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Unzillowable: why technology still can’t do the job of a real estate pro

Years ago, the term “unzillowable” was coined, and many startups and algorithms have launched since then,but have yet to supplant real estate professionals.

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The “unzillowable” factors of a home

Back in 2006, Joseph Ferrara coined the term “unzillowable.” It represents all of those things about real estate that a piece of software and an algorithm can never capture or consider – traffic noise, smells, the fact your neighbors have a 1963 pickup with no doors up on blocks in the front yard, the cat that persistently jumps the fence to take a dump in your plants, the street light that brutally shines into the master bedroom window. The list is endless.

Fast forward to 2012. While technology has greatly improved the way we communicate and transact real estate, it has yet to substitute the unzillowable aspects of houses, neighborhoods, and lifestyle with a piece of software.

It’s not to say that it hasn’t been attempted. Pricing estimates are better, but only slightly. The technology space is in a rush to commoditize, package, and resell lifestyle. Yet still no score, rating, or website has been able to replace the experience of actually being somewhere.

This truly excites me. Not because I fear technology, but because I love real estate and the intangible things that distinguish a house from a home. To me, the unzillowable is what makes a collection of homes into a community.

The unzillowable makes a collection of homes into a community

See, the traffic noise doesn’t personally bother me, it’s quite soothing. It means I’m home, and I swear I can smell the barbecue smoke from Railhead every time I hit I-30 going east. The smell of slow cooked brisket slices through the city air like sweet perfume.

The A.M. radio still works in that 1963 Chevy next door. Every October, we sit around it and listen to the World Series with a few of our friends. The neighborhood cat sits shotgun and that street light shining in my bedroom gives off just enough light for us to see each other. It never bothered me anyway. I put curtains up.

Rest easy, blogosphere of yesteryear. Technology continues to help us do our job better, but the AVM has not replaced the agent, and a website will never define what it means to live somewhere. A neighborhood is made up of a collection of subjective stories that transcend physical location and time anyway. Communities still have their secrets. It’s a beautiful thing, if you ask me.

Greg is the principal owner of Fischer Real Estate Services, a Fort Worth firm specializing in customer value and community enrichment. He's also an MBA at TCU, and a proud member of the Naval Reserves. In his spare time - he sleeps.

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36 Comments

36 Comments

  1. AgentSteph

    December 7, 2012 at 12:25 pm

    Right on.

    • Greg Fischer

      December 7, 2012 at 12:59 pm

      @AgentSteph Thanks for the love Steph.

  2. StevePeeleII

    December 7, 2012 at 12:26 pm

    Couldn’t agree more.

    • Greg Fischer

      December 7, 2012 at 1:03 pm

      @StevePeeleII Thanks for the Cincinnati support Steve.

  3. StevePeeleII

    December 7, 2012 at 12:26 pm

    Couldn’t agree more.

  4. RichardDeVita

    December 7, 2012 at 12:39 pm

    Hear here !

    • Greg Fischer

      December 7, 2012 at 1:04 pm

      @RichardDeVita Thanks for the shout from FL Richard

      • RichardDeVita

        December 7, 2012 at 1:41 pm

        @Greg Fischer my pleasure. Well written, hits the nail on the head. Technology is great, we all use it, but, you cannot replace the boots on the ground local knowledge acquired by spending time in a particular neighborhood.

  5. MattThomson

    December 7, 2012 at 1:43 pm

    Just over 30% of my business this year is from buyers relocating from out of the state (or country). It’s fascinating how much they can learn using the Internet (Google street view, AVM’s, forums, neighborhood Facebook pages). Yet everyone of them is happy to have those tools and truly grateful to have my perspectives. That cute bridge over the lagoon on Google Maps? Yep, it’s tidal so 12hrs a day it’s not a lagoon, it’s a mud pit.  And the bridge…those aren’t Christmas lights, they’re brake lights ’cause it’s bumper to bumper 2x a day.
    My clients’ access to technology makes their job and my job much easier. Facetime and Skype allow me to walk through a home with my tablet while they’re 1000’s of miles away and they can really grasp the floor plan, but it’s me showing them how the floors upstairs all squeak or how off the master deck there’s a great view of the water that the agent forgot to put a picture of.
    Technology is great. It helps the client and the agent. Doesn’t replace us.
    The agent who uses technology WILL replace the agent who doesn’t, however.

