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.
GM’s new $3B commitment to Michigan means thousands of new jobs
(BUSINESS NEWS) GM is stepping up their electric vehicles investment with new factories and cars in the making. They are looking to the future and want to help build it.
On Monday, General Motors announced its $2.2 billion investment into its assembly plant located in Detroit-Hamtramck for the purpose of producing fully-electric SUVs and trucks. Additionally, the investment will go towards G.M.’s subsidiary, Cruise, for the development of a self-driving vehicle. Another invested $800 million will be used towards these future product launches.
The Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant will the be first fully dedicated to electric vehicle production under G.M., creating over 2,200 job opportunities.
The following day, Cruise backed up its parent company by unveiling Origin, an electric driverless, ridesharing vehicle. Deemed “production ready”, Origin is designed similarly to a train car complete with sliding doors and seats facing each other. Cruise CEO Dan Ammann stressed the importance of low cost and the vehicle’s anticipated operation capacity of 1 million miles. These kinds of production stats show the company’s serious intention to change transportation in our cities.
G.M.’s investment comes on the heels of earlier December promises to fund development for mass production battery cells for electric vehicles with South Korean partner, LG Chem. That venture was also granted $2.3 billion by both companies and its own assembly plant to be constructed near Lordstown, Ohio later this year. 1,100 new jobs are expected to come out of the investment.
One of the largest obstacles to electric vehicle manufacturing is the cost of battery packs, deterring many mainstream consumers from electric vehicles. G.M.’s long-term plan is meeting this challenge head-on by fully creating electric vehicles to compete with cost of their internal combustion counterparts.
In a December press conference, G.M.’s chief executive, Mary T. Barra, acknowledged the company’s huge push into electric vehicle development by aiming to sell one million vehicles worldwide by 2026. The reason? “G.M. believes in the science of global warming,” she said. Perhaps another equally lucrative reason is the future of transportation is shifting towards electric models, and G.M. intends to carve out its own territory in this developing market.
How SmileDirectClub uses NDAs to silence bad reviews
(BUSINESS NEWS) SmileDirectClub wants to tell you, in the land of freedom of expression, how to talk about their service even if a dentist has to fix their mistakes.
Bad reviews can hurt any business, which is why many companies will go out of their way to ensure a customer is pleased. A restaurant might offer to replace a bad meal free of charge, for instance. A business might send customers additional free products to make up for any mistakes. SmileDirectClub, on the other hand, has taken a different approach to handling bad reviews: non-disclosure agreements.
SmileDirectClub is an aligners company that positions itself as a cheaper alternative to braces. It’s also an online company. All of this work is done remotely, with customers getting their aligners mailed to them. So, cheap and convenient. What’s not to love?
Well, turns out there might be trouble in paradise. According to an article by the New York Times, “SmileDirectClub has been the subject of more than 1,670 Better Business Bureau complaints since 2014.” In comparison, Invisalign, SmileDirectClub’s competitors, has only had five complaints over the last twenty years.
Many report that SmileDirectClub’s aligners don’t work and some have even claimed the aligners made things worse. Yeah, that’s right. Some people paid for SmileDirectClub just to turn around and have to pay an actual orthodontist just to get back to normal.
So, naturally, SmileDirectClub is having some customers sign NDAs, which according to the New York Times includes the following: “[customer] will not make, publish, or communicate any statements or opinions that would disparage, create a negative impression of, or in any way be harmful to the business or business reputation of SDC or its affiliates or their respective employees, officers, directors, products, or services.”
Non-disclosure agreements are just one way that big companies will try to silence bad reviews. Another method is to file a lawsuit for copyright infringement. GoPro attempted this method a few years ago. Companies can also claim that bad reviews are slander written in bad faith, which is a method many organizations have abused.
It’s possible for these sorts of lawsuits can backfire, but often, the time and money it takes for an average person to take on a big company aren’t worth it. People opt to simply take down their bad reviews instead.
For a country that values freedom of speech and a robust capitalist market, silencing critics (many of whom have legitimate things to say!) doesn’t seem in line with our beliefs. Not to mention, from a more practical standpoint, I’d sure like to know the potential risks or downsides of a product.
Especially when said product is supposed to replace dental work.
Asking the wrong questions can ruin your job opportunity
(BUSINESS NEWS) An HR expert discusses the best (and worst) questions she’s experienced during candidate interviews. it’s best to learn from others mistakes.
When talking to hiring managers outside of an interview setting, I always find myself asking about their horror stories as they’re usually good for a laugh (and a crash course in what not to do in an interview). A good friend of mine has worked in HR for the last decade and has sat in on her fair share of interviews, so naturally I asked her what some of her most notable experiences were with candidates – the good and the bad, in her own words…
“Let’s see, I think the worst questions I’ve ever had are typically related to benefits or vacation as it demonstrates that their priorities are not focused on the actual job they will be performing. I’ve had candidates ask how much vacation time they’ll receive during an initial phone screen (as their only question!). I’ve also had them ask about benefits and make comparisons to me over the phone about how our benefits compare to their current employer.
I once had a candidate ask me about the age demographics of our office, which was very uncomfortable and inappropriate! They were trying to determine if the attorneys at our law firm were older than the ones they were currently supporting. It was quite strange!
I also once had a candidate ask me about the work environment, which was fine, but they then launched into a story about how they are in a terrible environment and are planning on suing their company. While I understand that candidates may have faced challenges in their previous roles or worked for companies that had toxic working environments, it is important that you do not disparage them.
In all honesty, the worst is when they do not have any questions at all. In my opinion, it shows that they are not really invested in the position or have not put enough thought into their decision to change jobs. Moving to a new company is not a decision that should be made lightly and it’s important for me as an employer to make sure I am hiring employees who are genuinely interesting in the work they will be doing.
The best questions that I’ve been asked typically demonstrate that they’re interested in the position and have a strong understanding of the work they would be doing if they were hired. My personal favorite question that I’ve been asked is if there are any hesitations or concerns that I may have based on the information they’ve provided that they can address on the spot. To me, this demonstrates that they care about the impression that they’ve made. I’ve asked this question in interviews and been able to clarify information that I did not properly explain when answering a question. It was really important to me that I was able to correct the misinformation as it may have stopped me from moving forward in the process!
Also, questions that demonstrate their knowledge base about the role in which they’re applying for is always a good sign. I particularly like when candidates reference items that I’ve touched on and weave them into a question.
A few other good questions:
• Asking about what it takes to succeed in the position
• Asking about what areas or issues may need to be addressed when first joining the company
• Asking about challenges that may be faced if you were to be hired
• Asking the employer what they enjoy most about the company
• I am also self-centered, so I always like when candidates ask about my background and how my current company compares to previous employers that I’ve worked for. Bonus points if they’ve actually looked me up on LinkedIn and reference specifics :)”
Think about the best and worst experiences you’ve had during an interview – and talk to others about the same topic – and see how that can help you with future interviews.
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