The power of the Internet has done more than just build further connections with friends, distribute news more efficiently, and help us find jobs. It’s also been a great extension of the real estate world over the last decade. Over 90% of homebuyers start their search online, which empowers them and engulfs them with loads of information. A chunk of that information comes from sites like Zillow, which features the famous zestimates, a.k.a. estimated market values of homes. Zestimates use public information to predict home values through a sophisticated algorithm. It’s pretty cool technology and it gives home buyers an idea of what they can afford.

So, can you trust Zillow’s zestimates in the Washington, DC area?

The simple answer, in a nutshell, is not really. The complicated answer is it depends.

The issue with zestimates and predicted values from sites like Zillow is they are very inconsistent. In Washington, DC the median error rate in zestimates is a little over 4 percent. In other areas, it’s much higher. Does this mean you should disregard these numbers completely? No. But, you also shouldn’t put all your eggs in one basket either.

Here’s the thing: Zillow and other similar websites cannot tell the condition inside or outside of the house. They can’t examine that full home renovation you did last year, or the bathroom remodel you had completed a few months back. They’re useful when trying to find quick information and features about a property, but as far as zestimates go, they’re more of a ballpark number than an accurate value.

Your best bet for finding out the value of a home is a well-informed person, not a computer algorithm. A certified real estate appraiser, while not perfect, can give you a pretty good idea of the price of a home. You can use the zestimate as a reference point, of course, but agents price opinions have more research and real-life information behind them.

Takeaways from Zillow in Washington, DC

It’s important to remember that technology is not infallible. Computer-generated data is not always untrustworthy, but it’s always a good idea to take it with a grain of salt. If you’re looking for a home (or selling your home) in the Washington, DC area, do some prior research on Zillow, then call a professional. Knowledge is power, so the more you gather, the better off you’ll be on your home search.