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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, December 22, 2006

Make Me Move lets you post what you'd sell your home for

By Mary Umberger
Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO 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, www.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 to an unsolicited but eager buyer, 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 Home Gain.com (which is partly owned by Tribune Co., which also owns the 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.

But if Make Me Move is less newsworthy than the listings bulletins, it's infinitely more charming. It's 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 bears watching. One of the first was Mark Beekman, who posted his Chicago condo 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," said Beekman, who reported Wednesday that the only interest in his home expressed so far had come from this writer.

Beekman swears he's not particularly interested in selling the condo, which he purchased new four years ago. The holder of a real estate license, though he has used it only occasionally to sell properties, he admits to being something of a real estate groupie. More than that, though, he's a techie, a Web site designer whose clients include major car manufacturers.

Beekman said he surfs constantly for new online features that could be adapted for his clients and keeps a favorites list of real estate-oriented sites. "I love Zillow," he admits. "I love the technology behind it."

This, of course, would sound like a bald-faced ad for the site, except that Zillow.com's estimates, culled from public property records, usually leave something to be desired. They vex real estate agents who find themselves wrestling with clients who have "Zillowed" their homes and come away with vastly inflated ideas of their homes' worth.

"I'm not sure the information is totally accurate, and I don't have much confidence in the numbers Zillow is putting up," said Beekman, who not only laughed at his $599,000 Make Me Move claim, but also said he thought his unit was "worth $540,000-$550,000, tops."