Convenience vs. Technology

I found a new silly diversion. I should have found it weeks ago when my friend Dawn first mentioned it. She said she could see my backyard perfectly from her desk at Gulfstream. Anil had my laptop and the site doesn’t work on MAC so it escaped my attention for a while. S.G.’s recent post reminded me of it and I thought to check it out. It is Zillow.com. It is perfect for nosy types of people who would never dream of asking rude questions about your financial worth. I know that you can always log on to the county assessors’ public tax logs, but this gives soooo much more. With Zillow, you get satellite images of people’s homes from four different angles. This worries me a bit because I spend more time at my pool now that I haven’t a 9-5 job. After seeing what is so public, I now know that I can live with tan lines.

It is interesting to see how public our lives really are. Technology is simply astounding. I give away pieces of personal business here on the blog, but I would like to believe that I share what I don’t mind public. I know, however, that I am lying to myself. My life and actions are made public in so many ways.

Citibank knows that I think Armani makes the best slacks. They know that I have a thing for Hermes scarves. Beverage City probably knows when I have been drinking simply because I buy two packs of Camel Lights on the same day. The NTTA knows when I travel through a toll booth and how fast. If they desired, government agents would know exactly how many tampons are used in my house. (Costco + AmEx receipt = #of feminine products used in monthly cycle.) Knowing what I willingly give doesn’t make me feel better about people seeing me actually live.

I do not know how often the Zillow images are updated or how long they are saved, but I see enough to make me uncomfortable. What if a buddy drinks a lot at one of my crawfish boils? Can authorities pull satellite images to convict him of DWI in court? What if my husband or I cheat on each other? Can we subpoena footage of the tryst? How much can actually be seen? The images of my home on this site tell me that I should change my habit of drinking milk from the gallon unless I first put on Anil’s boxers and t-shirt. OK, and use a glass.

Big Brother is surely watching, but we are, undoubtedly, willing participants.

posted by michelleshinghal
  • http://www.tom-hanna.org Tom Hanna

    Tease. You can’t even see the pool, let alone the sunbathers. Not that a good Republican like myself would ever look for such things.

  • TerryP

    You can’t see the sunbathers. I say tan lines be gone.

  • Steve Benton

    I’ve been thinking lately that it would be interesting to see an episode of Law and Order where the criminal doesn’t use a computer, credit card, telephone, or any other thing that would leave behind an electronic trail for the detectives to follow.

  • paulie

    I do not know how often the Zillow images are updated

    Obviously not very often, since I checked it at night and the image shows daytime. Actually I would guess they don’t update them at all. The purpose of the site is to gauge the value of the home, which is not something that changes on a minute-by-minute basis or even (too much) on a daily basis.

  • Michelle Shinghal

    Um, the pool is quite visible though my neighbor’s is more so. It is still just a bit freaky.

  • IanC

    Michelle — just an fyi; the period of update is measured in years. Like googlemaps, these images can be as much as two years out of date… and *that* little fact comes from data storage limitations. Think about it; five angles (overhead included) of high-resolution satellite-based imagery stored for each address listed? That’s something you store away.

    Zillow isn’t going to give real-time images. It’s entire set-up is so that it *can’t*. It’s a real-estate tool.

    Now… as for the upper-upper end satellite-based imaging systems that AREN’T available to the public (and let’s not hear any conspiracy theory schticks… this one is PAINFULLY obvious)… well; that’s a different story.

    But rest assured that only the Wise, Benevolent and Omniscient NSA has access to those images. After all; they’re the government’s best appointees. How could they NOT be those things? (If anyone thinks I’m serious, I’ve got oceanfront property in Western Arizona for ya. Dirt cheap.)

  • Michelle Shinghal

    Thanks for the explanation Ian. I was totally trippin’ over it last night.

  • IanC

    Michelle — NP. Was it daylight out last night for you? (Sorry… had to.)

  • Michelle Shinghal

    No silly, but it could have been yesterday afternoon. The brown lawn looks remarkably current. ;o)

  • Michelle Shinghal

    And I had a couple of vodka/lemonade drinks.

