Property search and valuation company Zillow Inc. is suing rival Trulia Inc., alleging that Trulia’s automated property valuations infringe on a patent issued to Zillow last year.
In a complaint filed Wednesday in a U.S. District Court in Seattle, Zillow alleges Trulia has infringed on U.S. Patent 7,970,674. The patent’s title, "Automatically determining a current value for a real estate property, such as a home, that is tailored to input from a human user, such as its owner," describes the "Zestimates" that have made the site popular with consumers.
Q: Knowing that I would be selling my home, I have been following price ranges for comparable properties to my home on a couple of major real estate websites. Now that I am ready to list, all the agents I’ve talked to say that the websites are so out of line that their recommendations are worthless. What a shock!
A: Real estate websites have transformed the whole experience consumers have of homebuying or selling — they have made public what used to be private and difficult to get to — namely, listing and sales data about homes across the country.
Several of these sites offer nearby recent sales, with the promise that savvy sellers like yourself can simply go online, input your address and find out what specific homes in your neighborhood have sold for lately — some even go so far as to take the leap from what those homes have sold for to placing an estimated value on your home.
These sites try hard to do a lot of the work for you — surfacing the homes they see as comparable to yours. However, these are, at bottom, computer programs.