Maintaining Your Hot Water Heater

WRITTEN BY SARAH KELLNER

Water heaters generally have a lifespan of 8-12 years, but as with anything, the better care you take of it, the longer it will last. There are several easy “set it and forget it” tips that you can use with your water heater, like keeping the thermostat at 120 degrees, and always maintain two feet of clearance around the appliance. You can also conserve money on your gas bill by setting your heater to its “vacation” setting when leaving town. This will keep the pilot light going without heating the water.

Water heater maintenance goes well beyond just checking the thermostat, however. Here are some detailed tips for making sure your water heater lives a long, full life.

Draining & Cleaning

The bottom of the tank can contain all manner of sediment, calcium deposits, rust and bacteria. Drain a quarter of the tank a few times a year to remove this debris. Hook up a garden hose to the drain valve and run until the water is clear.

A once-a-year full cleaning should include draining the appliance completely, removing the drain valve and then scrubbing the bottom with a long, narrow brush. From there, screw on a nipple, pump 15 or 20 seconds worth of fresh water into the tank, then drain, repeating the process until the water runs clear. This is the best chemical-free way to clean a water heater.

Testing the TPR Valve

Most experts recommend testing the temperature and pressure relief (TPR) valve on your water heater every six months for optimal performance. Frequent testing can also reduce the chance of a leak resulting from mineral salt, rust and corrosion buildup, or worse: an explosion.

To perform the test, slowly raise and lower the test lever so that it lifts the brass stem. At this point, hot water should rush out of the end of the drainpipe. If you get no water, or only a trickle, be sure to replace the valve. The main thing to watch for immediately after testing the TPR valve is a leak. If you do catch a leak, operate the test level a few more times to loosen the debris that could be preventing the valve from working correctly. If the valve is functioning properly, turn down the temperature on the water heater controller and turn down the water pressure.

Examining the Sacrificial Anode

‘Sacrificial anode’ is the fancy name for the rod of metal located in your water heater’s tank that rusts easily so that the steel won’t; it takes the fall, essentially. Sacrificial anodes in water heaters are made of highly corrosive metals like magnesium and aluminum.

To examine your heater’s sacrificial anode you must first remove it. Start by shutting off the electricity or gas to the water heater, as well as the water supply. Drain a few inches of water from the tank via the tank valve. Locate the top of the anode rod or connecting hardware – it may be under a cap about halfway to the center, or it may be under a pink top nipple. Loosen the anode very carefully with a wrench. Here, it may be necessary to apply penetrating oil to the connecting nut or threads.

One you remove the anode, inspect it carefully. If it is covered in rough metal that looks like it’s been chewed, that’s normal and your anode is functioning properly. If you can see six inches or more of the steel core wire inside the anode, replace it. If not, put it back in place and check back in a year.

Insulating Older Units

When you insulate the walls in your house, you increase its energy efficiency, and the same is true with your water heater. Although newer units are optimized for insulation, many older units are not, and by insulating them, you could reduce heat loss by 25-45%. If you’re not sure whether or not to insulate your appliance, simply touch it; if it’s warm to the touch, it’s time to insulate.

Before purchasing a water heater insulating blanket kit, check with your utility to see if they offer blankets at discounted rates. Some companies even install them for little-to-no cost.

To self-install, turn off the electricity to your heater at the breaker (or for gas, switch the valve to “pilot” position). Wrap the blanket around the heater and tape it temporarily, leaving open areas for the access panel(s), valves and for gas heaters, the burner areas. Then tape the blanket permanently, and be sure to never set the thermostat above 130 degrees because the wiring could overheat.

When to Replace?

If you own a conventional storage tank water heater and it’s getting into the double digits in age, it’s time to replace. However if your water heater is only a few years old, there are a few things that would only take about $150-300 to repair. These things include extinguished pilot lights, burner or heating elements failing, thermostats breaking, or valves sticking. The two precursors to replacement are usually either old age or a leak. When your water heater springs a leak that usually means it’s time to face the music and buy a new one.

