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Op/Ed

Zillow’s new role in the industry strikes a nerve (and how they may be overthrown)

As the real estate tech sector shifts with acquisitions, tensions rise with boots on the ground, and Zillow’s new role strikes a chord.

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willow agent events

Zillow recently hosted its Premier Agent event – three days of learning, collaborating, and partnering, basically to find out how to best leverage the Zillow platform to an agent’s, team’s, or broker/brokerage’s advantage. It’s an invitation-only event though, evidently limited to the deep pockets of highly successful Premier Agents – makes sense, because it is those agents who primarily pay the big dollars to Zillow for advertising and for the option of being a Premier Agent.

Emotions ran high in a private Facebook group recently, wherein someone posted about the event, and then used the bully pulpit to extol Zillow’s virtues while demeaning agents and calling the famed Seattle Bubble a “gadfly blog site.”

Seattle Bubble founder, Tim Ellis responded to my query on the topic, stating, “I don’t really care one way or another whether some random agent thinks Seattle Bubble is a ‘gadfly blog site,'” adding that his goal with the site is “to be a valuable resource for educating home buyers and sellers, providing sound advice and analysis regardless of the current market conditions.”

Part of the surprise at acceptance of Zillow’s evidently new role in the real estate space is that when Yahoo, AOL, even Trulia (who, early on, engaged agents to sell their premier offering to other agents within their brokerage and even geographic area if needed) attempted to become agent trainers and providers of information, mocking by the industry at large took place. How could a non-agent train an agent? It was practically heretical behavior.

Is a Premier Agent more trained or qualified?

Let’s take a look at what a Premier Agent is. What qualifications does a PA have? Are they trained more than the other agents? Longer time in the business? An immediate contributor to Zillow in an administrative, content or training way?

Premier Agents are Advertisers on the Zillow site – they pay for the privilege of being a PA, and for a web site, a mobile site where tools exist, so the agent can upload client information into a CRM.

Can Zillow see the information passed to a CRM?

What? Upload information? It remains to be seen if Zillow can “see” or retain consumer information within their provided CRM or any other data. Where is this data held? Are consumers at all interested in security of their personal/private information?

If the agent puts a client name in the CRM, does Zillow match that client’s online (Zillow) activity with the CRM and pull in client interests or concerns to which the agent may express a fulfillment of the interest or a solution to the concern? Drilling down to client satisfaction criteria is nothing new, but are clients aware? Are agents aware?

Back to the Premier Agent barrier to entry

Ok. So the barrier to entry to be a Premier Agent is low. Very low. No special training, no requirement to be a REALTOR, no extra classes, no quizzing on ethics… very low. Under $100 – except that advertising is expected to take place.

Another site noted that agents have increased their monthly spend, on average, to upwards of $280/month. Yet, only a few chosen agents were invited to the upcoming event. An elite group who are likely the biggest advertisers who will note that their sales have come from Zillow leads and exclaim about the high return on investment. Deep pockets mean something, because Zillow, having changed their agent ad buy strategy, has eyes at least as big as it’s tummy.

Out of the 50+ agent per day from about March 2013 through August 2014, how many were invited to this fete? I don’t know. The Premier Agents who signed up, stayed on, and spent (literally) thousands on advertising are evidently doing well. The others? Some have stayed, others have gotten fed up after signing up, and left. Those figures are not published as far as I can see.

The timing of this grand event

Zillow is often touted as an “information and entertainment” site. Keep in mind the timing of this event is on the cusp of finishing up a big marketing-to-agents campaign by Zillow, right about the same time that News Corp purchased Move, Inc., and the same time frame that some NAR members toil over whether or not the Realtor.com operating agreement with NAR should be broken (which NAR CEO, Dale Stinton addresses in an exclusive interview with Realuoso).

Is there any reason why Corelogic.com or HGTV, both of whom operate at different ends of the spectrum, could not formulate their own Zillow-esque scenario where giant CoreLogic.com (a property valuation company that holds the largest amount of real estate data outside of listings in the US) could even purchase or partner with HGTV and have all the eyeballs in the world on its primary site and TV and Netflix and…

OK… and Zillow’s Digs plus their video ad offering to agents is on… the… Zillow site only.

Too big to fail, or too big to flail?

Too big to fail? Or to big to flail? Look out world. Zillow may be looking over its shoulder because the innovators are not going to stop at a single-site venture. There’s a lot of creativity in multimedia going on. The real estate industry won’t implode, it will explode with additional features and offerings to agents and consumers.

Landis is involved in consulting for and sales of residential and commercial real estate. Landis is also working on obtaining her Ohio real estate broker license. College educated with a business, sales and performing arts background, Landis brings a well rounded world view to her real estate practice.

