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Many realtors are panicked about Zillow acquiring DotLoop; is the alarm merited?

Is DotLoop’s acquisition Zillow’s backdoor into private consumer data, or a kick ass tool to add to advertisers’ toolboxes?

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Yesterday, Zillow announced that they are in the process of acquiring DotLoop, a real estate transaction management startup out of Cincinnati.

The once-small startup has grown admirably since its 2008 launch, led by the press-happy, charismatic Austin Allison who created a product worthy of an acquisition for an undisclosed amount, by one of the largest and most recognizable names in the real estate industry.

But why wasn’t this acquisition universally celebrated? Because Zillow is the acquirer, and real estate professionals’ distrust of the brand was more evident in the last 24 hours than we’ve seen in some time.

Is Zillow one step closer to being a broker?

The immediate response in some circles was that this puts Zillow one step closer to being a broker (which they’ve publicly pledged is not their intention, as they’ve said for years). One agent told us that the mantra “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” is ringing in their ears with this news.

As a publicly traded company whose stock is down by half in the last year, if buying or becoming a brokerage increases profits, they may have to add a brokerage layer to keep stockholders happy.

But let’s be realistic – Zillow has not brokered deals to date, and they’ve sworn on their grandmother’s grave (figuratively) that they never will, so this fear is not founded on anything other than an inherent distrust of Zillow.

Giving Zillow sensitive data upsets many

To be honest, the acquisition makes perfect sense, as the media companies are in a race to be the real estate professionals’ business backend. They already offer IDX, marketing tools, and lead management, so why not contract management? It’s just not that simple.

What some real estate practitioners believe is dangerous about this acquisition is that it gives Zillow a window into their private conversations with their customers, highly sensitive contract information including clients’ finances and contact information, and internal communications.

No one seemed to have a problem with DotLoop having this information, but Zillow having access to it has bred alarm, again, due to the undeniable friction between Zillow and so many practitioners. “Zillow is not the industry’s friend,” one realtor told us.

The point has been made that Zillow is an advertising company, and so is Facebook – no one seems to mind giving Facebook endless sensitive data points, but the difference here is that realtors aren’t putting their information into the DotLoop machine, it’s consumers’ most personal information, and some simply don’t trust Zillow with it.

Lastly on this point, several told us that their rejection of this acquisition is that this is just more data that will be sold back to them. Data in, dollars out.

The nature of the data being shared with a third party that some have trust issues with is why some panic is merited.

Best case scenario, Zillow offers one more valuable marketing tool for Realtors, worse case scenario, they profit from the use extremely sensitive data that is none of their damn business. Which scenario you see when you close your eyes depends on how you felt about Zillow on Monday before this was a blip on the radar.

No one has noticed the elephant in the room

With this acquisition, Zillow has unprecedented access to data on listings – why not add a data field to a listing that shows how many offers have been made (and for how much), or failed transactions? Couldn’t they add the average credit rating or mortgage rate of homebuyers in a condo building (or hell, a single listing)?

Why not scrape private conversations, scrub names, and give homeowners the unfiltered opinions of agents and shoppers about a listing they’re transacting (for a fee, of course)? They could immediately have insight into the intentions attached to transactions.

But that’s child’s play – what this really does is give Zillow a back door into sold data in non-disclosure states, the shining Holy Grail they’ve been seeking for years. They just happen to have all of the sold data by having a private transaction management platform.

Maybe some panic is merited.

Moving forward, what will happen?

Long ago, we predicted that DotLoop would be acquired, and we guessed that Move would snatch them up, but Zillow makes the most sense to us, based on a cultural fit between the two. In other words – this news was no surprise.

Realtors that already hated Zillow were panicked by this acquisition, and some of the apprehension is merited, while reactions are borderline conspiracy theories. If it truly is a tool the brand paid big bucks for to be altruistic and just help their realtor buddies that keep their doors open, then some of the distrust could be repaired. Honestly.

