Peeping Tom: Ogling Your Neighbor's Property Price


"If I see there are three properties in my building that are for sale, I know at that some point it's going to be hard to sell mine because I know the building itself is the selling point," says Massay. "If somebody falls in love with the neighborhood, and they see they have four properties that are similar in size to choose from, then you're looking at what is in the unit versus price when making a buying decision."

A declining housing market makes peeping at home price valuations even more tempting for curious neighbors.

Home prices in the U.S. fell 5.9 percent in the second quarter from a year earlier, the biggest decline since 2009, according to Bloomberg.

The information is out there; there's nothing you can do about it.

"I don't see a problem with having it out there because I don't think people have bad intentions," says Hugh Leonard, an engineer based in Mapleton, Ga. "I'm not sure anything negative can be done with the information.

"I think it's done for research or personal knowledge. I'm sure there are people that are nosy but I don't think it can cause any harm," says Leonard.

Trusting a neighbor for information on home prices might lead to misinformation. Sellers or buyers can get inaccurate information on a sale because the "neighbor is too embarrassed to admit it was a short-sell or they lost their house," says Felicia Grady, a realtor in the Los Angeles area.

And, even though prying eyes and nosy neighbors may turn to online Websites or neighborhood gossip for details on homes prices, local experts are still recommended for the most accurate information.

"Online websites are not appraisers and they don't try to be, and they don't say that there are. An appraisal is a different model, it requires an individual collecting data, doing research and doing analysis based on experience, education and competence," says Ken Chitester, director of communications at the Appraisal Institute.

Getting it Right

When the owner of a 4,500 square feet Mediterranean-style property in Leona Valley placed his home on the market, he learned through an internet search that the value was listed at half the asking price. While the price is not the same as the asking price, after writing in to an online marketplace a correction was made on the Web site.

On Zillow, if a homeowner believes a "zestimate," Zillow's estimated market value, is wrong it's often because the data on the attributions is wrong and the public records may be outdated, says Katie Curnutt of Zillow. The website allows owners to claim their home and change home facts in an effort to keep records current.

And, online searching is a good for the market says one homeowner.

"Fifteen ago, you would have trust your realtor when purchasing a home," says Massay. "If a realtor is about to make 5 percent commission on a home and you're a buyer, can you really trust them?" he asks.

More than 70 percent of Zillow users are prospective buyers or sellers. While some nosy neighbors may be poking around, many are more interested in gauging the turbulent real estate market. The days of sleuthing are now easier and anonymous thanks to websites.

Plus, there's always an open house.

"When the for sale sign went up people came out of the woodwork just to find out what the story was," said DeMaioNewton. She found herself fielding questions from, "Why are you moving?" to "Are the kids okay with it?"

"These are people who could not care less if we got hit by a car, but they have to know the story of the move," she continued.

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