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Op/Ed

Are Realtors the real loser in the sword fight between Zillow Group and Move, Inc.?

The last year has been one of dramatic and rapid change in the real estate tech sector, but Realtors are vulnerable, and we’re worried.

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Corporate warfare demands headlines in every industry, but in the real estate tech sector, a storm has been brewing for years, which in the last year has come to a head. Zillow Group and Move, Inc. (which is owned by News Corp. and operates ListHub, Realtor.com, TopProducer, and other brands) have been competing for a decade now, and the race has appeared to be an aggressive yet polite boxing match. Last year, the gloves came off, and now, they’ve drawn swords and appear to want blood.

Note: We’ll let you decide which company plays which role in the image above.

So how then, does any of this make Realtors the victims of this sword fight? Let’s get everyone up to speed, and then we’ll discuss.

1. Zillow poaches top talent, Move/NAR sues

It all started last year when the gloves came off – Move’s Chief Strategy Officer (who was also Realtor.com’s President), Errol Samuelson jumped ship and joined Zillow on the same day he phoned in his resignation without notice. He left under questionable circumstances, which has led to a lengthy legal battle (wherein Move and NAR have sued Zillow and Samuelson over allegations of breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, and misappropriation of trade secrets), with the most recent motion being for contempt, which a judge granted to Move/NAR after the mysterious “Samuelson Memo” surfaced.

Salt was added to the wound when Move awarded Samuelson’s job to Move veteran, Curt Beardsley, who days after Samuelson left, also defected to Zillow. This too led to a lawsuit, with allegations including breach of contract, violation of corporations code, illegal dumping of stocks, and Move has sought restitution. These charges are extremely serious, but demanded slightly less attention than the ongoing lawsuit against Samuelson.

2. Two major media brands emerge

Last fall, the News Corp. acquisition of Move, Inc. was given the green light by the feds, and this month, Zillow finalized their acquisition of Trulia.

What used to be a three horse race became a two horse race, but the entire track changed as Move became News Corp. and Zillow/Trulia became Zillow Group. What does News Corp. have in common with Zillow Group? They’re both media companies.

Anyone still wondering whether Z/T/R intend to become national brokers can now rest easy, as they have both made it so abundantly clear that they’re media companies, period.

3. ListHub and syndication heats up

In January, Zillow announced that they would cut ties with ListHub, then this month, after Zillow and Trulia officially got married, ListHub (remember, they’re owned by News Corp./Move, Inc.) shut off the pipe that feeds listings to Trulia. Yesterday, a California judge granted Zillow Group a restraining order that forces ListHub to continue syndicating at least until their next court date on March 12th. Zillow Group CEO, Spencer Rascoff continues to assert that ListHub sends subpar data to make Move competitors appear to have inaccurate data.

Sources tell us that Zillow Group should have been prepared for the relationship with Trulia to end, given that Zillow already announced their breakup with ListHub, and some indicate that this fight reveals a vulnerability in Zillow’s data quality, otherwise they would have simply supplemented Trulia with their own listing data instead of ListHub’s. One broker told us that she feels this is Move being petty.

Move disavows claims that inferior data is being sent to Zillow, and say they look forward to their day in court (as we’re betting Zillow is as well).

That brings us to today

The swords have been drawn, the lawyers have suited up, and we’re watching a corporate war like we’ve never seen in this sector. And it’s just now heating up. These two juggernauts are battling for the same eyeballs and same dollars, so there will be figurative casualties. I wouldn’t say anyone’s fighting dirty, but that they’re fighting, stabbing, and clawing, and they’ve got deep pockets to back up the fight. That said, because of Move’s affiliation with (thus accountability to) NAR and their dues-paying members, we’re more confident that Move’s interests are aligned with practitioners’and that’s important to note as we move forward here…

In an email to employees obtained by Realuoso, Ryan O’Hara, Move, Inc.’s new CEO said, “Competing in business typically involves trying to be better, cheaper, faster or different than your competition. How will we compete? By continuing to build the best web and mobile experiences for consumers and the best and most valuable tools for brokers and agents, and by providing the market with the most comprehensive, most accurate and most up-to-date listings in the U.S. I can also promise you we will quicken the pace of product innovation and apply more marketing muscle to our consumer and industry outreach. When we do all of this, we execute on our vision of putting real estate at the fingertips of today’s information-driven consumer and enabling real estate professionals to provide their customers with indispensable and personalized service. And that’s how we win.”

