what data is driving your Zestimate? Zillow takes deed recordings from the geographic area.  It cannot account for any upgrades or the condition of the home. Per Zillow’s senior managing economist, Skylar Olsen “If there are more transactions in this area, good data in this area, if the homes are more similar to each other, if the homes are in a similar place and similar quality, then the Zestimate is pretty close.” Does this type of uniformity describe most of the housing stock in Marin? Hell no! Marin is quirky and eclectic. A Mediterranean villas sits next to ramshackle cabins a modern farmhouse or a tidy shingled Cape Cod. National averages and algorithms are driven by the cookie cutter, planned developments found in many parts of the country.

Olsen goes on to say, “quality is very hard to capture, which is why we’re pursuing major machine learning techniques to elicit new signals.” So until the singularity, the most accurate estimate of value of your home in Marin will continue to come from the human real estate professionals who work in your market day in and day out.

In order to accurately value a property, it should be visited and examined thoroughly inside and out. Any updates should be taken into consideration. Size and shape of the lot and rooms, location of the home in the neighborhood, views, layout, ceiling heights, natural light, feng shui etc., all of these items will affect the value of the home and cannot be gleaned from assessor’s data which also can be inaccurate if the homeowner has not updated their home information.

There is no perfect science to pricing a home. It’s based on years of experience working in the market and using comps that most accurately compare to the house adding and subtracting value for intangibles and changing market tastes. Automated Valuation Models (AVMs) which is what Zillow relies on for its Zestimates do not allow for the nuances it’s purely the properties physical attributes, tax assessments and prior and current transactions.

So go ahead, enjoy the Zestimate, but don’t mistake it for an accurate estimate of the worth of your house. Remember the business model for Zillow relies on you refreshing the page, not on your sale. Inflating the value of a home, and showing any fluctuation makes you a more engaged user. Assume that only an appraisal and a comparative market analysis will give you an accurate estimate value

Staycation Vacations

No need to go to Hawaii, Paris or even Lake Tahoe for a vacation. We have plenty of options in our own immediate backyard to please even the most discerning leisure lover. Marin and our near neighbor Sonoma County are chock full of interesting opportunities to staycation. Here are some choices.


The World is Your Oyster

Travel up to the charming town of Marshall along the California Coast, home where more than half of the State’s oysters are harvested. Have a picnic lunch outside at Hog Island Oyster Company or the The Marshall Store. Explore Millerton Point at Tomales Bay State Park and then spend the night in a yurt at the Windsong Guest Yurt which is just down the road near Pt. Reyes Station.

Surf’s Up!

The unmarked town of Bolinas has some of the best beaches to learn how to surf. Take a surf lesson with one of the rad and awesome instructors from Prooflab where you can rent all you need to look like a pro surfer including wetsuit and board. After a couple of hours of humbling schooling, head to the Parkside Cafe for a hearty lunch and don’t forget to reserve your loaf of Gruyere Cheese Bread to bring home from their bakery. You earned every morsel.

Life’s a Beach

Sometimes it’s just too cold in the summer in Marin. Head up to Johnson's Beach along the banks of the Russian River near the charming town of Guerneville where it’s reliably hot and the river is inviting. If you’re too lazy to drive home, you can stay in their historic lodge, cabins or even camp.

Row, Row, Row Your Boat

Head up to Healdsburg and just on the outskirts of town is River's Edge, where you can reserve canoes or kayaks to do a leisurely paddle down the Upper Russian River. Pack a picnic lunch and stop along a grassy shore and throw down your blanket. If you have any energy left after your paddle, you can head to MacRostie Winery just down the road from the town square of Healdsburg for delicious wines in a stunning setting.

Hug a Tree

Pack the car with your tent, sleeping bag and your bike and head to Samuel P. Taylor State Park where you can commune with nature under the canopy of redwood trees, hike moderate trails, ride the bike path that parallels the stream and watch salmon spawn. If roasting weenies over the campfire isn’t for you, head over to Nicasio and Rancho Nicasio for dinner with a side of live music.


Just up Highway One before Stinson Beach is an open secret of one of the most sought after campsites around, Steep Ravine. A group of bare bones cabins date back to the 1940s. There is no plumbing or electricity but there are sleeping platforms, BBQs and picnic tables and a drop dead view. There are also 7 tent sites in this exclusive glampsite.

Sonoma Serengeti

Arranging an African safari can be very expensive, not to mention a very long plane ride. There is a safari option in our own backyard, Safari West in Santa Rosa. On a 400 acre private reserve, see giraffes, monkeys, zebras, rhinoceros, carnivores and many other varieties of wildlife native to Africa. You can spend the day there riding through the bush or you can spend the night in authentic African tent cabins.

Lake Sonoma

When even going to Lake Tahoe is just a lake too far, how about getting your boating on Lake Sonoma. Only 10 minutes outside of Healdsburg, this 2700 acre lake created in 1983 by the Warm Springs Dam has 50 miles of coastline and plenty of water sport options including water ski boats, jet skis and pontoon boats. And, if you’re too sunburned and tired to drive back to Marin, there are campsites with fire pits and picnic tables too!

Call of the Sea

Want to be transported back to the 19th century? Climb aboard a classic tall ship and head out on the Bay for a sunset cruise with Call of the Sea. They have two tall ships, the Schooner Seaward and the Matthew Turner that set sail for majestic sails around the Bay. This one is special.

As you can see, there are plenty of staycation options in our own backyard. Let the fun begin!