Connect with us

Op/Ed

Does Zillow acquiring Trulia doom real estate professionals?

As Zillow announces plans to acquire Trulia, boots on the ground gnash teeth and wail, but is it misguided?

Published

on

zillow trulia

By now, if you’re in the real estate industry, you know what could be THE news story of 2014 broke the morning of July 28: number one real estate portal Zillow announced its intentions to buy number two Trulia in a $3.5 billion stock purchase. Last week, rumors leaked that a merger might be in the works, but I don’t think anyone expected to wake up this morning to an early morning email such as the one Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff sent to Premier Agents announcing the deal is in the works: “Because of your importance as a Premier Agent, I wanted you to be among the first to learn we have just announced that Zillow has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire Trulia.”

Reading real estate tech boards and industry insider groups the discussions typically become heated (to say the least) when Zillow and Trulia are concerned. It seems the only agents or brokers who have neutral or no opinion on the listing aggregator sites are those who don’t understand how listing syndication works. Many scoffed at the rumors as mere gossip while others on social media sites predicted it’d be the end of the industry as we know it. If you logged onto Facebook today and read some of the posts in the real estate groups, you’d think the Apocalypse is here.

This piece is an editorial – not a summary of the proposed purchase – so I won’t rehash the morning’s news. You can read the official press release for yourself, and go over the details on industry newsites such as Realuoso to Inman. Here I will give my opinion of what this deal means to the industry in general, and why it’s not the End of Days scenario agents may fear.

Do We Need Two Sites?

Rascoff says the two brands will remain distinct (at least for now). I find that hard to believe that in the long run there is a need for one company to run two separate sites that basically do the same thing. Some analysts compare operating the two sites to the online dating model where one corporation (IAC) owns multiple dating sites (Match.com and OkCupid), each targeting their own niche.

I don’t think this argument is valid, as the two sites sell the same products (advertising to real estate brokers and agents as a way to connect to consumers), and attract the same consumers (buyers, sellers, renters). On both sites, consumers can search for homes for sale, find an agent to help them through the process, and see what home values are in their neighborhood. While I find Zillow to be more seller-friendly, and the leads in my in-box tell me that Trulia is attracting more renter eyeballs, for the most part I don’t see the sites as fundamentally that different in who their customers are.

Zillow has stated that two-thirds of their users do not use Trulia, and that half of Trulia users don’t use Zillow. What that says to me is that consumers use (or don’t use) a particular portal based on their own particular preferences. They’re choosing one or the other and not really hopping onto every available site. I think hard core, urgent buyers are indeed exploring multiple sites, in an (sometimes desperate) attempt to ferret out more homes for sale. They think by searching on Trulia, then Zillow, then Realtor.com, then a big corporate franchise IDX site, somehow they will find secret or hidden listings that meet their needs.

For the most part, casual shoppers seem to stick to their favorite sites and not hunt furiously for more and more inventory. I don’t see two independent portals being necessary to serve the consumers efficiently and effectively. If both have the same listings, both share data sources, and both are soliciting the same broker/agent pool for marketing dollars, what else is there to differentiate?

Get Over the Zillow = Evil Bias

The ability of sales staff to cross-sell agents on either Zillow or Trulia, or a package deal perhaps for marketing on both sites, is a plus for the company but not necessarily brokers. I find brokers/agents to be one of three mindsets when it comes to Z/T: those who staunchly refuse to pay money to be “sold” leads on their own listings; those who grudgingly buy zip codes or cities in order to compete; and those who see their monthly fees as no different than any other media buy – necessary to do business and part of their marketing plan.

Zillow and Trulia are media companies. They exist not to benevolently provide listing information to consumers. They exist to make money from brokers and agents – same as the local newspaper or real estate homes book. Agents need to get over the affront that somehow the aggregators are “stealing” our data and selling it back to us. If brokers don’t like their houses marketed on these sites, they have the power to cut the feed (and some big ones have). I cannot image explaining to a seller why I am NOT marketing their house for sale on the largest real estate portal – plus AOL.com and Yahoo.com and their other partner sites – especially when that marketing does not cost me a dime.

So given that purely syndicating my listings out to Zillow and Trulia does not cost me anything, why not do it? If my argument is because I want my own face displayed next to my listings, then go ahead and pay for upgraded marketing on the sites. It should be noted that both sites also do note who the listing agent is, to the right of the screen. If a consumer really only wants to contact the listing agent, he can. If he just wants an answer to a question, or to schedule a showing, he can contact any of the spotlighted agents who pop up. And isn’t that the point? Sell the listing. Be happy someone is looking at my property online, even if another agent “gets” that buyer lead.

