Real Estate Today

‘Zillow Talk: The New Rules of Real Estate’

Zillions definition: A very large number.

Occasionally I had wondered what the name Zillow meant. This was answered early on in the book. The idea was to combine the zillions of pieces of data with the emotional importance homes have in everyone’s life. After much brainstorming, the answer to naming the new company was to combine two words: “zillions”and “pillow” to create Zillow. The writers said, “Ultimately, we want to help you make sense of the zillions so you can rest at night.” I always tell my buyers when they are making an offer to be sure to ask themselves if, once they buy the home, they will be able to sleep at night. If the answer is not yes, they should move on.

Quickly reading the first few pages of Zillow Talk (Grand Central Publishing, 2015), it became clear that Zillow’s mission was to statistically analyze every conceivable aspect of residential real estate. Zillow wants to empower their readers by providing them with information that until recently could only be found through a real estate agent. Immediately I wondered how the readers would use this information. That is what you find out when you read Zillow Talk.

To my surprise after reading the first chapter of Zillow Talk, I found myself enjoying the book. A few chapters later I felt myself being lulled by the soothing voice of writers Stan Humphries and Spencer Rascoff. I reminded myself not to believe everything I read and to keep an open mind.

On page one, Humphries begins by telling the reader about his Peace Corp experience in Africa and how he found that unique personal experiences shaped real estate decisions. I was relieved. Thankfully, emotions and human experience count, too!

What did I learn that was so interesting or useful to make the book worth reading? Actually many tidbits come to mind—in fact, so many that I won’t have time for a complete review here. Since every chapter has worthwhile information, I will limit my review to the few chapters that I found most interesting.

Chapter 1, Warren Buffett Is (Always) Right: Buying a home is a good investment. I liked the idea: “Real estate does triple duty as somewhere to put your money, your stuff and yourself … or your tenants.”

Chapter 2, Stats in the City: Timing is Everything When Deciding Whether To Buy or Rent: The almost primal urge to buy a home was discussed in this chapter. In March I wrote about “Pregnant Women versus Chicken Little and the San Francisco Real Estate Market” and was gratified that the authors pointed out this primal urge in their book. It was no surprise that Zillow wants to help buyers to channel this urge and analyze various data before jumping into home ownership.

Chapter 3, 2-4-6-8, Neighbor-hoods That Will Appreciate: Zillow Talk’s advice is to think about “future locations.” The book discusses patterns that can predict the future. Great advice, but not all home buyers are willing to be urban pioneers. There is food for thought in this chapter for everyone on a budget or hoping their home will increase in value as their neighborhood changes for the better. The authors mention San Francisco’s Mission District in this chapter and the conflicts brought on by gentrification.

Chapter 5, It’s the Worst House for a Reason: The title says it all. Be sure to read this chapter.

Chapter 7, ARMs and Legs: Fixed Rate Mortgages Aren’t for Everyone: The most interesting point in this chapter is that Zillow found “… the average American spends only five hours researching their mortgage … compared to 10 hours doing research to buy a car. The assumption seems to be that all mortgages are created equal, when that is not true at all.” If you are getting a loan to buy your home, don’t miss this chapter.

Chapter 8, Apples and Oranges: Talking about foreclosures, I was happy to read what I knew to be true. There are many issues to consider with foreclosures, and the likelihood of finding a good deal is slim.

Chapter 9, What to Expect When You’re Inspecting: The great advice here is to prepare to get down and dirty. Follow your inspector everywhere possible — plus, bring a friend.

Chapter 10, America’s Next Top Remodel: Here is excellent analysis about home improvements. It turns out that if you feel compelled to make improvements, a midrange bathroom remodel is one of the few that will net extra dollars in the sale of your home.

Chapter 11, Magic Words and Dangerous Descriptors: This chapter was the most interesting for me. All agents spend time carefully writing home descriptions and pricing their listings. In this chapter, Zillow analyzed the effectiveness of various words and numbers and came up with words and numbers that are magic, and those that are the kiss of death.

Chapter 17, Appraising Real Estate Agents: There is good advice here on finding the right agent. I was pleased to hear Zillow found that more people than ever “want a trained professional in their corner during the process.” Buyers and sellers need a professional to interpret the information found online.

Skipping to the Conclusion: The authors and Zillow want us to know that the two most important things to remember are to collect as much information as possible, and to keep in mind that you are buying or selling in a local market.

I found the book to be chock full of useful information. Zillow Talk‘s advice is good. Still it is not always possible to follow when there is a sudden job change, a new baby joins the family, or when there is a limited supply of homes for sale, as is the case in San Francisco. Anyone planning on buying or selling a home will find the time spent reading Zillow Talk will be time well spent.

Once you read the book, it is time to find a real estate agent to help you understand the information you learned and how to put it to use buying or selling a home.

After the first edition of Zillow Talk, the subtitle was changed to Rewriting the Rules of Real Estate.

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Carole Isaacs is a Realtor with McGuire Real Estate, where she is a Top Producer. Follow her on Twitter @CaroleIsaacs or visit her online at or call 415-608-1267.