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If it walks and talks like a brokerage, it might be Zillow

Zillow is one of the largest real estate media companies in America, and they have recently made bold expansion plans many are praising, but one industry leader tells AGBeat that these moves are competitive, not praiseworthy.

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Zillow’s expansion plans: compete with brokers?

Real estate media company, Zillow has recently made several big moves, some are being called game changers as they add value to their offering with the goal of better serving real estate practitioners and consumers. Not everyone sees it that way, however, including VHT Chairman, Brian Balduf, who is no stranger to controversy, recently taking on black hat SEO tactics of real estate media sites.

Balduf sees Zillow’s expansion plans as anti-broker and in a statement to be released later today, Balduf outlines why. The statement is featured in full below.

“If it walks and talks like a brokerage, it might be Zillow,” by Brian Balduf, VHT Chairman:

Zillow’s new Agent Hub tool

When Zillow rolled out a new CRM tool for real estate agents on Friday, it hit a nerve with brokers who are already offended by big aggregators’ controversial tactics to get in between them and their customers.  Now it looks like Zillow is also trying to get in between them and their agents.

Zillow describes Agent Hub as a key step in moving Zillow beyond advertising with a suite of tools and services giving agents a central hub for marketing and managing their businesses and becoming more productive.

Agent Hub is said to provide agents with analytics dashboards to monitor listing and agent profile metrics, as well as marketing and social media training and industry news updates.

All this prompted industry observers such as Geekwire to suggest that Zillow’s agent strategy is targeted at competing with Market Leader and other industry outsiders that are aggressively pursuing the billions spent annually by real estate professionals on marketing and advertising.

Brokerages are in Zillow’s crosshairs

But there’s more going on here than competition between two companies in the same space. In this battle, it’s real estate brokerages who are in the crosshairs of Zillow’s ongoing expansion plan.

Understanding why that’s the case requires understanding how the Internet has changed consumer buying habits. Once upon a time, agents were the source of clients for brokerages. But now, consumers have direct access to MLS listings and they’re spending weeks or months shopping for homes on the web without help from agents.

Today, agents have to pay Zillow and other third parties to help them find these online buyers. And these savvy third parties are investing big bucks in developing a range of CRM, lead management and other support services that are easy for agents to access and free or low-cost to use. (Zillow’s plan, the company disclosed this week, also includes opening a new California office and adding 100 employees to its sales force to promote the Agent Hub offering.)

An interesting comparison

Here’s an interesting comparison.  If you look at some advertising by brokers trying to attract agents, and at what these industry outsiders like Market Leader are marketing to agents, you’ll see some interesting similarities:  

The broker’s message in the above ad — about providing the “best tools, training, support and lead generation” to agents — has been borrowed by third party companies like Market Leader. Its brochure ware says it offers agents “integrated websites, contact management, a marketing center, and lead generation services that generate a steady stream of prospects plus provides the systems and training for converting those prospects into clients.”

The only difference in the services is that these third party players aren’t restricted by all the rules and regulations that a brokerage must adhere to.

Zillow undermines brokers’ value to agents

With Agent Hub, Zillow is helping to undermine brokers’ value to agents and eclipsing their role by providing services directly to agents – services that traditionally have been provided by brokers. Like Market Leader, they’re taking money out of brokers’ pockets, undermining agents’ loyalty to brokers, and basically competing for the low hanging fruit – agent marketing dollars.

No wonder agents are questioning the role of traditional brokers and demanding a larger share of commissions.  If the trend continues, will agents need brokers at all?

Brokers CAN actually strengthen their relationship with agents and increase their value proposition. But they need to spend less time trying to recruit more agents and more time using their resources to get leads for the agents they have. They should be helping agents nurture buyers through the sales process so they can close more sales.

This battle is all about trying to help agents generate leads and close deals more effectively. Whoever does it the best, wins, period.

AGBeat is not affiliated with VHT and the above comments expressed do not necessarily reflect the opinions and position of AGBeat officers and employees.

The American Genius (AG) is news, insights, tools, and inspiration for business owners and professionals. AG condenses information on technology, business, social media, startups, economics and more, so you don’t have to.