Op/Ed

Tips to become one of those people who is good with their money

(EDITORIAL) In real estate, it’s difficult to anticipate which years will be the busy ones and which will be eerily empty. So how do you manage money?

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money for transactions

I’m a firm believer in making mistakes. Specifically, the all-out, crash-and-burn kind. You know those people who say “own it” – yeah, that’s definitely me. That’s the sort of high-risk, high-reward mentality that leads to really thrilling moments onstage and in life. And when the reward is that intense, so is the loss. It’s the same with money.

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My formal background is as a professional opera singer. The level of training for a full-time career in the field includes Olympic-level physical, emotional, and intellectual training. Opera singers don’t use microphones, which means they must use their bodies in a perfect, practiced physiological balance to become a human megaphone.

They learn several languages, with enough facility to jump into rehearsals with colleagues who are relative strangers, singing about passionate love, and infuriating politics while maintaining that physical balance in a foreign tongue.

Unlike the Olympics, regular opera singers don’t get endorsement deals. (Okay, famous tenor Plácido Domingo is sponsored by Rolex, but that’s a particularly singular example.) So despite its extreme training, opera is a medium that requires its artists to manage themselves as freelancers. Freelancers and be-your-own-boss types, I know you feel me:

It’s difficult to anticipate which years will be the busy ones and which will be eerily empty.

Preparing for financial uncertainty

So how do you manage finances with so much up and down?

Invest time instead of money. I rethink how I’m approaching my everyday needs. I’m talking about what methods of transportation I use and how often; I’m talking about regular doctor’s visits or self-care; I’m talking about any payments that you owe regularly. Is there any way to reassess seemingly non-negotiable expenses? Can you refinance a mortgage? Can you drop the gym altogether and commit to really learning and developing an exercise routine? Find something convenient you can replace with a free education; the Internet is an insanely abundant resource and should be milked for information.

Develop multiple interests and invest in them. I am a professional singer, but I also love to cook and am serious about it. I write frequently and across a wide spectrum of interests. I read avidly. When you invest in other ideas and interests, you make yourself a more powerful candidate for the workforce, and you give yourself more ability to seize opportunities. Who knows – you might find yourself pivoting careers.

Design a financial contingency plan before you need it (but go broke at least once). Do you have a place to crash if you can’t afford your own place? How much money do you really need to get through the month? How far can you stretch $50? If you can’t define your limits, you’ll never be able to develop a plan with thoughtful security.

What’s life without risk?

The freelancers who truly succeed are the ones who failed. It’s that Oscar Wilde quote, right? “Experience is merely the name men give to their mistakes.” And so have I before, and so will I again. The only way forward is up. I’m going to take my experience along with me for the next chapter. I hope mine will help color yours a little, even if with a passing thought. Dare to lose it all — and see where it leads.

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Op/Ed

Tips to combat lack of participation in virtual meetings or online events

(EDITORIAL) Even after the pandemic, virtual meetings and online events have no end in sight. But how do we get people to participate?

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Online conference call on skype, without Meet Cam widgets.

Online meetings are here to stay and increasing participation is key to making them fun and inviting for everyone involved. Those little icons of our faces and initials showcasing the fact that cameras are off-strike dread in the heart of the presenter. Or even worse, the camera-on view of the ceiling fan or mic-on sound of the smoke detector that needs a new battery.

Instead of leaving the success of an online meeting to chance, presenters can help make their meetings more fun for everyone with a few easy practices.

Send out an agenda with meeting expectations early. If attendees know the time investment, expectations, and what will be covered, it’s easier for them to be involved. Do you want cameras on? Share that. Be specific with what that means. If you don’t make that expectation clear, be prepared for bookcases instead of people, ceiling fans instead of people, and other distractions. Do you know specific questions you will be asking? Include those in the agenda so people can be thinking about them ahead of time. Often people don’t talk because they don’t understand what you want them to say or they’re not sure you really want them to participate.

Ask participants to help create the agenda ahead of time. What questions do they want answered? What do they need from you?

Let people know you will be asking questions regularly and answers are appreciated either on the mic or in the chat. If you can, include when you will be taking questions or opening up for conversation in the agenda. The chat feature can run seamlessly throughout the meeting. Allowing and encouraging the use of the chat feature regularly increases participation and leads to a more conversational feel for the session. If you can have a co-facilitator who can answer questions on the chat so they don’t get lost, that helps. If you don’t have one, consider asking an attendee to watch to help make sure questions are answered throughout the meeting.

Break the meeting up into sections. Don’t throw all the information out at once. Instead, make sure you pause regularly for feedback and questions and answers. If the group is large consider breakout rooms where smaller groups can answer questions, work through agenda items or participate in roundtable discussions, then come back to the large group with their ideas and answers.

