Good grief. You would think that something big happened, given the way everyone in the online agent community is freaking out. The cries range from "Mean people will game the system!" to "It’s a game-changer!"
What’s all the fuss?
Last week, Zillow announced the introduction of agent ratings on its site, and once again the company threw down the welcome mat for the real estate community. And it seems that for every agent assuming the crash position, there are several others who can’t beat a path to Zillow’s door fast enough — with their clients in tow.
Now, consumers can publish reviews of agents on Zillow.com. So what? This is nothing new; it’s just new to Zillow. Our clients rate us every day and have been doing it for years.
They used to serve up the ratings at the supermarket or the block parties, of course, but that was before the birth of the mouse and social media. Now, they dish online.
There is no stopping this trend of social search, so there is no point in fretting about what someone might or might not say. Eventually, somewhere, say it they will.
Heck, I even added a tab to my own blog a few months ago inviting my company’s clients to post their evaluations (gasp) online.
This transparency stuff can be a little daunting, but I vowed at the outset to never moderate a comment about our services unless it was disingenuous (like, not from a client).
The amazing thing is that, to date, no one has even attempted to lie or otherwise tell half-truths. That day will come ("Kris supports terrorism and told Sherman Gregory back in 1978 that her grandmother died — to get out of going on a date with him").
But for now, it is a little unmanned page powered by the honor system. The reality is that most people aren’t inherently ornery, even though some weeks it seems that way.
But, here’s the thing. The news this week, despite the healthy online debate and the perception among those debating, is not about agent ratings. And it’s not about creating, designing, or building something new or better that satisfies a real need or even a latent demand.
It’s about advertising. More specifically, what it’s really about is the ability to achieve critical mass, that all-important quorum where the "eyes" have it.
Zillow, I’m betting, didn’t introduce agent ratings because the public demanded it, nor did the company do it to make all of its agent clients happy by showcasing their remarkable talents. The company did it to attract eyes, and dispatched the agents to go fetch those eyes.
If that doesn’t make sense, let me tell you about a little scheme I have been cooking up. You see, I have been a working real estate agent — and a damn good one, I might add — for more than a dozen years, but Google has yet to make a play for me.
And dream as I might, there is no IPO in sight, which leaves me with my day job. All of this got me thinking that I have been screaming into the wrong end of the bullhorn for too long.
When I do the work — when I represent a seller or buyer in their real estate transaction — there is just one of me. And, as awesomely awesome as I am, my one-girl show has constraints (time, money and a litter box to clean out, to name a few).
It’s oh-so limiting, but there is a veritable unlimited upside potential if I can just corral all of the little me’s into one big dining hall of opportunity.
These were the things that I pondered as I squeezed in a run this morning, a bit of healthy "me" time designed to offset yesterdays No. 3 Mexican food combo plate, and wedged in between a morning spent catching up on files and an afternoon booked with showings and a walk-through.
I’m going to call it DinnerzOn.com.
Here’s the plan. I will be throwing a potluck dinner, but it will be a potluck with a twist (because, duh, you can’t be an innovator if you don’t have a twist).
You bring me food. You buy the ingredients, you add them to the pot, you simmer and stir, and you cook it to brilliant perfection. Then, you bring it to my house.
So far, it sounds like the typical potluck. But, here is the differentiation. You don’t get to eat — well, not at first, and certainly not for free. Just drop the macaroni surprise at the door, and I will invite all of the neighbors over.
I’ll only draw a small crowd at first, but eventually they will start to tell their friends ("Free food!"), and pretty soon everyone will be clamoring to get a piece of the pie.
What’s in it for you? Well, initially, not much, but this could just be the next big thing, and you can’t risk it. There are a lot of cooks in the kitchen. Sally’s an early adopter; she’s already sent over her casseroles, and you, too, need to be dishing it up where the hungry folks are.
As a small token of my gratitude, I will display a little tent card below your offering. "Jambalaya presented by Jim’s Realty." It’s free advertising. What have you got to lose? Just bring food.