Combined Efficiencies & Higher Prices

The press release states the merged entity hopes to realize $100 million in “annualized cost avoidances” by 2016. This is one positive effect — economies of scale — where the company can combine people, technology, infrastructure, share data pools, make better use of a single sales staff able to sell packages on either or both platforms, etc. Combining/streamlining duplicative departments (marketing, human resources, administrative) makes sense and only a fool would think that a certain number of jobs will not be lost at one or both companies.

Besides lower operating costs, less choice in portals could lead to higher prices for agents. Especially if the two sites physically become one, agents will have less choices for online marketin. Realtor.com is such a distant third place that it doesn’t even rank in my marketing matrix right now. So if Realtor.com remains ineffective for me, that leads me to spend the bulk of my money online at Zillow and Trulia. And if they become one they’ll practically have a monopoly on the market, and the ability to increase prices as high as the market will bear.

Where I see this as especially problematic becomes in the large firm vs. small firm. Larger firms with lots of listings and/or agents may be able to negotiate better deals than small firms, which may be priced out of the market. Large firms may be able to buy zip codes or cities because of their larger budgets, while smaller boutique firms won’t be able to spend those kinds of dollars. Less choice, higher prices – it’s the classic argument against a monopoly.

Zillow’s Plan to World Domination

Another fear amongst brokers is that Zillow is plotting to become a Super Broker, wiping out the rest of us in a giant power move to control the data, the listings, and steal our commissions too. I don’t buy this. Zillow makes money off of agents/brokers. Why would a company that profits from brokers try to wipe brokers out? The logic escapes me. As long as we are willing to pay Zillow to market our agents and help sell our houses, why would they want to be in the brokerage business? I don’t see little Zillow kiosks popping up around the country, “click here” to buy a house and be connected to your own Zillow Agent. It just doesn’t make sense – why would they want to kill the goose that is laying their golden egg?

As I wasted way too much time today reading news sites and lurking on Facebook groups (the tearing of garments and doomsday predictions were quite amusing) I keep coming back to one thought: our industry – the buying and selling of homes – is so much more than a data feed. We’re not going to suck all that data back into the old county courthouse, it’s all online and public record. We’re not going to pull back all our listings and hide them in secret MLS books branded with the words “$300 fine for use by non MLS participant” across the front. It’s out there. Too late.

It’s Not Just Data – It’s Relationships

The statistics, the photos, the MLS data, all of that is one component of our business. We are so much more important to the process than that. Buyers don’t need us to put them in a car and drive them to houses using a printed MLS book as our guide. They can find their own dream houses online at midnight. They still need us – to get inside, to show them comparables to justify an offer, to help guide them through financing, inspections, and more. Sellers need us to set an asking price, market the house, prequalify buyers, negotiate like a pro and more to get them to the desired result.

Our value proposition has shifted to their guide throughout the process. We need to prove our value by giving customers and clients the highest level of customer service. Return calls. Provide information. Educate. Communicate. Build your relationship during the transaction and nurture it afterward. Connect. The real estate agent is still the center of the transaction. We won’t be eliminated by this power play.

Erica Ramus is the Broker/Owner of Ramus Realty Group in Pottsville, PA. She also teaches real estate licensing courses at Penn State Schuylkill and is extremely active in her community, especially the Rotary Club of Pottsville and the Schuylkill Chamber of Commerce. Her background is writing, marketing and publishing, and she is the founder of Schuylkill Living Magazine, the area's regional publication. She lives near Pottsville with her husband and two teenage sons, and an occasional exchange student passing thru who needs a place to stay.

Op/Ed

How can you prevent deepfakes trickery?

(EDITORIAL) It’s hard enough to get a complete story about anything, but the use of deepfakes makes that process harder. How can you prevent from being tricked?

Published

on

facial recognition deepfakes

Deepfakes are some the latest content entering social media and digital news outlets. Deepfakes are false photos and videos created by artificial intelligence, that at first glance, can pass off as authentic imagery.

Deepfake content appears as a person in a real picture or video that is replaced by someone else’s appearance. The deepfake can then go on to pose as the real person doing or saying things that never happened. As one can imagine, it’s possible the Internet can take one joke too far and unleash a deepfake with insidious motives.

So what are some ways to spot one of these fake videos? One of the telltale signs is the mismatched lighting or discoloration on the person’s face. Another tip is to check for blurring edges around the lips, jawline, chin, and neck where the AI is trying to superimpose the fake image atop the real one. Lip-synching can be tricky, but it helps to watch and listen to how the audio is matching up.

