In a post published on Inman earlier this week, Matt Carter noted that Zillow has opened up a new frontier and that the agent-matching changes to Zillow’s directory are a “boon” to the consumer.
The press release stated: “Zillow announces the launch of Agent Finder, a new way for home uyers and sellers to search for, and find, a real estate agent based on their local expertise and reputation. Now, when a home shopper uses Zillow to search for an agent in a specific city or neighborhood, the most active agents, based on past sales, current listings and reviews over the past 12 months, will top the search results.”
Yet for much of the next day, there were some fast changes and modifications to this new system. Why? Because agents voiced some valid concerns, and Zillow listened to agent feedback. (Consumers can also filter agent search results by sales on Trulia, which Zillow acquired in February.)
I would argue that Agent Finder has missed the mark rather drastically. Here’s an example: When a consumer is seeking an agent in Dacula, Georgia, how is that consumer “better served” if Agent Finder shows only the recent sales in Dacula and the number of agent reviews in Dacula alone? Buford, Georgia, is about 2 miles away from Dacula, and at times they blend together on the same highway. Hoschton and Lawrenceville do the same.
In the past, a consumer using the Zillow Agent directory would have seen all agent reviews and sales over the past 12 months by each agent. I would have been compared to an agent who has 11 recent reviews and seven recent sales in Dacula; I have seven recent reviews and half a dozen or so sales, yet that agent has “Best Reviews” placed under his profile photo.
Overall, his experience showed only a total of 25 reviews and about 25 sales overall in the past 12 months. My overall reviews dwarf his, and so do my total sales. Is the consumer better able to make a decision now as opposed to earlier this week, when the consumer could see my complete body of work and compare it with the other agent? I would say no.
Why is a consumer I worked with in Lawrenceville, Buford or Hoschton any less valid to that Dacula buyer or seller today in Agent Finder? These towns blend together. You wouldn’t know where one starts and another ends, yet for some reason, in the new Zillow Agent Finder, now all that consumer experience I have developed through a lengthy body of work is lost.
Sure, the buyer or seller can now go deeper, but how often does that happen? If you are not on the first page of any directory or search engine, you get lost in the noise. I would contend that Zillow has now diluted the consumer experience as opposed to bolstering it.
People might start the buying process in a given city, county or area, but buyers often end up in a neighboring or adjoining area. Why would a city-by-city basis for breaking down agent reviews and sales experience make sense or work to the benefit of the consumer? It simply doesn’t.
Zillow is making changes to the new format due to agent concerns, but the problem remains that if my local board of Realtors and MLS covers a four-county or five-county area, then how can “local” be defined by Zillow Agent Finder based on sales in a specific city or ZIP code? When consumers are searching in a specific school district, they might not see an agent’s total sales and reviews in that school district, especially if that district crosses multiple cities and ZIP codes. How can that be helpful to the consumer? It can’t.
An agent with 50, 100 or more past customer or client reviews in a large market is likely more experienced than an agent who happened to collect a half a dozen reviews in one small town in Georgia.
I have enjoyed seeing the innovation that Zillow has brought to agent profiles during the past few years, including agent reviews and logging past sales. Although some things, such as the Zestimate, have always sparked a lively debate among agents, this is the one time that Zillow has made a change that was trying to fix something that simply was not broken to begin with.
Jeff Weissman, with BHG/Mason-McDuffie Realty, summed up this debate perfectly by saying, “I believe that overall experience (the number of transactions) trumps local expertise.” Weissman says that buyers will be better served by using an experienced agent (with negotiation skills and a deep team of lenders, inspectors, tradespeople and so on) than an agent who has done very few deals in one relatively small geographic area, who might know the area’s particular market trends but will not know the implications of using a local direct-lending mortgage or a noncertified home inspector.
Hank Bailey is an associate broker with Re/Max Legends and a Realtor for more than a decade who provides buyer’s agent representation and seller listing services related to residential real estate.