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Insider’s Tips for Adding Value to Your Home

Written By Andrew Jones

Insider's tips for adding value to your home

Building equity is one of the primary benefits of home ownership. Equity is established when you make a down payment at the time of purchase, and it typically grows as your property value increases and the loan balance is paid off. You can also add equity to your home through the completion of thoughtful projects. These are some of the top options to consider that can add true value to your home.

Repair Known Issues

Before you spend money updating and improving the home, fix the items that you know are in poor condition. For example, if your roof is leaking or your foundation is damaged, repair these items. While they can be costly to complete in some cases, these issues can negatively affect the value of the property if they are not properly tended to.

Focus on Kitchens and Bathrooms

The two primary areas of the home that can show age and wear are the kitchen and bathrooms. Most of the features in these rooms are built-in, so professional renovation is often needed to improve style and function in these spaces. Depending on the extent of your upgrading, you may be able to recoup as much as 80 percent or more of the renovation costs.

Think About Climate Control

When you sell your home, a potential buyer will look for climate control features built into the property. While you may make do with ceiling fans and space heaters for climate control, many buyers want a home with a centralized heating and cooling system. If your home does not have a system installed or if the system is outdated, add a new and energy efficient HVAC unit to your home.

Update Your Lighting

Lighting is a critical design element that is often overlooked. The types of lights, the intensity of the light and even the placement of lights can play a major role in the overall ambiance in your home. Lighting should be functional and practical, but it also must create a suitable ambiance. The fixtures themselves can also affect the style of the home. When you update light fixtures, focus on the look of the lights, energy efficiency, their placement, the benefit of dimmer switches and more.

Make Easy Cosmetic Improvements

Some of these ideas can cost a small fortune to incorporate into your space. What can you do if you only have a limited amount of money to work with? Some cosmetic improvements can yield tremendous results for your home’s appeal and value. For example, replacing broken windows, patching up cracked drywall, updating the wall colors with a fresh coat of neutral paint, fixing cracked tile and more can do wonders for the overall condition and look of your property.

Fund Your Improvements and Renovations

Before you get started on home improvement projects, you need to set a budget for the work and line up the full amount of funds you will need. It is important to have access to all of the funds you need to complete the work before you begin. This is because you do not want to be forced to stop halfway through the project because of a lack of funds. Consider the benefits of a short-term loan, such as a payday loan or a title loan, to get the funds you need.

You may want to add value to your home quickly before listing it for sale. Perhaps you want to make improvements to your home for your own enjoyment. Each of these ideas can improve your home’s value with great results, so analyze the ideas to see which options are more applicable to your home.

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Best New Security Tips To Keep Your Home Safe While You’re On Vacation

WRITTEN BY JAYMI NACIRI

Nothing kills your vacation buzz like getting a call from the police back home letting you know your home has been burglarized. Basic home security tips are great, but safety measures are continually evolving, with new and more refined ways to keep you and your home safe.

Vary your inside lights

“There are differing opinions on whether or not you should leave your lights on the entire time you’re on vacation,” said A Secure Life. “If you leave your lights on the whole time you’re gone, it wastes a lot of electricity and raises your electric bill. Also, having lights on 24/7 can look just as suspicious as having them off. Electronic timers may be helpful. The danger here is that if someone was really intent on robbing you, they will likely be watching the house for a period of time. If they notice that the lights go on at exactly 7:05pm and off at exactly 10:35pm each night, it would not take a genius to figure out they are on a timer.”

The answer: A project like Caséta. “Scheduling lights to turn on at varying times is a great way to deter burglars, and the Caséta Wireless kit lets you control the lights in your home from anywhere through the Lutron Electronics app,” said USA Today 10 Best. “Its new Smart Away feature randomly turns lights on and off between 6pm and 11pm to make your home look lived in – even when you’re on vacation. Caséta Wireless also ensures you never have to walk into a dark house again – or get out of bed to turn off the lights.”

Hold your mail – even if you’re only going away for a weekend

Mail theft is up, and consequently, so is identity theft. “According to a US Postal Service official, mail theft is on the rise, with the objective of getting access to financial information to exploit for personal gain,” said ABC 10. Asking your neighbors to get your mail is great, but what if they don’t get to it right away? You don’t want thieves putting a plan of credit card fraud into action while you’re getting a massage.

