It’s not me, it’s you.
We had a good thing going for a long time. Sure, I paid you oodles of money, poured tons of data into your silo and recommended you as a primary resource to my clients and friends. And for a good long while, you reciprocated.
In return for a monthly pile of cash, you sold me solid leads and provided a portal that helped me build my reputation as a best-in-the-business agent. And you had something no one else offered — a sexy user interface and a newfangled Zestimate that kept people coming back again and again.
Seriously, most of my Gen X and Gen Y friends have watched their Zestimates go up and down and back up again (the horrors of the great recession and the housing crash still linger in our memories) like our fathers checked their stock updates in the daily newspaper.
But things have changed.
A few months ago, the quality and quantity of the leads I was paying more than $5,000 a month for began deteriorating — fast. We used to get real, valuable connections to clients who were serious buyers of nice homes in this area.
I met many of my early clients this way — they were qualified purchasers who wanted to find a knowledgeable, professional and reliable real estate agent to help them navigate a new area and find a comfortable home.
It was a pretty cool setup — to connect, our buyers had a choice of two or three agents from which to choose to “call now” (we made sure to collect reviews and post sales to make ourselves as attractive as possible!); they selected the agent who seemed like a good match, and our phones would ring with someone requesting a tour.
Sometimes, these calls would lead to a great long-term relationship and a home purchase; sometimes they didn’t, but that was OK. Because the leads were consistently better than worse.
I should have known it was the beginning of the end when Zillow changed the connection system to a “round robin” model instead of letting end-users (potential homebuyers) pick their match.
Zillow was taking autonomy of choice away from buyers, and as agents, our future clients weren’t seeing our amazing reviews and past sales. Our profiles just really didn’t matter anymore. The connection process felt random and anonymous — like a hookup at a rest stop.
In fact, one of my last live connections was on a vacant, nearly condemned house at the lowest price point available in my town. I hadn’t received a lead from Zillow in a long while, so I took a chance and went out to meet him with 20 minutes’ notice. This particular person brought a large Solo Cup full of dark red wine to the tour and breathed and talked a little too close for my comfort. It was one of the only times in my real estate career that I felt uneasy and a little unsafe.
Thank you, Zillow.
And then, around the same time as the Solo Cup guy incident, we began hearing rumors of Zillow changing its business model completely. Word on the street was that they were going to slow or stop the Premier Agent program and switch to a referral-based model — where agents wouldn’t pay for connections to leads; instead, Zillow would collect a referral from deals that had closed. But we didn’t know how or when it would begin, or who would be a part of it.
Shortly thereafter, a few of my close colleagues began receiving recruiting emails from local mega teams.
“We’re drinking leads from a fire hydrant!” the emails said. They were new Flex program participants, and they needed so much help! It felt like a slap in the face and a huge betrayal.
Not only were we blindsided with the news about Zillow’s plans from our competitors, but we also were never given any information about how the new program would affect or change our investment in connections or results (even though this was clear from the recent rapid decline in lead quantity and quality).
And to top it off, small team leaders like me would have to fight aggressive recruiting efforts from Zillow’s “Flex Partners” to keep our agents.
It feels like a race to the bottom and a downward spiral right now, and I don’t like the feeling of spinning or drowning, so I’ve decided to opt out. I cut my Zillow spend by about 80 percent the day before this past billing cycle started (I only kept a small spend so I could continue extracting my data) and I feel like I’ve parted ways with an unpredictable, unreliable and narcissistic romantic partner.
But maybe — just maybe — Zillow wants me back. This week, just a few days after I cut my spend, I got the following email from my Zillow rep, D.: “I wanted to check in on your availability as I know that team is starting to review the next wave of potential Partners for Flex. What are the chances you’re available on Thursday at 1 p.m.?”
I’m a kind person who always believes in second chances and the good in people and corporations (yes, I know, hope springs eternal), so I agreed to a call. Plus, I never like to turn down an opportunity or an offer until it’s extended. I would be on the road, so I asked D. to call me at 1 p.m.
Thursday at 1 p.m. came and went, and my phone was silent. I called and emailed and still haven’t heard anything back. I guess I got ghosted.
I interpreted this as a sign that it’s really the end. Thank you Zillow, for the good times and for a handful of awesome clients (that I did, indeed pay dearly for), but it’s time we go our separate ways.