Know your end destination. What’s the purpose of the meeting? What do you want or need to accomplish? Make sure everyone involved knows what that is and why. That helps keep everyone focused.

Set a time limit for responses if needed.

Be prepared. It’s even more important to be prepared for your online meeting than in-person meetings where you have multiple resources at hand and the energy of the crowd to bounce off of.

If these online meetings are a regular occurrence, consider adding a fun element like bringing your pet or plant to the meeting day. If it’s a brainstorming session, consider creativity ice breakers. And again make sure attendees know the expectations.

Use the poll feature to help encourage participation. Then follow up with participants to go deeper with those answers.

Instead of asking are there any questions at the end, ask everyone to either tell at least two things they learned or share two things they still have questions about. Again utilize the chat feature here. Some people are more comfortable chatting than speaking on the mic.

Consider offering prizes and give-aways to those participating. It’s not always necessary, but it’s fun when you can.

If you can, run the meetings live instead of recorded presentations with the leader in front of a slideshow. The sit and get PowerPoint and speaker presentation leads to bored participants who aren’t invested in the content. However, if that’s not possible, make sure you have a real-time chat session available for participants who are watching and make sure your slides are light on text. That chat session can change “sit and get” boredom to excitement, fun, and learning for all.

As always remember the meeting needs to last long enough to cover what’s essential but should be short enough to keep people engaged. Use surveys to gather meaningful feedback throughout the meeting and at the end. You can’t get better without feedback from your participants.

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Op/Ed

Social media addiction is 100% real, but whose responsibility is it?

(EDITORIAL) Social media addiction is not only real, but it is proven to be real. The question is who is to blame for it – the users or the providers?

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Man giving out phone number using his phone representing addiction.

I’m not on Facebook. I don’t have a Twitter account. You won’t find me on Snapchat, Pinterest, or any other social media platform.

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It may seem hard to believe that a Millennial – one who reports at an online news network, no less – would forgo participation in social media entirely. But it’s true. I deleted all of my social media accounts several years ago.

Cold turkey

When I was a Facebook user, I obsessively checked my newsfeed multiple times a day. I thought I was staying connected to friends, entertaining myself, keeping up with the news, and distracting myself from loneliness. Yet, the more I used Facebook, the more anxious and depressed I became.
When I read a study confirming that social media does, in fact, correlate with a host of bad feelings, I took a daring leap and left the platform, never to return. My life improved tremendously.Let me repeat that: My life improved. Tremendously.

But choosing to cut oneself off may be a lot more difficult for folks who have a genuine internet addiction.

While the American Psychological Association has yet to acknowledge addiction to the internet or to social media as an official disorder, they have published literature describing some of the negative effects of spending too much time online, and have acknowledged Internet gaming disorder in patients who spend so much time gaming that it affects their ability to work, go to school, or maintain healthy relationships.

Addiction wears many hats

Addressing addiction to popular (and profitable) products takes time. Undoubtedly, people were suffering from emphysema long before science proved that cigarettes were unhealthy. Cigarettes used to be ubiquitous; you could smoke in your office, in restaurants, even on public transportation.

It has taken decades of activism to create a culture wherein smoking is confined to designated areas, and where smokers are warned of the health risks by labels on the pack.

These days, folks can be found checking Facebook on their smartphones in all of the same public places where smoking used to be the norm. Nowadays, the idea of someone smoking a cigarette at the dinner table seems pretty gross. Will we one day look back at Internet-enabled devices at the dinner table with the same disgust?

Easier said than done

Cigarettes, truth be told, are far more easily avoided than social media. If you don’t want to be tempted, don’t buy a pack, and don’t go to the smoking patio. However, most of us require internet for our jobs and basic communications, making social media almost unavoidable.

Some jobs even require you to have social media accounts to apply.

So, who is responsible for social media addiction? Are people to be expected to cut themselves off, as I did? Or should the tech companies themselves try to intervene?

Helpful or harmful?

Nir Eyal, author of Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products admits that the strategies he wrote about in his book “intended to help product designers build healthy habits in their users… are the same tactics used by some to keep people un-healthfully hooked.”

Eyal believes that tech companies, who have a wealth of data to keep track of their customers’ usage habits, have a responsibility to help customers who exhibit signs of addiction, offering to limit their hours on the platform or blacklist their credit card. Eyal says that “tech companies owe it to their users simply to reach out and ask if they can be helpful, just as a concerned friend might do.”

Unfortunately, social media is not your concerned friend.

Tech companies have no particular incentive to limit use from addicts, and with just about everyone constantly glued to their smartphones, it will take a larger cultural shift to acknowledge that a smartphone between you and your dinner date is about as sexy as puff of tobacco smoke in your face.

In the meantime, I suggest that addicts take matters into their hands and do what I did: quit cold turkey. Delete your accounts, and never look back.

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