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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

Apprenticeships: How focused training can jumpstart your career

(EDITORIAL) Apprenticeships have been a buzzword recently, but if you haven’t looked into it, we asked the experts to tell us all about them.

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When President Trump announced he’d be opening up more federal dollars for apprenticeship programs to improve the economy, business owners’ ears perked up. That interest is now trickling down to employees, especially people considering a new career or a pivot.

I had a meaningful conversation last year with the folks behind Digital Creative Institute (an apprenticeship program that seeks to bridge the gap between higher education and job experience in the digital marketing field) not only to learn about their plans to impact the central Texas market, but how apprenticeships could alter the workforce in years to come. Will the model supplant internships? What of coding schools or hell, even higher education? If you ask Europeans, they’ll probably say yes, while Americans are new to this old term.

To dig into how apprenticeships could speed up a career move, we reached back out to the folks at DCI and asked them to spell it out. Alexis Bonilla from their leadership team penned the following:

Maybe you graduated with a B.A. in theater, started a blog, and found a great love for marketing. It could’ve been that you had a passion for video, but instead of finding yourself creating films, you found yourself telling a brand’s story. Or, by some stretch of the imagination, you went from scientist, to teacher, to social media strategist. All of these are real stories that belong to real people. The two things they have in common:

  1. They all started somewhere completely different from where they would end up.
  2. They all used apprenticeships to transform their careers.

The key is to find that one thing you love to do and run after it full force – because the truth is – you’re probably going to spend over 90,000 hours of your life working at it. Only about 30 percent of adults are actually engaged or excited about their work. You can either spend that huge portion of your life doing something out of “because you have to” or learn how you can invest in a career that will keep you on your toes – constantly learning and actively growing.

Digital platforms are always changing, and lifelong learning is becoming absolutely necessary. If you think about it, most Chief Marketing Officers among companies today didn’t start out by being formally trained in automation software, paid search, Google Analytics, or other digital tools. That’s because much of it didn’t exist when they started their careers. They most likely engaged in a very intentional learning process or self-styled apprenticeship. Their willingness to learn turned them into the best in their field, and the same can happen for you.

We’ve identified a few myths that might be holding you back from standing out among your peers and how you can come out on top!

Myth: You can only find a position in the field you majored in.
Truth: Your major doesn’t determine your career path.

Only 27 percent of college grads actually have a job related to what they studied in college. The fact of the matter is this – a lot of people don’t want to continue their learning once they have their Bachelor’s degree. Typically, if they do, they pursue graduate school, whose students often face challenges that are similar to what undergraduate students experience upon graduation.

This whole idea of “once and done” is over, to the extent that leaders in our government are recognizing it and working on implementing new, innovative ways of learning in the United States.

A few ways you might work on reinventing yourself as you establish or change your career:

  • Start freelancing – We know that working for free doesn’t sound great on paper, but the portfolio you’ll come out with is all the ROI you’ll need. When you have a variety of experience, whether it be a branding project you pick up, a video you edit, or a logo you make for a friend, employers recognize that as experience. Just be sure to pick up projects that are relevant to the direction you’re looking to take your career.
  • Perfect your resume.
  • Turn your work into an awesome portfolio – It’s one thing to do the work and another thing to organize it in a way that is visually appealing to an employer. Around 53 percent of employers say that your resume is not enough. You’re going to need that extra differentiator, so invest in crafting the perfect portfolio to have a place for all of that hard work. We recommend Pathbrite for an easy digital portfolio experience.
  • Connect with a learning community – Whether it be early post-grad or a drastic career change, apprenticeships are a perfect way to engage with a community that pushes you and challenges you. And what if we told you apprenticeships can take the place of graduate school?

So you’ve probably been asking yourself: “What is apprenticeship?”

The historical or traditional definition for an apprentice is a person legally bound to a master craftsman in order to learn a trade.

Think professions such as carpenter, electrician or welder. But those were the old days – apprenticeship is now applied to all professions and modern skills.

