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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 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

The truth about unemployment from someone who’s been through it

(EDITORIAL) Unemployment benefits aren’t what you thought they were. Here’s a first-hand experience and what you need to know.

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Have I ever told you how I owed the government over two grand because of unemployment in 2019, and only just finished paying it back this year?

This isn’t exactly the forum for memoirs, but this is relevant to everyone. So I’ll tell y’all anyway.

It all started back in 2018 when I came into work early, microwaved my breakfast, poured coffee, and got pulled into a collaboration room to hear, “We love you and your work, April, but we’ve been bought out and you’re being laid off.”

It was kind of awkward carrying my stuff out to the car with that Jimmy Dean sandwich in my mouth.

More awkward still was the nine months of unemployment I went through afterwards. Between the fully clothed shower crying, the stream of job denial, catering to people who carried rocks in their nostrils at my part-time job (yes, ew, yes, really), and almost dying of no-health-insurance-itis, I learned a lot!

The bigger lesson though, came in the spring of the following year when I filed my taxes. I should back up for a moment and take the time to let those of you unfamiliar with unemployment in Texas in on a few things that aren’t common knowledge.

1: You’re only eligible if you were laid off. Not if you had quit. Not fired. Your former company can also choose to challenge your eligibility for benefits if they didn’t like your face on the way out. So the only way you’re 100% guaranteed to get paid in (what the state calls) “a timely manner”, is a completely amicable split.

2: Overpayments have to go back. Immediately. If there’s an error, like several thousand of Texans found out this week, the government needs that cash back before you can access any more. If you’re not watching your bank account to make sure you’re getting the exact same check each time and you have an overpayment, rest assured that mistake isn’t going to take long to correct. Unfortunately, if you spent that money unknowingly–thought you got an ‘in these uncertain times’ kinder and gentler adjustment and have 0 income, you have a problem. Tying into Coronavirus nonsense is point three!

3: There are no sick days. If ever you’re unable to work for any reason, be it a car accident, childbirth, horrible internal infection (see also no-health-insurance-itis), you are legally required to report it, and you will not be paid for any days you were incapacitated. Personally, my no-health-insurance-itis came with a bad fever and bedrest order that axed me out of my part time job AND killed my unemployment benefits for the week I spent getting my internal organs to like me again. But as it turned out, the payment denial came at the right time because–

4: Unemployment benefits are finite. Even if you choose to lie on your request forms about how hard you’re searching for work, coasting is ill-advised because once the number the state allots you runs out…it’s out. Don’t lie on your request forms, by the way. In my case, since I got cut from my part-time gig, I got a call from the Texas Workforce Commission about why my hours were short. I was able to point out where I’d reported my sickness to them and to my employer, so my unpaid week rolled over to a later request date. I continued to get paid right up until my hiring date which was also EXACTLY when my benefits ran out.

Unemployment isn’t a career, which is odd considering the fact that unemployment payments are qualified by the government as income.

Ergo, fact number five…

5: Your benefits? They’re taxed.

That’s right, you will be TAXED for not having a job.

The stereotype of the ‘lazy unemployment collector burdening society’ should be fading pretty quickly for the hitherto uninformed about now.

To bring it back to my story, I’d completely forgotten that when I filed for unemployment in the first place, I’d asked for my taxes NOT to be withheld from it–assuming that I wasn’t going to be searching for full time work for very long. I figured “Well, I’ll have a tax refund coming since I’ll get work again no problem, it’ll cancel out.”

Except, it was a problem. Because of the nine month situation.

I’d completely forgotten about it by the time I threw myself into my new job, but after doing my taxes, triple checking the laws and what I’d signed, it was clear. Somehow…despite being at my lowest point in life, I owed the highest amount in taxes, somewhere around the 2k mark.

Despite being based on a system that’s tied to how much income you were getting before, and all the frustrating “safeguards” put in place to keep payments as low and infrequent as possible, Uncle Sam still wants a bite out of the gas-station Hostess pie that is your unemployment check. And as I’m writing this, more and more people are finding that out.

I’d like to end this on a more positive note…so let’s say we’ve all been positively educated! That’s a net gain, surely.

Keep your heads up, and masked.

