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Zillow sued for concealing Zestimates on certain listings

(BUSINESS NEWS) Zillow being sued for Zestimates is nothing new, but they’re now being accused of concealing Zestimates on “Co-Conspirator Broker” listings, violating federal Antitrust laws.

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From our real estate section, The Real Daily:

The latest Zillow legal troubles again surround their Zestimates; this time they are being sued for their Zestimates violating federal Antitrust laws. The company has allegedly violated and continue to violate Section 1 of the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1 and the New Jersey Antitrust Act, N.J.S.A. 56:9-3.

Plaintiff, EJ MGT LLC, based in New Jersey, filed suit again Zillow Group Inc. and Zillow Inc. today. In a 21-point legal brief outlining their specific violations, two things become immediately clear (assuming of course there is truth in these allegations): Zillow is giving preferential treatment to preferred brokerages (labeled ‘co-conspirator Broker[s] in the lawsuit) and Zestimates are wildly inaccurate (as many have adamantly stated since Zestimates’ conception).

The first few points of the brief explain exactly what Zillow is being accused of doing: “this antitrust action arises from Zillow’s conspiracy with certain real-estate brokerage companies to selectively conceal ‘Zestimates.’” Zillow’s estimate of a residential property’s “fair market value” which the lawsuit states they know “to be inaccurate,” have allowed “only select brokers to conceal the display of Zestimates on their listings to the exclusion of the general public.”

The lawsuit goes on to state that “these agreements between Zillow and certain co-conspirator brokers of residential real estate restrain trade (read: the agents/brokers being allowed to conceal unwanted Zestimates, henceforth referred to as ‘Co-conspirator Brokers’) and deprive Plaintiff and the public in general of the benefits of open and robust competition in two markets: the residential real estate market and the residential real estate brokerage market.”

In essence, Zillow and the Co-conspirators Brokers have made an illegal agreement regarding the display of Zestimates on Zillow’s site.

Zillow has long touted their Zestimates as a “user-friendly format to promote transparent real-estate markets and allow people to make informed decisions;” except Zestimates are often believed to be inaccurate and now they’re being concealed at the request of a select group of Co-conspirator Brokers – a far cry from making real estate more transparent.

If the lawsuit’s claims have any validity behind them, it seems as though Zillow may be in for a bumpy ride. Item 10 in the suit states, “Zillow has acknowledged that it conceals Zestimates as a result of agreements with only ‘certain brokers’ who receive ‘certain treatment’” and uses a message screenshotted from Zillow’s Help Center as proof these words were in fact used to explain why some listings had prominent Zestimates while others did not:

You may be wondering what brought about this lawsuit; it seems Plaintiff, EJ MGT LLC, owns and is marketing a property located in Cresskill, New Jersey, through an agent unaffiliated with Zillow (not a Co-Conspirator Broker). Therefore, their listing contains a prominently displayed Zestimate, while a similar listing in nearby Alpine, New Jersey, which is listed through a “Co-conspirator Broker,” conceals the Zestimate:

The above example is not the only one outlined in the case, however. Item 12 of the lawsuit states that further evidence can be seen by comparing a residence page for a property while it was listed with a Co-conspirator Broker versus the same residence page once the property was off the market. One clearly conceals the Zestimate, while the latter displays it clearly underneath the listing price.

For reference, the Co-conspirator Broker listing was screenshot on December 26, 2017 and the screenshot after it was taken off the market with the Zestimate was taken on January 2, 2018. Merely a week in between images, and yet the difference of how the ad is displayed is quite apparent:

In essence, Zillow has violated the very transparency they claimed to create.

Zillow is allegedly promoting misleading and inaccurate information while using their marketing power to charge brokers to hide this information which could negatively impact a sale, and which Zillow itself has acknowledged is sometimes inaccurate.

Also, general members of the public have no way to prevent Zillow from obtaining and posting information in this way, and it cannot be altered without hiring a Co-conspirator Broker, as Zillow has explicitly refused to offer the option to hide information to individual home owners, further deepening the dependency on Co-conspirator Brokers.

Because of their alleged refusal to treat everyone equally and “empower homebuyers with information,” they have potentially restrained trade in connection with the exchange of information regarding home valuation and offered anti-competitive benefits to only those brokers chosen to purchase that ‘special’ service package from Zillow that removes Zestimates from listings.

Therefore, brokers are not on even footing: when a seller attempts to price check; the brokers without it could be losing out to those who have the ‘special’ package and removal of Zestimates alongside listing prices.

So far, each individual Co-conspirator Broker has not been named; they have been named as a group: Sotheby’s International Realty, Inc., Coldwell Banker Real Estate LLC, Century 21 Real Estate LLC, The Corcoran Group ERA, and Weichert Realty, according to court documents. It is unlikely that any action would ever impact the brokerages, rather Zillow Group itself.

Zillow is being sued for five counts: two counts of conspiracy to restrain trade, one count of violating the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act, one count of slander of title/product disparagement, and one count of interference with prospective economic advantage. A jury trial has been requested.