Hire a dog sitter

You may think you have thought of everything when it comes to protecting your home on vacation. But if your dogs are also taking a little vacation at your fave boarding spot while you’re away, you might be removing one of the top obstacles to home break-ins: a barking dog. Nextdoor and Rover are great places to find a qualified dog sitter who can stay with your pooches and watch your house at the same time, and, often, it will cost you less than boarding, especially if you have more than one dog.


petdoors.com
 

Watch the doggy door

If you do board your dogs, be sure to lock up your doggy door while you’re gone. Depending on the size of your dogs, humans might be able to enter your home while slithering through. If the doggy door is in plain sight and can be viewed from the street, even with the cover on (which may keep your dog from going in and out but may not keep a thief out), you may want to consider placing a chair or large plant in front of it.

Get rid of spare keys

Have a key hidden under the mat or in the planter next to the front door? Security experts will advise you this is dangerous on any given day with thieves looking for an easy way in. But, especially, when you’re out of town, a poorly hidden key is an invitation for unlawful entry. Instead, leave a house key with a trusted neighbor for emergencies.

Lock your gates

If someone can get into your backyard, they have an easier entry into your home since they’re more likely to be out of sight. If you regularly keep the gate unlocked to give access to gardeners or other family members, consider locking it while you’re away. Forgoing landscaping in your back yard for a week won’t hurt, and the extra security measure will help you feel at ease.

Cancel automatic deliveries

You may think about your mail, and even halting your newspaper delivery, while you’re enjoying your relaxing beach getaway, but have you forgotten anything? If you get regular deliveries – coffee, office supplies, diapers – be sure to call and cancel for the the time you’re gone. Packages piling up at your front door can invite theft – of your home, and the stuff you ordered.


komando.com
 

Wipe away your fingerprints

Have a front door lock that uses a code instead of a key? They’re great for minimizing the likelihood that someone will be locked out. But, there have been recent cases in which crooks used fingerprint patterns on the touchpad to determine the code and break in. Get into a habit of wiping the keypad down every day to minimize the risk.

Get a security system

Nothing new about this, but a security system continues to be the No. 1 deterrent to break-ins, so it bears mentioning. PC Mag’s featured smart security system is Vivint Smart Home, which costs just $49. “Bottom Line: The Vivint Smart Home system offers 24/7 security monitoring and remote control of your door locks, cameras, heating system, and features the best video doorbell solution we’ve tested,” they said.


cctvcamerapros.com
 

Get a security camera

In lieu of, or in addition to, a security system. Security cameras can give you piece of mind. PC Mag recommends two starter models: The iControl Networks Piper nv or the Nest Cam Outdoor. “These cameras have built-in sensors that track motion, and will send push notifications when movement is detected (the Piper nv will also send notifications when humidity and temperature thresholds are exceeded),” they said. “Both are solid, cost-saving alternatives to full-on security systems.”

Increase your protection against disasters

Protection from thieves isn’t all you have to worry about when you’re away. Nest Protect helps ward off potentially catastrophic fires and toxins. “This smoke and carbon monoxide alarm looks for fast-burning fires, smoldering fires and invisible-but-deadly carbon monoxide,” said USA Today 10 Best. “It speaks to you, letting you know what and where the danger is, and will message your phone if you’re not home. It can also be silenced from your smartphone so if you simply overcooked your dinner, you don’t have to go climbing to turn it off. Nest Protect tests its sensors and batteries 400 times a day and will notify you when the battery is running low rather than beep all night until you can get a ladder to replace it.”

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Landscaping to Improve Resale: 9 Projects That Fit Within Your Desired Price Point

WRITTEN BY DANIEL M. CHRISTENSEN

Landscaping to Improve Resale: 9 Projects That Fit Within Your Desired Price Point

As the weather starts to heat up each Spring, so too does the housing market. Spring is an optimal time to get your house ready to sell. The first thing that potential buyers will see of your home is the landscaping, so make a great first impression with beautiful outdoor spaces. An investment in landscaping can help sell your home faster and for more money. There are simple projects at every price point that can help you achieve great curb-appeal.

