Technology

Why Zillow reminds me of my ex-girlfriend

The portal has its good points ... and its bad points

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I run a boutique real estate firm called TREO Realtors in Cincinnati, Ohio. I get a call or an email about once a week from Zillow trying to upsell me on services and, ultimately, secure a direct listing feed of my listings to its site.

I really like Zillow. For the past several years, I’ve been using the site to host my customer reviews as well as my sales history. I claim my listings on the site and use the statistics in my seller marketing reports. So why would I be so hesitant to sign off on a direct feed?

The best way to explain it is this: Zillow reminds me of an ex-girlfriend. Specifically, an ex-girlfriend I dated in 2001 who my friends and family thought was a psycho. Let’s refer to her as “Mary” (even though her real name is Jennifer).

My relationship with Mary was complicated, and I learned a lot about myself and relationships during the six months we spent together. Here are the reasons why Zillow reminds me of her.

Zillow is learning too much about me. When I first met Mary, we spent every day together. She made a great first impression and was the right combination of charming and low maintenance. After a few months into our relationship, I discovered that she was violating my trust. I’d catch her creeping through text messages on my phone and tracking my whereabouts like a wilderness survivalist.

At first, I appreciated the fact that she was so in love with me. But soon she became ridiculously intrusive into my life and began using this information to control my behavior.

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Just like Mary, Zillow was an entirely different entity when it first hit the scene. Around 2007 or so, Realtors feared Zillow and the fact that they were out to “transform the industry” and “replace the Realtor.” How much of that was true, I don’t know.

Fast-forward to today and Zillow is out to turn its critics into partners. By offering a bevy of technology products and lead generation opportunities, firms of all sizes are supplying massive amounts of data about agents to a company that those same companies once viewed as a huge threat.

Like Mary, will Zillow someday use this information to control our industry?

Zillow loves my money more than me. I wasn’t a rich man by any means when I was dating Mary, but I became a poorer man during the process. There were times I wondered if Mary was dating me because it came with a lot of free food and drinks. I honestly don’t recall a time when Mary ever contributed financially to anything in our relationship.

With Zillow, I feel the same way. One could argue that Zillow is giving back through the technology solutions it is supplying to partner agents, but I’d rather have the cash in my pocket.

If Zillow really wanted to contribute back to this relationship, it would develop a platform that would provide agents a cut of the income generated off their listings. In the same way that Keller Williams profit-shares with its agents, Zillow should focus on financially rewarding those agents who are enabling its existence.

And even if Zillow gave me only enough money to buy a Big Mac, it would be more than Mary ever bought me.

My mother doesn’t like Zillow.┬áThe first time I introduced Mary to my mother, I knew it would be the last. My mother gave me a look 20 minutes into lunch that said, “Is this really the girl you picked to date?”

I’m not a mama’s boy, but I am smart enough to know that if my mom doesn’t like my girlfriend, I probably shouldn’t, either.

When it comes to Zillow, realtor.com would probably give me that same look and wonder why I am starting a relationship with Zillow. Even though realtor.com hasn’t been the best mother in recent years, there are a lot of signs indicating that things are going to get better. Developing a relationship directly with Zillow might impact the ability of realtor.com to regain the upper hand in market share.

To date, Zillow claims to have secured dozens of MLS feeds, as well as 4,000 direct broker feeds, to its site. Apparently, these folks aren’t as worried as I am about control of data, money or the impact it will have on realtor.com.

Or maybe they just never dated a “Mary” to teach them better.

Brett Keppler is the lead broker and owner of TREO Realtors.