Is Zillow an acceptable way of valuing real estate in bankruptcy court?

The website (and other sites like it) is being used increasingly by people to figure out the value of real estate, whether they are buyers, sellers, or just homeowners, and whether they are professionals or amateurs at the real estate game.

Beyond the weird name, (why must all websites have such weird names?), a pretty basic question to ask is whether Zillow “zestimates” are recognized in bankruptcy court.

Just a few months ago I wrote that in Massachusetts, bankruptcy judge Melvin Hoffman issued an opinion in the Darosa case where he expressed dismay and skepticism about Zillow estimates, and ruled against the person who had submitted one. So if your case is assigned to Judge Hoffman, you can probably assume the answer to the question in the title of this post is “no.”

Of course, complicating matters you won’t know if your case is assigned to Judge Hoffman until after you file it.

And what about all the other bankruptcy judges in the nation? I plugged the term “Zillow” into the Casemaker legal database. In addition to the Judge Hoffman’s Darosa opinion here in Massachusetts, Casemaker found only one, that’s right, one other bankruptcy opinion in the nation mentioning the word Zillow.

The other case is from the Eastern part of Virginia, where bankruptcy judge Stephen St. John simply ruled in the Wyche case that a Richmond law firm could not claim extra fees for running off photocopies of Zillows.

So there you have it — a trick question that actually has no real answer — yet, unless if you are in Massachusetts before Judge Hoffman. If there is any news on the Zillow front, I’ll keep you posted.


By Doug Beaton

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