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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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Business News

10 ways to learn about a company’s culture when job hunting

(BUSINESS NEWS) Culture fit is important when job hunting, here are 10 ways to find out if the prospective company is a good fit.

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To quote the American Bard, I’ve been everywhere, man. In my professional life I’ve worked for hippies in the hills, Gordon Gekko business savants, button-down Christian conservatives: name the American archetype, I’ve made them money. I am rich in experience.

Protip: that is not the same as actually being rich.

In the spirit of “memories don’t pay the Netflix bill,” I therefore assert the following: when you’re looking for a job, for the love of Dale Carnegie, remember you actually have to talk to these people.

Business culture can be the making or breaking of a gig. For that matter, it can be the making or breaking of a business. Day-to-day workplace experience is probably the most important question in any job hunt, and definitely the hardest to track. Here are 10 ways to get a sense of workplace culture – this is the important part – before you ambush your boss with a staple remover.

RESOURCES!

1. Comparably provides an interesting service, and an excuse to dust off your junior high compare/contrast skillz. They’re a job review database set up to allow searchers to review multiple positions side by side according to employee assessments. It’s a great tool for thinning out the herd in the first days of a job hunt, or coming to a final conclusion between opportunities.

2. Glassdoor. You know these guys. If you don’t, go forth. We’ll wait. Glassdoor is still the benchmark for workplace Yelp. Reviews are written by actual employees, often with sound and fury, and records of (mis)behavior often go back years.

3. Great Place to Work goes deep. They don’t have quite the breadth or recognition of Glassdoor, but what they do have is serious rigor. GPtW (it’s tiring to type) provides an anonymous survey to current employees of a given business covering the six categories of Atmosphere, Challenges, Communication, Pride and Rewards. Unless you have super strong views regarding workplace decor, that seems to cover matters.

4. Indeed. The best job board in the business has what is manifestly not the best job review site in the business, but a darn good start. They’ll break down your workplace-to-be (or not) on a 1-5 scale according to several things I guarantee you care about, and maintain a Glassdoor-style database of employee reviews.

5. Job Crowd. Job Crowd does a neat thing. They provide the usual employee reviews, but also encourage contributors to dig into their experience in specific job titles with the companies they review. That kind of specificity is a great value-add: if you’re the janitor, you probably don’t care how great the COO’s job is, and vice versa.

6. Kununu. Kununu is Europe’s Glassdoor, with better than a million reviews for over 250,000 companies. They went live in the States last year and haven’t matched that depth on this side of the hemisphere, but they’ve got the backing and the expertise.

7. Vault. Vaut’s a different beast from the above. Rather than being crowd driven, Vault has an in-house research company that puts together the goods on employers. As you’d expect, this costs. Their free content is only passable, but if you want the serious goods, it might be worth the 9.99/month (less with longer subscriptions.

STRATS, TIPS AND DIRTY TRICKS!

8. LinkedIn. I may be committing Internet blasphemy here, but reading the rants of strangers might – might! – not be as informative as communication with an actual human. Reach out to someone you’d be working with if you took the job you’re contemplating. You’ve got 150 characters, so keep it tight: “I’m Namey McNomen. We could be working together soon. Do you have a moment to chat about [issue you’re into]?”

9. Straight up Internet. Get your occupational stalker on. A Google search is, at its heart, a trawl through the greatest trove of gossip in the history of life. Delve into terribly informative and charming news articles like this one. Bone up on blog articles and – just this once! – read the comment sections. Even Facebook is worth a browse. Seriously, who doesn’t talk about work?

10. Get real. If you work in service, make like a customer. If there’s a front-end office, drop by. Watch, listen, get a feel for what’s happening around you. To compound my digital blasphemy, what comes out of glowing rectangles like the one you’re reading this on (thanks!) is great, but nothing compares to immediate experience.

Put some of this together with plenty of the digital resources above, and with any luck you’ll find yourself a gig that might just keep you from attempted murder with office supplies.

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Business News

10 time tracking tools for productive freelancers, entrepreneurs

(PRODUCTIVITY) We’re all obsessed with squeezing more out of each day, but what if we used one of these time tracking tools to inject more chill time into our lives?

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Part of today’s culture is seeing how much one can get done in a day. We’re always so “go, go, go” and we treasure productivity.

This is incredibly true for freelancers, and, as such, it makes total sense that app and software technology would capitalize on this need. The following apps and programs are designed to help you save time and/or increase productivity.

