Zillow lets homeowners ask for the moon

December 22, 2006|By Mary Umberger | Mary Umberger,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

It's a cliche of the auto industry: A salesman leans into the face of the tire-kicker and asks, "What would it take to put you into this car today?"

Now, Zillow.com is asking the real estate version of the question, with a twist of the phrasing. How much, a homeowner can muse online, would it take to get me out of this house?

That's the premise of Make Me Move, a new feature on Zillow.com that lets homeowners post a price - no matter how absurd - that would inspire them to hand over the keys, even if the house isn't really for sale.

It was one of several new gimmicks that the extremely popular home-price valuation Web site rolled out this month, though it was overshadowed by its simultaneous announcement that it would post listings (real ones, and for free) of homes for sale, from agents and private parties.

Zillow's listings news set off murmurs in some parts of the industry of the erosion of the control over listings data by established brokerages. The murmuring got even louder when Zillow's news was followed within days by announcements of free listings for agents on HouseValues.com and HomeGain.com (which is partly owned by Tribune Co., which also owns The Sun and Chicago Tribune).

Also this month, the Houston Association of Realtors said it will feed its members' listings data to Google Base, a free service operated by You Know Who.

Make Me Move is the MySpace of homes - further proof that lots of people are passionate about their properties and enjoy showing them off the way other people flaunt baby pictures.

About a week after its launch, 4,000 homeowners had signed up for Make Me Move, not a huge number in Web terms but it shows promise. One of the first was Mark Beekman, who posted his Chicago condominium and a lengthy description of it.

Never mind that Zillow.com's estimate (the site calls it a "Zestimate") of the value of his 2,500-square-foot unit was about $458,000: Beekman declared, electronically, that he'd consider selling it for, ahem, $599,000.

"I thought if I was going to hang it out there, I ought to shoot for the hills," Beekman said.

But if Web traffic is any indication, accuracy is secondary to the ability to snoop into other people's finances. That appears to be the primary attraction of Zillow. In a recent week it was No. 7 among the top 10 real estate Web sites in terms of page views.

"I do think a lot of people are looking at what their neighbors' homes are valued at," Beekman said. "It's like people Googling themselves."

Mary Umberger writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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