To some, these tips may be pretty obvious, but not everyone is familiar with editing techniques and deepfakes can pop up many places online. As of now there are no reliable programs available to catch these inconsistencies so it’s up to us to pay attention to the media we consume (the zoom tool is a BFF). With AI and software development, this fake content will only become more convincing. Fortunately, companies and even states are taking action to ban deepfakes online.

Some companies are tiptoeing the line of normalizing this kind of technology, and many people seem to be fine with that, so long as it’s for a laugh. The problem with laughing at something that looks real, but is fake, is that that can conversely cause someone to minimize something that is real because the viewer thinks it’s fake. This mentality helps no one, and can only hurt our understanding of the events that happen around us.

Ultimately, and for now, viewers should keep our heads up while online to spot the seams in our reality.

Continue Reading

Op/Ed

Reminisce on the joy of learning in these uncertain times

(EDITORIAL) Many have had to learn new ways of doing their jobs recently and while it can be frustrating, there can also be a lot of joy in adding to your skillset

Published

on

learning on the job

There are so many different types of learning in so many stages of life. Some we may not quite remember like learning how to walk in a time in our life that we didn’t even consider giving up. We have other capabilities that still seem clear as day like learning to swim and after several lessons you beg the lifeguard to watch you swim an entire lap across the pool so you could go on the diving board. There was also that time the training wheels came off and Grandma finally let go of the back of the banana seat on your pink bike with white wheels and you were on your first bike ride.

There are easy lessons and some really hard ones. No doubt, there were school subjects that lit us up inside and others that we dreaded – all the while feeling like we were alone and no one else quite knew what we were going through. As an adult, there have been lessons that have to be learned over and over again.

If you went to college and can think back to your senior year, do you remember wondering how you were going to demonstrate you had the skills necessary for someone to hire you and pay you for work? Did you worry that you didn’t really know all the ins and outs and how could you share in an interview that you were the perfect candidate?

Now fast forward ten years or so and hopefully you can stand really proud on all the things you have learned while being in the workforce or a business owner. It seems fair to assume you are familiar with a new software program. You likely have found ways to please customers and/or communicate with your team or boss. In this time, you probably are PC and Mac Proficient as well as now you can lead a webinar on Zoom like the next guy.

Joyful learning is a precious gift in times of boom or bust. As adults and professionals we make too little use of it. While the joy is a worthwhile end in its own right, joyful learning can also be used to ignite individual careers and collective productivity. Sparking learning joy, earning flexibly, and contributing productively are timelessly valuable pursuits, and are being felt especially acutely now.”

This is great advice from the article “The Simple Joy of Learning on the Job” from the Harvard Business Review and there is no better time to really challenge our personal efforts on creating joy at work than in the current climate. There is a lot out of our control but something that we can consider – what would bring us more joy in the daily grind?

Ideas:

  • Make sure everyone in your meetings knows how to create a virtual background on Zoom (because those are way more entertaining than you would ever expect).
  • Give yourself a chance maybe once per week to watch a TedTalk on a creative process around art, film, music, entertainment (or any industry that you go to for comfort).
  • Log in and click around to see if there is anything you want to learn more about on LinkedIn Learning, Udemy or Dabble.
  • Try to attend at least one webinar every six months from the professional organization you are in and have on your LinkedIn profile but honestly just haven’t made the time for it.
  • Consider taking Adobe up on their offer for two months free of Creative Cloud.
  • If you’ve had entrepreneurial desires, is now a time to ask a family or friend if you can help them with anything as they may be shifting their business to include more (or all) virtual offerings?
  • Consider ways to cheer up colleagues by themed dress code for meetings (Hat Day, Team Sports sweatshirt, Halloween costume day) or consider starting/ending meeting with music.

This article is not meant to imply that everyone needs to learn a new coding language or how to pull insights on big data (albeit those things may interest you too). The idea here is to find our joy again and bring it in to our new workspaces which for some of us, that means at home.

If you feel you may have lost your sense of joy, this Design Your Life Workbook has really user-friendly design thinking prompts to help you journal and think through what brings you joy – or even remind you what were things that brought you joy that didn’t necessarily equate to work. It was created for a Career Exploration class at Stanford. The authors also just published this book: Designing Your Work Life: How to Thrive and Change and Find Happiness at Work.

