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NJ real estate team to ask clients to sign “Zillow Disclosure” form due to ongoing inaccuracies

With data inaccuracies lingering in the real estate industry, regardless of the source, one brokerage is taking action to help consumers better understand the chain of data.

zillow disclaimer

Real estate syndication should be a science, but with all of the pipes and tubes and chutes and ladders every listing goes through before being presented to the public, inaccuracies remain, whether the problem lies with the real estate search site, how the brand set up their feeds in ListHub, or how the data is syndicated. Zillow has long been the target of criticism for this inaccuracy problem, and others have weighed in saying that Trulia (now owned by Zillow) has similar issues (although less frequently). They’ve been working for years to fine tune the process, and it is admittedly better than just a few short years ago, but problems remain in the chain of data.

Anyone in the field knows that whether they’re the listing agent or a buyer’s agent, they’re the ones that get the angry phone calls about homes that are shown as on the market that have really been off-market for months, and vice versa.

The Baldwin Dream Team at Keller Williams NJ Metro Group in Montclair NJ ($45M in volume in 2014) has decided to do more than just complain online about it, rather, they’re working on a disclosure for their clients to sign addressing this very problem of data inaccuracy.

About the potential “Zillow Disclosures” form

In the Closed Facebook Group, Lab Coat Agents, Nick Baldwin at the aforementioned brokerage posted:

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“This is the second time in 30 days when this listing of mine has appeared “off market” when it is very much “ON market.” Zillow does not know what is causing this, so it takes them upwards of a week to fix. So, due to instances like this (and a few others) my team is now having our sellers sign “Zillow Disclosures.” This disclosure will say, in a nut shell, that The Baldwin Dream Team at Keller Williams Realty cannot be held responsible for how Zillow displays the listing on their site. After we upload the listing to our MLS, seller approves or suggests changes, then we are not liable for what Zillow decides to do with it.”

Is this the answer?

Some practitioners felt that the potential disclaimer should cover all real estate search sites, or that it could be a simple addition to existing forms so that clients don’t have to sign even more papers. But overall, the reaction from practitioners was positive.

In the Facebook group, Nick Baldwin was clear that this was not a Zillow rant, and Zillow Industry Outreach Director, Jay Thompson addressed the specific listing used as an example and said, “I can assure you there’s 2,000+ employees at Zillow that do care and are concerned. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t care, and they didn’t care.”

Zillow’s efforts have room for improvement

“On a regular basis lately, we’re receiving all sorts of missives from Zillow about all their advances,” Roberta Baldwin, Team Leader at The Baldwin Dream Team notes. “While I’m grateful for the leads through the Premier Agent conduit, which I pay for, as I do on Trulia, it doesn’t make me feel special at all when I spend a Saturday night trying to hand upload a listing that should be there, as I did this weekend, while on vacation. Or worry on a Sunday that the public open house tag we uploaded hasn’t shown up in timely fashion.”

She points to a recent email to agents from Zillow CRO Greg Schwartz wherein he states, “Our coverage of active listings is the strongest we’ve ever had and continues to grow. More MLS listings means faster price and status updates and more complete coverage for your advertising efforts.”

The email is described by Baldwin as “premature, given the daily issues we all seem to be having.”

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How did the “Zillow Disclosure” come to be?

Roberta Baldwin tells us, “We’ve been instructing our sellers for some time to allow these portals time to position their new listings, but when it runs to several days without satisfaction, no seller wants to feel his property is the only one that’s not up and running and correctly positioned. Savvy sellers also don’t understand why they have to wait for uploads and they don’t want to erroneous information pulled from sources out of our control. For instance, right now, Zillow programs a multi-family home listing as an “Apartment for Sale.” We have a seller who is livid about this – he doesn’t understand it because he has a 2-unit building for sale, not an apartment (which conjures up a condo) – and so we’ve spent a good deal of time discussing this with Zillow but have been told there’s nothing they can do, their programmers are working on it, they don’t know when it will change, etc.”

She adds, “Another example is a luxury home we had recently where the listing and photos came up in disarray and weren’t corrected until after the house sold! Today, alone, I already noticed a listing that suddenly came up as active with no photos but is actually under contract, another with the old price that we changed days ago. Keeps us on our toes!”

Therefore, they decided this week to prepare a disclaimer which is still in the works and expected to be completed next week, which states that “when Zillow and Trulia upload listings, make corrections and process open houses is out of [The Baldwin Dream Team’s] control, although we will work with these portals to make sure the listings are there online, complete and accurate.”

Will other brokers follow suit?

Roberta Baldwin notes that the wording is being run past a lawyer, and that their intent is not to libel any company, just to “just to create a discussion point of importance to sellers in a way that sticks with them.”

“Just mentioning syndication problems in conversation doesn’t have the impact, we’ve found,” she expounds. “We always want the best for our sellers – that, in fact, is out biggest motivator – and to protect them from worry that we aren’t doing our job, that their listing is not being taken seriously, because that is usually their instant concern.”

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The idea has “hit a nerve,” Roberta Baldwin said. “It has definitely hit a nerve. Any agent focusing on listings is bound to find massive discrepancies in the syndication upload process, so we think this could catch on and perhaps could act as a catalyst for Zillow and Trulia corporate and, of course, their programmers, to really look at the impact on busy Realtors.”

She opines that agents with the most business are apt to be the most understanding. “Spending hours a week tracking down listings, monitoring their whereabouts day to day, trying to claim listings that are, in fact, our own and are branded as such by our MLS, is tedious, time-consuming, and costly. I hear new agents in our office express wonder that their first listings are missing. Many of them are incredibly savvy about marketing and just don’t get why this should be happening.”

What practitioners should know about this move

“Protecting the integrity of our business is paramount,” concludes Roberta Baldwin. “There is nothing we do when we list a home that is intentionally arbitrary. So when the listings become impossible to track on these portals, when we get different opinions on how to upload these listings – whether we should wait til [sic] they appear or hand upload, whether to use Postlets or not to use Postlets – when we question why some listings simply don’t register with their systems in timely fashion or when we get the old, fuzzy version of a listing from 3 years ago, or even the “for sale by owner” version with a horrible stamp across the photos – it’s hard to accept when we’ve done everything right from our end. And when Zillow and Trulia service departments then send us canned directions back in response to real problems we have that we are asking them to fix, as if we’ve never had any experience with their systems before, and when we need fast and accurate help – it is really upsetting to us as well as to our sellers.”

It’s not all doom and gloom, however, as she clarifies, “I will say that we have very nice, helpful service people over at Zillow and Trulia who have done what they can when we are truly desperate. That does help, but doesn’t alleviate root causes of the glitches we face.”

#ZillowDisclosure

UPDATE: video chat on the topic

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Lani is the COO and News Director at The American Genius, has co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH, Austin Digital Jobs, Remote Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

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