It’s been a tough real estate market over the past few years, forcing hundreds of thousands of property owners into foreclosure. But that’s also created some buying opportunities.

Now, Zillow is looking to make it a bit easier to find properties that have entered foreclosure or are about to. Today, it took the covers off a new real estate search offering, allowing any user of Zillow’s site or iOS apps to track down 1.2 million pre-foreclosure and foreclosed properties across the country. (Correction: This post has been updated with the correct number of listings).

Typically, the homes are not listed for sale, and therefore can’t be found through Multiple Listing Services. Zillow notes that foreclosures “have made up a large, yet invisible, part of the housing inventory” over the years.

“Zillow is taking information that was really only available to a select group – in this case, savvy investors –  and making it more easily available to interested home buyers,” said Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff in a press release. “What’s more, bringing this information to light, and taking this inventory out of the shadows, can help bring these homes to market faster than ever before.”

A Zillow spokeswoman said they are pulling the information on foreclosures from public records.

Findwell CEO Kevin Lisota, a real estate agent in Seattle, said the move into foreclosures is a big deal for Zillow.

“This is data that has up until this point been locked behind a paid subscription,” said Lisota, noting that Zillow’s move could take a bite out of companies such as RealtyTrac. Lisota added that it is a “Rich Barton moment,” referring to the Zillow co-founder’s mantra of making data free and accessible to the masses.

“They may put a few companies out of business with this move,” said Lisota.

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  • Spencer Rascoff

    Kevin is right (as usual) – this is a big deal.

    This is what Zillow is all about: consumer empowerment through information transparency. We help people make smarter decisions by cracking open secret databases and correcting the historical information asymmetry between real estate professionals and consumers. By becoming the first real estate site to show these 1.8 million foreclosure listings for free, we have significantly advanced our mission of consumer empowerment. We also have provided home shoppers with a good reminder that there’s a reason Zillow is the most visited real estate website in the nation and by far the most visited site in Seattle: because we have content which is critical to their home search. Zestimates, user generated content on homes, reviews of real estate agents, listings of foreclosures as well as standard listings, rental listings, a mortgage marketplace, and more.

    • johnhcook

      Thanks Spencer. I am curious why no other real estate company has made this available before, since the data is being drawn out of public records?

      • Jay Thompson

        Hey John – Clearly I’m not Spencer and can’t speak for him. But I do work at Zillow and know that there were a lot of really bright people working very hard to get this implemented. Not saying someone else couldn’t have done it, but it is a LOT of data and in a lot of places and it’s not a trivial endeavor to mash all that up into a viable search. I suspect that’s at least part of why it hasn’t been made available, or at least available in one place for free.

        Jay T from Zillow

        • johnhcook

          Thanks Jay. I’ll take you as a Spencer stand-in. :) Thanks for answering my question.

  • Carolline M

    I like that idea a lot. Zillow has found a great opportunity in this database. But I also wonder why no one has ever thought of using such databases before? And, are there any other records that can be used?

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