I like to address topics in my monthly newsletter that come up when I’m talking with clients. This month, I’d like to talk about Zillow’s “Zestimates.” A Zestimate is Zillow’s term for their estimated value of your home. While sometimes it is pretty accurate (they give a range), other times it isn’t. In fact, the CEO of Zillow apparently said the Zestimate for his own home was not accurate!

It makes sense, if you think about it. After all…

How would Zillow know exactly what upgrades you have in your house?

They look at the zip code, the assessed value in the public record, the square footage, and what comparable homes based on those factors have sold for.

But there is no way for them to know if you’ve just upgraded your kitchen, renovated your Master Bath, or if your home has good landscaping and curb appeal (worth a lot, to be sure!).

Some zip codes (like ones in Loudoun and Fairfax County) often have multiple high schools — and certainly many elementary and middle schools. Some may be higher ranked than others, affecting property values, but Zillow doesn’t account for that.


Other things Zillow misses: finished basements (since many weren’t properly permitted if done after settlement), busy streets, and desirability of a lot based on views, trees, privacy, etc. And last but not least, structural and systems improvements like a new roof, new HVAC unit, or new hot water heater add value to your home, but Zillow wouldn’t know about these, either.

As I like to say, “Friends don’t let friends rely on Zestimates!”

It’s important to get a more accurate feel from a local Realtor® if you’re giving serious consideration to selling your home. Call or email us if you’d like us to do a free analysis of your home’s value. We’ll take all the above factors into account.

One more caveat about using Zillow for home searches: Because they syndicate the information from the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) that Realtors® like us have access to, there’s a lag of a day or two on new listings and in reporting homes that have already gone under contract. This makes a big difference when looking for a home in this competitive market. You also won’t always be able to see Coming Soon listings in Zillow. That’s why it’s always good to be working with a Realtor® who can set you up with a customized daily email of listings directly from the MLS that fit your criteria…and that contains the most current information to give you the advantage you need vs. other buyers. Let us know if you’d ever like us to set up a search tool for you!

As a Realtor®, I visit a lot of model homes. It keeps me on top of current trends…the types of homes people are buying, which floor plans are most popular, and the features and options that are in demand. One trend I started noticing even before the pandemic was the trend toward incorporating higher-end outdoor living spaces. Even though the weather here isn’t what it is, say, in southern California, there are creative ways to make outdoor spaces versatile year-round. 


And with all of us spending much more time at home now — and even working from home — it’s nice to have an outdoor area you can escape to either for leisure or even work. So I thought I’d share some photos that might inspire you, since we’ll soon be entering the Fall…my favorite season and one of the best times of year to truly enjoy more temperate outdoor time!

Make Your Outdoor Living Space More Usable By Providing Shade

Shortly after our family built our home in South Riding almost 18 years ago, we had a high-quality retractable awning installed over our 12 x 20 deck. Without it, we really wouldn’t have ever been able to enjoy al fresco dining. The sun was just too intense, and an umbrella over our table just didn’t cut it! The retractable awning has held up really well, and we typically put it out on a daily basis to keep our kitchen sunroom from getting too hot. 

Even better than a retractable awning is a more permanent roof structure over a deck or patio. This provides constant shade and a is a sturdier, upgraded option. It gives you a feeling of extending the living space of the house. 


Here’s a simpler, less costly example that can be done over decking material or over a patio. 


Expand Your Living Space with a Fully Enclosed “Outdoor” Room

Of course, you can take that a step further by enclosing the space into a screened-in porch or a “Florida room”/sunroom with windows all around. These spaces aren’t usually equipped with heat or air conditioning, but even in our area, you can probably get use out of them for about three-quarters of the year. You can install a fan and open the windows for some nice air circulation in the hotter months. 


Fireplaces Warm Up the Space and Are Great When Entertaining

For even greater year-round use of non-enclosed outdoor space — and to add a “cozy” factor — you can incorporate a feature I’ve seen in many models lately…an outdoor gas or wood burning fireplace. 


I’ve even seen this as an option on balconies of townhomes like the one shown below. The shaded space with both an overhead fan and fireplace is sure to get a lot of use, providing another socializing, dining, or working space for family members. 


If you’re looking to add interest and just a bit of shade, a pergola is an option. This lower-cost type of structure also allows you to adorn your space with beautiful vines. 


The Ultimate Outdoor Feature Right Now: A Pool!

Then, of course, you can go all-out and add today’s most coveted home feature: a pool. Pool contractors are supposedly very busy right now, but you could always get on someone’s schedule for early in the spring to enjoy a cooling pool next summer. Whether or not we are still in the middle of the pandemic, this is a nice feature that can add some value to your home and provide hours of relaxing enjoyment for the whole family.


As always, if you need any contractor recommendations for patios, decks, hardscaping, or pools, please reach out to me (Karen) at 703-585-3386 or [email protected] — or Maggie at 703-531-7363 or [email protected].