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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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Plastic bags are making a comeback, thanks to COVID-19

(BUSINESS NEWS) Plastic bags are back, whether you like it or not – at least for now.

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Single use plastic bags are rising like a phoenix from the ashes of illegality all over the country, from California to New York. Reusable bags are falling out of favor in an effort to curtail the spread of COVID-19. It’s a logical step: the less something is handled, generally, the safer it is going to be. And porous paper bags are thought to have a higher potential to spread the virus through contact.

It’s worth mentioning that single use plastic bags are considerably more
environmentally efficient to manufacture compared to paper, cloth, and reusable plastic bags. Per unit, they require very little material to make and are easily mass produced. It also goes without saying that they have a very short lifespan, after which they end up sitting in landfills, littering streets, or drifting through oceans.

In the grand scheme of things, it’s hard to deny that single use plastics have the potential to be as dangerous to humans as COVID-19. Coronavirus is a very immediate existential threat to us in the United States, but the scale of the global crises that stem from the irresponsible consumption of cheap disposable goods, also cannot be overstated. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch isn’t going anywhere. (And did you know that it’s just one of many huge garbage patches around the world?)

So… what exactly are we going to do about the comeback of plastic bags? Because to be honest, I used to work in grocery retail, and it is difficult and often unrewarding. So, I wouldn’t exactly love handling potentially contaminated tote bags all day in the midst of a pandemic if I were still a supermarket employee. You couldn’t pay me enough to feel comfortable with that – forget minimum wage!

I used to have a plastic bag stuffed full of other plastic bags sitting in my kitchen, like American nesting dolls, before disposable plastics fell from grace. (I’m sure some of y’all know exactly what I’m talking about.) This bag of bags was never a point of pride. It got really annoying because it just kept growing. There are only so many practical home uses for the standard throw-away plastic shopping bag. Very small trash can liners; holding snarls of unused cables, another thing I accumulate for no reason; extremely low-budget packing material; one could get crafty and somehow weave them into a horrible sweater, I guess.

I don’t miss my bag of bags. I don’t want to have to deal with another. Hey, Silicon Valley? Got any disruptive ideas for this one?

Even if we concede that disposable plastics are a necessary evil in the fight against COVID-19, the fact remains that they stick around long after you’re done with them. That’s true whether you throw them out or not.

I’m not trying to direct blame anywhere. Of course businesses should do their best to keep their customers and staff safe, and if that means using plastic bags, so be it. Without clear guidance from our federal government, every part of society has been fumbling and figuring out how to keep one another healthy with the tools they’ve got at hand. (…Well, almost every part.)

The changes to the state bag bans have been cautious and temporary so far, which is a small relief. But nobody really knows how much longer the pandemic will rage on and necessitate the relaxations.

I won’t pretend that I have a sure solution. All I can really ask is that we all be extra mindful of our usage of these disposable plastic products. Let’s think creatively about what we might otherwise throw away. We must not trade one apocalypse for another.

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Scammers are taking advantage of the unemployed

(BUSINESS NEWS) In a country that’s been stricken by higher-than-ever levels of unemployment, scammers have found a unique way to target this vulnerable demographic.

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With unemployment rates reaching unprecedented levels in recent months, it’s a fairly safe bet to say that there’s something that many of us currently have in common: we need a job. While these levels are slowly starting to decline, already down to 11.1 percent in June from an all-time high of 14.7 percent in April, the need for steady gainful employment is still great for many Americans. That’s what makes the newest scam making its rounds particularly vile.

There’s a common misconception that people who get scammed largely deserved their misfortune. Whether it’s presumed that they got greedy, they fell for something that was too good to be true, or they were looking for an easy way out, it’s both unfair and unkind to make these snap judgements of victims of scammers. When it comes to scammers, there’s only one party to blame for these wrongful actions — the scammers themselves.

And with literally millions of people looking for a job right now, these scammers have found a new round of susceptible people to target. It’s a fairly well documented fact that scammers have a knack for knowing who will be easy prey, and this latest scam is no different. According to a report from the Better Business Bureau (BBB), scammers have ramped up their efforts to separate desperate job seekers from what’s left of their meager funds.

This scam is nothing new, but it has surged in popularity with the sheer number of people looking for jobs in today’s economy. Dubbed the “employment scam,” it can take on many forms, but the end result remains the same. At the end of the day, if a person is bilked out of their money, then the scammer has won.

