Zillow and Trulia have become the status quo and are ripe for disruption

Broker Notebook

There is a lot of doom and gloom out there about Zillow’s plans to buy Truila, and some anger, too. As a real estate agent, I find it perplexing that Zillow and Trulia’s customers are real estate agents — not homebuyers or sellers.

Real homebuyers and sellers don’t care about you or about your website. They just want to buy or sell a home.

Disruption image via Shutterstock.
Disruption image via Shutterstock.

Buyers will shop on the websites they like best, and sellers will prefer an agent who is a person they know over a pretty face on a website.

Some leaders of the National Association of Realtors say they want us all to become more professional now, because that is the only way we can compete with Zillow. There are real estate companies that want to try to build websites that will compete with the media companies.

As usual, I am just watching the drama play out, not understanding how Zillow or Trulia is taking business away from real estate agents, and not understanding how websites that cannot survive without a constant influx of agent dollars would win if they were to compete with their own customer base.

None of the third-party websites is for consumers. They are for-profit businesses, just like real estate companies and agents. They are not more “consumer-centric” than real estate agents.

Real estate agents are in control of the real estate industry. We control it with our money, and anyone who can get into our wallets has power in the industry. We pay for the advertising and the websites, the signs and lockboxes, and the multiple listing services.

Zillow and Trulia were once perceived as industry disruptors. Now they are very much part of the mainstream real estate industry -- even the status quo."

We are responsible for all of the data that is collected. If we stop buying from a company or we stop needing a service, it quickly vanishes.

Some Realtors would like to see NAR do more to compete with Zillow and Trulia. If we have to pay for it, I think we would be better off if NAR did less.

NAR is a huge organization that moves very slowly, much like the government agency I used to work for. By the time they get the committee together and build or buy the technology, the technology is obsolete. Why not just sit back and let the media companies provide the eye candy for consumers?

We need to abandon the 1990s idea that if we control the data consumers will come to us. As agents we provide services that cannot be replaced by the Internet or duplicated by it. We know how to make sense out of the data, which is a higher skill than simply providing data.

Being a real estate agent doesn’t have to be about lead capture. It can be about building relationships, online or off, and attracting business.

This is the information age. Do we really care where consumers shop for homes? Do we really care if third-party websites have accurate data on them? Isn’t data just “lead” bait?

The real estate industry isn’t like the travel industry, and buying a home isn’t like buying a cup of coffee or an electronic book.

We can imitate Starbucks, but I don’t think that is what today’s homebuyer is looking for. What they are looking for is a knowledgeable and experienced person who can guide them through the homebuying process. They are looking for a service from an experienced and educated professional.

For more than 10 years, we’ve been hearing that the Internet is going to replace real estate agents. In fact, the Internet has helped us work with more clients and make more money in less time than ever before.

Zillow and Trulia are not competitors, they are websites — and nothing more. They cannot provide the services of a real estate agent. They cannot provide the kind of personalized, highly tailored services I can provide.

Zillow and Trulia were once perceived as industry disruptors. Now they are very much part of the mainstream real estate industry — even the status quo.

I can’t help but wonder what is going to come along that is going to absorb or divert the agent dollars that are going to ZTR. The next big thing will be something that is outside of the lead capture box.

Teresa Boardman is a broker in St. Paul, Minn., and founder of the St. Paul Real Estate blog.


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