Rascoff, on the other hand, has blogged about his open mindedness as to the future of Zillow Group’s direction, and he’s been one of the ballsiest leaders in the industry, so we have no doubt that he’s rallying his teams’ enthusiasm to a fever pitch as they prepare for what we are certain is a delightful and exciting battle for Rascoff and his executive team. He’s a competitor and has never made apologies for it.

A shocking level of apathy in the industry

Some might think that we’re projecting that Realtors are the ones that lose out because of potential changes to Market Leader (many Trulia staffers were laid off from the Bellevue office where sales and support are (that’s Market Leader territory)), which could impact Keller Williams who is their biggest customer. But no, it’s none of that minutiae.

I originally set out to opine that Realtor confusion will put Move on top (some will expect that a Z/T merger means one bill, but operating separately, they’ll still pay two bills and be disillusioned), but then I hit the phones. I called dozens of Realtors across the nation, not just our readers, and the responses were astounding.

Several had no idea that Zillow had acquired Trulia, many didn’t know what ListHub was or how it related to this fight, and not one could accurately tell me any details of the three major points outlined above. Not one Realtor.

Only a select few knew that ListHub had severed ties with Trulia, meaning their listings might not appear on Trulia as of this week, and three actually said they didn’t care one way or the other, even when we discussed the importance of listing accuracy.

One told me that her most important concern is whether there are flyers at her listing because she’s so rural that most people still don’t have internet, so this battle means nothing to her (even though I asked her about the future, to which she said, “I’ll cross that bridge when I get there”).

Every industry has idiots, but for the most part, Realtors are a bootstrapping breed of ingenious ass kickers who live or die by how good they are at every single transaction. So how were so few uninformed, and for those that were, why didn’t they care? Don’t they know that almost every single transaction starts online, and that where they land dictates how they get to you!?

Here’s why Realtors are going to be the loser here

Realtors are going to lose in the Zillow Group battle with Move, Inc. because they’re busy working instead of obsessing over the minutiae of listing syndication and blossoming media company mergers and acquisitions. Realtors are a hard working, honest bunch, but let’s look at it through the lens of politics – there are a few decision makers pushing papers, a few more that approve those papers, a lot that watch news, a larger group that react negatively or positively when they learn of a policy that impacts them, and the largest group which has no idea what the hell is going on at any given time, and couldn’t identify the VP of America if paid $1M.

So here is how I see the industry:
industry involvement

  • True insiders are the handful of people that lead these companies and know every move that is going on, long before even their employees know. In this circle are the Spencer Rascoffs, the Ryan O’Haras, and Dale Stintons.
  • Informed insiders are the small circle of people that work at these companies and know what’s going on, or are talking to the true insiders on a regular basis. These are also the types that are involved (like those leading policy-making committees at a national level).
  • Well informed are those that aren’t directly affiliated with any of the aforementioned companies, but study them. This is most of our readers – you’re a decision maker at your company, so you work endless hours, but you’re good at your job because you’re obsessed with knowing as much as possible to retain your competitive advantage.
  • Somewhat informed are the normal practitioners that read real estate industry news from time to time, may watch some cable tv news, but mostly focus on their continuing education and being good at their job.
  • Uninformed is where an even larger number of practitioners lie. They are not stupid by any stretch of the imagination, but they honestly have no clue what Zillow Group is, and even when told, they don’t care, they have a call to make and you’re wasting their time.
  • Clueless is the large number of people that don’t know what ListHub does or why it matters, and like the uninformed, they’re not stupid, they’re just not interested, and that’s their prerogative.

Because of these levels outlined above, very few people in the sea of practitioners even know what is going on. It is my firm belief that this is exactly why Realtors will lose out – not enough are involved to affect change, fewer care to be involved, and even fewer will ever know that there was even a battle. This means that decisions are being made that they have no awareness of (therefore, no say in), and it’s not like American politics where we all urge each other to vote to be heard – involvement is the only vote here, no matter how busy you or your practice are.