Inexpensive $

1. Keep the Lawn Well-Manicured

The easiest and most obvious landscape project when hoping to sell your home is to get your lawn looking its best. Spring is a great season to try to sell because your lawn is helped by Mother Nature. Wet, mild Spring weather will help the lawn stay green with less effort. To show off that green lawn, make sure to mow and edge it often.

2. Keep Your Yard Weed Free

It may not cost much, but it will require some time and effort to control the weeds around your property. Spray or pull weeds in flowerbeds, on property borders, and along the driveway. A weed-free yard will help potential buyers feel confident that the home is well cared for, which can create an overall positive impression of your home.

3. Add Flower Pots Near Your Front Door

A splash of color in the yard is a great way to highlight your home. If you are looking to sell quickly, it might be too late to do major yard improvements since new flowers and plants will not have adequate time to grow and mature, but a few beautiful pots of flowers strategically placed near your front door can have a similar effect without requiring a lot of time and maintenance.

Moderate $$

4. Add Outdoor lighting

Outdoor lighting has become a trendy feature that buyers have embraced. Lighting can add interest to your yard, highlight areas of beautiful landscaping, and make your home stand out at all times of the day. Solar lights are particularly easy to use because they will recharge during the day and automatically come on in the evening to illuminate your home.

5. Install Curbing/Edging

If you have a little extra money to spend, consider adding curbing or edging around your yard. It helps the landscaping appear crisp and clean, and makes the lawn easier to mow and trim. Savvy buyers will appreciate the ease of maintenance and the defined spaces that curbing creates.

6. Hire a Lawn or Pest Control Company

It is important when selling a home to make sure that their aren’t any obvious problems. If your lawn is dead or patchy or you have pest problems like spiders, mice, etc, you will need to get those under control. Some of these projects are beyond the scope of what an individual without training can quickly achieve and should be left to professionals. Lawn care companies and exterminators can assess the issues you may have and recommend treatments. This may even be limited to a one time visit that can quickly improve the chances of selling your home.

High-End $$$

7. Create Outdoor Living Areas

If you have money to invest in your home, high-end landscaping projects can increase your bottom-line and draw attention from buyers looking for upgrades. Extra living area outside of your home is a huge attention grabber that attracts buyers. This could range from simple patios staged with outdoor furniture, to screened in porches, to full outdoor kitchen areas. Depending on your location, these upgrades may or may not be worth the investment, so do your research before proceeding.


8. Replace or Update Fencing

Fences provide a safe place for children and pets and also give homeowners a feeling of privacy, so they are highly sought after. Fencing is also one of the first things people see when coming to your home. If your fence is an eyesore, it will be worth it to make the effort to have it replaced or fixed up. A new fence is quite an investment, so first determine if your fence can be spruced up with some nails and a new coat of paint.

9. Hire a Professional Landscaper

If you are serious about creating a stunning yard, a professional landscaper can add massive amounts of curb appeal to make your home one of a kind. A landscaper can help you add impressive things like paving stone walkways, decorative retaining walls, and water features. Outdoor improvements definitely increase house values, but it is always good to know what the market will support in your area before moving forward.

No matter how much money you have to invest in your home’s landscaping, there are projects you can do this Spring to improve your home’s curb appeal and get it noticed by buyers.

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10 SUSTAINABLE FEATURES THAT ARE CHANGING THE DEFINITION OF SMART HOUSE

Written By   Elle Decor

“Smart home” and “green home” are now nearly synonymous.

smart house

With the recent sale of “Real Housewife” Shannon Beador’s über-eco-friendly Orange County mansion, it’s clearer than ever that selling a home is about more than just a prime location and pretty paint colors. Being green is a major selling point, too.

Beador’s estate came with seriously impressive features like organic wallpaper, allergen-free floors, buried crystals and hospital grade air. Super neat, but not exactly mainstream. That got us wondering: What other fascinating green features may we be missing out on?