    • Greg Fischer

      December 8, 2012 at 2:39 pm

      @MattThomson excellent points Matt. Technology really helps all of us do a better job. I hope agents stop being scared of it and instead embrace and harness it for its true potential. I also, love all of the low-tech and no-tech opportunities we encounter as real estate pros.

  6. FischRealEstate

    December 7, 2012 at 3:26 pm

    @MattThomson thanks for reading and taking the time to comment Matt

  7. FischRealEstate

    December 7, 2012 at 10:07 pm

    @micheleserro hey, thanks for the love

  8. RobertaMurphy

    December 7, 2012 at 10:29 pm

    And it is up to us, as agents, to make our listings and neighborhoods unzillowable. We present them and live them as no technology can.  But through technology, we try–in a way that Zillow cannot.

    • Greg Fischer

      December 8, 2012 at 2:42 pm

      @RobertaMurphy we are neighborhood ambassadors, and it’s also our job to help clients find their best fit. Technology helps us do this, but ultimately we are all such different people, leading very different lives, and therefore have different experiences in our environments. That’s the wonderful thing about real estate. Your experience as my neighbor might be totally different from mine, and I think that’s pretty cool

  9. Mark Brian

    December 8, 2012 at 11:47 am

    Perfect example of unzillowable: Former client emails today about how the zestimate has risen on his home. However the algorithm does not drive over the bridge just around the corner from this property everyday. The algorithm does not know that due to the drought that lake levels have dropped and this “lakefront” home is now about a quarter mile from the water…

    • Greg Fischer

      December 8, 2012 at 2:43 pm

      @Mark Brian we saw some issues with this in northwest Fort Worth over the last couple of years. It’s unfortunate for the land owners, but agree – very important for potential buyers to understand the ramifications of it. An expert insight on your part

  10. davidpylyp1

    December 8, 2012 at 1:14 pm

    With all the listings available to be seen, we are vital to sit through the application and interpretation of all that RAW DATA>   You need to understand what the market barometer is; Buyers or Sellers Market and the Temperature of that Listing  Is it Hot or Cold.   Other wise you never pull the trigger fast enough  or struggle to negotiate with Listings that are over priced and don’t get it.
     
    I welcome the new changes   I’m able to provide outside the Box solutions.  Its the Results that Matter.
     
    David Pylyp
    Etobicoke Real Estate Specialist

    • Greg Fischer

      December 8, 2012 at 2:48 pm

      @davidpylyp1 David, some of the neighborhood nuances are so fascinating here. We are talking about block by block major differentiators based on a variety of factors. Proximity to the interstate, school, east of a certain North/South thru street can all have major impacts on the listings ability to sell quickly. The interesting thing is, these nuances are positive for some, and negative for others.

  11. SilverySage

    December 10, 2012 at 9:55 am

    @acummings @Chris_Smth RIGHT ON!

  12. FischRealEstate

    December 10, 2012 at 10:15 am

    @Chris_Smth thanks for the mention Chris

  13. TBoard

    December 10, 2012 at 11:48 am

    @lauramonroe heck some real estate pros cam’t even do the job of a real estate pro

    • LauraMonroe

      December 10, 2012 at 12:30 pm

      @TBoard 🙂

    • FischRealEstate

      December 10, 2012 at 6:31 pm

      @TBoard @LauraMonroe thanks for reading Teresa and Laura

  14. RenterLobby

    December 10, 2012 at 3:00 pm

    @narREach @Chris_Smth what great timing for this article. RenterLobby embraces this theory! Launch 2013.

  15. FischRealEstate

    December 10, 2012 at 6:26 pm

    @GuaranteedRate thanks for putting this out

    • GuaranteedRate

      December 11, 2012 at 5:13 am

      @FischRealEstate You’re welcome!

  16. FischRealEstate

    December 10, 2012 at 6:29 pm

    @BrandonLCohen thanks Brandon

    • BrandonLCohen

      December 10, 2012 at 8:10 pm

      @FischRealEstate thank you!

  17. Roslynw0ztrdge0

    December 10, 2012 at 8:01 pm

    @BucksCtyRealtor https://t.co/UYEt5qDg

  18. Brian Hickey

    December 11, 2012 at 10:51 am

    Chicken or the egg?  Aren’t the things that are discovered to be “unzillowable” only evident after being “Zillowed” 🙂

    • Greg Fischer

      December 11, 2012 at 11:17 am

      @Brian Hickey Brian, I believe not. In my article I describe a few items that people claimed were unzillowable in 2006, things like traffic noise which they claimed couldn’t be considered in an AVM. I took this slant to be a slightly negative one, and so I went on to describe how traffic noise was not a negative item to me, along with some of the other factors, which were actually things I loved about the neighborhood. If we all experience the same neighborhood in different ways, how can we possibly capture the experience in software?