Jennifer Walpole is a Senior Staff Writer at The American Genius and holds a Master's degree in English from the University of Oklahoma. She is a science fiction fanatic and enjoys writing way more than she should. She dreams of being a screenwriter and seeing her work on the big screen in Hollywood one day.

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6 Comments

6 Comments

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  6. Jeddie Busch

    February 4, 2018 at 10:07 am

    Oh Zillow!.., What can we say about this? The recent changes to the Google algorithm have pushed them out of the top spots on search engine rankings so no they are looking at being more creative — However they are taking money from large brokerages and must make them happy too. Will be interesting to see how this continues to play out.

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How your company can take advantage of the gig economy, not fear it

(NEWS) The gig-economy is increasing in popularity and you shouldn’t be quick to write it off.

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ambitious career hacks

Gigs are expanding

The gig economy is buzzing. The term has now come to signify any contractual, part-time, freelance work, and is not limited to the tech universe.

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Freelance freedom

Between 2004 and 2014, independent contracting employment increased from 12 percent to only about 18 percent. In the last several years the gig economy has exploded onto the scene.

The 2016 Bureau of Labor Statistics report shows that the rate of self-employment in America is falling, and yet more people are engaging in freelance work, which last year stood at an impressive 35 percent of the total economy.

What gives?

The answer, backed by several surveys, is simple.

People with full-time jobs are increasingly participating in part-time gigs.

And although the Uber driver has become the poster-child, the scope of the gig economy is much wider.

A growing gig nation

The BLS report clearly states, “Gig workers are spread among diverse occupation groups and are not easily identified (added emphasis) in surveys of employment and earnings.”

Linkedin predicts that by 2020, 43 percent Americans shall be engaged in gig economy.

Really not a shock

This should not come as a surprise. By now it is well known that our out-of-date model of success — “study hard—earn a degree—get a job” is failing.

There are too many graduates, and too few well-paid full time jobs.

The private sector has also struggled. In most American metro areas, more businesses are closing than new ones are opening up.

For many millennials, it is the sole source of income. For others, it is an easy way to make some extra cash. Today’s millennials have less purchasing power than Baby Boomers or Gen Xers. But this picture no longer accurately portrays the essence of the gig economy.

Many of today’s gig economy participants, especially younger employees, actually have full-time jobs.

However, instead of opening their own businesses by quitting their full-time jobs (a common practice in the past), they are pouring their passion into these freelance gigs IN ADDITION to their full time jobs.

The gig economy today has thus become an outlet that captures their expressions of creativity.

Gigs reaching beyond their stereotypical niche

The tech industry is already well known for a thriving gig economy. Contractual Web-developers (~$31/hr), Software developers (~$48/hr), Graphic Designers, and Multimedia Artists are all experiencing high demands.

But gig economy culture is spreading to other sectors of the economy, largely facilitated by the internet experience.

It is infiltrating administrative & support services, healthcare and even real estate.

Seasonal gigs are still a thing

Some demands are very much seasonal. Contract Accountants (~$30/hr) are in high demand as taxpayers try to submit their returns before April 15. Other gig economies are in demand year round.

Truck delivery is one of the highest paid gigs, which got a boost through the popularity of Amazon and eBay.

Low barriers to entry also make gig economies attractive. Take for example, Airbnb. So long as you have a spare room in a well-located, highly visited city, you can partake in the hospitality business!
This is good news for our economy! The criticisms it faces are mostly unfounded, and must be resisted.

Don’t listen to the haterz

The media and the government often unfairly characterizes the gig economy. The contract worker is seen as a victim, as being preyed upon by the big businesses, entering an exploitative arrangement, often unknowingly and against his own best interest.
The advent of the gig economy is painted as the death of salaries, health insurance and vacation days.
The goal of such criticism seems to be to reduce the number of contract workers and increase the number of definable “employees”. This argument overlooks the fact that each of these contracts were entered voluntarily and fulfilled a service that was a gap in the market.

Too many benefits

A 2016 Fastcompany survey found that 75 percent of employees still prefer health benefits to usual industry benefits like remote work.

While that is certainly true of a job seeker without any other job, statistics show us that more freelancers are full-time employees fishing for side gigs.

Forcing contractors to supply fringe benefits would result in duplicative benefits.

Gigging is not predatory

The debate over how to appropriately regulate the gig economy shall continue.

Obviously, companies may come up with strategies to exploit contract employees.

But at a time when traditional employers are experiencing downward pressure on their profit margins and retaining employees while tackling soaring insurance costs has become a challenge, engaging the best and the brightest from the gig economy becomes increasingly necessary. Industries that engage in it should not be seen as predatory.

Helping not hurting

In fact, it is quite the opposite. Gig economies empower the labor market in new innovative ways, when traditional markets have failed them.

Even the best schools in our land now advise their graduates to stop looking for full time jobs and participate in the gig economy.

Therefore, the caricature that the eager job seekers of the gig market must be bottom-of-the-barrel talent pool is also grossly erroneous.

