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Zillow dupes Realtors, investors and consumers with flawed claims

Knowingly or not, Zillow continues to distribute an unreliable traffic comparison at the 2010 Realtor trade show in New Orleans reflecting itself as “The World’s Largest Real Estate Network on Web and Mobile” boasting over 14 million monthly uniques. Although according to Comscore in July 2010 Zillow’s uniques might be accurate, the problem lies elsewhere.

(*click the image for the large view and read the followup to this story here.)

The problem is that Zillow claims that their traffic statistics for the Move, Inc. Network note the entire Move Network including the MSN Real Estate Network, but it does not. When using Zillow’s own chart, if you make the correction to actually include MSN Real Estate into the Move Inc. Network, you get 17,967,965 million monthly uniques in comparison to the Zillow/Yahoo Real Estate network at their reported 14,340,000 monthly uniques making Realtor.com and Move, Inc’s partnership with MSN substantially larger than Zillow in reach.

We approached Zillow’s Director of Broker Relations, Sarah Bonert on the trade show floor and observed her handing out these very flyers, and picked one up for ourselves. When we pointed out the discrepancy, Sarah was quick to note that she was unaware, but would immediately look into the matter.

Frances Flynn Thorsen “I am rethinking my plan about using Realtor.com and pushing those dollars to Zillow, Trulia, and Facebook.”

As of publication, Comscore and Move, Inc. have not responded to a request for comment. Zillow was approached on Friday, November 5th in person for a retraction or substantiation, still with no response. In fact, we held the story in an effort to allow Zillow to formulate an official response. We have also emailed other contacts at Zillow with no response, as the flyer in question continues to float the halls of the NAR convention.

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This isn’t the first time Zillow has struggled with data accuracy. In April 2010, Forbes used Zillow.com data to make strong claims against several local markets, only to be retracted after the data was proven unreliable (here, Zillow tries to explain why listing data discrepancies exist as opposed to direct source syndication like Realtor.com).

This type of problem on the surface seems petty, however, in the race to diminish competitor value, fact must reign supreme above fiction when Realtors are making decisions on where to place their marketing dollars and consumers are making decisions on where their property should be marketed. We witnessed first hand evidence of comparison of this alleged fact sheet to Realtor.com from the trade show floor and judging from reactions, this comparison carries damaging consequences not only to Move, Inc. and Realtor.com’s reputation and position, but the overall position of the Realtor brand with consumers. We find this alarming.

The comparison chart as reported from the Move, Inc. Network based upon data from ComScore is dated September 2010 rather than July. On Friday, AgentGenius was the first to provide a copy of this report to Zillow’s Bonert.


Zillow, Yahoo!, Move Inc., and MSN are not affiliated with AG. Sales & marketing system, TopProducer is an advertiser at AG.

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Benn Rosales is the Founder and CEO of The American Genius (AG), national news network. Before AG, he founded one of the first digital media strategy firms in the nation has received the Statesman Texas Social Media Award and is an Inman Innovator Award winner. He has consulted for numerous startups (both early- and late-stage), and is well known for organizing the digital community through popular offline events. He does not venture into the spotlight often, rather he believes his biggest accomplishments are the talent he recruits and develops, so he gives all credit to those he's empowered.

59 Comments

59 Comments

  1. Michael J. Stefonick

    November 7, 2010 at 2:21 pm

    From what I understand Yahoo.com beats both Zillow and Realtor.com so who really cares what NAR / Realtor.com or Zillow says.

    • Benn Rosales

      November 7, 2010 at 2:23 pm

      Because, independently, Comscore says otherwise. It matters because the success of R.c is directly tied to the Realtor brand.

  2. Francces Flynn Thorsen

    November 7, 2010 at 2:25 pm

    Benn,

    The pull quote you excerpted from my blog is easily misunderstood in the context of your article. It gives an impression that my statement is driven primarily by Web traffic. To the contrary, my reluctance about advertising is a reaction to Realtor.com’s misrepresentation about THEIR traffic in a discussion with me. (The link in the pull quote is live.)

