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"We're very open about the site being a work in progress," Rascoff said. "We admit that we're not perfect." The site has a question-and-answer section and a blog where users can to communicate with Zillow staffers.
George Karvel, professor of real estate at the University of St. Thomas, gives Zillow praise for its transparency. "I give them high marks for ethics," he said.
Karvel agrees with sales agents, appraisers and mortgage-loan officers who say that Zillow and other websites are valuable tools for buyers and sellers but that such sites aren't a substitute for the services of a professional.
"With better information, there is less tendency for buyers to overbuy and for sellers to underprice their homes," Karvel said. "It won't help you buy cheaply or sell more expensively, but it will take some of the risk away of paying for or selling for the wrong price. You could use it as a potential negotiating tool."
Dave Hicks, broker and owner of Century 21 Premier Group in Amery, Wis, isn't intimidated. "It's never going to take away the human part of the business," he said. "The more info you can get to form a basis the better, but don't rely solely on it or heavily on it."
Zillow executives say they aren't trying to steal business from sales agents. "A good Realtor who provides value to a consumer has absolutely nothing to worry about," Rascoff said. "Think of it this way: If you're sick, you may go to WebMD to educate yourself and you may take that information to the doctor, but you're still going to go to the doctor."
Aimee Blanchette 612-673-1712