  • http://freelancify.com Nigel Watt

    Hm, the pictures of my area of Dallas are incredibly low-quality.

  • DAP

    The value of my house is several years out of date.

  • http://www.reformthelp.org Carl

    No satellite images for me. And the tax assessed value listed for my neighbors across the street is half the value they are trying to sell it for.

  • http://www.ilovephysics.com Chris Moore

    The images of my house show a shed in the backyard that I tore down late last summer. But it also shows the foundation of a workshop that I began building early last summer. In fact, since I had framed it in only about 1 week after laying the foundation, I can tell to the week when the satellite last past.

  • IanC

    Chris — the satellite’s still there. They’re just not paying for the images anymore. Subtle distinction: Zillow doesn’t own the spy-cams.

    Carl/DAP/Et Al — that’s ordinary for Zillow. Their comps (Comparable sales) are based on the last sold value. Also; official tax assessments are ROUTINELY far below the actual sales value. Part of that has to do with legal regulations for tax-value being stricter than ordinary appraisals. In addition; tax-assessments generally (not *always* but a good rule of thumb) are based on the building and not the land, once improvements are made upon the real estate.

    Guess what industry I work in?

  • Timothy West

    values are way out of date here. Houses on my street are listed at being anywhere from 90 to 130 K. Add on another 100K onto that range and they would be accurate more or less.

  • Graham

    I thought we were going to see something..

    Actually, I use that site all the time to look up property tax info, values,etc. or state Real property searches. But I never noticed the detailed pictures before.

    Timothy West,
    it’s actually the opposite where I am. Estimates are on the high side ( though if my house is really worth 6 times the purchase price, I’m not complaining. As long as taxes stay low).

    However, my other house in another location only has info based on assessments, which is on the low side- by at least 20%.

  • http://www.zillowblog.com David G from Zillow.com

    Hi, it’s David G from Zillow.com

    Michelle – You can use Zillow on a Mac with the Firefox browser. We hope to also have the site running on Safari by month’s end.

    All – Satelite and bird’s eye images on Zillow.com are generally updated less often than once a year; so, the chances are not good that they would catch you drinking from the milk-carton (but if they did, that picture could be posted for a while).

    Carl – we display the tax assessed value where we don’t have enough data to calculate a Zestimate. As Ian points out, this value is less than what the house may sell for and is often only useful as a relative indication of value.

    IanC – thanks, I appreciate the help.

  • Graham

    Ok, I feel better. I havent noticed it because none of the addresses I lookup have that View available.

  • Michelle Shinghal

    I just got an email from David Gibbons, the director of customer service at Zillow. Here is what he said about the service:

    Hi Michelle,

    Thanks so much for your review of Zillow.com on the Hammer of Truth blog.

    This e-mail is to let you know that I submitted a comment in response to your post that addresses a few of your questions regarding Zillow. My comment (pasted below) was blocked by your blog’s SPAM filter with a message to contact you about having it unblocked. I’d greatly appreciate it if you could publish my comment.

    Best Regards,

    David

    cont:

  • Michelle Shinghal

    Comment posted to Hammer of Truth:

    Hi, it’s David G from Zillow.com

    Michelle – You can use Zillow on a Mac with the Firefox browser. We hope to also have the site running on Safari by month’s end.

    All – Satellite and bird’s eye images on Zillow.com are generally updated less often than once a year; so, the chances are not good that they would catch you drinking from the milk-carton (but if they did, that picture could be posted for a while).

    Carl – we display the tax assessed value where we don’t have enough data to calculate a Zestimate. As Ian points out, this value is less than what the house may sell for and is often only useful as a relative indication of value.

    IanC – thanks, I appreciate the help

  • Michelle Shinghal

    I should have been more clear about the Mac issue- I was prompted to download Firefox, but the Mac is Anil’s and we have nasty fights over downloaded stuff on each other’s computers. So, I guess I should have said that I could not view it on our Mac.

  • IanC

    Dear lord… corporate representatives are *THANKING* me…

    … sorry, all; had to.