Zillow Adds 1.2 Million Foreclosure Properties to Website

by Peter Thomas Ricci

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Zillow is hoping its new database of 1.8 million foreclosure properties will educate consumers, but does that education come at the price of the borrower’s privacy?

By Peter Ricci

Real estate syndication site Zillow is making headlines with its decision to list 1.2 million “pre-market inventory” foreclosure properties on its site, a decision that is simultaneously satisfying the data needs of potential homebuyers and riling up privacy advocates.

Specifically, the site will list nearly one million properties that have entered foreclosure proceedings, and 260,000 REO properties that are not listed for sale. Contact information for agents specializing in distressed properties will accompany the listings, and a new foreclosure center has also been created on Zillow’s site.

The Benefits of Listing Foreclosure Properties

For its listings of foreclosure properties, the names of the borrowers will not be listed; however, the borrowers will not be able to opt out of having their properties displayed on Zillow, though they can contact the site to correct any false information.

Amy Bohutinsky, the chief marketing officer for Zillow, told the L.A. Times that ultimately, Zillow’s decision to list foreclosed properties was about educating consumers.

“This helps buyers become smarter about their local market, and it also gives them access to potential inventory that they wouldn’t have been able to find,” she said. “We think the benefits to buyers and the benefits to homeowners who may want their homes exposed to a much broader group of people other than a lot of savvy investors.”

Bohutinsky also told the Times that when Zillow initially launched, its approach of listing a property’s transaction history was controversial – until Redfin, Trulia and Realtor.com began doing it as well, as the Times noted.

Privacy Concerns?

Information about foreclosure properties has long been public information; after all, all consumers had to do was peruse through public record or pay certain providers for the data. Now that Zillow is offering a massive amount of that information, though (and for free), it is ruffling the feathers of privacy advocates.

Joseph Turow, for instance, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who specializes in privacy, told the Times that he worries about the lack of discussion over Zillow’s decision.

“What we are confronted with here is a scenario that is becoming increasingly common in today’s world, which is things that were hard to get, but public, are becoming easy to get to, and it changes the dynamics of society,” he said. “The larger issue that you are pointing to is the democratization of data that is taking place, possibly, without any kind of social discussion around it.”

So what’s your take? Is more information always good, or should there be limitations?