In September, Zillow dropped a bomb on the real estate industry.
The platform would be using its own salaried and licensed real estate agents to handle Zillow Offers transactions in Atlanta, Phoenix, and Tucson, Arizona — a move that upends one of the main benefits of Zillow’s Premier Agent program.
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The reactions to the announcement were mixed, with some calling on fellow agents and brokers to slice Zillow from their advertising budgets and others maintaining their investment in Zillow remains worthwhile, despite the company closing the door to Zillow Offers deals.
However, Figueroa Team Brokered by eXp Realty CEO Veronica Figueroa and ACME Real Estate broker-owner Courtney Poulos told the Connect Now crowd the question is no longer about staying with or cutting off Zillow — it’s about challenging multiple listing services and associations to put the data back in the hands of agents so they can properly compete.
“I have a bone to pick,” Poulos said. “My problem stems from a decade ago. The MLSs sold the beautiful pictures I spent so much money on and allowed intruders to use them. We’ve given up in so many ways.”
Poulos, who’s used Zillow to advertise new listings, said MLSs and associations squandered the opportunity to help brokers and agents compete with Zillow and other massive tech platforms by placing data control in their hands. Instead, she said, MLSs should’ve launched platforms where agents could market to unrepresented consumers directly with branded content.
“Agents should have ownership over the data, the branding, the leads, the photos,” Poulos said while noting her MLS doesn’t allow agents to create branded tours but allows Zillow to use agent’s photos to create branded content. “Why do we have to play catch-up right now when we’re the ones generating the listings?”
“It’s frustrating for the little guy,” she said while pointing to MLS and National Association of Realtors’ regulations, such as Clear Cooperation. “You’d think we’d have more control, but we don’t.”
Figueroa, who test piloted Instant Offers and is the current Zillow Offers broker partner in Orlando, said she agreed with Poulos’ assessment that the issue is no longer with Zillow, but with MLS’s stonewalling any progress that could even the playing field for agents and brokers.
However, instead of divesting from Zillow as Poulos suggested, Figueroa said agents and brokers must learn how to work within the current system, identify opportunities and diversify their marketing and lead generation systems so they can withstand change.
“This is no longer a Zillow issue, it’s an MLS issue,” Figueroa said. “I’ve sat in those MLS board meetings and it’s hard to effect change. That battle was lost a long time ago.”
“But our business wasn’t solely built on Zillow,” she added in reference to the flood of questions she’s received since the September announcement. “We were prepared for this and we were willing to be that partner while they continued to innovate.”
“It makes business sense,” she added. “We were prepared and aware, and they were really transparent with us.”
Poulos pushed back on Figueroa’s sentiments that it’s too late to even the playing field for agents and brokers against Zillow and other tech behemoths. The ACME broker-owner said agents must drill down on their value proposition and keep challenging their MLSs and associations to place data back in the hands of real estate professionals.
“It’s not too late,” Poulos said. “My value proposition is that it’s easy, with the right broker, to not leave cash on the table. ”
“The onus is on us to say, ‘Why would you pocket list in a seller’s market?'” she added. “If we cannot enforce some changes from the ground up, then the battle is lost. You wouldn’t go to someone with the cheapest rate for surgery, why would you do that with the sale of your house?”
She continued, “We still have value, and it’s up to us to enunciate our value.”
Although the battle for buyer attention will be hard to win, Figueroa, Poulos, and Warburg Realty President and Connect Now moderator Clelia Peters said the battle to get in front of sellers is still in the early stages, meaning agents and brokers still have time to gain the upper hand.
“We can’t stop them from becoming a brokerage,” Figueroa said while mentioning she plans to continue working with Zillow. “They have the right to hire agents to sell their homes.”
“[However], sellers are still choosing to work with agents and go the traditional route,” she added. Often times when we see people choose the iBuying route, it’s because of a life-changing situation. Lean into the conversation with sellers.”
Figueroa said agents and brokers must drill down on their market knowledge and expertise to win business since sellers and buyers are always looking for a skilled guide.
“If you can do that, you’re going to continue to do great,” she said.
On the other hand, Poulos urged agents and brokers to continue fighting MLSs for the right to “market directly” to consumers while researching other iBuying options that enable consumers to sell quickly without leaving money on the table.
“I appreciate the competition,” Poulos said. “But right now, our job is to get between the consumer who has no idea about the system of real estate and these platforms.”
“Let consumers see me as they see Zillow,” she said. “Why are we pretending people can’t see? We can market to them first.”
“We can say, ‘Here’s a better option, here’s a different option where you don’t have to leave money on the table,'” she added while mentioning HomeLight and other iBuying platforms. “Remember, Zillow wouldn’t be making these offers if they couldn’t make money off of you.”
Although they disagreed on Zillow’s place in their business moving forward, both leaders said real estate professionals must get involved with their MLSs and push for changes that give agents and brokers some leverage against large corporations.
“We can’t be constantly defensive,” Poulos said. “You have to get involved and put pressure on our leadership. The more power our MLS and associations give us, the better we can compete with Zillow and these huge conglomerates.”