What is Zillow, exactly, and… why?
Well, back in the day, all real estate agents worked for sellers. In Maine, anyway, the seller’s agent collected a commission from the seller, then either found a buyer herself, or paid part of the commission to any “sub-agent” who could rope in a buyer. Maine, anyway, now does a good job of giving buyers a chance to retain their own advocate.
But a hangover furrows the brow of the industry still.
For one thing, the seller’s agent still usually collects the entire commission, out of long habit. The buyer’s agent is still typically paid by the seller’s agent, in Maine. Just out of habit. It works; it’s just peculiar.
And then there’s a headache known as Zillow. (And Trulia, etc.) Now that buyers are choosing agents of their own, those buyers have become a valuable commodity. Everybody and his uncle is trying to catch them, and then sell them to real estate agents.
And that’s what Zillow does. Now that buyers are free to take their own path to a house for sale, Zillow has done a particularly good job of making the path wide and easy to navigate on a smart phone. Zillow sells advertising space to real estate agents who want their smiling face to pop up beside your search results.
So that’s a Zillow: It collects house-hunters and sells them to agents.
Real estate agents resent the Zillows of the world for various reasons. Old-school agents see Zillow as a poacher, stealing buyers who used to be forced to deal directly with the seller’s agent.
Busy agents resent Zillow for telling their buyer clients that 234 School Street is available, when it is long gone. Zillow’s data is famously dirty, which wastes everybody’s time.
Me? I think the customer is always right: Home hunters want decent searching tools. Zillow solved a problem, and if it’s not yet perfect, it’s pretty good.
And now, to recapture those free-range buyers, agents are getting creative.
Some are now getting their own apps. (Scan the QRC below to test-drive my very own, built by Keller Williams. I’d love to hear reviews. It’s easy to delete if you don’t like it.)
Agents are also exploring the value of their proprietary data banks which, after all, are built, maintained, and updated at agents’ expense. Broker organizations are demanding that Zillow direct some of those free-range buyers back toward the listing agent in exchange for data.
But to my mind, the whole kerfuffle overlooks the goal of the seller: to present her house to as many people as possible. If Zillow can bring my client’s house to your attention, I don’t care what agent brings you to the door.
Next time: Redfin
Hannah Holmes Keller Williams smart-phone realty search thingamajig