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47 Comments

47 Comments

  1. Ken Brand

    April 18, 2012 at 3:44 pm

    “This battle is all about trying to help agents generate leads and close deals more effectively. Whoever does it the best, wins, period.” Absolutely spot on. The odd thing, at least for now, in this simmering competition stew, brokers are providing their ZTR competitor with gunpowder (property data) which is used to sell ads to the brokers agents, which generates money, which ZTR use to manufacture more tools (bullets) to shoo the gunpowder-providers (brokers) in the head. Awareness on all fronts is rising and will rise as the market rebounds and (hopefully) smart brokers move from a survival-mode-mindset to a kick-ass-and-take-names-mindset.

    “But they need to spend less time trying to recruit more agents and more time using their resources to get leads for the agents they have.” I believe to thrive you must do both impressively. Half-assing on lead gen, developing new talent, quality control and attracting new talent will have a broker chasing and lagging instead of leading and reaping.

    I don’t believe a middle ground is possible due to TRZ’s shareholder/investor demands and expectations, growth can only come from disintermidiating brokers. What I’m encouraged by is the fact that (for now anyway – wake up brokers TRZ is a Trojan Horse) brokers can (if they have the will) pull the life support plug on TRZ. In will be interesting to see how brokers react in a surging rebound market.

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. Benn Rosales

    April 18, 2012 at 4:02 pm

    The entire old guard needs to be pushed – if you’d told me 3 yrs ago top producer would be html5 I’d have called you insane and asked you to step away from the crack.

    IMO this is more threatening to old vendors and new vendors with old tricks – read that again.

    This is a snap in the face to NAR – wake up, we’re taking the reigns as the leader in the real estate industry, and Trulia just solidified my belief last week.

    The fact is, Zillow is a threat to everything that was once normal in real estate, and there isn’t a damn thing wrong with that. The arrogance of the old mans club is coming to a head – mark my words.

    • Bruce Lemieux

      April 19, 2012 at 4:00 pm

      Benn – Definitely agree that other RE service providers like Move, etc should worry about Zillow, but how is “Zillow is a threat to everything that was once normal in real estate”? It seems to me that Zillow does two things: sells web ads from listing data, and provides web services to agents. This may bring about some industry consolidation in these markets, but I don’t see how this affects much else. This doesn’t seem that revolutionary/disruptive to me. What am I missing?

      What would be very interesting – and cause quite a stir – would be if Zillow setups up brokerages ala Sawbuck — ‘brokerages’ that have access to MLS data and build an agent referral business. This would be a lot more disruptive to traditional brokerages than anything else they’ve done recently.

      • Benn Rosales

        April 19, 2012 at 5:34 pm

        Bruce, got your question, and I’m going to see if I can help paint a better illustration of what I mean than stuffing it into a comment. I don’t think Z will be sticking signs in yards, I think it’s a lot more macro than that and not speculative, but what’s actually happening in real time.

        • Bruce Lemieux

          April 19, 2012 at 6:22 pm

          “I think it’s a lot more macro than that and not speculative” – I have no idea what that means.

  3. Rich Jacobson

    April 18, 2012 at 4:31 pm

    Spot on, Benn! Things are desperately in need of a shake up. Local brokerages (and parent companies) have failed to provide meaningful lead gen systems for their agents. Zillow and Trulia are simply fulfilling the need/demands that Realtor.com has failed to provide.

  4. Robert Drummer

    April 18, 2012 at 10:50 pm

    If *any* agent puts their client information in Zillow’s AgentHub, they are an absolute idiot.

    Zillow’s ‘Terms of Use’ let them do anything they want with your client list including sell it to any third party.

    I blogged about here:
    imapp.com/blog/2012/04/zillows-dirty-little-secret/

    • Jay Thompson

      April 19, 2012 at 12:40 pm

      Jay T. from Zillow here!

      Thanks for pointing this out Robert. The TOU you cited in your posy was never intended to include info agents and brokers upload to the CRM / Agent Hub. Zillow will not harvest anything from the contacts that agents input into the CRM, and the language of the TOU is being been updated to explicitly state this.