As our, or rather "my," popularity grows, you will be rewarded, because we’re partners, after all. I’ll be hanging a banner or two at the entry, a couple in the dining hall, and several more near every food group.
You will have the opportunity to buy or bid on these to promote your own culinary skills. Granted, more people are interested in the main dish than the vegetables, so getting your name next to the steak Diane will cost you a bit more.
There will be contests to promote you. Send all of your friends over to vote for the best meatloaf in Miami, and I will give you a badge to display on your apron — "Follow me to Kris’s house!" And I will link to you in my blog.
While you can’t eat for free, you are most certainly welcome at the party. Seriously, you would be foolish not to come. People will have questions, and they want their questions answered by an expert. You can be that expert!
"Will my water burn if I boil it too long, and where can I find more free food?" they will ask. If you aren’t around to answer, some other wannabe sous chef will be, and you might find that no one is coming ’round to your table any more. Just sayin’.
Finally, there will be the rating system. You know in your heart that your tortilla chicken casserole kicks ass, and maybe a couple of your friends kind of liked it. But Margaret, three ZIP codes removed, invited all of her friends to rate her own make-ahead peasant stew, which is generating quite the buzz.
Show up and bring those friends of yours; we’ll pin a note to your collar and let the consumer be the judge. "Best plating, biggest portions, most satisfying" — they will all vote. But remember, you’ve got to come; no one wins as a write-in.
You like to cook. I have access to lots of people who like to eat. It’s a win-win. And while you are home busting your butt to fry the bacon, or even back at my house fielding questions about safe food-handling practices, I will be on the network news, the go-to guy talking about my spreadsheets that suggest the imminent collapse of the soufflé and the consumer’s tendency to overindulge.
Crazy as my plan sounds, it could work. In fact, it has been proven to work. It just takes vision, intense effort and coordination, and a whole lot of capitalization.
But make no mistake; it’s not about feeding hungry people or even about helping you become a better cook. It is about creating value that will ultimately allow me to levy a very profitable cover charge.
Too often, I find myself going by the alias of Miss Understood, so I want to be clear. I am neither vilifying Zillow nor am I defending the company. On this issue, call me Switzerland. The fact is that, unlike my potluck idea that will always be just that — an idea — Zillow did it. The company created value, and did it with our permission. For this, I give Zillow props.
Phoenix broker Jay Thompson summed it up quite nicely on his blog: "Don’t want to be reviewed on Zillow? The solution is simple: Don’t create an agent profile there (or delete the one you already have). No profile, no review. Don’t want your listings on Zillow? Don’t send them there.
"Blame your broker for sending them there? Find a new broker. Blame your (multiple listing service)? Opt out of syndication. Don’t want to buy ads on Zillow? Don’t write (Zillow) a check."
He’s right. But, the opponents of the agent reviews are missing the point. I believe it’s not about reviews, any more than the company’s "Advice" tab is about showcasing my expertise or the Zestimate is about really pinning a value on your home.
It’s about eyeballs. That’s my conviction. More eyeballs equals more revenue. That’s it. And like the "Best Blog" contests the company hosted earlier this year, it’s all rather brilliant. "Help us populate our party so we can charge you to come," seems to be the message.
Admire the company for the table it set or not, it needed the agents and we rallied. We couldn’t wait to send our listings in — couldn’t do it fast enough — and then we couldn’t wait to send a check to capture some of that gold dust.
We slapped the links and the widgets on our blogs and websites like the rest of the cool kids while we moaned about being taken advantage of. Now, the flock is dashing off to send all of their clients off to the site once more, while Zillow is no doubt recalculating next year’s rate for my sidebar ad.
And, yes, I have one of those. I bought the banner for my own bean dip. It’s a business decision and, as long as it continues to provide value to me — a return on that investment — I will continue to show up.
Call it our just desserts but, like it or not, the company is doing what it set out to do — find revenue by aggregating the work of our industry. That’s the point, and that’s not really news at all.