No thanks to Zillow, I can now spy on my neighbors

Lock and keys next to foreclosure notice

I use often.

The real estate marketplace's website and mobile app offer easy ways to track housing prices in my neighborhood and help me find new properties that I can consider for my second investment home.

That's not to say I agree with everything this Seattle-based company puts out.

Take Zillow's home value Zestimate, which left me scratching my head over its claim I lost a lot of equity in my home.

Nonetheless, when I saw that the website now allows users to search homes in the foreclosure process, my curiosity piqued. Some of these homes are in a state of preforeclosure, meaning these are properties where the homeowner has fallen behind on payments but hasn't yet lost the house.

My intrigue quickly turned to revulsion.

This tool doesn't really tell me about possible deals in my area.

Instead, it rats out all my neighbors who are having financial difficulties. I now can know way more about their finances than I need to know.

Yes, I realize this information comes from publicly available records. But Zillow just makes it too easy.

Remember, some of these are houses in which the foreclosure process has started, but the homeowners still have time to get current on their payments, obtain a loan modification or refinance into a lower-cost mortgage.

Foreclosure is not a given, even if Zillow uses the oh-so-charming label of "premarket."

Also, there's no guarantee this information is even accurate.

With some digging, an editor found that a judge earlier this month had dismissed a foreclosure case for a home listed as a preforeclosure on the website. These particular homeowners aren't going anywhere.

I’m not the only one who thinks this is a bad idea.

In a recent Chicago Tribune story, Debra Olsen, executive director of an Illinois nonprofit that helps people save their homes from foreclosure, raised the red flag on this practice.

Olsen says she fears outing people will put targets on the backs of homeowners for scammers to find them.

“I understand that the information is already available through public court records, but it really takes some digging,” she told the paper.

Zillow points out that names aren’t listed, but when I found a neighbor’s home listed as a preforeclosure, I knew who it was right away.

And I felt awful for looking.

The website brags it now lists more than 1.5 million preforeclosure properties. That's a lot of potentially embarrassed homeowners out there.

It’s an unnecessary step, and a reason I’ll be using another real estate app from now on. I don’t want to be sticking my nose in places it doesn’t belong.

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