      • David G

        April 23, 2012 at 8:54 am

        Thanks for the clarification Jay T. 😉

  5. Thomas Johnson

    April 19, 2012 at 2:06 am

    Tsk tsk. What would David Gibbons do?

    • David G

      April 23, 2012 at 8:55 am

      He’d probably do exactly what Jay T would do. Good to see you Thomas.

  6. Paula Henry

    April 19, 2012 at 6:10 am

    Agents and brokers woke up too late.

  7. Bruce Lemieux

    April 19, 2012 at 3:43 pm

    All this hand-wringing over Zillow is so tiring.

    So Zillow is providing services to agents just like Market Leader and Move. So what? Agents aren’t forced to use any of this. If Zillow provides compelling products with good value to agents, how is this a bad thing?

    And this incessant worry that Zillow will become a brokerage — ugh, enough already. If Zillow’s evil master plan is to setup brokerages, then let them. Running a profitable brokerage is hard work. If it were simply a matter of turning on a website, Redfin would have taken over the entire industry years ago. And if they do setup brokerages, do it better than everyone else and make tons of money, then good for them. Seriously – what *is* the problem?

    There’s a lot of zillow/trulia/redfin/r.com haters on the REnet who would be better off focusing on how to provide more value to their buyers and sellers – and less time griping about everyone else.

    • Benn Rosales

      April 19, 2012 at 5:37 pm

      I’m not a hater, like I said, competition in the market place especially for associations and vendors is a great great thing.

      • Bruce Lemieux

        April 19, 2012 at 6:16 pm

        Benn – sorry, didn’t mean to infer that you were in the ‘hater camp’. If I understood the original article correctly, you reported on Mr. Balduf’s thoughts on Zillow, not your own. I think we both agree that a more competitive RE service marketplace is all good.

        • ken Brand

          April 20, 2012 at 10:16 am

          I’m not wringing my hands Bruce, I’m speaking up, speaking out, wagging a finger, shaking a fist.

          Fortunately I’m capable of expressing my self and focusing on my business at the same time. A part of business is keeping abreast of competitive forces, listening to opposing views and formulating a positon current issues. Expressing myself in writing is helps to crystalize my beliefs.

          What I’m not doing it sitting quietly in a corner, deaf, dumb and mute. If I did that I wouldn’t be “doer”, I’d be a dud. imo

      • David G

        April 23, 2012 at 8:59 am

        Was Zillow contacted for comment on this story?

    • Drew Meyers

      April 20, 2012 at 7:02 am

      “There’s a lot of zillow/trulia/redfin/r.com haters on the REnet who would be better off focusing on how to provide more value to their buyers and sellers – and less time griping about everyone else.”

      Spot on. Unfortunately, this world is full of “blamers” aka those who will bitch and moan about what everyone else is doing that is so “unfair” but refuse to actually do anything themselves to improve their business. I’ll stick to hanging with the doers of the world..

    • Robert Drummer

      April 20, 2012 at 9:54 am

      It seems there are just as many zillow/trulia/redfin/r.com apologists on the REnet who also would be better off focusing on how to provide more value to their buyers and sellers – and less time griping about everyone else.

      • ken Brand

        April 20, 2012 at 10:01 am

        This is what makes the internet great. It allows us to bitch and moan, even when we want bitch and moan about the bitch and moaners. We can hate on the haters, we can point how unfair and misguided the unfair and misguided are.

        Thankfully because most of us who read and share on AG can walk and chew gum, we can laser focus on growing our business, be a doer and still find time to add to the conversation, even when the haters, moaners, bitchers, unfocused and undoers disagree.

        • ken Brand

          April 20, 2012 at 10:03 am

          PS. I think Redfin is an awesome brokerage. ZTR, not so much, they aren’t a brokerage yet.

      • Bruce Lemieux

        April 20, 2012 at 10:11 am

        @Robert – So we have the Hater Camp and Apologist Camp. How about the Agnostic Camp? Either way – I agree with your point.

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Opinion Editorials

9 ways to be more LGBTQIA+ inclusive at work

(OPINION EDITORIALS) With more and more people joining the LGBTQIA+ community it’d do one well to think about ways to extend inclusiveness at work.

