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The impetus behind Zillow’s move to acquire ShowingTime is actually a lot more simple than many in the industry are making it out to be, Errol Samuelson, the chief industry development officer at Zillow revealed Thursday at Inman Connect Now.
“A lot of times a buyer and their agent will want to get in a home, and that showing request fails,” Samuelson said. “And a lot of times it’s not because the agents aren’t doing their jobs, it’s because it’s complicated.”
In the wake since Zillow made the announcement, the reaction has run the gamut from agents expressing deep fears over to data security, to Gary Keller issuing real estate agents what was essentially an ultimatum.
Samuelson was as clear about what the acquisition is not.
“This is not about bypassing agents,” Samuelson said. “This is not about somehow harvesting data.”
“This is not about creating some closed network where only some agents can participate.”
Samuelson even directly addressed Keller’s assertion that the industry is in a “fight” with Zillow, and there’s no way around it. Keller implied that agents need to choose whether to spend their money with a company such as Zillow or their own brokerage or franchise network.
Samuelson was clear that he and Zillow don’t view this as a “zero-sum game,” rather Zillow has the scale to invest the research and development into solving broader, industrywide problems, whether that’s getting more agents and their clients into homes or connecting agents with more consumers.
“There’s a large number of Keller Williams agents and teams who are Zillow customers, and I think they’re Zillow customers because we provide them with real value,” Samuelson said. “We help them do a better job of serving their customers, we help them grow their market share.”
Samuelson also recommitted to keeping ShowingTime an open platform that’s available on an equal basis to all brands, brokers and multiple listing services. He promised that Zillow is committed to keeping the data in ShowingTime private and that Zillow will not misuse any of the information.
Zillow’s commitment to keeping the platform open and equal for everybody — and investing in more research and development around the issue of scheduling showings — was the main reason that ShowingTime agreed to sell to Zillow, according to ShowingTime’s president Michael Lane.
Lane, who’s been with the company since its inception more than two decades ago, said over the years a number of companies have tried to acquire ShowingTime.
“There was something very unique about the conversation with Zillow that appealed to us, which was, Zillow saying ‘what do you guys think about making this product that you built even bigger, better, more widely used,’” Lane said.
He also admitted that he understands the industry’s initial reaction in being adverse to change, but he’s bothered by the social media comments about data security.
“If that was the strategy of Zillow, to use the data that was totally private and protected to the individual listing agent and their client, if that was to be used in some nefarious way as some people are proposing, it would totally destroy the value proposition of what we do,” Lane said.
“Our product wouldn’t work anymore,” Lane added. “People wouldn’t use it.”
During the conversation, Samuelson also took a moment to address some of the general fears that are consistently expressed by many in the brokerage community when it comes to Zillow.
Clelia Peters, the conversation’s moderator and a venture partner at Bain Capital, asked Samuelson directly about the tension from agents who feel Zillow is starting to touch every aspect of what they do, and on top of that, the company doesn’t treat agents with the same respect that the company treats consumers.
“That’s certainly not the way we operate internally,” Samuelson said. “We spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about agents.”
“We really believe that we have to earn agents’ business,” Samuelson added. “And we try really hard to understand what agents need and what their customers need.”
Samuelson also acknowledged that a lot of real estate agents are small business professionals, and bigger entities like Zillow in the space can feel threatening.
“The flip side is, if you’re a bigger entity, you have the means to invest, which is one of the things that we can do with ShowingTime,” Samuelson said. “The one thing that will change at ShowingTime is we’ll put a lot more money into research and development.”