- Zillow Group's agent input ban will improve accuracy and squeeze brokers.
- Its Premier Broker program and data management tools are taking aim at teams and Upstream.
- Redfin uses agents to create better Zestimates, and no one should be surprised.
- "Realtor" has immense value. NAR's CEO search should keep D.C. in mind.
Zillow Group has been using its leverage in more dramatic fashion recently. The headline this week is an upcoming moratorium on agent-posted listings.
This is a power play, and one that the company has every right to make in its quest for a better product. Zillow Group is willing to crack a few eggs to make this omelet.
It’s being sold as an improvement to accuracy, and that checks out. Manually input listings are notoriously error-prone. (Of course, that’s not the only benefit.)
The ban creates an immediate friction point for agents whose brokerages and MLSs don’t feed to portals. It puts a wedge between agents and clients, and ergo, agents and brokers.
When clients find out that their agent literally cannot put their listing on Zillow, and their broker can’t fix it before open house weekend, the situation is going to get white hot.
A little message for Jay Thompson, Zillow’s director of industry outreach — please take some vacation and rest up now. May is going to be the season of 1,000 wildfires.
The move will create more feeds for Zillow, and some resentment. Strategically, though, it makes sense.
The big brokers won’t squawk. Most of the country has already signed on. Only the stragglers and iconoclasts will feel the squeeze.
Some agents will continue to be indifferent, some will demand their brokers create a feed — and those whose needs go unmet will find a new brokerage.
The 800-pound gorilla is tired of asking. Independent and holdout brokers: You’re going to feel the weight of its thumb coming down soon.
Premier Broker vs. hiring a team
Meanwhile, the concierge service for the Zillow Premier Broker program is the back end of a team in a box.
Lead generation, text/email/phone conversion, distribution, tracking and management — it’s done. Just answer the phone when your concierge wants to hand off a live one, and you, the solo agent, now have team support.
The program has huge upside. It’s not perfect. Many Zillow consumers have a bad habit of contacting a new agent for every listing and rerouting themselves into spirals of increasing contacts and annoyance from lead converters and concierges.
Those leads are not happy campers when they get an agent on the phone.
The back end works well, though. It affords brokers some shortcuts to team efficiency without all of the hiring and testing of products.
I’m surprised that Zillow Group is using a third-party CRM for tracking; they’ll probably have their own soon.
This program will be popular as long the pricing keeps brokers’ ROI (return on investment) in the black.
The data management arms race
Somebody recently told me to stop writing so much about Zillow. I will when ESPN stops covering the Patriots.
Build or buy? Zillow Group has clearly been leaning toward buying for its data management platform. Paul Hagey (of Inman fame) and I took a deep dive on the developments in this year’s Swanepoel Trends Report.
Jack Miller, president and CTO of the Swanepoel T3 Group, did an outstanding job fleshing out the entire industry’s competitive data management tools.
Bridge Interactive, Retsly and dotloop, when combined with Zillow Group’s in-house tools, could satisfy a wide range of broker demands. The real estate behemoth is buying up a set of tools that cross paths in major ways with Upstream.
Whether that’s the intention, the positioning, or the marketing angle doesn’t matter. The tools being purchased by Zillow Group are designed to solve some of the problems that Upstream solves — albeit perhaps in a way that’s less logistically elegant.
The company is shortening its timeline to a user base by spending instead of creating. We will see quickly whether or not that pays off.
AI (Actual Intelligence)
Inman reporter Teke Wiggin’s piece on a study of Redfin vs. Zillow online valuations sparked some interesting debate.
Wouldn’t every valuation improve with a human-derived “condition” factor added to the algorithm? Forget artificial intelligence, this is actual intelligence in the machine.
A real person’s insights about current condition would be an invaluable addition to an otherwise computer-driven model.
Redfin took the shortcut. Agents are already scoring these homes based on today’s condition. They even have market knowledge. Redfin simply leverages their insights via list prices and adds context to current data.
The results of the study were clear. When listing prices are available, Redfin incorporates them, and its estimates become significantly more accurate than Zillow’s. But Zillow’s estimates for unlisted properties are still more accurate than Redfin’s.
It seems obvious that Zillow could win in both categories by incorporating list prices on listed homes’ Zestimates.
Zillow argues that consumers don’t want that. They want “independence” in their estimates.
No, they don’t. Consumers want the right price — remember that accuracy we were striving for earlier? It’s right in front of you.
Save our CRM
Vendors at Inman Connect New York repeated a phrase to me that I don’t hear often enough: “We integrate with your CRM.”
For all of the tools offered to agents, too many are built as standalone or loosely connected functions. CRMs with APIs, and vendors willing to use them, are taking away major pain points.
Brokers want our agents focused on their database, in their CRM. Some vendors are getting this.
Aiva, the AI-powered assistant by Deckspire; “First,” featuring predictive analytics (guys, you’re killing our searches with that name); and Cloud Attract from W + R Studios were just some of the product folks I talked to that understood this concept as a core issue.
Don’t build another CRM. Build something that works with our current CRM.
Goggling vs. feeling
News Corp. has helped realtor.com do some leapfrogging in the virtual reality (VR)/augmented reality (AR) world. Their work with Matterport and REA Group has provided the foundation for VR and AR in apps for goggles or the good old-fashioned mobile device in your hands.
They are a nice step forward, if VR’s where you think the industry is headed. Some of the hype is overblown, but it will be a nice a supplemental tool to increase conversions of internet traffic to in-person showings.
Buyers will love VR for property introductions. But when you think about downsizing mom and dad into a condo for their “final home,” or buying that first bungalow to raise children in, goggle-and-buy rings hollow. We want to smell how that home feels.
What’s in a name?
Marc Davison took us on an entertaining creative journey about the name “Realtor.” What’s the value? It depends on your audience.
When I go to Washington, D.C., in May and walk into a Senator’s office, you can be sure they understand it.
When our state’s legislative leadership calls us for insights on a policy negotiation, it’s clear that they know who we are.
Broker-owners ask us to come talk to their agents about what we do because they understand the value.
There is a disconnect with the public. It’s clear that they don’t distinguish between a licensee and a Realtor. But that in no way diminishes their knowledge of a Realtor’s value.
This isn’t a term that grew organically out of a need to describe a category of professions, like a doctor. It’s a trade organization being so effective with its label that its name has superseded the commonplace occupational designation.
The Realtor moniker being indistinguishable from a real estate salesperson makes us victims of our own success.
There’s clearly some frustration about the lack of distinction from consumers. We can continue to work to improve and distinguish Realtor members. But this is not such a bad problem to have.
Going forward for NAR, getting the right mix of transparency, accessibility, focus and resoluteness won’t be easy.
Kudos to Dale for being a leader willing to engage membership in an introspective and stout discussion about the association’s outlook.
Choosing the next CEO will be difficult. The right candidate needs a keen understanding of technology, communications, public policy and — most importantly — organized real estate’s multifaceted bureaucracy.
Somebody who knows D.C. pretty well just stepped aside from an MLS CEO position to allow the formation of a better marketplace for members.
That kind of leadership deserves a spot on the interview short list.
Sam DeBord is managing broker of Seattle Homes Group with Coldwell Banker Danforth and President-Elect of Seattle King County Realtors. You can find his team at SeattleHomes.com and BellevueHomes.com.