Zillow: The Creepy Factor

I decided to put my parent’s home up for sale. They’re empty nesters and really should downsize. And all those stairs ” it’s just going to be too much when they get really old. I think they’ll agree it’s a good idea.

If I choose to tell them.

See, I put their home up for sale on Zillow. I’ve also started a discussion through the Zillow “Q&A” tool with tons of cool people who want to know all kinds of things about the place. I don’t know why that one guy wanted to know if my parents are going on vacation any time this summer. Some people are so nosy!

Ok, I didn’t really do this. But I could have. And that’s bugging me. Does it bug you?

I am an online real estate booster. Have been for nearly 10 years. I like Zillow a lot. Its launch was a seminal event in the current online real estate renaissance.

But, really, let’s slow down here. A 19 year-old may post pictures of himself all over Facebook and create a confessional monument of the most personal kind on MySpace and feel just fine about it. It’s a placeless and thus secure act of self expression.

Me on the other hand? I’m a 35 year old father of one who gets the heebie-jeebies looking at my daughter’s red wagon sitting in my driveway in the super-cool “birdseye” view of my home.

Ok, maybe I’m paranoid. But I suspect I’m not alone. A home is very personal, the place into which the worries, dangers and eyes of the world do not come uninvited. You might talk to the weird guy in line next to you at Starbucks, but you don’t invite him over for beers in your backyard.

I suspect this “Creepy Factor” explains a fair amount of the less than Facebook-ish growth of Zillow’s member base and posting activity. It may also explain why BackFence announced it’s going out of business this week. And why StreetAdvisor feels like a ghost town just months after it was erected.

Our homes and neighborhoods are not fodder for chit-chat like so many bars on Yelp. I think there are plenty of plays yet to be made in online real estate. I just hope those who make them run a “creepy test” on them first.

Brian Boero