Our industry’s track record of diminished involvement means media companies have increasing power, and hell, they’ve earned it. But until the day comes where I can spend a week on the phone calling Realtors, and they all know what the issues are or why they matter, they’re vulnerable. Realtors are vulnerable, and as an advocate for Realtors, that makes me increasingly nervous.

#ZillowMoveBattle

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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.

Op/Ed

Why you should lose the sweat pants if you work from home

(EDITORIAL) While it’s tempting to cozy up and work in your most comfortable sweatpants or yoga pants, there are a number of reasons that dressing up to go to work can help increase work from home productivity.

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There are many often discussed benefits to working from home. If you’re not spending time on a daily commute, that means you have more time to work on personal projects and share with your family and friends. Plus it saves you gas and/or fare money.

While it’s tempting to cozy up and work in your most comfortable sweatpants or yoga pants, there are a number of reasons that dressing up to go to work can help increase work from home productivity — even if you’re just commuting to your couch!

You should wear pants (yes, everyday).

When you look your best, you feel your best, and arguably work your best.

It’s pretty hard to resist the temptation of vegging out a bit if you’ve rolled out of bed and headed to your desk while still wearing pajamas. If you have no plan to get dressed for the day, the temptation to hit the snooze button until the moment you need to be present and accounted for will really work against you.

Your computer will say work, but your favorite oversized t-shirt says go back to bed.

When you’re working from home, planning to get up early and prepare for your day allows you to create a transitional space that will help distinguish your home life from your work life. Dressing for success, even if you don’t see anyone during your office hours, will drive your sense of purpose and help you carve out a more productive space. It will also signify to any family members or roommates that you’ve entered the workspace and shouldn’t be bothered.

If you work from a restaurant, coffee shop, or workspaces, it can make you more approachable.

If you’re not dressed for the part, those around you may assume that you’re spending your time recreationally. Even if you are constantly answering your phone, drafting emails, or working on a project. It’s deceptively easy to look like you’re simply browsing the internet or socializing in casual attire.

There are plenty of opportunities to network and meet new people, even when you work from home. You never know who you may end up connecting with, and dressing appropriately to your profession can send the message that you’re an expert and take what you do seriously.

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Op/Ed

Why the hell don’t real estate search sites have a “roulette” option yet!?

(EDITORIAL) House hunters start searching a year in advance, and a roulette search option would keep them engaged during the early phases of their search, so why isn’t it a common feature!?

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It’s no secret that our attention spans have gotten shorter in the last few decades, and some forms of marketing are still scrambling to keep up—one of them being real estate. While looking through photo after photo of specific homes provides the necessary level of focus for devoted home-hunters, having the option to randomize your search on a photo-to-photo basis might prove more interesting for casual lurkers.

Theoretically, having a “roulette” or “randomize” option could lead to some interesting finds: you could plug in your ZIP code, click a button, and start viewing specific shots from homes in your area. You might even expand your search to contain houses from the whole country or look at entire property pages in a random order; either way, by taking the specific search parameters out of the equation, users would have significantly fewer limitations on the content they see.

Once a potential customer found an interesting property, they could open the property’s full page and view its listing info. Sites could even implement a “swipe” feature so that users could add their favorite properties to a list for concentrated viewing later, making the roulette feature akin to house-themed speed dating.

Think of it as Tinder for houses.

What is so appealing about this notion is that it would give everyone from casual real estate enthusiasts to third-time homeowners the chance to step outside of the structures imposed by their search preferences (and browser cookies) in order to view properties at which they might never look in any other context. It can be liberating to have choice specificity removed from the equation, and the real estate market is no exception.

There’s a simple reason that sites like Chat Roulette and apps like Tinder are so popular: they capitalize on our newfound need to be exposed to new information whenever we feel like a change. Real estate sites – especially those with large amounts of traffic – could see a huge upswing in both on-site traffic and conversions by fulfilling this need. Given that most home buyers start casually searching up to a year in advance, this could be a pretty interesting conversion tool in that process.

It has been tried before (and failed) at smaller startups, but house roulette still isn’t a feature on sites like Realtor.com, Zillow, or Trulia as of now, but they should be, so we’re keeping our fingers crossed for more dynamic, fast-paced solutions in the future.