Gotta up the ante

Yet, many companies have under-invested in this area. They have done too little to lobby for themselves and entirely miss out reaping its benefits.

Some still wait for traditional application to populate their inbox instead of actively recruiting from the gig-economy.

Their recruiting strategies are also failing. Mentioning “working remotely” as a reward on the job description is simply not good enough anymore.

Take the first step

Instead, companies should stress on their own unique story: a passion-driven project, with lots of creative leeway and good pay.

Research shows that the modern employee wants flexible hours, fair but few rules, and transparent pay structures.Click To Tweet

All of this can be easily achieved in a gig economy setting. What are we waiting for?

This editorial originally ran on March 21, 2017.

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This chatbot was designed to scam the scammers #beautiful

(NEWS) This AI chatbot has been designed to waste spammers’ time intelligently, and it is just oh so beautiful!

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re:scam spam chatbot

Spam emails are unfortunately a never-ending source of email annoyance. No matter how we improve our spam filters, 2017’s Nigerian Princes never fail to come out of the woodwork.

Efforts to fight scammers and the ever evolving techniques of scams they try to do come in varied forms, or in the case of New Zealand’s tech company NetSafe – multiple personalities.

NetSafe, an international non-profit dedicated to internet safety, has created a chatbot that could best be described as a sophisticated AI troll.

Re:scam is an email bot that is designed to reply to scam emails and give them a taste of their own drama.

How it works: forward any scam email to me@rescam.org – from there, the various personalities of the app work together to respond to that scamming email as though it was a would-be victim.

This helps keep scamming relevant by drawing attention to the issue. The emails exchanged can help teach us more about scammers, who regularly adjust their techniques, and it’s hitting scammers where it hurts – their wallet. Lost profits and wasted time mean the scammers have less time to do the scamming spam sucking that they thrive on.

The website details a few of the most common scams: banking, beneficiaries, romance, and #WesternUnion. With examples of how the app responds. The emails are humorously trolling, and I could see the romance one being an almost awkward comedy skit. Plus, Re:scam boasts some amazing success: over 47,000 emails have been sent and the app is getting a lot done – so far the app boasts five months of wasted time for scammers.

The biggest concern I would have had with this chatbot is quickly dispelled: Re:scam uses a proxy email and doesn’t tangle any of your personal information after you forward the email into the conversation. The site also reminds you that this application does not serve as a spam detection tool, but it does teach you some information to help you recognize spam emails.

In addition to sounding like a perfect revenge via scamming the scammer, the Re:scam chatbot is showing some promise as a great tool to help make the internet a slightly safer place. Give it a go and #SpamtheSpamoutoftheSpammers

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How to get what you want through negotiation, sans agression

(BUSINESS NEWS) There are a myriad of different approaches to negotiation. We’ve compiled a few tips for you, the first being avoid aggression.

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Art of persuasion

Persuasion as a tactic in negotiations and conversations is often times the only way we can arrive at a solution. We are prompted to negotiate at work, with our children, at our gigs, and many times with ourselves. Negotiations are cognitively, emotionally, and in ways physically, exhausting.

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In addition, the demands that lead us to the persuasion table often push negotiators into aggressive, or even threatening directions, even when that person would not normally use threats or aggression as a communication style.

Do not B-E-aggressive

The problem with threatening or aggressive negotiations is that for the most part – they don’t work. Many times threats are simply emotional outburst, even if they are successful at best they are short-term wins with the potential for future collateral damage.

To avoid threatening your way into a ruined relationship and negotiate with poise and skills, consider the following:

  • Emphasize the role of reciprocity – people will be more receptive to demands or needs if something is given.
  • Be the first to offer something. It sets the tone and makes people more receptive to what you are trying to influence.
  • Embrace the “common ground” –
  • Align your attitude with theirs to create comradery
  • Do not accuse them of being wrong – this simply becomes a personal attack.
  • Do not insult or demean their position. Even if you disagree, acknowledge that you understand the perspective.
  • Make yourself likable:
    • Be polite and practice your manners.
    • Dress well and convey your confidence.
    • Be present and listen to what is said.
    • Be confident.
  • When you present information, ensure that information doesn’t violate conversational maxims, this means that the information will be better received and you won’t be forced to rely on threats:
    • Information is complete and full.
    • Information is truthful and accurate.
    • Information is relevant to the conversation.
    • Information is expressed in an easy-to-understand way.
  • Express humility – admit when you are wrong. It prevents it from becoming an emotional derailed later in the argument.
  • Check your emotions regularly. We often resort to threats as an emotional outburst in an argument. If you find yourself resorting to threats
  • Utilize the scarcity principle – instead of a threat, indicate that an offer or a situation has a time limit and will expire.
  • Stop the negotiation if you feel like you can’t negotiate without being angry. It’s better to walk away rather than risk the potentially negative consequences for future negotiations.

Better to avoid

Although there are some cases where threats MAY be helpful for the most part it is better to maintain poise and avoid threats.
The consequences of threats can be ruined relationships and reputations, and ultimately, may keep you from reaching the ultimate goal of your negotiations.

#TalkItOut

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