A north suburban lawyer has expanded her quarrel with real estate website Zillow, agreeing to shelve her personal lawsuit over her home’s “zestimate” – an online estimate of a home value, created and published by Zillow - to pursue a class action lawsuit representing untold numbers of others whose efforts to sell their homes have been hampered by Zillow’s popular estimating feature.
On May 19, Glenview attorney Barbara Andersen filed a class action lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court on behalf of named plaintiffs Vipul Patel, Bhasker Patel, Jyotsna Patel and CastleBldrs.com Inc., a Schaumburg-based home building company.
Cook County court records indicate attorney David Novoselsky also filed appearances on May 22 on behalf of the named plaintiffs in this case.
In the new lawsuit, Andersen said the allegations center on Zillow’s practice of using a computer algorithm, incorporating public information and other available data, to peg the value of millions of homes in the Chicago area and throughout the U.S., and publishing that estimated value on its website as a “zestimate.”
The class action comes about three weeks since Andersen personally filed suit in Cook County court against Zillow, asking the court to step in to order Zillow to adjust the zestimate for her home to better reflect what she believes her home is actually worth.
In that lawsuit, Andersen asserted her ability to sell her home had been hindered by Zillow’s zestimate, which she said was nearly $100,000 too low, particularly when compared to homes across the street.
Since filing that lawsuit, which received much media attention, Andersen said she was “inundated” with calls and messages from others in Illinois and across the country who told similar stories of how their attempts to sell their homes had also been harmed by what they believed were zestimates undervaluing their homes.
The Patels were among those who contacted her, Andersen said. From that initial contact, Andersen and the Patels agreed to file a class action suit, potentially on what the lawsuit said could be “millions” of other class plaintiffs in Illinois and the U.S.
“Many people could’ve been class plaintiffs,” Andersen said. “I heard from so many people with the same stories.”
According to the class action lawsuit, the Patels allege, similarly to Andersen’s initial lawsuit, that Zillow’s zestimate had harmed the value of properties they own in Schaumburg.
The lawsuit contends the allegedly low zestimates effectively drive would-be buyers away from their properties, as the zestimate leads the prospective purchasers to believe the home’s listed value is out of line with the marketplace.
The lawsuit specifically alleges Zillow has violated Illinois law by providing home appraisals without a license, and has violated homeowners’ “seclusion” by publishing an estimate of their homes’ value without their consent or knowledge.
The lawsuit also alleges Zillow is largely unresponsive to homeowners’ complaints and requests to adjust the zestimate to reflect what the owners believe are their homes’ true values.
“People are trying to sell their home, and these zestimates are a huge problem,” Andersen said in an interview with the Cook County Record. “Zillow won’t help, so they (home sellers) are stuck, and could take a huge financial hit because of this number posted online.”
The class action lawsuit requests an injunction barring Zillow from publishing zestimates, and asks the court to order Zillow to pay them “actual damages,” punitive damages and attorney fees.
Andersen acknowledged establishing “actual damages” in a case like this could be “difficult,” but she believed the costs to homeowners and sellers could be set by a judge and jury.
With the class action now filed, Andersen said she would also ask the court to allow her voluntarily dismiss her personal lawsuit, with the ability to refile the case within 12 months, to allow her to serve as counsel to the Patels in the class action.
In response to the lawsuit, a Zillow spokeswoman reiterated the company’s response to Andersen’s original lawsuit, indicating the Seattle-based company believes both of Andersen’s lawsuits were “without merit.”
“We always say that the Zestimate is a starting point to determine a home’s value, and isn’t an official appraisal,” said Zillow spokesperson Emily Heffter.
She said Zillow believes Andersen’s reliance on Illinois law in this case is misplaced.
“Estimating value based on public information and statistics is a well-accepted practice,” Heffter said in an emailed statement. “Even the Illinois appraisal statute on which the complaint relies approves of these practices, acknowledging the difference between an appraisal (an assessment of the value of a specific home, based on a physical inspection by a licensed professional) and a statistical estimate based on public information.”
No attorney has yet filed an appearance on behalf of Zillow in either lawsuit, according to Cook County court records.