      • Brian Hickey

        December 11, 2012 at 12:16 pm

        @Greg Fischer  @Brian Hickey Greg,
        I understand your position in your great article and share your thoughts.  My point was simply to bring up the fact (what, some 30+million people visit Zillow each month?) that in order to get to the physical attributes of housing a whole bunch of people start at Z, T, R, RE.com etc. (as an example).
         
        No negativity here……….just twisting, turning and trying to provoke some thought 🙂
         
        Thanks,

  19. Joe Loomer

    December 17, 2012 at 10:39 am

    I loved this post, Greg.  Reminds me of how I typically take buyers off the beaten track to point out the things I love about my own community – pointing out dog parks, sports complexes, museums, libraries, parks, best places to eat, etc….  I consider it part of our agent credo to be an ambassador for our towns. 
     
    Navy Chief, Navy Pride

  20. Tommy Unger

    February 23, 2015 at 1:22 pm

    It’s not even about “secrets”. It’s merely the fact there are many more factors (or, more precisely, combinations of factors) than there are homes for sale. I’ve worked at Zillow and Redfin and I completely share your sentiments.

  21. Pingback: How Much Is My House Worth? A Road Map To True Market Value - PropertyCashMoney

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Opinion Editorials

The *actual* reasons people choose to work at startups

(EDITORIAL) Startups have a lot going for them, environment, communication, visible growth. So it is easy to see why they are so popular now

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startups meeting

Startups are perpetually viewed as the quintessential millennial paradise with all of the accompanying perks: flexible hours, in-house table tennis, and long holidays. With this reputation so massively ingrained in popular perception of startups, is it foolish to think that their employees actually care about the work that startup companies accomplish?

Well, yes and no.

The average startup has a few benefits that traditional business models can’t touch. These benefits often include things like open communication, a relaxed social hierarchy, and proximity to the startup’s mission. That last one is especially important: While larger businesses keep several degrees of separation between their employees and their end goals, startups put the stakes out in the open, allowing employees to find personal motivation to succeed.

When an employee can find themself personally fulfilled by their work, that work reaps many of the benefits of the employee’s dedication, which in turn helps the startup propagate. Many aspiring startup employees know this and are eager to “find themselves” through their work.

Nevertheless, the allure of your average startup doesn’t always come from the opportunity to work on “something that matters.”

Tiffany Philippou touches on this concept by pointing out that “People come to work for you because they need money to live… [s]tartups actually offer pretty decent salaries these days.”

It’s true that many employees in their early to late twenties will likely take any available job, so assuming that your startup’s 25-and-under employee base is as committed to finding new uses for plastic as you are may be a bit naïve—indeed, this is a notion that holds true for any business, regardless of size or persuasion.

However, startup experience can color a young employee’s perception of their own self-worth, thus allowing them to pursue more personally tailored employment opportunities down the road—and that’s not a bad legacy to have.

Additionally, startups often offer—and even encourage—a level of personal connection and interactivity that employees simply won’t find in larger, more established workplaces. That isn’t symptomatic of startups being too laid-back or operating under loosely defined parameters; instead, it’s a clue that work environments which facilitate personalities rather than rote productivity may stand to get more out of their employees.

Finally, your average startup has a limited number of spots, each of which has a clearly defined role and a possibility for massive growth. An employee of a startup doesn’t typically have to question their purpose in the company—it’s laid out for them; who are we to question their dedication to fulfilling it?

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Opinion Editorials

People saying “I love you” at work casually – yay or nay?

(EDITORIAL) Is saying “I love you” in the workplace acceptable in the current harassment and lawsuit climate? Let’s take a look at the factors.

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love shared

Anyone who works in “The Office” knows sometimes there is a failure to communicate. Per email conversation, context can get lost in translation.

So, why then, in the age of the Me Too Movement, are coworkers saying: I Love You?

I’m guessing it’s thanks to our digital lifestyle?

No, I’m not a Boomer. Thank you very much. That’s a different editorial. But, I’ve been working since way back in the day. A time when we wore tennis shoes with nylons. Wait, that’s still a thing?

Alas, I digress.

If we consider the culture of work, particularly in the case of some start-ups, it’s not uncommon for there to be beer in the workplace, casual dress – meaning you have clothes on – and possibly a more youthful expectation around communication.

