Zillow Users Beware

How Zillow Digs Creates Its Remodeling Numbers

When a website that claims nearly 35 million unique viewers each month rolls out a service estimating the cost of remodeling projects, odds are a potential customer is going to cite those numbers to you when you negotiate prices. But that new service from Zillow, called Zillow Digs, isn't as robust as Zillow implies given the company's size.

"With Zillow Digs ... users can browse tens of thousands of photos and see Zillow’s proprietary Digs Estimates for the estimated cost, based on where they live, of the actual bathrooms and kitchens they are viewing," the company declared Feb. 5 in a news release. You can view the Digs estimates on the Web or via an iPad app.

However, it turns out that those estimates on kitchen and bath jobs are based on numbers provided by just "a couple dozen contractors," a Zillow spokesperson told REMODELING in an email on Feb. 21. Those contractors "looked at actual photos of bathrooms and kitchens, and gave us estimates on material things like room size, flooring, appliances, countertops, cabinets, and labor components such as quality of workmanship and project size," she added.

As for the proprietary Digs estimates customized by location, Zillow currently gives numbers for just 33 metropolitan areas across the country. And the adjustments it makes come in part from federal data on local wage and hour rates.

The spokesperson noted that some of the Digs Estimates are the actual costs of the project because the contractor interviewed was the one who did the work. But in general, she said, a Digs Estimates "is a starting point in determining a project’s cost and does not include structural or utility work, permits, or taxes." 

As for providing more localized data, such as numbers for neighborhoods rather than metro markets, "narrowing the range is on our list," she said.

Zillow's news release touts Digs as "a revolutionary new tool" that "helps home shoppers and homeowners create more realistic budgets appropriate for their specific markets. But based on what's under the hood now, Zillow Digs clearly also is a work in progress. —Craig Webb, editor in chief, REMODELING.

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