Pruma Cherukuri and Prabhudev Vonti walked into the bathroom of their south Charlotte home one recent morning and noticed their toilet wouldn’t flush.
The married couple called Charlotte Water and learned someone else put in a request to stop their service.
“I’m telling them ‘I live in this house, and we’re paying our bills on time so don’t cancel our service,’” Cherukuri told The Charlotte Observer. “They were like ‘someone else put in a request, so it’s still going to happen.’ ”
That “someone else” was Zillow, the online real estate company.
The couple wanted to sell their home through Zillow after purchasing a new yet unbuilt house in Pineville in May. The closing date on the Zillow contract read Aug. 17, but the couple explained to the company that they wouldn’t be able to move until January or February 2022.
Zillow’s Offers program provides homebuyers/sellers flexibility on a closing date, repair services on the home before it’s sold and cash offers for homes. Another “iBuyer,” or instant buyer, Opendoor, offers a similar program.
Cherukuri and Vonti thought Zillow had updated their account information with the new January closing date, but an Aug. 6 email from Duke Energy about a pending power shutoff gave them pause.
Vonti sent emails to Zillow customer support and received assurances the appropriate changes were made. He again thought the changes were taken care of, but the couple continued receiving messages from Duke and other utility services.
Disappointed with Zillow, the couple asked the company to terminate their contract.
A Charlotte Water representative told Cherukuri by phone that only Zillow could cancel the “stop service” request and that she would have to create a new account and pay an initiation fee to get the water turned back on.
“It’s not much, maybe $25 or $35, but it’s the fact that it’s there at no fault of ours,” she said.
When the water shut off Aug. 17, the couple began looking for a hotel room, which scared them because they have an asthmatic child who isn’t eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
After phone calls with Zillow and the utilities companies, Cherukuri said the couple managed to get everything resolved later that day without having to pay any fees.
Zillow admitted fault and blamed the error on a “miscommunication” on its end, Cherukuri said.
The couple plans on selling their current home through Opendoor next year, closer to their desired move-in date.
Zillow begins the transfer process for utilities 10 days before a closing date, a company spokesperson said.
“Zillow Offers is designed to remove the pain points from the selling process and offer homeowners an easier way to sell their home,” the spokesperson said in a statement to the Observer. “Unfortunately, we fell short of our standards of service this time.”
Both Zillow and the customer were attempting to cancel the request to cut off service on the same day the service was set up, a Charlotte Water spokesperson said.
“It’s been an interesting experience to say the least,” Cherukuri said.
Zillow, Opendoor and other iBuyer companies have introduced a new way of buying and selling homes compared to traditional real estate agent.
Pros: Convenience, fast cash for home sellers, flexibility on closing dates which helps avoid paying two mortgages and no agent commission since the house won’t be listed and a seller gets a firm offer.
Cons: Receiving less money for selling because iBuying companies tend to offer lower than a potential buyer, a potential disconnect from true market value of homes and a possible disagreements over repairs.
▪ Zillow Offers began in 2018 and is in 25 markets, including Charlotte and Raleigh.
During Zillow’s second quarter of its 2021 fiscal year, the company purchased 3,805 homes and sold 2,086 homes, earning $777 million in revenue.
▪ Opendoor’s shares recently surged as the company founded in 2014 more than doubled the number of homes it acquired in the second quarter of its 2021 fiscal year, according to Bloomberg. The company bought nearly 8,500 houses.
▪ RedfinNow has a similar cash offer and home repair service, but it’s not available in North Carolina. The service is available in 25 other U.S. markets.
▪ Openpad also offers similar services, but they don’t repair the homes and sell “as-is.”