    A Realtor.com rep told me that R.com traffic was TEN TIMES the traffic of Zillow and Trulia. The same rep told me R.com had a new partnership with Yahoo! Both statements are utterly untrue. I am offended by this.

    Realtor.com has a long history of misrepresentation and falsehood. Evidently, this is still the party line. Duping Realtors and consumers has been the fashion at Realtor.com for years.

    The National Assn. of Realtors’ does not need Zillow or anyone else to diminish respect for Realtors. NAR and Realtor.com handle that job quite nicely without anyone else’s help.

    • Lani Rosales

      November 7, 2010 at 2:43 pm

      Hey Frances,

      The quote featured in the article above highlighted the confusion with the traffic stats provided that we also witnessed on the floor of the convention center. It sounds like the R.com rep mispoke whereas Z.com has an entire print campaign surrounding data that is outdated and miscalculated, therefore false.

      I can see why you have the sentiment that you do, especially given that you’re getting back into real estate, but our belief after analyzing data from both Z.com and R.com is that the Move network has more traffic (although clearly NOT ten times more) and representing it as a smaller network is a misrepresentation of the facts on Zillow’s part. A misrepresentation that they have been told directly about but continue to perpetrate.

      I think it will be interesting to see who the long term winner will be, given that data manipulation sways agents AND consumers and changes the landscape going forward, fair or not.

  3. Francces Flynn Thorsen

    November 7, 2010 at 3:06 pm

    “I can see why you have the sentiment that you do, especially given that you’re getting back into real estate,”

    The fact that I have not been listing and selling real estate does not mean that I have not been working in the real estate and housing arena. My sentiments about Realtor.com are tied to years of observation since the platform launched. Realtor.com has a checkered history including misdeeds and fraud that saw management behind bars.

    I remember sitting on a MLS committee in Pennsylvania years ago, voting to pull all our listings out of Realtor.com when Realtor.com did not honor commitments to us.

    I think NAR pulled a temporary coup with a successful social media campaign … The same people who would not give Realtor.com a mere MENTION in early REBarcamps are now sitting in e-PRO train the trainer sessions in advance of a new R.com marketing push NAR is billing as “education.” I have to wonder if the new e-PRO trainers are anything more than thinly veiled Realtor.com salesmen. I will withhold judgment until I sit in a class and witness this “training” personally.

    There is already harsh discussion about NAR’s new e-PRO social media training program, with sharp claims of snake oil. While I am not aligned with the tone and tenor of some recent barbs I must agree there is much truth in the basic premise of the writers’ arguments. Snake oil does nothing to enhance the Realtor brand.

    I stand by my prediction that Realtor.com will be the loser in the final analysis. And Realtors following the snake oil brigade will join the ranks of former Realtors … and those numbers are growing. Realtor ranks continue to dwindle.

    • Lani Rosales

      November 7, 2010 at 3:10 pm

      Interesting assessment for sure! We’ll see how it all plays out.

  4. Greg Schwartz - Zillow

    November 7, 2010 at 3:20 pm

    Benn:

    It’s Greg here from Zillow. I suspect both Zillow & Realtor.com have good intentions with the Comscore data we are reporting. So this is likely a case of using different facts. The facts are these:

    1. Zillow uses an approved Comscore method called a custom audience deduplication report to produce the Zillow/Yahoo Advertisng Network Unique User numbers. I assume Move.com has used the same method to produce their data.

    Inherent in a custom report is it isn’t visible to other individuals so I’m not certain of the composition of the move.com data.

    2. Starting in the September Comscore data set (which should release in the next day or two), Comscore will publish a combined and official unique user number for the Yahoo! Real Estate/Zillow.com Advertising Network. This data will be visible and available to all Comscore users and we will use it in our sales/marketing materials.

