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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.

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.

Written By

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.

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