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Real Estate Corporate

Judge grants Move/NAR motion for contempt, prompts investigation into “Samuelson Memo”

Errol Samuelson became a Zillow exec the same day he left Move, leading to a drawn out legal battle between the companies, with a contempt of court charge now at the forefront.

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King County Superior Court’s Judge John H. Chun has granted a motion for contempt filed by Move, Inc. and the National Association of Realtors (NAR) against Zillow, Inc. and Errol Samuelson. This marks the latest in the drawn out drama after Samuelson left Move, Inc. abruptly without notice last year to become competitor, Zillow’s Chief Industry Development Officer.

The contentious departure spurred an ongoing lawsuit, and last summer, Washington State Superior Court Judge Barbara Linde granted a preliminary injunction in the case of Move, Inc. and the National Association of REALTORS® et al. vs. Zillow, Inc. and Errol Samuelson et al.

What the injunction prohibits

At the time, Judge Linde found Samuelson to have misappropriated trade secrets by acquiring it using improper means, and by copying it without authorization. It also enjoined Samuelson, a former Move employee, from using and sharing any trade secret and confidential information gained while employed at Move, Inc., and from specific activities relating to his new position.

The injunction prohibits activities relating to obtaining direct data feeds of listing data, prohibits activities relating to developing contact relationship management (CRM) tools, and prohibits activities which would circumvent ListHub.

Judge Chun orders an investigation

Judge Chun has granted Move and NAR’s motion for contempt of court, ruling that further investigation into a memo written by Samuelson is warranted. Within the month, Zillow is required to produce for deposition all employees related to the creation, distribution, and implementation of what court documents refer to as the “Samuelson Memo.”

Court documents do not include the memo, and we have reached out to Zillow and Errol directly to obtain a copy, but with this case ongoing, it is unlikely that a lawyer will allow it, whether information is redacted or not.

When contacted for comment or information on the Samuelson Memo, Move declined to comment, as is their policy for ongoing legal matters.

What now?

Because there is so much that the original injunction prohibited Samuelson from doing, it is difficult to speculate as to what the Samuelson Memo contains. On March 30th, Move/NAR will go before the judge for their opening brief, Zillow follows on April 6th, and Move/NAR will enter their reply on April 10th. Then, on April 24th, Zillow is ordered to show cause as to why they should not be held in contempt for violating the preliminary injunction.

Court records refer to redacted and unredacted versions of the memo, which is not part of the public record, but the judge will likely issue a ruling late April or early May, which will indicate which rule Samuelson broke, if any at all.

Final analysis: If these allegations are true, it is shocking that any moves would be made to make any waves, given how heated Zillow’s talent grab has been for the industry.

#SamuelsonMemo

Full court document available here.

UPDATE: Zillow tells us, “To be clear, what the court granted was Move’s request for further investigation and a hearing. For context, Errol has been on leave since July 1.
Beyond that, we cannot comment on this litigation.”

Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The Real Daily and sister news outlet, The American Genius, and has been named in the Inman 100 Most Influential Real Estate Leaders several times, co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

Real Estate Corporate

New Zillow strategy – telling you to take your money and shove it

(REAL ESTATE) Zillow is adding a new feature that is raising eyebrows, but could go a long way toward consumers’ trust in their new direction.

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In college I would spend hours investigating what courses I would be taking the next semester. My university provided a flow chart of the kinds of classes I needed to enroll in, but it was completely up to me which one I chose. I used two main sites that helped my make my decision. One was a site that showed me every single variation of my potential schedule and the other was a crowd sourced rating site for the professor. Since then, several rating sites have come out all in different industries, and as you already know, real estate is no exception.

As a consumer, I have a very strange relationship with Zillow. I’ve never bought a house, but I’ve used Zillow to find multiple rental homes, to dream about homes I’ll never afford because I like avocado toast and to look at the before photos of a home my friends bought.

I also have a strange consumer opposition to them after their little Zestimates drama last year, their recent foray into alleged photo poaching, and their not so blatant attempt to run the table by buying a mortgage company.

That said, Zillow’s new strategy has my interest piqued.

With the purchase of Mortgage Lenders of America, Zillow has secured their place at the adults table of the real estate world. They’re now the search engine that will help you find a house, the company that will connect you to a Realtor and the lender that can help you buy it. Zillow is taking their one-stop shopping a step further and allowing you to rate your real estate agent (beyond their existing rating system) — just like I did with my professors.

Customers will be asked for input on agents’ communication style, responsiveness, trustworthiness, and expertise (sound like HomeLight? Yeah, I know).

In an effort to be customer satisfaction driven, Zillow’s Premier Agent customers will be privy to reports based on data that Zillow will collect from other customers that will gauge agents’ performance.

Zillow believes their customers are all about customer service and I can’t say they’re wrong. I don’t know of any industry where customers don’t want quality assistance. The irony is not lost on me, though, that they’re an online company trying to measure human interaction.

Zillow’s President, Greg Schwartz, explained, “we promise you this: we’re going to give you the greatest platform to make it happen. And we’ll keep pushing to get it right so you can deliver exceptional experiences.”