    So this difference in facts should clear up in the next day or two and be available for all to view in their standard comscore reports.

    Thanks,

    Greg Schwatz
    Zillow Inc.

    • Benn Rosales

      November 7, 2010 at 7:35 pm

      Hey Greg, thanks for your response.

      The problem at best is it’s a typo, at worst it’s an intentional omission. The Mistake is that the numbers state that MSN traffic is included when it is not according to sources. We held this story for 48 hours hoping those on your team responsible could explain why this flyer is in circulation during a Realtor conference when there is even the slightest possibility that it is wrong. I witnessed myself Realtors reading that collateral in shock at your traffic advantage. We would appreciate if you sent us a scan of your data as you receive it so that we can vet and report it.

      email talk at agentgenius.com

      All the best,

  5. Thomas A B Johnson

    November 7, 2010 at 4:37 pm

    Zillow has an IPO coming up next year. They need to gin up the revenue so that they can sell the company at a higher price justified by more ad revenue. That is one motivation that I see for their recalcitrance in correcting the claim.

    Zillow should ask itself “What would David Gibbons do?”.

  6. Rob McCance

    November 7, 2010 at 4:45 pm

    Way to keep ’em honest Benn.

  7. Francces Flynn Thorsen

    November 7, 2010 at 4:53 pm

    LOL

    I just spied a Top Producer ad at the top right of this page. Top Producer is a Move.com product.

    I don’t see a disclosure anywhere attached to this blog post that AgentGenius has a business relationship with Move.com. There is no disclosure on the article about Realtor.com last week.

    Did Zillow refuse to run an ad?

    This is a very poor blogging practice. This is not journalism. This is prostitution. Ask the FTC. ftc.gov/os/2009/10/091005endorsementguidesfnnotice.pdf

    • Lani Rosales

      November 7, 2010 at 7:24 pm

      Oh that’s silly, we’ve always disclosed any affiliation with advertisers, but we’re traveling and it was a simple oversight on my part as editor (and last week’s article does mention Realtor.com as our advertiser).

      We also have relationships (both fiscal and non fiscal) with many companies like Zillow that allow us to share industry information with readers and we get flamed when we support or criticize any vendor regardless of affiliation, it’s par for the course. 🙂

      And by the way, advertisers are currently listed in the AG footer which we do if/when we’ve recently written about them.

      That said, we appreciate your lookin’ out, Fran!

      Lastly, this is a factual story that broke right before our eyes on the Expo floor which we gave Zillow 48 hours to bust the story themselves- it is not a flame piece or a support piece, it’s an article about representation of facts. We are awaiting ComScore’s offical response to support either side’s data points which we will cover upon reception regardless of who is right.

      • Francces Flynn Thorsen

        November 7, 2010 at 7:44 pm

        “Zillow dupes Realtors, investors and consumers with flawed claims” is a FLAME headline, Lani. It qualifies as a flame in every sense of the word. It points to intent with malice. It is a flame.

  8. Andrea Geller

    November 7, 2010 at 6:26 pm

    For full disclosure, I am currently paying for services on Realtor.com, Zillow, Trulia and Blockshopper.

    First of all I think it is really unprofessional for employees of Move/Realtor.com to be perpetuating this post on social mediums such as Twitter. Pretty classless move.

    As an active real estate agent who has spent the last 18 months transitioning from managing to full time sales, I can only speak to what has contributed to what looks to be a very successful year for me when so many of my fellow agents are leaving the industry.

    There is very little business generated from my personal sphere as most of that well has dried up until the economy improves. I had no choice but to find other avenues to generate listings and sales.

    This I can quantify: In terms of third party website generated business, Zillow is number one for me in generating listings and buyers. Trulia is number two and Blockshopper is number three. Realtor.com has not contributed to a single listing or sale for me. Nobody mentions it. Clients are not talking about it.