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LGBTQIA+ people may have won marriage equality in 2015, but this momentous victory didn’t mean that discrimination was over. Queer and LGBTQIA+ identified people still have to deal with discrimination and not being in a work environment that supports their identities.

Workplace inclusivity may sound like the hottest new business jargon term on the block, but it actually just a professional way of making sure that everyone feels like a valued team member at the office. Business psychologists have found when people are happy to go to work, they are 12 percent more productive.

Making your business environment a supportive one for the queer community means you’re respecting employees and improving their workplace experience.

Here’s nine ways you can make your workplace more inclusive for LGBTQIA+ people.

1) Learn the basics.
If you’re wanting to make your workplace more open to LGBTQIA+ people, it’s best to know what you’re talking about. Firstly, the acronym LGBTQIA+ stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, and Asexual and the plus encompassing other identities not named; there are many variants on the acronym. Sexual orientations (like lesbian, gay, bisexual) are not the same as gender identities.

Transgender means that that person “seeks to align their gender expression with their gender identity, rather than the sex they were assigned at birth.” Cisgender means a person identifies with the sex they were assigned at birth. If you need a more comprehensive rundown about sexual orientation, gender identity, and the like, visit the GLAAD reference guide.

2) Stop using the word “gay” as an insult.
Or insinuating people you don’t like are “gay” together. This is the most basic thing that can be done for workplace inclusivity regarding the queer community. Anything that actively says that LGBTQIA+ people are “lesser” than their straight counterparts can hurt the queer people on your team and make them not feel welcome. It’s not cool.

3) Don’t make jokes that involve the LGBTQIA+ community as a punchline.
It’s not cute to make a “funny quip” about pronouns or to call someone a lesbian because of their outfit. This kind of language makes people feel unwanted in the workplace, but many won’t be able to speak up due to the lack of protections about LGBTQIA+ identities in anti-discrimination statutes. So stop it.

4) Support your colleagues.
If you’re in a situation and hear negative or inappropriate talk regarding the LGBTQIA+ community, stick up for your co-workers. Even if they’re not there, by simply expressing that what was said or done was inappropriate, you’re helping make your workplace more inclusive.

5) Avoid the super probing questions.
It’s okay to talk relationships and life with coworkers, but it can cross a line. If you have a transgender colleague, it’s never going to be appropriate to pry about their choices regarding their gender identity, especially since these questions revolve around their body.

If you have a colleague who has a differing sexual orientation than yours, questions about “how sex works” or any invasive relationship question (“are you the bride or the groom”) is going to hurt the welcomeness of your office space. Just don’t do it.

6) Written pronoun clarity is for everyone!
One thing that many LGBTQIA+ people may do is add their pronouns to their business card, email signature, or name badge for clarity. If you’re cisgender, adding your pronouns to these things can offer support and normalize this practice for the LGBTQIA+ community. Not only does it make sure that you are addressed correctly, you’re validating the fact that it’s an important business practice for everyone to follow.

7) Tokens are for board games, not for people.
LGBTQIA+ people are often proud of who they are and for overcoming adversity regarding their identity. However, it’s never ever going to be okay to just reduce them to the token “transgender colleague” or the “bisexual guy.”

Queer people do not exist to earn you a pat on the back for being inclusive, nor do they exist to give the final word on marketing campaigns for “their demographic.” They’re people just like you who have unique perspectives and feelings. Don’t reduce them just to a token.

8) Bathroom usage is about the person using the bathroom, not you.
An individual will make the choice of what bathroom to use, it does not need commentary. If you feel like they “don’t belong” in the bathroom you’re in due to their gender presentation, don’t worry about it and move on. They made the right choice for them.

An easy way to make restroom worries go away is creating gender neutral restrooms. Not only can they shorten lines, they can offer support for transgender, nonbinary, or other LGBTQIA+ people who just need to go as much as you do.

9) Learn from your mistakes.
Everyone will slip up during their journey to make their workplace more inclusive. If you didn’t use the correct pronouns for your non-binary colleague or misgender someone during a presentation, apologize to them, correct yourself, and do better next time. The worst thing to do is if someone corrects you is for you to shut down or get angry. An open ear and an open heart is the best way to make your work environment supportive for all.