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COVID-19 acts are unfortunately too short sighted

(BUSINESS NEWS) The biggest flaw in the CARES act is simply that it won’t last. Numerous issues have extended the life of COVID-19 but the act hasn’t matched it.

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The CARES act gives an additional $600 weekly to those on unemployment assistance. The idea being that, combined with the $380 already granted by unemployment, the payments would roughly equal the wage of the average worker prior to the pandemic- about $1,000 weekly.

But on July 31st, the expansion that CARES provides will expire, and benefits will return to pre-pandemic amounts. Those currently receiving the maximum payment will see a 61% decrease in their income. In states that offer lower benefit payments, that percentage goes even higher. All of this comes during a national rental crisis, and moratoriums on evictions across the country are also nearing their ends or being extended last minute.

This isn’t the first or only “yuge” hole in the federal government’s COVID-19 safety net. Many Americans (this writer included) have seen neither hide nor hair of their promised stimulus checks. The HEROES act, which is being billed as a second round of stimulus money, remains under debate- as it has been for several weeks.

And the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which requires certain businesses to provide two weeks of paid leave to workers who may be sick (or caring for someone who is) has plenty of problems too, namely the laundry list of exceptions to it.

This is just the most recent push to return to the pre-virus economy before effective protective measures have been put in place for workers and consumers alike. After all, with cases of COVID-19 spiking again in the US, it’s apparent that the act is still absolutely necessary. Our lawmakers either lack patience, or compassion – take your pick. Frankly, I say it’s both.

Not only have countless health experts warned that reopening too early will be disastrous, but if a second lockdown is in our future, all of the time, money, and human lives that went into reopening will be wasted.

There is a silver lining among the storm clouds on the horizon. Because ballooning unemployment has created long wait times for benefit applicants, unemployment assistance programs are shelling out retroactive back payments to those deemed eligible.

Good news, at least, for laid off workers who have been waiting months to hear their fate.

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Opinion Editorials

Women-owned businesses make up 42% of all businesses – heck yeah!

(EDITORIAL) Women-owned businesses make a huge impact on the U.S economy. They make up 42% of all businesses, outpace the national growth rate by 50%, and hire billions of workers.

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Women entrepreneurs make history in the U.S as female-owned businesses represent 42% of all businesses, while continuing to increase at DOUBLE the national growth rate!

Women are running the world, and we are here for it! The 2019 American Express State of Women-Owned Businesses Report, states 13 million women are now self-employed entrepreneurs. From 2014 to 2019, women-owned businesses grew 21%. Think that’s impressive? Well, businesses owned by women of color grew 43% within the same timeframe, with a growth rate of 50%, and currently account for 50% of all women-owned businesses! Way to go! What this also means is that women employ over 2.4 million workers who together generate $422.5 billion in revenue.

What can we learn from these women that’ll help you achieve success in your businesses?

  1. Get informed: In a male-dominated business industry, women are often at a disadvantage and face multiple biases. So, know your stuff; study, research, and when you think you know it all…dig deeper!
  2. Stay hungry: Remember why you started this journey. Write down notes and reminders, goals, and inspirations, hang them up and keep them close.
  3. Ask for advice: Life is not meant to go through alone, so ask questions. Find a mentor and talk to people who have walked a similar path. Learning from them will only benefit your business.

Many of these women found ways to use their passion to drive their business. It may not be exactly what they thought it would be when they started out, but is it ever? Everyone has to start off small and rejection is part of the process. In fact, stories of rejection often serve as inspiration and encouragement to soon-to-be self starters.

Did you know J.K Rowling’s “Harry Potter” book was turned down TWELVE times? Seven books later with over 400 million copies sold, the Harry Potter brand is currently valued at over 15 billion. While you might not become a wizard-writing fantasy legend like J.K Rowling, you sure as heck can be successful. So go for it, and chase your dreams.

If you want to support women-owned businesses, start by scrolling through Facebook or doing some research to find women-owned businesses in your community. Then, support by buying or helping to promote their products. Small businesses, especially women-owned, black women-owned, and women of color-owned, are disproportionally affected by the current economic crisis ignited by a health pandemic. So if you can, shop small and support local. And remember, there’s a girl (or more) doing a happy dance when you checkout!

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