Continue Reading

Op/Ed

You lost a rockstar employee – don’t lose the band too

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Bands lose lead singers all the time, and sometimes are the better for it. Your business can rally too in the wake of losing a star employee.

Published

on

Smiling rockstar employee accepting paper from off screen.

Turnover is one of the largest expenses a business may have to prepare for; a study by Employee Benefits News estimates that the dollar amount is equivalent to a third of an employee’s annual salary. Indirect costs arrive alongside this, which can include the loss of employee knowledge and added expenses to invest in searching for a replacement. The recruitment process can be lengthy and has many steps and phases, and hiring may require paying bonuses, higher salaries, or providing additional benefits.

As many as 40% of employees quit in their first year, and when all is said and done, it might be 50-70% of that employee’s salary might suddenly be lost.

This can present a large problem if a top performing and well liked employee – what some recruiters might call a rockstar employee – leaves. Under the worst scenarios, it can cause a domino effect; remaining employees might begin to question why that person chose to make their exit, and this may manifest as a series of departures. From a management standpoint, this is catastrophic, and can lead to missed deadlines, an increased burden on the remaining staff, and generally result in less quality output.

Contingency plans should be in place to help mitigate this situation, and all companies should – at some point – consider what their best options are to stop a destructive downward spiral. Jokingly – if a little morbid – this is sometimes referred to as the bus factor, which literally confronts this question by asking what happens if ____ were hit by a bus tomorrow? After all, if your critically vital employee suddenly could not show up again – literally never again – what can you do to prevent cascading effects?

Let’s consider the best things to do in this situation in order to prevent insert-your-favorite-natural-disaster-term-here when you suddenly learn your unicorn is on their way out.

Ask Questions and Listen

First and foremost, it’s best to ask the rockstar employee why they are leaving and make a sincere effort to understand their decision. The benefits of exit interviewing are known and can help immensely in this area. Even under the best circumstances and with an employee leaving without any negative reasons, there is likely still something they’d like to see improved, and this can be applied to those who remain.

Speaking of those remaining employees, it’s best to talk with them as well. Be transparent and genuine – ask about current moods and morale, get their perspective on the situation, and how they think it might affect their work moving forward. If the exiting employee did give any advice about improving the work environment, you can inject this into these follow-on conversations to see if others share that opinion, and then use those overlapping patterns to understand what to do immediately.

Surveys can be sent out as well, and this might provide a quick response and some metrics to go on. This should be used in conjunction with interviews and one-on-one conversations. During these engagements, listen intently, acknowledge any issues that may have been uncovered, and explain that you are committed to ensuring a smooth transition and will proactively address any problems that have been revealed.

Futureproofing

Reassure employees that their work is meaningful and recognized as vital and important, and commit to finding a replacement in order to prevent concerns that an increased workload will remain in place for an extended period of time. This will require taking introspective looks into the current workplace and its metrics, and then channeling these into efforts outwardly. In other words, the future is still bright, and all the brighter with their contributions.

It’s likely that employees may start to look at their work pessimistically – “Why should I stay if what we’re doing couldn’t keep ___ here?” This is why management must act quickly to assess the situation and provide direct answers. Explain that goals are still attainable and emphasize each employee’s importance.

Happiness

Perhaps the most abstract – yet arguably most significant – thing to worry about is the overall happiness of employees, and how to best continue this in an upward trajectory. There are plenty of ways to do this, with many revolving around frequent check-ins, seeking out ways to improve skillsets through education, and providing – if possible – promotions now that voids exist. After all, if there is an open opportunity within the organization, it will likely bolster the entire team to see someone move into a new position (and provide inspiration).

Engagement is key. There is no substitute for this – employees want to be heard, want to know they matter, and will respond to such efforts positively. In addition to the strategies above, it might be a good time to consider morale boosting events while redoubling efforts to improve the workplace.

Conclusion

Focusing on what to do now with plans in place will help provide a solid head start. Engage and speak with (not just to) employees, understand their concerns, and actively respond to anything that repeatedly emerges from such conversations. Reassure by shifting focus toward the future of the company, and maintain employee happiness by being transparent and considering ways to reorganize hierarchy through promotions.

When a favorite employee leaves, there’s always going to be a rippling effect throughout the office. Turnover cannot be fully avoided, but there are several ways to cushion the blow and continue to move forward in an efficient, agile manner.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Our Partners

Get The Daily Intel
in your inbox

Subscribe and get news and EXCLUSIVE content to your email inbox!

Still Trending

Get The American Genius
in your inbox

subscribe and get news and exclusive content to your email inbox