Zillow has a reputation for not being accurate and their "pre-foreclosures" are part of the problem. I get asked about these all the time by buyers. This home is not for sale. It is labeled as being in the process of foreclosure, but it is not a foreclosed property yet.
When someone stops paying their mortgage, the bank usually will threaten foreclosure after about 3 or 4 missed payments. Once this happens they schedule the property to go to auction at the courthouse. This auction is called the "sheriff's sale". Once the auction is scheduled, it must be printed in financial reports that are public record. Zillow claims they get this information from these financial reports.
When a property has a sheriff's sale, this is only the first step in foreclosure. Once the sheriff's sale occurs, the bank cannot take possession of the property for six months after that date. This six month "redemption period" gives the owner a chance to sell the house before the bank takes it. Once the bank takes possession it is officially a "foreclosure". There is a small chance in the future the pre-foreclosure house could come on the market bank-owned. And although the house isn't officially up for sale yet, it is possible the home owner may need to sell now.
This information could be valuable for someone looking for a deal and willing to do some work, but my big problem with Zillow is the inaccuracy. I have followed up on a lot of these pre-foreclosure properties and they rarely ever have a sheriff's sale. This is easy to check via public records. I have seen recent local news reports where home owners were upset their home was listed as a pre-foreclosure or foreclosure, even though they have never missed a house payment. Check out this broadcast from Wood TV 8. Wood TV 8 only found two accurate pre-foreclosure/foreclosure listings out of almost 100.
Zillow advertises these homes hoping you will click "request more information" and then it captures your contact information and sells it to real estate agents. It is inaccurate information that is simply a ploy to collect your contact info. I don't think Zillow should post these properties as pre-foreclosures until the sheriff's sale has actually taken place. It is very misleading.
So if you see any pre-foreclosures on Zillow, remember the high chance of inaccuracy. Ask your agent about it. They can verify whether or not the information is legitimate. And whatever you do, don't submit your contact information to Zillow unless you want to be bombarded by calls from real estate agents and spam email. Caveat emptor.
Here is an example of an inaccurate pre-foreclosure listing.
If you missed the link in the article, check out this broadcast from Wood TV 8.
Great info on everything real estate.