That said, if the tool is in any way a backdoor way to get private data, the skepticism many have of Zillow will be irreversible.

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

Zillow seeks a patent to fill out forms electronically – sounds familiar…

(TECHNOLOGY) In yet another broad patent application, Zillow is aiming for ownership of the ability to fill out “transactional documents” electronically.

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In yet another obscenely broad patent application, Zillow is aiming for ownership of the ability to fill out “transactional documents” electronically.

The official patent application describes “generating electronic transactional documents using a form generating system” and “using a design tool that allows a user to place data entry fields over an image or snapshot of a transactional document.”

If that sounds familiar, it’s because virtually every website that allows customers to e-sign anything already does this. Some concerns also address the fact that services such as DocuSign – a service in which both Google and NAR invested – and even Google Forms might fall under this category.

Should Zillow see this patent approved, it could spell disaster for a huge operational segment of any real estate sale: the actual signing of a contract.

What’s odd about this patent application is the bizarre, gaslighting-lite language it uses to pitch the idea of something that is already used widely on the internet. In the background section, the patent claims that “Most of the time the parties are not in the same physical location when the offers, counteroffers, and acceptances are signed. Fax machines are often used to facilitate the process, as well as emailing scanned documents.”

The background continues with, “Sellers, buyers, and their agents are often not in the same contemporaneous physical location. Therefore, signed documents are often faxed between parties, with original signed copies being retained for the closing.”

Using the implied inconvenience of a physical fax machine as an argument for the efficacy of electronic documents makes sense, albeit in an obvious kind of way; however, using this argument to support the notion that Zillow should be able to claim a patent that gives them domain overall electronic forms in the real estate microcosm seems particularly villainous.

It’s also worth noting that, should this patent be granted any time soon, the likelihood that the world will still be in the grips of the COVID-19 pandemic is high. From the patent office’s standpoint, restricting the remote signature options of any real estate firm not affiliated with Zillow during a period of time in which purchasing property is already laborious and dangerous shouldn’t even be an option.

Time will tell whether or not Zillow is successful in achieving its bid for e-signing. Other document-signing services may be able to dispute the patent, but Zillow’s history of scooping up unlikely patents is undoubtedly on their side.

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Real Estate Corporate

Zillow hit with another lawsuit after iBuying collapse, claiming they misled investors

(REAL ESTATE) Stockholders are suing, alleging that Zillow publicly praised the iBuying program despite knowing it was dying, and they claim to “suffer significant damages.”

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Zillow landing page on laptop

Zillow Group was hit late Thursday with yet another investor lawsuit on the heels of the collapse of their iBuying program (“Zillow Offers”). Hillier v. Zillow Group, Inc. et al in the Western Washington District Court is seeking class action status in this federal securities lawsuit, alleging that Zillow failed to disclose to investors that they did not have the ability to price homes for their Zillow Offers program, and that paired with a known supply and labor shortage, led to an inventory backlog.

The suit claims that under these conditions, Zillow (ZG) knew they would have to end the iBuying program, which would hurt their bottom line, something investors were not made aware of. In fact, this suit notes that company leadership continued to speak positively in public, making “materially false and/or misleading statements” about the program despite their overpaying for numerous homes and selling them at a loss.

In the Notice of Related Cases filed, Braua v. Zillow Group, Inc., et al., and Silverberg v. Zillow Group Inc., et al. were cited, both of which are seeking damages for allegations of misleading investors. The Hillier suit is specifically seeking to certify a class of Zillow stock buyers who made purchases from Aug. 7, 2020, and Nov. 2, 2021.

