Realtor.com takes on Zillow.com

Chris Palmeri

Home pricing site Zillow.com caused a huge sensation when it started offering its Zestimates on what people's houses are worth. All the attention (and online traffic) has spurred rival Realtor.com to respond. The company's new Real-Time Market Snapshot gives online home shoppers access to more recent sale prices in a particular neighborhood.

Some background: Realtor.com was among the first Internet sites devoted to housing. It was actually started by the National Association of Realtors, a group that always wants to make sure its got a piece of any home sale. Realtor.com has long offered a "What's Your Home Worth" feature. Both it and Zillow rely on county deed records to generate the data. While Realtor.com gives a wide price range for a property, Zillow gives a specific estimate, and thus produces a lot more buzz.

Now the Realtors are striking back. "The problem with the county data is it's about three months old," says Errol Samuelson, president of Realtor.com. His new Real-Time service uses data gleaned from the many multiple listing services across the country. That data is generated by the Realtors themselves. Having more up-to-date data is important as housing prices soften.

In order to get that Real-Time snapshot you have to leave a particular property address and your contact info with Realtor.com, which then feeds your request to a local Realtor. Thus, you'll get contacted by an agent. On the sample snapshot that I got, the transaction data was more recent, but there still wasn't a specific estimate of what the property is worth.

I should add, while a recent study by the Wall Street Journal found Zillow's Zestimates to be fairly accurate. Their Zestimate for the sample house I used was $800,000. It's actually worth $1.3 million, judging by recent sales on the block. That's a huge discrepancy. The online real estate wars continue.

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