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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

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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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$100m reimagined convenience store startup to open 25 stores in 2022

(BUSINESS) Foxtrot is looking to redefine the convenience store as we know it. This startup is looking to make it a whole new experience.

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Laptop with Foxtrot convenience store locations in Chicago.

Move over 7-11, there’s a new player in town! There’s always room for competition, even in the world of convenience stores. Yes, you read that right, Quick Trip has some serious competition from a newcomer, Foxtrot.

Foxtrot is a curated, modern convenience store offering a brisk 30-minute delivery and 5-minute pick-up. It was created by Mike LaVitola and Taylor Bloom in 2014. These stores will undoubtedly be popular in walkable areas, but also with their online ordering convenience. This modern version of a convenience store offers the combination of an upscale corner store with a digital-first e-commerce platform. Sounds pretty glorious, right?

However, the original convenience store is safe as long as people are traveling and need to stop for gas or a restroom break.  If you’re from Texas, then you know and love, Buc-ee’s, the Texas-born chain. Buc-ee’s have been creating their own in-store products garnering a cult following among their customers. Still, Buc-ee’s doesn’t have an online ordering or delivery option unless it’s offered through a third party.

Foxtrot has raised $160 million in Series C funding and they are expecting to open 25 locations in many cities in 2022. There are a few different levels of funding. If a company makes it to Series C funding, they are already successful and looking to expand or develop new products per Investopedia.

According to Retail Dive, “About half of the new stores will be in Chicago, Dallas and Washington, where all of the 16 stores Foxtrot currently operates are located, LaVitola said. The tech-focused retailer is also planning to begin operations in Boston and Austin, and intends to open four or five new stores in each of those cities during the next year and a half, he said.”

Foxtrot is testing out technology equipment that would allow customers to leave the store without stopping to checkout at the counter. They plan isn’t to go entirely self-service, but as the creator LaVitola stated, “the more hours we can allocate towards sampling and storytelling and interacting with customers and less [on] tasks that don’t add on to value, like checkout, that’s great.”

Foxtrot is redefining convenience by including carefully curated products. They aim to offer local popular products as well core pantry items. They aim to make the commonly unpleasant experience of convenience stores enjoyable. Let’s hope they succeed.

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What small business owners can learn from Starbucks’ new D&I strategy

(BUSINESS) Diversity and inclusion have been at the forefront of Starbucks’ mission, but now they’re shifting strategy. What can we learn from it?

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Hands of all different skin colors on green background representing Starbucks' D&I.

Starbucks was one of many companies that promised to focus on diversity and inclusion efforts after the death of George Floyd by Minneapolis police in 2020. What sets Starbucks apart from other companies were its specific goals.

How It Started

They began with hiring targets and have now added goals in corporate and manufacturing roles. Starbucks’ plans and goals revolve around transparency for accountability. They released the annual numbers for 2021 as a way to help hold themselves accountable. The data they’ve released so far show that they’ve met nearly a third of their 2025 goals according to Retail Brew. Because of this information, we can see why they are choosing to move in the direction of manufacturing and corporate jobs. In 2021, POC’s fell to 12.5% of director-level employees from 14.3% in 2020 in manufacturing.

How It’s Going

Per Starbucks’ website stories and news, “[I]t will increase its annual spend with diverse suppliers to $1.5 billion by 2030.  As part of this commitment, Starbucks will partner with other organizations to develop and grow supplier diversity excellence globally.” To put that into perspective, they spent nearly $800 million with diverse suppliers in 2021. With these moves, by 2030, it will increase by almost double.

As part of their accountability and progress, they plan to partner up with Arizona State University to give out free toolkits to entrepreneurs on fundamentals for running successful diverse-owned businesses. Another goal they’ve listed is to boost paid media representation by allocating 15 percent of the advertising budget to minority-owned and targeted media companies to reach diverse audiences.

At the heart of all this information on their goals and future plans, data transparency and accountability are what’s forcing them to look at the numbers to make specific goals. They are doing more than just throwing money at the problem, they are analyzing how they can do better and where the money will make a difference. Something that, as entrepreneurs, we should all do.

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Peloton is back-pedaling: Reports of price increases, layoffs, and cost cuts

(BUSINESS) After a recording of layoffs leaks, ‘supply chain’ issues cause shipping increases, and they consult for cost-cutting, Peloton is doomed.

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Man riding Peloton bike with instructor pointing encouragingly during workout.

Is Peloton in Trouble?

According to many reports, Peloton had success early in the pandemic when gyms shut down. Offering consumers a way to connect with a community for fitness along with varying financing options allowed the company to see growth when many other industries were being shuttered.

After two years, CNBC reports that the company is “being impacted by …supply chain challenges” and rising inflation costs. According to the report, customers will be paying an additional $250 for its bike and $350 for its tread for delivery and setup.

As demand has decreased, Peloton is also considering layoffs in their sales and marketing departments, overheard in a leaked audio call. The recording details executives discussing “Project Fuel” where they plan to cut 41% of the sales and marketing teams, as well as letting go of eCommerce employees and frontline workers at 15 retail stores.

Nasdaq reported that the stock fell 75% last year, after a year where it soared over 400%.

Peloton reviewing its overall structure

According to another report from CNBC, Peloton is working with McKinsey & Company, a management consulting firm, to lower costs as revenue has dropped and the growth of new subscriptions has slowed since the pandemic. Last November, according to NPR, Peloton had “its worst day as a publicly-traded company.” It also anticipates greater losses in 2022 than originally predicted. It makes sense that the company would reexamine their strategy as the economy changes. They aren’t the only one that is raising prices amid supply chain issues.

It will be interesting to watch how Peloton fares

Peloton has a large community that pays a monthly fee for connected fitness. While growth has slowed, the company still has a strong share of consumers. Although it is facing more competition in the home fitness market and more gyms are reopening, as Peloton adjusts to the new normal, it should remain a viable company.

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