To find out, we researched the latest green home trends, and spoke with Sabine H. Schoenberg, host of “Sabine’s New House” and the designer behind what’s been dubbed the “smart house of the future” — an incredibly sustainable home that was just built in Greenwich, Connecticut.

Read on for the savvy technology that you probably never thought about, and snag some of that green living for yourself.

Energy Conservation

The sustainable smart house in Greenwich, Connecticut, designed by Sabine H. Schoenberg.

The Greenwich house has roots that are planted deep — 450 feet, to be exact. Two loops extend far into the ground as part of a geothermal system, extracting the constant heat of the earth to heat the space.

“We used a geothermal system for heating and cooling,” says Schoenberg. “It is controlled by a specialized computer that optimizes production and output control, only producing the energy needed for the home at just the right times.”

Geothermal pumps use 25 percent to 50 percent less electricity than conventional systems, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. That equates to an energy bill that is about 40 percent of a conventionally-run house’s bill, says Sabine. Plus, since there are no outside condensing units, like an air conditioner, you don’t have to worry about air pollution.

For pinpointing the temperature of the indoor spaces, Schoenberg turned to smart thermostats, which learn a homeowner’s patterns (like when they’re home and when they’re away) and adjusts heating and cooling accordingly — typically within just two weeks.

“In terms of energy efficiency, smart thermostats are a must,” says Schoenberg. “They tailor temperature settings to homeowners’ individual comfort settings when they are actually at home and reduce energy consumption when they are away.”

There are two types of smart thermostats that can do this: A geosensing thermostat (like the Lyric T5 Wi-Fi Thermostat) that detects the presence of your phone, assuming it’s always on you. The other type is a motion-detecting thermostat like the Nest Thermostat, which you can actually program to serve as a motion detector, too.

Water Conservation

water conservation

Recent droughts across the United States have turned water conservation from a pleasant thought into a necessity. Even if the law isn’t cracking down on your water use, there are a few cutting edge, water-conserving features that can help you save money and do something nice for Mother Nature.

The Greenwich house, for example, has a smart irrigation system controlled by the Rachio smart irrigation controller ($250), which allows for tailored watering.

“Out are the old irrigation systems where you have to set up certain zones, times and lengths of watering, or rain sensors that only know when it’s already rained,” says Schoenberg. “The smart irrigation system fine-tunes its watering to the amount of light and soil condition at each of its 16 zones, and responds to the local weather forecast, even before it rains.”

irrigation system

This system guarantees savings of nearly 40 percent on water usage.

Inside, you can watch your water consumption by installing a smart showerhead, such as the Hydrao, which just debuted at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) this year. The showerhead connects to an iPhone or iPad app so you can set alerts in intervals (think five gallons, seven gallons or 10 gallons).

smart showered

As you reach each interval, LED lights illuminate in various colors to remind you how much water you’ve used. The lights are operated by a tiny turbine that uses the running water to supply electricity. You can pre-register now for the showerhead to be the first to know when it hits the market.

Solar Power

Solar panels aren’t possible for everyone, based on budget, time and regional climate. There are little ways, however, to incorporate efficient solar power into your home.

Take GoSun Grill, a solar barbecue that debuted at CES this year. The grill can fry, bake or boil a meal for up to eight people sans fuel, using only energy from the sun. Solar panels in the grill transfer energy to heat pipes inside, and voilà! You have yourself an energy-efficient meal. The product is currently in production and will be available for $599 later this year.

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Future Home Tech: 8 Energy-Saving Solutions on the Horizon

Written By Paul Lester  http://www.energy.gov

Digital Content Specialist, Office of Public Affairs

From heating and cooling to electronics and appliances, it takes a lot of energy to power our daily lives. Our homes use 37 percent more energy today than they did in 1980. But without energy efficiency — through technology innovation and federal energy conservation standards — this number would be a lot higher. In fact, even though our total energy use has grown, our energy use per household is down about 10 percent, despite that our homes are larger and contain more devices.

