Decades ago, we ran home sale info in the late Charlotte News. A dedicated – really dedicated – clerk would go down to the courthouse, scroll through microfilm, and transcribe deed information in longhand.
One morning, the phone rang.
It was a young woman, in tears. I don’t remember her name. But I remember that she had bought a house in partnership with two young men. All three names were on the deed and were published in the paper.
“You can’t do this,” she wailed.
“Well, yes, we can,” I said, as gently as I could. “There’s nothing in our report that’s not public record. It has long been public. And we have to treat everybody the same. We can’t run your neighbor’s name but not yours.”
“But my grandmother will see,” she replied, worried the relative would know she had been living with two guys.
Now comes news that Zillow will feature foreclosures and pre-foreclosures on its huge, popular online home search tool.
In an Oct. 25 release, Zillow (www.zillow.com) said home shoppers will be able to discover information about 1.2 million properties that aren’t listed for sale and aren’t part of some MLS.
Traditionally, only savvy investors knew where to find such information, according to Zillow. Now, anybody can search for foreclosures – for free.
More than half of buyers have considered buying a foreclosure, the company reports, but many didn’t know how to proceed. Now they can peruse Zillow’s “pre-market inventory” before contacting a local real estate agent.
Talk about potential for embarrassment for struggling homeowners.
What’s more, in follow up interviews with privacy advocates and others, Zillow acknowledged that some of the properties won’t actually go through foreclosure. Some embarrassed owners will catch up on their payments.
Real estate agents probably need to brace for the impact of all this, too.
Prospective buyers are likely to show up with lists of homes gleaned from Zillow’s foreclosure tool.
Joanie Gardner of Newport Properties expects that. “People want a foreclosure home because they think they are the best deals,” she said. “But (foreclosures) are EXTREMELY difficult to navigate.”
I chatted with her by phone, but the emphasis was hers.
Gardner cautioned that information on sites such as Zillow can be dated or incorrect.
Because of that, and because buying a foreclosure can be so complicated and take so long, many buyers shopping for foreclosures are likely to be frustrated. Meanwhile, those “savvy investors” Zillow mentioned will still have cash to respond quickly, or be able to wait months for a distressed sale to close.
We’ll see how this plays out.
One thing’s for sure – these days, even grandmothers have laptops and smart phones.