Solid promise, but how is it going to work? Will it be like the website I used to rate my professors where it was an option to do so or I could just lurk in the shadows and reap the benefits of the reviews? Or is it going to be like Uber / Favor / fill-in-the-blank-phone-app-service where I am required to submit a review before I’m allowed to do literally anything else? They’ve long had agent ratings, but insiders suggest that an Uber-esque rating is really what’s in play here.

Schwartz went on to talk about agents who aren’t performing up to customer standards — again, are there hard and fast guidelines? Because I can guarantee you that as a customer, I will have different standards than Mariah Carrey.

Schwartz said, “For agents who aren’t performing up to customers standards — Zillow will no longer be interested in taking their money. The company wants to be able to tell every consumer who comes to the site that the agent they select will deliver a high-quality experience.”

Whoaaaaaa. Schwartz is really swingin’ for the fences there. If you aren’t up to Zillow’s standards, they’ll tell you to take your money and shove it. Despite a shaky opinion of the mega-company, this speaks to me.

I’m not entirely sure alienating large groups of a people you’re trying to work with is the best strategy, but Zillow seems to have the appearance of trying to do good things. We’ll see what shareholders think, how brokers will respond to a potential Uber-esque rating for their agents, and ultimately, how consumers opt to trust the data in a sea of subjective agent ratings alongside endless lawsuits against that shake confidence in the brand.

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Real Estate Corporate

Zillow closes deal on mortgage company, they’re now officially lenders

(CORPORATE) Zillow just spent money on a mortgage company so they give you some money, too. #MakeItRain

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With the changing of the leaves comes the changing of Zillow. Zillow, you know the one — that real estate website that has helped home buyers find houses for years — has decided to enter the mortgage game.

Yep, you read that right. Late Wednesday, the company completed its acquisition of Mortgage Lenders of America (MLoA). MLoA is a privately held online lender in Kansas… well, they were. They’ll still operate from their Kansas HQ and they’ll keep their VP, but Z is the captain now.

That’s one small step for home buyers and one giant leap for the real estate industry. All other aspects of consumerism has made its way to the ether, there’s no reason mortgage lending shouldn’t either.

Zillow has been in the search and listing side of real estate for over a decade now. However, they first dipped their toes into the selling side of the real estate biz when they announced their “Instant Offers” program, which allows sellers in particular markets to receive offers from investors. Shortly thereafter, in a fairly predictable move, they became an investor and purchased homes as well.

Becoming a lender was a very obvious next step for the online real estate site and has been a long time coming.

Now, with the acquisition of MLoA, they’ll have the capacity to be more than just an investor. To accompany the acquisition, there’s supposedly a rebrand for MLoA in the near future, too.

This acquisition certainly opens avenues to develop tools and partnerships.

“Getting a mortgage can be the toughest, most painstaking and time-consuming part of the home-buying process,” Greg Schwartz, president of media and marketplaces at Zillow, said in a statement. “Having our own mortgage origination service as an option for consumers will allow us to streamline the process for people who buy a Zillow-owned home.”

This is a huge move for Zillow. They went from showing home buyers homes to actually buying homes and now financing the buyers purchasing those home.

While this certainly streamlines, shortens, and simplifies the home-buying process for consumers in the Zillow Offers world, it will be interesting to see how it effects them as a company and the mortgage industry as a whole.

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Real Estate Corporate

WeWork has more office space in Manhattan than anyone

(REAL ESTATE) WeWork is now the biggest renter in Manhattan – what it says about the company, and perhaps an opportunity for *your* business.

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It’s official: WeWork now rents more office space than anyone in Manhattan—including their previous competitor, JP Morgan. With 5.3 million square feet of rented space, the coworking company clearly intends to maintain its momentum, thus lending credit to the inherent value of social work environments.

The sheer growth WeWork has seen in 2018 speaks to the notion that the coworking craze — perhaps surprisingly — isn’t slowing down.

While WeWork (and other similarly themed companies) only accounted for 3.3 percent of the new leases signed in 2017, they ate up 9.7 percent of new leases signed in the first two-thirds of 2018. Those aren’t the numbers of a trend in decline.

Despite some water cooler disdain toward WeWork’s potentially wishy-washy work culture and some of their latest publicity stunts, investors seem to like them more than ever. In fact, word on the street is that SoftBank — a prolific WeWork investor — is considering a second investment that would value WeWork at or around 40 billion dollars.

Like we said: not a sign of a declining company.

WeWork’s objective success isn’t the star of the show here, however; it’s what they’ve proven through that success which matters.

WeWork’s ethos (that human beings need interaction with other similar human beings in order to thrive in a workplace) gets further reinforced with every lease the company signs.

If small- to mid-sized companies can take away one thing from WeWork’s example, it’s this – many people need other people in order to do their best work.

There will always be exceptions to the rule—plenty of folks work alone from home and are happy to do so—but the fact that freelancers living in some of the most expensive real estate in this country are willing to pay additional cash just to be around other like-minded individuals is fairly indicative.

If nothing else, keep in mind the social atmosphere afforded by WeWork when designing your office spaces or nailing down your workplace culture expectations. And yes, they allow Realtors and brokers to lease space, too…

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