Thanks to breakthroughs by our National Labs, industry and academia, equipment we use in our homes is more energy efficient than ever before, saving consumers money and slashing carbon pollution. Let’s take a look at a few technologies we can expect to see in the marketplace within the next few years that will make our homes even more sustainable.

1. SMARTER, MORE CONNECTED HOMES

We live in an increasingly connected world — the same is true for our homes. New electronic devices and appliances can now be linked to the Internet to provide real-time data that makes it easier to understand and lower energy use.

Soon these technologies will be more cost effective and smarter as a result of a project supported by the Energy Department’s Building Technologies Office. New wireless sensors developed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory will boost home energy efficiency through automated control systems for heating and cooling units, lighting and other systems that access data such as outside air and room temperature, humidity, light level and occupancy all at a fraction of a cost of typical wireless sensors you see on the market today. Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory are also developing new protocols and standards that will improve how smart appliances communicate with each other and interact with the electric grid.

2. ULTRA-EFFICIENT HEAT PUMPS

The Building Technologies Office is ushering in the next generation of heat pump systems, which warm and cool your home by moving heat from one space to another. These include:

3. CARBON-FIGHTING CLOTHES DRYERS

The same concept behind heat pump technologies that keep your home comfortable can also be used for another important application: drying your clothes.  Oak Ridge National Laboratory and General Electric are developing a new type of clothes dryer that uses a heat pump cycle to generate hot air needed for drying. The result: a more efficient dryer that has the potential to lower energy consumption by 60 percent compared to conventional ones on the market today.

4. MAGNETIC REFRIGERATORS (THAT’S RIGHT, MAGNETS)

Oak Ridge National Laboratory and General Electric have teamed up to create a revolutionary new type of refrigerator that uses magnets to create cold, also known as the magnetocaloric effect (lowering or raising the temperature of material by changing the magnetic field).  For the past 100 years, refrigerators have relied on a process called vapor compression that uses coolants which can be harmful to the environment. The new refrigerator is a revolutionary technology that uses a water-based cooling fluid, making it better for the environment and more efficient, which means lower energy bills and less carbon pollution.

5. ADVANCED WINDOW CONTROLS

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Pella Windows are working on new highly insulated windows that use sensors and microprocessors to automatically adjust shading based on the amount of available sunlight and the time of day to ensure proper lighting and comfort, saving consumers energy and money.

6. NEXT-GEN INSULATION

Insulation is one of the most important ways to reduce your home heating and cooling costs. The Industrial Science & Technology Network is developing new foam insulation made with environmentally friendly and advanced composite materials that ensure heat doesn’t escape from the attic, walls and other areas of the home during cold winter months.

7. REFLECTIVE ROOFING MATERIALS

Cool roofs coated with materials containing specialized pigments reflect sunlight and absorb less heat than standard roofs. Expect these types of roof systems to get even “cooler” due to new fluorescent pigments developed by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and PPG Industries that can reflect nearly four times the amount of sunlight of standard pigments.

8. BRIGHTER, BETTER LIGHTING

LEDs (light emitting diodes) have come a long way, with today’s highest-performing lights consuming 85 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs. The Building Technologies Office’s Solid State Lighting Program supports research and development to lower the cost of LEDs, while making them even more efficient and long lasting. In fact, LED efficiency is expected to double from the current 125-135 lumens per watt to 230 lumens per watt in the next few years as result of continued R&D.

Go to buildings.energy.gov to learn how the Energy Department is advancing building technologies that improve the energy efficiency and comfort of American homes and businesses. Also, check out Energy Saver for more ways to save energy and money at home.

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Can You Trust Zillow’s Home Price Zestimate? In a Word: No.

WRITTEN BY JAYMI NACIRI

I got an email from Zillow last week. Seems my house has gone up in value another $2,000+ dollars in the past 30 days. And it’s going to rise another 3.5% in the next year, according to their Zestimate®. Fab!

Except that it’s just speculation. When it comes to Zillow’s Zestimates, you have to take the numbers with a grain of salt. Make that a big shake of salt, right over your shoulder. And maybe a stiff drink. And a frank conversation with your real estate agent.

