Zillow agent sites launch to mixed reviews
Just one day ago, Zillow announced “Premier Agent Websites,” a WordPress solution powered by Diverse Solution’s IDX, at $10 per month for non-Premier Realtors, and free for Zillow Premier Agent program subscribers.
The launch has seen mixed reviews, with some noting that it is a good place to start, while others question Zillow’s methods and motives. Zillow is not the first company to offer websites to agents, in fact, templated sites have been around for decades, but with the integration with Diverse Solution’s IDX and use of the WordPress platform, the offering is in most aspects more high quality, and setup is simple and streamlined, easy for any agent to understand.
[ba-pullquote align=”right”]”You see one template site, you’ve seen them all whether it’s Z-57, Advanced Access, Superlative or now Zillow.” -Jonathan Dalton, Realtor[/ba-pullquote]Jonathan Dalton, Realtor at Thompson’s Realty in Arizona weighed in, noting that “These websites can serve as useful tools at an affordable price for real estate agents looking for a rather quick and easy IDX and internet solution. It’s not one I believe more experienced online agents would prefer as most of us learned long ago that template sites tend to brand the template creator nearly equally as the agent. You see one template site, you’ve seen them all whether it’s Z-57, Advanced Access, Superlative or now Zillow.”
“Template-driven monotony aside,” he added, “I see two potential drawbacks. The IDX listings come with an inherent headache with the inclusion of Zestimates whose inaccuracy buyers’ agents have had to explain to unsuspecting buyers since they first created – that Zillow remains so married to its own flawed Zestimates to this degree even as it branches out beyond them is surprising given the known issues with the numbers.”
Dalton continued, “Secondly, if these IDX feeds also are being indexed the same as the more robust Diverse Solutions IDX products, I’m not certain why agents would be inclined to pay the much higher price for DS. More customization is possible, but if SEO is the end goal, I would question whether the means are justified at the significantly higher price.”
Issue one: exporting and importing content
The fine print is not obvious yet, but what was immediately obvious is that the company had turned off the default WordPress settings that allow agents to export all of their content from blog posts to comments, in the event they wish to move to their own hosting scenario, or to another platform.
[ba-pullquote align=”right”]”We didn’t launch Premier Agent Websites with export functionality for simplicity sake.” -Zillow[/ba-pullquote]Zillow told AGBeat, “We didn’t launch Premier Agent Websites with export functionality for simplicity sake. However, we received a lot of requests for this feature, so the beauty of an online service and a stellar, fast-paced team allowed us to make it happen very quickly. We’ll continue to add more functionality over time based on customer feedback. Now agents can chose to export posts, pages, community pages or all content, which includes posts, pages, comments, custom fields, terms, navigation menus and custom posts.”
The company will also soon add an import feature, but it is suspicious that the export function was turned off in the first place. One source told us that because of such a major oversight or choice to exclude the option to give agents an escape button, the fine print should be analyzed by all agents prior to giving any controls to a third party, particularly one that some see as competitive with the Realtor brand.
Issue two: Zestimates on all search results
Also receiving mixed reviews is the fact that each listing on an agent’s site is data presented through the IDX, thus directly from the original source, but on the same page as the current listing price is a Zestimate, a feature that does not appear to be optional. Professionals with Zillow agent sites will be subject to whatever their consumers think of Zestimates, positive or negative.
[ba-pullquote align=”right”]”We also include numbers from a few other automated valuation models, and our own recommendations for gauging the value of the home based on comparables that the user can evaluate for himself.” -Glenn Kelman, Redfin CEO[/ba-pullquote]Redfin CEO, Glenn Kelman told AGBeat, “Redfin has published IDX and VOW data alongside the listing’s Zestimate for five years, so I’m not sure what is new about this? We also include numbers from a few other automated valuation models, and our own recommendations for gauging the value of the home based on comparables that the user can evaluate for himself.”
The major difference between a brokerage like Redfin publishing Zestimates and agents is the awareness level of what the data is, means, and how it is being used and perceived. Grandma Realtor goes to a conference and hears that for $10 per month, she can have the sexiest Realtor website alive, and she is the least likely to understand the history and ramifications of Zestimates, in fact, may not even know what that is, or do more than click “buy” and let the site do its thing.
The level of understanding of risk differs between Redfin, or brokers who choose to implement the Zestimates alongside every single listing, and independent agents who can barely check email and are just looking to get a web presence because the gurus have told them they’re dead in the water without it.
Issue three: links to Zillow on all search results
What was immediately obvious to us was that every listing in search results on an agent’s new website not only has a Zestimate, but next to the Zestimate is a link to the listing on Zillow, also a feature that does not appear to be optional.
It is brilliant on Zillow’s part to do widespread link building a thousand times over, but unsuspecting agents may not be aware that every listing on their site points to Zillow and gives users a reason to leave, rather than keeping them on the site.
Austin Realtor and Co-Founder of Displet, Eric Bramlett said, “The new Zillow sites are completely decent. They’re obviously a loss leader for the company, so you have to ask yourself what the motive is. In this case, I think it’s increasing their Premier Agent subscriber numbers & increasing exposure of Zillow through badges, logos, and links. It looks like a good move for Zillow and a good, cheap product for agents, if they’re okay with entire value proposition.”
Do agent sites put Zillow one step closer to becoming a brokerage?
[ba-pullquote align=”right”]”The question the agents would surely tire of answering is why on earth do they prominently feature the obviously ludicrous Zestimate?” -Jeff Brown, Investment Broker[/ba-pullquote]Investment Broker, Jeff Brown shared his suspicions with AGBeat, noting that “This is a huge win, at least not a loss, for Zillow. The agent either wins new clients, or is made to look silly, which could indeed drive the customer to Zillow’s future real estate brokerage? The question the agents would surely tire of answering is why on earth do they prominently feature the obviously ludicrous Zestimate? Or, why are they listing the property so far under market value? If I was still on the house side of the business, I’d be disappointed in anyone whose thinking I’d previously respected, opting to participate. Somebody, anybody, please show me what I’m missing.”
Brown added, “Furthermore, if I ran Zillow, when I opened my brokerages around the country in the best markets, I’d never join any MLS. Almost immediately we’d be known as the company ‘with all the listings’. Contrary to the opinion of those born after the ice age, buyers don’t give a tinker’s damn about who has the inventory. They care only about finding THEIR new home. Zillow Real Estate will make it exceedingly easy for them to find. The ‘post ice agers’ will think this is something new under the sun, when instead it’ll be a real life, real time real estate sequel to Back to the Future. This can happen, and a whole lot easier than most may think.”
Zillow says they have no intention of acting as a broker to any real estate deal. Despite statements like this in the present and the past, some still believe the company could change their mind.
Update: Zillow said on May 4, 2012 to AGBeat, “We dropped all licenses in 2008, except for Washington and Texas. Since then we dropped Washington and retain Texas. We decided to keep the license in Texas because it is a non-disclosure state so having the brokerage license allows us to access certain data which helps us produce Zestimates.”
A fast moving company
As Zillow alluded to, they are a fast moving company, so they’ll pivot to address user concerns, and they have already addressed the first issue, but it remains unseen as to whether the remaining two dilemmas are features the company is willing (or able?) to alter, which could potentially hurt adoption rates of their website feature, despite that ridiculously great price tag, and some are asking who benefits the most when agents set up their sites – agents or Zillow?