Apprenticeship has evolved into more of a partnership: where one person learns a trade or skill by working with someone more experienced. Think of an internship, where you’re at a company to accelerate your learning while you’re still in school, but more advanced, long-term, and with deeper levels of commitment. Instead of being at a school, you’re at a full-time paid position, applying your learning hands-on with the support of a learning coach, mentors, and instructors.

Myth: Between my Bachelor’s degree and staying up to date with online articles, I’m already set to advance my career.
Truth: Coaching and mentoring are two of the best investments you can make for your career after professors are out of the picture.

I’m willing to bet that a lot of you have had a coach of some type in your lifetime. Whether it be a sports coach, a choir instructor, an invested teacher, or even a driven parent, you’ve had someone in your circle of trust that pushed you toward your goals. Well, a career coach isn’t much different.

It’s easy to come up with reasons as to why you don’t need one. “I’m too old for a coach”, “it costs time and money that I don’t have”, “I’ve been through college and got all the help I needed”. You can make all of the excuses you can think of, but it’s pretty hard to argue with the results.

What does the development process look like with a career coach?

You define tangible goals, your coach guides you through practical ways to achieve those goals, and after a defined period of time you evaluate your progress. The retention rate is extremely high. Generally, people are extremely happy with what they gain from having a career coach. Fully 96 percent of people who were coached say they would repeat the process and 86 percent said they at least made their investment back.

What’s holding you back from identifying a coach or mentor and reaching out for support?

Myth: Post-college education isn’t necessary to be successful in my career.
Truth: Rigorous self education, graduate school, and innovative learning like digital apprenticeships are essential.

Continued learning and specialized training are valuable to your career. They are so valuable, in fact, that multiple governments are either investing, or beginning to invest, in new, innovative models.

For example, if you’ve been to the UK, you’ll know that apprenticeships are a big deal. A huge percentage of workers develop their skills through an apprentice-like experience. Since 2004, the U.K. has been actively creating more apprenticeships through supporting employers. The huge success of apprenticeship programs led to the creation of a National Apprenticeship Levy that requires almost all employers to offer apprenticeships.

AAA Apprenticeships has successfully scaled their digital apprenticeships to serve 6,000 apprentices in 22 locations across the country – now it’s time to apply that to the U.S.

Why don’t we have a similar model in the U.S.? It’s harder for businesses to start apprenticeships on their own when it isn’t their core competency – but apprenticeship programs are popping up to fill that gap.

The Obama Administration earmarked $100 million to create more examples of modern apprenticeships. The intention is to fuel more success stories through individual programs around the country; creating positive momentum for a larger movement and scaled strategy.

President Trump recently announced a $200 million plan, nearly doubling what was invested last term, to create more apprenticeships.

This is just the beginning of a major movement to make marketplace aligned learning more accessible. But don’t wait for some new national program to support your learning path, start owning your learning today by outlining a strategy to continuously develop yourself into a highly sought after digital expert.

So don’t wait. This is for anyone that finds themselves in a place to pursue a new job or launch their career. Ask yourself, “What’s next?” Take that step – it’s worth it.

If it’s something you’re interested in, the first digital marketing specific apprenticeship in the U.S. has launched – and right here in Austin, TX. Digital Creative Institute’s next Austin cohort launches in January 2018.

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Opinion Editorials

Is working less the key to productivity?

(EDITORIAL) It’s that time of year where we obsess about our habits and productivity, but maybe we’re overthinking the whole thing…

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The “work smarter, not harder” mantra has for a long time been, in consensus, about a simple truth: the massive amount of work that we have is kicking your productivity in a few ways, for example:

  • Our never ending work load is further exacerbated from technology that removes the boundary of work and home.
  • The addiction of multi-tasking makes us feel good, but for the most part leads to massive inefficiencies because our brains aren’t designed to do that – they just switch rapidly (and clumsily) between different activities. A little primer is here.
  • We have competing roles and priorities – spouses, caretakers, gig economy participants, careers, business owners, realtors, clients, professionals, friends, dog owners, cat servants – that engage us and that give us more and more to do.