“Shoppers, sellers and buyers routinely quote Zestimates to realty agents – and to one another – as gauges of market value,” said the Los Angeles Times. “If a house for sale has a Zestimate of $350,000, a buyer might challenge the sellers’ list price of $425,000. Or a seller might demand to know from potential listing brokers why they say a property should sell for just $595,000 when Zillow has it at $685,000. Disparities like these are daily occurrences and, in the words of one realty agent who posted on the industry blog ActiveRain, they are ‘the bane of my existence.'”

Are faulty Zillow estimates irritating, dangerous, somewhere in the middle? It all depends on your personal situation. A real estate investor, a seller in a high-end neighborhood, or an obsessive real estate watcher (ahem) may be able to brush off a $15,000 error. But for many people across the country, the word of Zillow might as well be the word of God. So, yeah, dangerous.

Price errors

Errors in sales prices are one of the issues Investopedia pointed outin its look at Zillow’s Zestimates.


spoty
 

“Zillow factors the date and price of the last sale into its estimate, and in some areas, these data make up a big part of the figure. If this information is inaccurate, it can throw off the Zestimate,” they said. “And since comparable sales also affect a home’s Zestimate, a mistake in one home’s sales price record can affect the Zestimates of other homes in the area. The Zestimate also takes into account actual property taxes paid, exceptions to tax assessments and other publicly available property tax data. Tax assessor’s property values can be inaccurate, though. The tax assessor’s database might have a mistake related to a property’s basic information, causing the assessed value to be too high or too low.”

In June, Zillow’s much-maligned (by industry experts, anyway) Zestimates got an upgrade with a new algorithm. Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff has famously called his company’s price estimates, “a good starting point” and copped to a median error rate of approximately 8%. With their new algorithm, they say it’s dropped to 6.1%.


Marketwatch
 

John Wake, an economist and real estate agent from Real Estate Decoded, applied Zillow’s updated 6.1% margin of error to “Zillow’s own estimate of the median sale price in the U.S. in May 2016 of $229,737 and got a typical error of $14,000. He then took a sample city, Denver – a city in which estimates are actually more accurate than average” – and found “the error spread in 2016 is a lot tighter and more focused on the bullseye of the actual sales price,” but that “their Zestimates are scattershot.”

In his example, “a Denver home has a fair market value of $300,000. According to Zillow’s Zestimate Accuracy Table, 10% of their Zestimate prices were off by more than 20% from the actual sale prices. Half of that 10% are Zestimates that are too high by 20% or more, and half are Zestimates that are too low by 20% or more. That means you have a 5% chance Zillow will give you a Zestimate of $360,000 OR MORE, and a 5% chance Zillow will give you a Zestimate of $240,00 OR LESS. Yikes!”

Missing data

It gets even more complicated without all the data that gets fed into Zillow’s algorithm. Limit the available info and the margin for error grows.

That same email I received included a couple of new listings and info on recent sold homes in the area. Notice anything interesting about these recent sales?

Yep, no sales prices. Texas is one of about a dozen states without a mandatory price disclosure law, which makes property appraisals challenging and which makes it even more difficult for Zillow to come up with an accurate Zestimate since it eliminates one of their key data points.

In the case of my home, they’re a good $11,000–15,000 high on their sales price estimate. And that’s based on my direct knowledge of sales prices in my neighborhood—not list prices, not tax assessments, and not assumed sales prices based on trends.

Which brings up another issue that leads to inaccurate estimates. In many neighborhoods, sales trends and prices vary street to street. But Zillow’s estimates are a one-size-fits-all program. In my masterplan, the building of high-density units on the southern edge of the community a few years back took a bite out of the value of homes on the perimeter streets. Sales of homes with a first-floor master also get a bump here.

And then there’s the fact that this community is also split between two elementary schools. Zillow wouldn’t know which one buyers prefer and wouldn’t account for a difference in sales price between two otherwise comparable homes. But, people who live here would, and so would the local real estate agents.

Which only reinforces the importance of working with one, BTW.

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