The new lawsuit outlines the following (our words, not theirs):

  • Zillow launched the home buying program in 2018 to rapidly flip properties.
  • By close of 2019, they were in 22 markets, and the program accounted for half of their annual revenue ($1.4B).
  • On August 05, 2021, the company released Q2 earnings, citing $772M from the iBuying program, roughly 60% of their annual revenue. In the release, Defendant Rich Barton said that their “iBuying business, Zillow Offers, continues to accelerate as we offer more customers a fast, fair, flexible and convenient way to move” and “is proving attractive to sellers even in this sizzling-hot seller’s market.”
  • In October, RBC Capital Markets began cooling on Zillow, lowering their price target for the stock, warning that Zillow Offers would likely miss quarterly expectations, dragging ZG down from $91.40 on October 01 to $85.68 on October 04.
  • Shortly thereafter, in October 2021, Zillow announced they would be halting the program through year’s end, and stocks continued to slip.
  • In November, the company released their Q3 financials and simultaneously declared an end to the program and a 25% workforce cut.

It appears that the crux of the Hillier case is that leadership continued to praise the program even as it declined, right up until the Q3 earnings statements went public and it could no longer sustain the program.

“As a result of defendants’ wrongful acts and omissions, and the resulting declines in the market value of the company’s securities, plaintiff and other members of the class have suffered significant damages,” the suit concludes.

As recently as this week, InvestorPlace said, “it’s going to be a while before ZG stock could make a comeback,” noting that Zillow’s house is not in order.

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Real Estate Corporate

Zillow nixes iBuying program and cuts 25% of staff, consumers go wild

(REAL ESTATE) After Zillow hit pause on their iBuying program, they’ve now cut it altogether and laid off staff. Can Zillow haters gloat yet? Maybe not…

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Zillow landing page on laptop

Today, Zillow Group announced their plan to shut down the Zillow Offers program (known as their iBuying initiative), also announcing a cut in their workforce of roughly 25%.

With a backlog of over 9,800 homes (several thousand more than they reported just days ago) that need to be sold, and a current 8,200 under contract that they’re still moving forward with purchasing, the company can’t simply cite labor and raw materials challenges.

The rapid escalation of the program in the past quarter is part of the subsequent sunsetting wherein they’ll be eating a $304 million in losses, and another $240-$265 million expected additional losses on pending properties.

They’ve instantly become famous for using their algorithm to wildly overpay on a ton of product, then losing their shirts for it.

Zillow Co-Founder and former CEO said earlier this week that he assumed purchasing would resume in Q1, but fellow Co-Founder and current CEO, Rich Barton stated, “We’ve determined the unpredictability in forecasting home prices far exceeds what we anticipated and continuing to scale Zillow Offers would result in too much earnings and balance-sheet volatility.”

Barton added, “While we built and learned a tremendous amount operating Zillow Offers, it served only a small portion of our customers. Our core business and brand are strong, and we remain committed to creating an integrated and digital real estate transaction that solves the pain points of buyers and sellers while serving a wider audience.”

This combination of conditions has plenty of real estate professionals (that have long hated Zillow) gloating on social media.

We recently urged our readers to not get excited about their last announcement that they’d be pausing the iBuying program, and we stand by that today for several reasons:

  1. Fully 25% of their workforce got a pink slip today and that is nothing to celebrate – they’re people whose lives were just upended. But not Rich Barton’s, he’ll be just fine.
  2. This program is one of many for them and these losses don’t matter much in the bigger picture – it was a very small piece of their pie.
  3. Even if Zillow stopped getting every listings feed on the planet and every Realtor stopped giving them their money, they’ve created a scenario where they’ve applied for (and been granted by the federal government) nearly every conceivable generic patent on real estate online. Their evil genius will help leadership to survive any storm, like it or not.

Does the shutdown of this program spell doom for the iBuying model in general? It could be seen that way, or it could be seen that they moved far to quickly, or simply that economic conditions collided to make the perfect storm which wasn’t in their favor.

Either way, from our vantage point, the program has always felt like they were playing with Monopoly money, or like they were enjoying being WSB bros, and it’s now over and a lot of people are out of work today.

What will always remain consistent is real estate practitioners reminding each other that they’re who have fed the beast since day one, like this Realtor:

The only real downside for Zillow is the public relations hit they’re taking with consumers who are going wild about the news:

Stay tuned for what money moves Z makes next. This story isn’t over.

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