1. Timeular: This app is designed to visually show you how you spend your time and, as a result, become more productive. Instead of wondering where your time goes every day, you’ll see it visually. This is done through a physical time tracker, where you can define what you want to track and customize your Tracker. You then connect via Bluetooth and place the Tracker face up with the task that you are working on (if you’re taking a phone call, the symbol facing up would be a phone). It then tracks all of your tasks into a color-coded visualization of the day’s activities. Dangerous for people like me who waste a lot of time on Instagram…

2. Bonsai: This bad boy is time tracking for freelancers. You can break down each project and track time individually in order to see where your time is going and how much is being spent on each entity. You then are able to automate invoices based on the time spent. Genius!

3. Tasks Time Tracker: Say that three times fast. This is a phone app that has multiple timers so you can track more than one thing at a time. This app gives you the option to input billing rates to easily track your earning. You can then export all of the info in a CSV format.

4. Azendoo: Everything in one place. This is a time-tracking service that assists your team’s needs and workflow. It puts project organization, team collaboration, and time reporting all in one place. A cool feature on this is you can input how much time you anticipate spending on a project, and then Azendoo compares that to how much time you actually spent.

5. Continuo: Similar to Timeular, you get to see all of your activities in a color-coded format on a calendar. This lets you easily breakdown how much time is spent on each activity and allows you to plan for the future. You are able to see your progress over time, and see how you’ve gotten faster and more productive.

6. PadStats: Described as “a simple app will help you to learn more about yourself”, PadStats will help you track and analyze your daily activities or daily routine. This app includes more quanity-based tracking, allowing data to be more user-oriented and stats to be more accurate.

7. Pomo Timer: This productivity boosting app is a “Simple and convenient pomodoro timer based on the technique proposed by Francesco Cirillo in the distant 1980s made in a simple and clear design,” according to iTunes. For those who like visually simplicity, this app is for you.

8. Blue Cocoa: This program overturns the stigma of a smartphone being a distraction, by turning it into a productivity tool. You start by creating a timer and working on something, and, if you get distracted, the timer senses this and tries to help. This is all in an effort to keep you on track of your task, while tracking the time spent.

9. Timely: A fully automatic time app. This features automatic time tracking, project time management, and team time management. It works to improve timesheet accuracy, increase project profitability, and optimize team performance.

10. Toggl: This is a simple time tracker that offers flexible and powerful reporting. It works to crunch numbers that you’ll need for reporting, all while syncing between all of your devices.

Pick one or two of the above ten, and reclaim your time. No need to “go, go, go,” if you’re a more productive person – this way you can “chill, chill, chill.”

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Business News

Beware: The biohacking obsession is attracting scammers

(NEWS) Biohacking is finding ways to gain a competitive advantage, while excluding the medical world. It’s great to increase your output, but be cautious when picking your poison…

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Wanna live better or longer? [Insert biohack here] will solve all those pesky problems. In all fairness, it’s human nature to seek improvement, especially in our jobs or academics — you know, the things that demand a constant, high performance.

Of course our ears will prick up at the slightest mention of attaining that elusive edge. Remember Aderall in college?

Biohacking isn’t a new topic. The term refers to a wide range of activities to affect the body’s biological systems.

The objective is to optimize health, well-being, and focus. If we are able to effectively manage what we put into our body, our output can increase. It’s not inherently evil.

But social media influencers are key in promoting the latest products/diets/supplements/oils, often doing so for money, not to improve others’ lives. And, there’s a darker side of drug use, both prescription and illegal, leading to potentially dangerous and abusive situations.

The misleading aspect of biohacking is that every body is different.

Regardless of social media promises, people should be wary of ingesting additional products.

Despite the fancy names one can give it, biohacking has the same objective of medicine, but product development typically excludes medical practitioners.

Legitimate medical practices take huge amounts of funding and research to figure out and insure safety, and they’re heavily regulated by the federal government.

A random word of mouth promise about some obscure herbal supplement is not the same thing.

There are no shortcuts to improving one’s health.

And biohacking doesn’t necessarily mean making life more complex. It’s important to start with the basics before jumping to elaborate diet regimens, powders, pills, etc. Simple steps like routine exercise, 7-8 hours of sleep, and healthier meal choices may help get you on track.

It’s amazing to realize what you can change about yourself before joining some random Thought Cult you found on Instagram. And in the case that your health needs a modern, helping hand, do the proper research before falling into the dark internet hole.

Or better yet, consult your doctor.

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