    I know none of these sites are lead services per se such as Market Leader, but what is their value to any of us as agents or brokers if they don’t help us create business which is really what equals value is to any of us.

    I have received several agent to agent referrals from agents finding me on Zillow and Trulia. Even the agents are not going to Realtor.com to find each other.

    You can all have a pissing match over numbers and visitors but what counts is the quality not the quantity. No business, no quality, no value.

    • Francces Flynn Thorsen

      November 7, 2010 at 7:38 pm

      Andrea,

      It is interesting to hear about your experience using a variety of platforms. It echoes what I hear across the board … sometimes I hear that Trulia is the best source of new leads … I have not heard ANYONE report success with Realtor.com advertising in my travels.

      I am going to become active listing and selling and I can get the bottom line rate at Realtor.com because I have not had any listings in last year. That is, if I can get anyone to share that number with me! Still, I’m not sure that’s not just throwing money away. A good deal is a good deal if there is a return on the investment … I don’t hear anyone saying that Realtor.com delivers results like Zillow or Trulia. (I’m sure there will be an R.com rep appearing here shortly with testimonials. 😉

      Thanks for sharing.

      • Andrea Geller

        November 7, 2010 at 8:07 pm

        When I began selling again last year they r.com called me and it was cheap because I had just a few listings. next month it will not be so cheap any more because I had a good listing year. When I expressed I saw no value they had someone call me. The conversation went from bad to worse. One of the things she said was that R.com was better because they don’t give sales right out there. That way consumers have something to go to the agents for. They obviously missed the “transparency is everything memo to the consumer” concept. The other issue was that I was offended by the fact she implied if data is available to the consumer we have no value as professionals.

        I wish I would have recorded the conversation and could attach it to this reply.

        Right now it seems there seems to be some throwing stones up and back between Move and NAR about the state of Realtor.com. Both parties need to take responsibility and move forward. Many ships have sailed without them and bashing and trying to defend backwards practices is not going to benefit any of us.

  9. Kaye Thomas

    November 7, 2010 at 8:32 pm

    Anyone who believes that any of these entities are looking out for the best interests of agnets is nuts. All of these sites have one goal and that is making money.. and guess who is their # 1 source of money … agents. They will all promise you the sun the moon and the stars but deliver very little in real terms.

    If you use these sites then you should be aware of what they are actually offering compared to what they claim to offer. I have no problem advertising on any of the sites as long as you are aware of what you are really getting in exchange for the money you are spending.

    • Francces Flynn Thorsen

      November 7, 2010 at 8:43 pm

      Kaye,

      I am going to start advertising January 1, 2011 and analyze the results at the end of the quarter following a media spend in equal amounts across three, possibly four platforms.

      The only way these platforms will continue along a path to profitability is delivering consumers and results to the agents. Lead generation, listing accuracy, and responsive customer service are in the best interest of the agents. Agents will advertise and engage if there is a good reason to do so. The best reason to do so is a good return on investment.

  10. Bruce Lemieux

    November 8, 2010 at 9:32 am

    Zillow/R.com/Trulia are to Agents what Agents are to Consumers. Lots of puffery, little transparency. Buyer beware.

  11. Greg Schwartz - Zillow

    November 8, 2010 at 12:28 pm

    Benn,

    I apologize for the delay in answering this, but I wanted to check with comScore this morning to make sure they 1000% back up our claims. ComScore confirms with me that the data shown on our flier for the Move Network includes the Realtor.com component of MSN real estate, and that the data we used is accurate. If you have further questions about Move, or Move’s fliers, I’d suggest you speak to comScore directly.

    Per your request, I will email you the approved comScore dataset we used.

    Greg

    • Benn Rosales

      November 8, 2010 at 1:35 pm

      Hey Greg, no problem on the delay, we’re doing the same. Can you email me your contact at comscore, we’d like to compare apples to apples. 🙂

  12. Benn Rosales

    November 10, 2010 at 3:40 pm

    *Update – Get the final story here.

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