Industry NewsNews Brief

Zillow is not the competition

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Competition is good. Bring it on.

If you are a real estate agent and consider Zillow and other third-party sites to be your competitors, you might want to reconsider the types of services you are offering your clients. 

My clients often need support — even hand holding — during the buying and selling process.

They don’t call a website at night because they are having an anxiety attack. It would be nice if they did, but they call me instead.

I don’t feel like my services and those provided by websites are interchangeable, in competition with each other, or hard to tell apart.

Here are some examples of services I provide for my clients that a website cannot:

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1. Properly price a home in the neighborhoods that I know, and predict what the sale price will be and how long the home will take to sell. 

2. Negotiate an offer on a home for sale.

3. Market a home for sale with amazing photography.

4. Use my experience with older homes to help first-time homebuyers figure out what type or style of home they want to buy.

5. The ability to solve unusual and complex problems that arise during real estate transactions.

6. The ability to share firsthand knowledge of the local school system and the unique neighborhoods and sub-neighborhoods that make up the city.

7. In-depth knowledge of Minnesota real estate laws and business practices. Real estate is local.

8. The experience and knowledge needed to correctly use Minnesota real estate contracts and explain them.

9. The ability to write effective advertisements for homes for sale for third party websites.

10. The ability to give a prospective buyer an in-person tour of a home and help purchasing it.

11. Information about all homes including current pricing and availability that is not listed on third-party sites.

12. An understanding of different types of property and property ownership such as condominiums and how they are bought and sold.

Sellers like to turn the selling process over to an expert even though they could just advertise on a website and sell it themselves. Buyers often need more information and advice than they can find online. Younger buyers in particular don’t always believe or trust what they read on the Internet. They see the Internet as one giant advertisement.

Technology has not replaced people yet. I urge all agents to come up with a list of services they provide for buyers and sellers and then take a look at what the Internet has to offer them. Consumers often ask their agent questions about properties that they found on third-party websites, or on the sites of competing brokerages. They work with agents to buy homes that they find on websites.

Some agents don’t see third-party sites as competitors, but as partners. I see them as separate businesses that offer services, but not competing services. We know that the third-party sites get more traffic than real estate company websites, but that is not causing brokerages to have fewer sales.

Agents who are afraid that consumers may confuse them with a website need to do more to distinguish themselves in the marketplace, and avoid wearing clothing that may make them look like a website. I am sure I don’t look like a website, but I don’t want to take any chances. I want consumers to see me for what I am and not mistake me for a website, because I am so much more than that.

Websites are great for viewing homes for sale, but they do not provide much in the way of service and are not a new, competing force in the marketplace. Websites have been around awhile and are here to stay, and they have plenty of competition as they compete with each other for agent dollars and consumer eyeballs.

The ability to find homes on the Internet does not impress anyone these days. Real estate experience and the ability to help buyers find and buy the right home for the best price is a valuable service that the Internet still cannot provide.

I plan to continue providing services to buyers and sellers. My competitors are people who provide the same or similar services.

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

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