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Zillow launches Mortgage Marketplace

When I saw this news today I had no other words but: “This is going to be big!” It is a bargain hunters paradise for everyone in a market looking for a loan to buy a new house or refinance an existing one. Let me explain why.

Zillow is a service that offers real estate valuation estimates (Zestimates) neatly mashed up with maps, satellite and aerial images. The usage is extremely simple, go to Zillow.com, type in your home address and you will see how much Zillow thinks your house is worth along with Zestimates for all of your neighbors.

Zillow Marketplace

This is how the team started in 2005. These days Zillow is much more than just real estated valuations. They has amassed a number of other free and useful tools that help home owners and home buyers alike.

One recent addition is called “Make me Move”. It is a brilliant idea which evolves around the popular expression “everything has a price”. Let’s say you don’t want to sell your house but you would if the price was right? Name it and anonymously assign to your property at Zillow. This is a sort of opportunistic real estate bargain hunting, just for sellers.

Zillow Marketplace

Back to the Mortgage Marketplace. Zillow already has a real estate marketplace that helps connect sellers and buyers. With this new addition the team is expanding their reach into the lenders/borrowers niche. They are far not the first to offer these services (LendingTree is another example), however with their open approach they are the first who I think have done it right.

Here is how it works:

  • You anonymously submit a request for a loan with such details as your credit, amount needed, value of property, etc.
  • Certified lenders give estimates based on this information so you can compare rates.
  • Now here is the winner - Lenders don’t contact you, you contact the lender you want to work with
  • When the transaction is over you can leave comments and rate the lenders based on your experience

From my mortgage related experience, assessing the agent’s credibility is what has always been a huge problem when shopping for a loan. What Zillow offers is very much like what Yelp is doing with the restaurants and TripAdvisor with hotels, both are successful and free services that became essential part of my “dining out” and “vacation” planning. I am giving Zillow a big “thumbs up” for the effort. See you guys when my loan is up for renewal!

Source: Opening Bell for the Zillow Mortgage Marketplace (via Techcrunch)

Booking a hotel, the ProBargainHunter way

Lobby of Palmer House Hilton in ChicagoWhen traveling, we all dream of staying in a 5-star hotel but rarely can afford one. Even if we have the money to spend, paying for the luxury is often the last thing in our list after such ever important items as paying off debt and saving kids for college. As they say however, where there’s a will, there’s a way.

One of the solutions is to use a travel bidding site such as Priceline. Major hotel chains such as Marriott and Hyatt use Priceline to sell rooms that would otherwise go empty and yield no revenue. My best bargains came the way of Priceline. Back in 2003 we traveled to Toronto and stayed in downtown 4-star Marriott for just $35/night. When the receptionist saw our reservation he didn’t believe the price and had to call the manager to confirm.

Savings on a hotel in Europe can be even more substantial taking into account the ever declining US dollar. Right now, when a room in a 3-star hotel in London can easily put you down by $200 per night, I know of no other way for a couple to stay at a brand-name 4-star hotel for under $100, the kind of rate you can easily get with Priceline. Not convinced? Read on!

Know the rules

We all know however that there is no such thing as free lunch and surely enough there are a few catches that you need to know before giving Priceline a chance. Here are the most important ones:

  • you bid without knowing exactly which hotel you end up booking; for big cities you get to pick a city zone; for smaller ones it is entire city
  • if your bid is accepted, your credit card is immediately charged and there are no refunds; there is no choice of smoking/non-smoking and free breakfast is rarely an option; all you are guaranteed is a double occupancy room
  • if your bid in not accepted, the only way to re-bid right away is by changing the price and the hotel star rating or location; alternatively you can wait 72 hours and repeat your attempt w/o changing anything

Sounds complicated, isn’t it? This is where community comes to help. Imagine if you knew the minimum bid you had to make to get a decent hotel in, say downtown Chicago… Or better yet if you knew that the chances are it would be either Hyatt Regency or Palmer House by Hilton… You can obtain exactly this information from BiddingForTravel forums where thousands of bargain hunters like you log their Priceline bids, successful and not.

Be informed bidder

The bidding forums are grouped by region and it is very easy to find what you are looking for. For example the above mentioned London hotels are all grouped in this forum and as you can see people currently report successful bids for 4-star hotels in the range of 80-100 US$.

A separate group of forums is dedicated to hotel reviews which by the quality and amount of reviews can probably be challenged only by good folks from TripAdvisor. Did I say you can’t re-bid right away? Guess what, there is a certain strategy called free re-bids where you essentially get to bid second time w/o changing your desired hotel location or star rating. Find this and a lot more useful tips at the BiddingForTravel’s Hotels FAQ page.

Here are a few final notes before you jump in saving green. This bidding strategy works best for popular destinations visited by travelers who participate in the forums. You are entirely on your own if you plan a trip to, say Steven’s Point, Wisconsin. If you do end up using the site though, share your bidding experience and help your fellow travelers!

Photo: Palmer House Hilton in Chicago courtesy of Hornplayer at Flickr




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