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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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truck in yard

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

Can we combat grind culture and injustice with a nap?

(OPINION EDITORIALS) A global pandemic and a climate of racial injustice may require fresh thinking and a new approach from what grind culture has taught us.

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Sleeping cat with plant, fighting grind culture.

Information is delivered to us at warp speed with access to television, radio, and the internet (and more specifically, social media). We are inundated with messages. Oftentimes they’re personalized by something that a friend or family shared. Other times we manage them for work, school, or just keeping up with news. Many entrepreneurs already wear many hats and burn the midnight oil.

During this global pandemic, COVID-19, we have also seen a rise in awareness and attention to social injustice and systemic racism. This is not a new concept, as we all know. But it did feel like the attention was advanced exponentially by the murder of George Floyd on Memorial Day 2020. Many people and entrepreneurs felt called to action (or at least experienced self-reflection). And yet they were working at all hours to evolve their businesses to survive. All of this happening simultaneously may have felt like a struggle while they tried to figure out exactly they can do.

There are some incredible thought leaders – and with limited time, it can be as simple as checking them out on Instagram. These public figures give ideas around what to be aware of and how to make sure you are leveling up your awareness.

Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, Director of the Center for Antiracist Research – he has been studying anti-racism and has several books and interviews that help give language to what has been happening in our country for centuries. His content also delves into why and how white people have believed they are more than people of color. Here is a great interview he did with Brené Brown on her Unlocking Us podcast.

Tamika Mallory – American activist and one of the leading organizers of the 2017 Women’s March. She has been fighting for justice to be brought upon the officers that killed Breonna Taylor on March 13. These are among other efforts around the country to push back on gun control, feminist issues, and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Brené Brown – research professor at the University of Houston and has spent the last two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. She has been listening and engaging on how racism and our shame intersect. She also speaks about how people can reflect on themselves and where they can take action to better our society. She has some antiracism resources on her website.

With all of this information and the change in our daily routines and work habits (or business adjustments), what is a fresh approach or possibly a new angle that you haven’t been able to consider?

There is one social channel against grind culture that may not be as well-known. At an initial glance, you may even perceive this place as a spoof Twitter and Instagram that is just telling you to take a nap. But hold on, it’s actually much smarter than that. The description says “We examine the liberating power of naps. We believe rest is a form of resistance and reparations. We install Nap Experiences. Founding in 2016.”

It might be a great time for you to check out The Nap Ministry, inspired by Tricia Hersey. White people are called to action, and people of color are expressly told to give time to taking care of themselves. Ultimately, it goes both ways – everyone needs the time to recharge and recuperate. But people of color especially are being told to value their rest more than the grind culture. Yes, you’re being told you need to manage your mental health and include self-care in your schedule.

Through The Nap Ministry, Tricia “examines rest as a form of resistance by curating safe spaces for the community to rest via Collective Napping Experiences, immersive workshops, and performance art installations.”

“In this incredibly rich offering, we speak with Tricia on the myths of grind culture, rest as resistance, and reclaiming our imaginative power through sleep. Capitalism and white supremacy have tricked us into believing that our self-worth is tied to our productivity. Tricia shares with us the revolutionary power of rest.” They have even explored embracing sleep as a political act.

Let this allow you to take a deep breath and sigh – it is a must that you take care of yourself to take care of your business as well as you customers and your community. And yes, keep your drive and desire to “get to work”. But not at your expense for the old grind culture narrative.

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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. But why else would you work for one?

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Startups meeting led by Black woman.

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 the 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 employees find themselves personally fulfilled by their work, that work reaps many of the benefits in 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. This allows 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 that 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

How Peloton has developed a cult-following

(OPINION EDITORIALS) How has Peloton gotten so popular? Turns out there are some clear takeaways from the bike company’s wildly successful model.

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Man riding Peloton bike with instructor pointing encouragingly during workout.

Peloton is certainly not the first company to gain a cult-like following–in the past we’ve talked about other brands with similar levels of devotion, like Crossfit and Yeti. Now, full disclosure: I’m not an exercise buff, so while I’d vaguely heard of Peloton–a company that sells stationary bikes–I had no idea it was such a big deal.

I mean, it’s not really surprising that an at-home bike that offers the option for cycling classes has grown so much during the pandemic era (a sales growth of 172% to be exact). But Peloton has been highly popular within its fanbase for years now. So, what gives? A few factors, actually.

Vertical Integration

If your company really wants to guarantee the vision and quality you’re aiming for, one of the best ways to enact it is through vertical integration, where a company owns or controls more than one part of its supply chain. Take Netflix, for example, which not only distributes media, but creates original media. Vertical integration lets companies bypass areas that are otherwise left to chance with third-party suppliers.

Peloton uses vertical integration–everything from the bike to its Wi-Fi connected tablet to the classes taught are created by Peloton. Although this may have made the bike more expensive than other at-home exercise bikes, it has also allowed Peloton to create higher quality products. And it’s worked. Many people who start on a Peloton bike comment on how the machine itself is well-built.

Takeaway: Are there any parts of your business process that you can improve in-house, rather than outsourcing?

Going Live

But with people also shelling out $40 a month for access to the training regimen Peloton provides, there’s more going on than simply high-quality craftsmanship.

Hey, plenty of cults have charismatic leaders, and Peloton is no exception. Okay, joking about the cult leader part, but really, people love their trainers. Just listen to this blogger chat about some of her favorites; people are connecting with this very human element of training. So much so that many people face blowback when suggesting they might like training without the trainers!

The trainers are only part of this puzzle though–attending live classes is a large draw. Well, as live as something can be when streamed into your house. Still, with classmate usernames and stats available while you ride, and teachers able to respond in real time to your “class,” this can simulate an in-person class without the struggle of a commute.

Takeaway: People want to see the human side of a business! Are there any ways your company could go live and provide that connection?

Getting Competitive

Pandemic aside, you can get a decent bike and workout class at an actual gym. But the folks at Peloton have one other major trick up their sleeve: Competition. Whether you’re attending a live session or catching up on a pre-recorded ride, you’re constantly competing against each other and your own records.

These leaderboards provide a constant stream of goals while you’re working out. Small accomplishments like these can help boost your dopamine, which can be the burst of good feeling you need while your legs are burning mid-workout. With this in mind, it’s no wonder why Peloton fans might be into it.

Takeaway: Is there a way to cater to your audience’s competitive side?

Conclusion

At the end of the day, of course, Peloton also has the advantage of taking a unique idea (live-streamed cycle classes built into your at-home bike) and doing it first. Plus, they just happened to be poised to succeed during a quarantine. But that doesn’t mean you can’t learn from what Peloton is doing right to build your own community of fanatics. There are plenty of people out there just waiting to get excited about a brand like yours!

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