And the never ending work spiral leads to a number of troubles – inferior work, emotional breakdowns, inappropriate Netflix procrastination, sleep deprivation, burnout, relationship troubles, and more. Basically – it sucks for your health.

Having too much to do, sadly, for many of us is a fact of life. There are a few ways to help get around it by working less (aka streamline your efforts):

  • Have a to-do list – they are awesome. Put it in a planner, use outlook or Google Calendar, etc.
  • Use a science driven list like an Eisenhower Matrix! What’s that you say? Glad you asked: an Eisenhower matrix pulls from the wisdom of Dwight Eisenhower and encourages you consider what is Urgent (as in what requires urgency, immediate attention), and what is Important (tasks that contribute to our long term). It’s a simple 2*2 Grid. Basically it helps move away from the idea that we conflate urgent with important, and we are basically always in a highly reactive and “shocked mode.” I like this tool because it’s a great way to prioritize – lean more about it from our buddies at Trello.
  • Engage delegation and love it. Can you pass it on to someone else? Can you use it as an educational or teaching tool? Does it have to be your mess?
  • Eliminate things that don’t bring value – in one of my favorite books “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life,” Mark Manson puts it brilliantly: What problems do you want to have? What things can we get rid of? We do things out of obligation or a feeling of “I must” that doesn’t correspond to reality.
  • Embrace automation. Whether it’s auto-bill pay or automatic deletion or automatic lists, if you can automate it and it gets the quality you want – engage it. If you use social media a lot – can you schedule your posts? Can you automatically reblog content? Or go crazy, get a Roomba.
  • Practice self-care, dude. Eat better. Go workout. Walk in the middle of the day. Get on your workplace wellness plan. Sleep. Repeat healthy behaviors.

In general, the assertion that we do too much is very true.

Most of that comes from the overwhelming sense of “now” that we experience. Take a breath and explore what you can do to either eliminate, delegate, or prioritize effectively so you can spend more time doing what’s important, and maybe eventually, we can marathon TV shows guilt free more often.

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Opinion Editorials

If Reddit goes IPO, will it have to shed its soul?

(EDITORIAL) Reddit is known as a firebrand, a bastion of free speech, but if they go public, will they be able to remain as they are now?

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Reddit, the eighth-most popular website on the Internet, is reportedly considering an IPO. As a site valued at over 1.8 billion dollars, this is great news for the company itself – but how much of Reddit will remain if the IPO goes through?

Reddit’s history is steeped in controversy, from minor incidents such as invasion of privacy and a few creepily quirky community members to allegations of child pornography and egregious hate speech. While Reddit’s policy has allowed it to tighten posting restrictions regarding the latter two, the fact remains that Reddit – for all its usefulness – is viewed by many as a ticking time bomb.

An IPO would certainly lend back to Reddit a degree of credibility not seen since its inception, but the problem is that Reddit itself (the haven of free speech and original content that made it so popular in the first place) might not survive the offering. Given the platform’s controversial past, many believe it likely that stakeholders would move to tighten further the restrictions on the platform, ultimately ending a significant era in Reddit’s history.

Admittedly, Reddit has come a long way since its early days of supporting user-created content regardless of persuasion: this past year saw entire subreddits shut down for violating the terms of use regarding hate speech, and the platform certainly has cracked down on illegal and abusive content. Unfortunately, the history might be too much to shake off going forward, which is why we think that Reddit’s branding won’t be a part of the final IPO.

The platform’s developers’ dedication to free speech and truth-seeking is what makes Reddit so fantastic, and that’s not liable to change – it’s the most marketable aspect of the site, after all – but perhaps the rationale behind going public lies in a sense of duty rather than routine. 2017 has seen some of the most reprehensible instances of false reporting and deliberate misguidance in recent history; maybe Reddit’s team feels that they can provide a stable news platform at the cost of some personality.

At any rate, the IPO itself isn’t set in stone, and is unlikely to take place for quite some time. As the situation develops, it will be interesting to see if Reddit embraces its past, or sheds it altogether.

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