This editorial was first published in May 2018.

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Op/Ed

Your MLS system is ugly and boring – how you can impact change

Many in the real estate industry complain about their MLS, but why is that the case and what can be done about it?

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When I perform surveys of real estate brokers and agents, I see the following two complaints about MLS systems all the time: “Why doesn’t the MLS have [this cool feature]?” and “Why can’t the MLS system be easier to use?”

The first question – “Why isn’t the MLS system isn’t as full featured as some would like?” – comes down to two things: money and politics.

Let’s talk about money

Some people might think that MLS software providers are making a huge amount of money, and that the providers can put more resources into adding software features. That’s just not the case. The money isn’t there. Think about it: MLS vendors have had to put resources into making their systems work cross-browser and on an expanding number of tablets and phones.

They have added increasingly more sophisticated prospecting and client collaboration features, numerous local information and mapping layers, and so much more over the past decade. All this while, the wholesale cost for MLS systems has not increased, and in many cases has trended lower due to fierce competition for strategic accounts.

The political push and pull

As for the politics, there is a constant push and pull over the future of MLS systems. For every professional that wants the MLS system to evolve and improve, there is one that doesn’t want the system to change. I often hear, “What we have now works fine.”

If MLS staff and software providers only listened to those latter voices, we’d still be using “the MLS book” instead of electronic tools. But even when an MLS is selecting a brand new system and options are being compared, committee members will often say something like, “We should choose this system because it is the most like our current one and so will be easier to learn.” What that means is that the most innovative system is penalized for being different!

Sometimes subscribers who sit on an MLS board of directors or committee don’t want the MLS to improve its functionality. Quite often, an MLS system will be deployed with some features disabled. During a recent demonstration of system features by an MLS vendor, visitors from the neighboring MLS (which used that vendor) commented, “Is this the same system as what we have?”

Even when the features are enabled, sometimes professionals don’t know what they have.

I see this in surveys all the time – an agent will ask, “Why doesn’t the system do this?” where this is a feature the system already has.

Why is the MLS so difficult to use?

Looking at the second question — “Why can’t the MLS system be easier to use?” — the answer is a lot simpler: the more features a system has and the more ways there are to customize it, the harder the system will be to use.

Since the MLS is a business system with significant complexity, and since subscribers often want it to be customizable to fit their business needs, preferences, branding, and so forth, ease of use can suffer.

For example, it’s easier to enter a listing when there are few required fields, but the fewer required fields there are, the more agents will complain about data inaccuracy and missing data. Likewise, an MLS-generated report with fewer fields on it is easier to read and more attractive.

However, without all the fields accessible, the agent can’t fine-tune the search on behalf of his or her client and must call the listing agent for the information—which is, in actuality, more difficult.

Also, it’s easier to click once to download a pre-built statistical report. Despite this, in order to make the reports more useful to many users, the reports need to be customizable based on the part of the market the user specializes in (i.e., by area, price range, and property type), and need to be styled so the chart can be downloaded and embedded in a newsletter. That means more complexity and a system that is more difficult to use.

MLS software providers try to make good choices when designing the MLS system, balancing out the need for robust features and customization with the desire for an easy-to-use system, but it’s impossible to please everybody.

What you can do about all of this

What this all comes down to is that, if you as a subscriber want to shape how full-featured and easy-to-use tomorrow’s MLS system is going to be, there’s a way for you to do it. Get involved with your local MLS leadership, including with the system evaluation, selection, and implementation processes.

I work with many local MLSs to make sure their leadership is aware of innovation going on in the MLS technology space so they can be smarter shoppers when looking at MLS software providers. When it comes to ease of use, while there sometimes are usability gaffes on the part of the software provider, it is more often the case that system complexity simply reflects the complex needs of active real estate professionals.

Expecting a professional-grade MLS system to be as clean and easy-looking as a consumer-grade real estate search site like Zillow or Trulia is simply unrealistic. Now that you know why your MLS system is so “Meh,” you don’t have to sit back and complain about it. Get involved in your local MLS organization and help take charge of your future!

This editorial was first published here in May of 2014.

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