Harold Bubil: A chat with the queen of Zillow


LAS VEGAS — Swept up in the rush of press events at the International Builders Show, I found myself at a table learning about a new iPad application.

But not just any app — a Zillow app. I can't tell you about it yet, because I am sworn to secrecy until the embargo date passes. But here's a hint: It has something to do with what you might do to a house between the time you buy it and the time you sell it.

But this turned out to be a different kind of date. Holding court with a table full of reporters was Amy Bohutinsky, known on Twitter as "amybo," director of marketing for Zillow, the world's leading real estate website and mobile app.

After listening intently to her spiel about the new app, Amy and I began to discuss my obsession, previously revealed in this column, with checking Zillow's "Zestimate" of my home's value.

But my Zillow use is more than an obsession. As the Herald-Tribune's designated photographer for the Market Snapshot feature that appears in our Real Estate section on Saturdays, I rely on Zillow more than any other tool except my camera.

As I drive through the neighborhoods, I keep Zillow open on my iPhone to find for-sale houses to be photographed.

Thirty five million people used Zillow in December; most were buyers and sellers. Zillow is by far the largest real estate site and mobile platform, and its mapping function facilitates online home shopping. Just more than half of all Zillow visits are made on a mobile device.

"It is how people use computing these days," said Bohutinsky. "We started our mobile platform in 2008. The product is actually better on a mobile device," such as an iPhone or iPad. "You have a better user experience, because it is visual and location-based. So much of your shopping for real estate is done in-market (on the street), and this is information that makes the in-person experience better."

The most alluring, and controversial, Zillow feature is its "Zestimate" of a home's value. Real estate agents often say the Zestimates, in which public and owner data on a home is fed to a computer to arrive at a likely value within a low-high range, are inaccurate.

"We have five years of history on this," said Bohutinsky, "which is making Zestimates more accurate all the time."

Harold Bubil

Recipient of the 2015 Bob Graham Architectural Awareness Award from the American Institute of Architects/Florida-Caribbean, Harold Bubil is real estate editor of the Herald-Tribune Media Group. Born in Newport, R.I., his family moved to Sarasota in 1958. Harold graduated from Sarasota High School in 1970 and the University of Florida in 1974 with a degree in journalism. For the Herald-Tribune, he writes and edits stories about residential real estate, architecture, green building and local development history. He also is a photographer and public speaker. Contact him via email, or at (941) 361-4805.
Last modified: February 3, 2013
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