What does this scam look like, and how can you safeguard yourself from falling prey to it? Please note that anyone — from all walks of life, no matter your age, your sex, your race, or any other factor — can become a victim of a scam. The only way to protect yourself is to be aware of the scam and recognize the signs of it. If a potential employer asks any of the following of you, then there’s a good chance they’re a scammer:

  • You are required to pay the so-called employer for your own training up front.
  • You are expected to give up your banking/personal info for a credit check.
  • You are overpaid by a fraudulent check and told to wire back the difference.
  • You are told that you need to pay for expensive equipment to work from home.

Please note that these scammers can spoof legitimate companies. They may try to pass themselves off as real-deal businesses; they’ve even tried to emulate the BBB itself. And when you refuse to follow through with their demands, they will double down and might even become hostile and aggressive, resorting to threats and cajoling. It’s important to not cave in; once they start bullying you, they know the gig is up.

The BBB also notes that coronavirus has created a “perfect storm” for scammers, but there are a few things you can do to protect yourself. They advise that you avoid social isolation, as that can make you more vulnerable to scammers. When in doubt, seek out a friend’s feedback. Sometimes a reality check can make all the difference in whether or not you become a mark. Do a little bit of digging online before you accept an “offer” or share personal information. And finally, be prudent. No matter how many warnings the BBB puts out each year about scams, the only person who can really protect you from getting scammed is just one person…yourself.

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American Express’ cash back program helps members support small businesses

(BUSINESS NEWS) Between now and September 20th, AMEX is providing $50 in credits to their cardholders to support local businesses.

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It’s no secret that coronavirus has been nothing short of devastating for small businesses. Even with the Small Business Administration (SBA) offering financial relief in the form of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL), many small businesses are still struggling to keep their doors open. So far, the numbers have been astronomical — to the tune of some 100,000 small businesses closing down permanently, according to a report from the National Bureau of Economic Research — and they’re expected to continue to rise as the pandemic drags on.

With that in mind, American Express has come forward with their own disaster relief program of sorts. Between now and the 20th of September, the credit card company will be offering a cash back rewards incentive for their cardholders. The program is fairly simple and straightforward: for every $10 (or more) that you spend at a small business, Amex will give you a $5 statement credit on your account. This can be repeated up to ten times, for a total of $50 in rewards. Not bad, huh? But the question remains: what’s a mere $50 in the grand scheme of things, and will it actually help out small businesses in the long run?

Well, first and foremost, $50 is no small chunk of change. For most of us, it’s a fairly decent perk, especially since it requires us to do what we would have done anyway (shop at local businesses). Whether you feel like getting takeout from your local mom-and-pop restaurant, you’re going to pick up a few groceries for dinner tonight at your corner market, or you need to take Fido in for a checkup at your neighborhood veterinary clinic, these activities all count toward the reward program. You’re literally getting paid for shopping locally. Easy peasy.

And secondly, historic data does prove that these incentives do work. Amex rolled out their first small business reward program back in 2010, called Small Business Saturday®, as a response to the mass consumerism of Black Friday. In 2015, the SBA decided to get in on the fun and joined forces with Amex, sponsoring the program. Even better, a study from 2019 revealed that a whopping $19.6 billion was funneled back into local economies thanks to the initiative. So while “just” $50 may not seem like much, it adds up to impressive numbers when seen from a more macroscopic perspective.

This isn’t the only program that has Amex’s name standing behind it, either. The company is also the driving force behind the Stand for Small program, which unifies larger businesses who are offering their own helping hand to smaller businesses. Whether you’re looking for assistance in managing your expenses, or you’re in need of help in growing your online presence, the Stand for Small program was designed to help make this possible. Large names like Amazon and eBay are included in the ranks that have rallied behind Stand for Small, lending clout to this program.

So what’s a little extra $50? Is it worth it to you? Sure, the intentions of some of these companies may be somewhat less than magnanimous — there’s no arguing that there’s something in it for them, as well — it doesn’t change the fact that in an economy that’s been crippled by COVID-19, they’re actually doing something instead of just sitting there idly and waiting for someone else to take action.

That, at least, has to be worth something. And if you’re wanting to get your hands on a share of the cool fifty bucks courtesy of Amex, they’d like to remind you that you do need to enroll in the rewards program no later than July 26. If you don’t, you may miss out on your opportunity to help keep small businesses afloat (while also enjoying an extra $5 in your pocket here or there), courtesy of American Express.

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