Technology

Zillow + Trulia: an insider view

Member of Zillow's agent advisory board speaks up

“Do the right thing.” Those four simple words are part of the “Zillow Way” — a set of principles that guide Zillow and its 1,000-plus employees. They use these principles to achieve their mission — to empower consumers by providing the information and tools they need to make smart decisions about homes, real estate and mortgages.

I’ve been thinking about those four words a lot, as I’m sure many are, wondering what this new world of Zillow and Trulia will be like.

I get asked about this more than I ever thought possible, and I’m happy to share my insight here. Since 2012, I’ve had the honor of volunteering on the Zillow agent advisory board. Zillow formed the board to seek insight and opinion from real estate agents on current and future products, website enhancements and other services. During that time, I’ve had the privilege of spending time with and providing feedback to its founders, Rich Barton and Lloyd Frink; the entire executive team, including CEO Spencer Rascoff; and many of the employees.

I don’t get paid for being part of this group. In fact, I pay to be a Zillow “premier agent,” just like more than 60,000 others do. But I do love that I signed a nondisclosure agreement and get to be a part of things most in our industry don’t. I can share a bit here without giving away trade secrets.

Here’s what I know: There will always be a real estate agent in the transaction.

Zillow’s revenue model is based on ensuring real estate agents and mortgage lenders are connected with consumers. Parallels drawn between travel agents and travel websites and real estate agents and real estate websites are simply invalid. As Spencer Rascoff has publicly said, “The real estate transaction is complicated, it’s emotional, it’s expensive, it’s infrequent; all of these things lend themselves to the importance of an intermediary.”

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On a deeper level, when I interact with the Zillow team, a couple things are quite evident. They are always talking about the agent impact to anything and everything they do. Not just the agents like me who spend money with them, but also the hundreds of thousands of listing agents who have a free profile on Zillow. They sincerely care about the consumer experience (and that leads to some fascinating discussions) — but they also understand that agents sell homes. Zillow doesn’t.

The real estate industry doesn’t need to be afraid of syndication websites like Zillow and Trulia — just like it doesn’t need to fear franchise websites or websites that use IDX (Internet data exchange). Consumers expect unfettered access to data; gone are the days of real estate agents protecting data to, in essence, force consumer behavior. I’ve learned that we need to embrace websites and companies that provide best-in-class consumer experiences. We need to learn how to harness that power and use it to our advantage.

This vocal minority of agents that complains about Zillow doesn’t get to see what I see — the passion of the people behind the company and their unwavering commitment to us, the real estate community. Are they perfect? No. Do we always agree? No. But what I know is this — by the end of 2015, my team will close more than $125 million in volume from Zillow. It works for us because we embrace what they offer consumers and real estate agents. We don’t look for their faults and spread fear and misinformation. We work with them to make them better at what they do, and we use their platform as a very successful pillar of business.

So now, it’s Zillow and Trulia together, and I’m sure my phone and email will light up after those insights. I’m not familiar with Trulia’s management or structure, but from my inner dealings with Zillow, I have faith that agents will continue to be treated with thoughtfulness and respect. There are plenty of advertising options out there. We know it, and Zillow knows it. If we do a better job of working alongside them in the future, the promise they make to millions of consumers will be fulfilled. Whether an agent pays them to advertise or just has free listings — we will all come out ahead.

Chris Speicher is co-founder of The Speicher Group, an award-winning real estate firm based in Montgomery County, Maryland.

Email Chris Speicher.