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NAR, Move respond to Zillow’s “Coming Soon” feature

Zillow’s “Coming Soon” feature has reignited arguments surrounding the rules of the road, and NAR responds strongly.

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The recent announcement of Zillow’s “Coming Soon” feature has reignited passions surrounding pre-MLS listings, and has become a very divisive issue in the industry. Pennsylvania Broker, Erica Ramus opined that Zillow is responding to a market demand, and highlighted the upside of the new release.

But Ramus is not in the majority (perhaps the growing minority, but currently takes an unpopular position). The National Association of Realtors (NAR) responded to Zillow’s announcement with a complete guide outlining the legalities surrounding “coming soon” listings, positioning these types of listings as being “withheld” from the MLS.

When to take a “coming soon” listing

In a statement, NAR asserts that there is a right and wrong way to take a “coming soon” listing.

“The first important step in advising a seller-client on whether to advertise a property as ‘coming soon’ is to identify the client’s best interests, as defined by that client,” said National Association of Realtors® General Counsel Katie Johnson. “Failing to act in the client’s best interest and failing to disclose the pros and cons of a limited marketing plan, such as ‘coming soon’ advertising, can violate state real estate license laws and regulations, MLS policies, and the Realtor® Code of Ethics.”

Johnson adds that “It’s important that sellers understand the implications of various ways of marketing the property so that they can knowingly determine the choice that best serves their interests. If a broker determines that “coming soon” advertising is in the client’s best interest and confirms that the client understands the possible consequences, then it is imperative for the broker to know the real estate license laws and regulations of their state to ensure that such advertising is in compliance. A broker who fails to comply with state laws and regulations risks facing disciplinary action from licensing authorities, as well as the possibility of litigation from unsatisfied clients.”

State laws vary

State license laws vary, NAR notes, pointing out that an angry seller could claim a broker failed to obtain the highest possible price by excluding it from the MLS, and the client may not have understood that “the marketing of the property might not achieve the highest price.”

NAR points to Colorado’s recent “CP-44 Commission Position on Coming Soon Listings” which clarifies that a licensee’s existing duty to “promote the interests of the seller or landlord with the utmost good faith, loyalty, and fidelity” which requires Colorado licensees to advise clients during the negotiation of the listing contract of the benefits or risks of limiting a property’s exposure through “coming soon” advertising. The broker’s motivation for such limited exposure of the property must be for the seller’s benefit – not the licensee. The Commission Position concludes by requiring licensees to describe in the listing contract the marketing plan agreed upon by the broker and seller prior to any marketing being performed.

In South Carolina, advertising a property as “coming soon” before entering into a listing agreement with the seller violates South Carolina license law.

By pointing out Colorado and South Carolina, NAR tells its members that at all times, they must ensure that their advertising complies with local MLS rules.

And of course, the Code of Ethics

NAR urges members to consider the Code of Ethics when advising clients on whether or not to market properties as “coming soon.”

“Realtors® must remember to promote and protect the interest of the clients, present a true picture in their advertising, marketing, and other representations, and make property available to other brokers for showing to prospective purchasers when it is in the best interest of the seller,” said Johnson. Failing to do so harms the reputation of the broker and Realtors® generally and may result in disciplinary action from the broker’s local association of Realtors®.

Where is Realtor.com in all of this?

Realtor.com, operated by Move, Inc. has mostly stayed out of the fray, but Suzanne Roy, Industry Outreach at Move, Inc. tells Realuoso, “Move is closely following the discussion among professionals in organized real estate about how ‘pocket listings,’ or so-called ‘pre-market’ listings, effect consumers and the industry.”

So what’s next?

Although not a new debate, it has come to a head as Zillow puts their stamp on the issue, and the NAR has responded strongly, and Move, Inc. is quiet but is certainly not ignoring the argument.

Agents and brokers will consider their individual positions and local and state associations are taking on the debate, but mostly behind closed doors. Watch for groups like the Austin Board of Realtors to make decisions regarding how pre-MLS listings may or may not appear in the MLS, and what rules surround these types of listings.

Real Estate Corporate

Has REX Homes finally ceased operations?

After two rounds of layoffs, a restructure to join MLSs, and swirling rumors regarding leadership, staffers tell us the company has crumbled.

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Empty office REX Homes

Real estate brokerage REX Homes became famous in recent years for spearheading an anti-trust lawsuit against Zillow and the National Association of Realtors, accusing them of being a ‘cartel’ to edge out non-MLS participants. But it appears that as of today, the company has ceased operations.

Numerous staff reached out to us directly to indicate the company’s last day was Tuesday and that a companywide call on Friday outlined the end of REX Homes. While the entity of the brokerage still exists, we are told there are no longer offices, staff, leadership, or agents.

Staff at the Austin, TX and Woodland Hills, CA offices (both in Texas) have confirmed that as of today, the doors are literally closed. It is unclear what REX’s plans are for wrapping up any current contracts that haven’t closed.

The company’s website remains live with no notification of any service interruptions and there have been no changes to the faces that appear on the staffing page.

Many Glassdoor users have begun leaving reviews asserting that operations have ceased. To thicken the mystery, we’ve already seen several recent reviews disappear, but it is unclear if that is Glassdoor or REX’s doing.

Several LinkedIn users formerly employed at REX Homes are putting their #OpenToWork signs up, stating the company has closed – some indicate departments dissolving, others that the entire company has collapsed.

What has been especially interesting with this company is staff’s consistent fears of CEO Jack Ryan, consistently citing a fear of retribution not just professionally, but personally, and several told us we should worry about our own personal safety, having been the only news outlet covering REX’s unraveling.

Also consistent is that everyone we’ve spoken to in the last year has cited an imminent demise of the company as a whole.

In August of 2021, REX Homes laid off 60 staff without severance, and on October 7th, 2021, REX Homes had their second round of layoffs – both times, staff said they were not initially given severance pay, but report to us that after our coverage, they began seeing payment.

Also in October of last year, they shut down their New York and Chicago offices, and announced internally that they would be joining MLSs. They called it a restructure. The joining of any MLS shocked many as the premise of their structure was always that their magical proprietary tech as well as their bypassing of the MLSs to save consumers thousands of dollars.

They earned several rounds of private equity funding and never went public. Several staff told us that going IPO had been a talking point from Ryan, often used to lure them to the company in the first place and accept lower pay with the idea that shares would soon be coming their way.

Between the August and October layoffs, they closed their Series D round of funding, but never disclosed the amount, closing date, or investor. It is therefore unclear how their investors feel about the company’s status, but it is also possible that they’re who initiated the pulling of the plug.

It is also unclear what this means for their ongoing lawsuit against Zillow and NAR and how a non-existent company can pursue a class action lawsuit, but no filings have been made in the past week regarding the case.

As with all REX stories, we have reached out for comment. Because we track all emails, we have always seen them open every press inquiry within seconds, but it is of note that our current request for comment has yet to be viewed

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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 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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