The workplace can be a supportive environment for LGBTQIA+ people, or it could be a hurtful one, depending on the specific culture of the institution. But with some easy changes, it can be a space in which queer and LGBTQIA+ people can feel respected and appreciated.

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Opinion Editorials

“Starting a business is easy,” said only one guy ever

(OPNION EDITORIAL) Between following rules, finding funding, and gathering research, no business succeeds without lifting a finger.

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While browsing business articles this week, I came across this one, “Top 10 Business Ideas You Can Start for Free With Barely Lifting a Finger.” These types of articles make me mad. I can’t think of many successful freelancers or entrepreneurs who don’t put in hours of blood, sweat and tears to get a business going.

The author of the article is Murray Newlands, a “VIP Contributor.” Essentially, he’s a freelancer because he also contributes to Forbes, HuffPro and others. He’s the founder of ChattyPeople.com, which is important, because it’s the first business idea he promotes in the article.

But when I pull up his other articles on Entrepreneur.com, I see others like “How to Get Famous and Make Money on YouTube,” “Win Like A Targaryen: 10 Businesses You Can Start for Free,” and “10 Ventures Young Entrepreneurs Can Start for Cheap or Free.”

I seriously cannot believe that Entrepreneur.com keeps paying for the same ideas over and over.

The business ideas that are suggested are pretty varied. One suggestion is to offer online classes. I wonder if Newlands considered how long it takes to put together a worthy curriculum and how much effort goes into marketing said course.

Then, you have to work out the bugs, because users will have problems. How do you keep someone from stealing your work? What happens when you have a dispute?

Newlands suggests that you could start a blog. It’s pretty competitive these days. The most successful bloggers are ones that really work on their blog, every day. The bloggers have a brand, offer relevant content and are ethical in how they get traffic.

Think it’s easy? Better try again.

I could go on. Every idea he puts up there is a decent idea, but if he thinks it will increase your bottom line without a lot of hard work and effort, he’s delusional.

Today’s entrepreneurs need a plan. They need to work that plan, rethink it and keep working. They have to worry about liability, marketing and keeping up with technologies.

Being an entrepreneur is rewarding, but it’s hard work. It is incredibly inappropriate and grossly negligent to encourage someone to risk everything they have and are on the premise of not lifting a finger.

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Opinion Editorials

Why freelancers should know their worth

(OPINION EDITORIAL) Money is always an awkward talking point and can be difficult for freelancers to state their worth.

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Recently, I delved into what I’ve learned since becoming a freelancer. However, I neglected to mention one of the most difficult lessons to learn, which was something that presented itself to me rather quickly.

“What is your fee for services?” was not a question I had prepared myself for. When it came to hourly rates, I was accustomed to being told what I would make and accepting that as my worth.

This is a concept that needs multiple components to be taken into consideration. You need to evaluate the services you’re providing, the timeliness in which you can accomplish said services, and your level of expertise.

Dorie Clark of the Harvard Business Review believes that freelancers should be charging clients more than what they think they’re worth. The price you give to your clients is worth quite a bit, itself.

Underpricing can send a bad message to your potential clients. If they’re in the market for your services, odds are they are comparing prices from a few other places.

Having too low of a number can put up a red flag to clients that you may be under-experienced. What you’re pricing should correlate with quality and value; set a number that shows you do good work and value that work.

Clark suggests developing a network of trustworthy confidants that you can bounce ideas off of, including price points. Having an idea of what other people in your shoes are doing can help you feel more comfortable when it comes to increasing prices.

And, for increasing prices, it is not something that is going to just happen on its own. It’s highly unlikely for a client to say, “you know what, I think I’ll give you a raise!”

It’s important to never take advantage of any client, but it’s especially important to show loyalty to the ones that have always been loyal to you. Test the waters of price increasing by keeping your prices lower for clients that have always been there, but then try raising prices as you take on new clients.

At the end of the day, keep in mind that you are doing this work to support yourself and, theoretically, because you’re good at it. Make sure you’re putting an appropriate price tag on that value.

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