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Real Estate: Prepare to Be Zillowed

Plug in your address at zillow.com, and you get an aerial photographic map that shows the home's estimated market value. Or, you can check out the value of someone else's home, which explains why the site is winning a rabid following in the cities where the raw data used for the valuation are best: Seattle, L.A., San Francisco and Boston. Spencer Raskoff, zillow's CFO, spoke with NEWSWEEK's Karen Breslau:

That was our hope. Zillow stands for "zillions of pillows." The zillion stands for the massive amount of data we have to calculate the valuations of 65 million homes. Pillows is evocative of the home. Every real-estate transaction has the hard, analytical side, as well as the soft, squishy side.

Zillowers are looking at their boss, ex-wife, the girl they didn't marry. We've heard great stories about people zillowing blind dates or job candidates. I knew we made it when my mother-in-law told me the ladies at her beauty parlor zillowed each other's houses.

The "zestimate" is only as strong as the data available. In San Francisco, we have transaction data for all homes that sell, including the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, square footage, roofing type, plumbing. We have a team working on a calculator that will allow individual homeowners to enter corrections.

We, as a society, have decided info about home values should be publicly available to avoid unfair taxation and to contribute to an efficient real-estate market. We've had surprisingly few complaints.

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