So, f*ck yeah, dude, I love you!

With the use of workflow apps like Slack, where people can text you – while on the toilet, no less. I mean, who hasn’t told a colleague, “OMG! You are a f@cking ?” after dealing with a challenging situation/customer/boss/client and that colleague comes to the rescue.

Just me? Oops.

Maybe it started back with the I Love You Man commercial, which also became the title of a bromance.

If the bros can have their bromance, then why can’t we all say those three words in the workplace?

I’m not gonna spoil the party and say never. I’m just going to suggest some things are better left unsaid.

First, words are powerful.

Because this is the era of Me Too, it’s easy for there to be misinterpretation. What if a woman says it to a male colleague. A boss says to a much junior employee.

Can you say harassment?

One of my former managers didn’t even like me saying her name. I can’t imagine what she’d do if I said: “I love you.”

But, here’s a real reason. People are happy with us one day and not the next.

Keeping it chill and professional is important. For example, I once called my co-worker – and very good friend – a nasty Spanish word and it almost resulted in a knife fight. What I learned is one day you are joking around and your friend isn’t.

Second, a laissez-faire attitude toward communication can become second nature. You can’t be accidentally telling your client, you love them, now can you? I mean, beyond being authentic, those words mean a lot to some people, just tossing them about shows a real lack of judgment and can result in an extremely negative response.

Which leads me to my last point.

“Et, tu Cheryl”

One company I worked at hired Gallup to do a survey of staff. One of the questions was about having a work BFF, which is important in the workplace. Often we have our work husband or wife or sister, even. We all need someone we can lean on.

In the workplace, depending on the culture and environment, it may be a good place to keep it 100 or, if too toxic, a better place to fake it. Even people who seem to be on your side might be just waiting to pounce.

Get too close, say the wrong thing and Cheryl gets your office with the window and the red stapler too.

All I’m saying is keep it real, but maybe not too real.

Oh, and btw, I <3 U.

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Opinion Editorials

Audi paves the way for how to thoughtfully reduce a workforce

(BUSINESS NEWS) Audi has a new electric car plan that will eliminate 9,500 employees…but in a shocking twist, we’re not even mad. WATT’s going on here?

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Audi E-tron

12 billion motivational posters/yoga tops/specialty ziploc bags can’t all be wrong: Positive change always comes with loss.

For German Audi workers, the company shifting gears to focus on manufacturing electric vehicles will see employee losses to the tune of 7.5k people being Audi of a job there. In the next five years, another 2,000 jobs are expected to get the axe as well.

So they should be panicking, right? Audi workers should mask up and be out in the streets?

Well, considering the general state of the world, yes. But if we’re isolating to just this change, no!

See, Audi’s not actually shoving people out of the door to make room for younger, sexier, more fuel-efficient staff. The jobs they’re cutting are going to be cut due to employees leaving on their own for different pastures and retirement. As in, no one’s getting laid off through 2029.

Now there’s an electric slide I can get behind!

Audi’s top brass, in an Ohm-My-God twist (see what I did there), actually sat down with worker reps and talked this move out. This kinder, gentler, distinctly NON-assy arangement will save the company over 6.6 billion dollars over the next decade, and all of that cash is going to boogie-woogie-woogie into their ‘lightning car development’ piggy banks.

Yay for them!

And yay for us.

See, Germany has a (recent) history of not being horrible to their employees. It’s why Walmart’s attempt to claw its way into Deutschland went up in so much smoke. And that history is accompanied by a reputation for stunningly positive change for everyone from white tie to black apron.

With a brand as giant, trusted, and drooled over as Audi is managing to conduct massively profitable business without schwantzing anyone over, everyone here in the US has a shining example to point to and follow when making massive company moves.

Notably, Tesla, America’s favorite electric car company is almost cartoonishly anti-union, anti-worker, and anti-running dress rehearsals on expectation/glass shattering exhibitions. The prevailing thought is that it’s a necessity to be some kind of moustache twirling villain to get ahead because so many businesses insist upon it.

But that chestnut cracks here.

No more ‘Businesses exist to make money’ excuses. No more ‘You have to be ruthless to get ahead’ BS. Those selective-sociopathy inducing phrases never made any sense to begin with, but now, we’ve got a shining example of towering projected #GAINZ for a company doing right by its people without a single head rolling on the factory floors or a single decimal point moved left in the ledgers.

Ya done good, Audi.

Here’s hoping more businesses stateside follow in your tire tracks.

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