Home Brokers & Agents A Few Random Thoughts on Zillow's Coming Soon

A Few Random Thoughts on Zillow's Coming Soon

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Z-ComingSoons

I’m gearing up for another all-day meeting for a project that I think will actually make a difference in the industry, but… I’m getting a lot of emails and messages asking me what I think about Zillow’s new Coming Soon feature. So here are a few random thoughts and questions.

As reported by Paul Hagey over at Inman:

Zillow has rolled out a new “coming soon” feature that allows agents, brokers and multiple listing services to market homes on its site up to 30 days before they hit the MLS.

The feature is restricted to agents who advertise with the portal and the brokerages and MLSs who provide Zillow their listings in a direct feed. “Coming soon” listings do not feature ads for agents other than the listing agent.

There are a couple other juicy facts in the article, such as:

In addition to driving up the number of agents who advertise with the portal and the number of brokerages and MLSs who send it their listings directly, Zillow added the new feature because it saw a need for a premarket category in its ecosystem, Schwartz said.

Zillow frequently sees listings posted to Zillow’s site before they hit the MLS, and this feature puts a framework around the practice on Zillow, he said. (Emphasis mine)

We all sort of knew that this was happening, but now we have confirmation.

In any event, some of the comments on that post — as well as comments from elsewhere in the RE chatosphere — are simply amusing. Since I’ve written a fair amount on pocket listings on this blog, and since I have to be at a meeting in a half hour, I’ll limit today’s thoughts/questions to some of those comments.

Ethics Disclosure: Since I am blogging specifically about Zillow, and about portals/MLS/industry, I should note that I have a business relationship with Trulia on the consulting side of my activities.

The Hate is Blinding You

Some of the comments fall into the category of, “Your hatred of Zillow is blinding you to the obvious.” For example, Paula Swayne of Sacramento writes this:

Shame on Zillow and shame on the agents who take advantage of this – without it being on the open market, sellers rarely get their maximum net.

This comment appears right after Jay Thompson, a “paid shill” from Zillow according to another commenter, points out that Zillow has 81 million monthly uniques. I have to laugh that in the same breath of condemning Zillow, Paula talks about open market and maximum net.

As I’ve written before, in all seriousness, why don’t the arguments against “pocket listings” (lack of exposure, lower price to seller) apply exactly to arguments against not putting your listing on Zillow?

One wonders what constitutes “being on the open market” in 2014.

Similarly, Sam DeBord (who’s a great guy, and actually really thoughtful about the topic) writes on a Facebook group:

Sam DeBord Exactly, Kipp. Even “coming soon”, where appropriate based on local MLS guidelines, should come downstream from the MLSs. An attempt by a portal to create a proprietary/unique Coming Soon marketplace is a move toward private listing networks and limited exposure models.

Two things here.

#1: In the age of 81 million unique visitors to Zillow, and CoreLogic reporting that as much as 50% of transactions are happening off-MLS, one has to ask which is the “private listing network” here. And if the MLS itself creates a pre-marketing feature, is that also a move towards private listings networks and limited exposure models, or are such crimes only possible by PWANTMLS (People Who Are Not The MLS)?

#2: Even if the local MLS allows “coming soon” type of listings, the claim that such listings should come downstream from the MLS seems somewhat… naive in light of what we all now know of as Project Upstream. Brokerages have made it clear that they, not the MLS, are the Guardians of Sacred Listing Data (Hallelujah!). Wouldn’t the MLS have to prove/show why they ought to be trusted as the gatekeepers of the Internet, when the brokers themselves are sending direct feeds to Zillow to take advantage of this Coming Soon feature? Again, Inman:

Agents can manually upload their coming soon homes to Zillow while brokerages and MLSs can opt in by adding a “Coming Soon” field to their current feeds or building out a separate, new feed dedicated to coming soon listings. Agents can renew a coming soon listing for up to 30 additional days.

Perhaps a conversation on what the MLS may or may not dictate to the brokerage is in order, along with who owns what rights to what.

Variations on Chasing Horses

Other comments are amusing because they suggest that the commenter has been in some sort of a spacetime warp for the past several years. They’re chasing after horses that have long since left the barn, which was then burnt down to the ground.

Joe Caruso writes:

Yet, they will not even let a buy side agent represent potential buyers by disallowing ads from [those agents] competing with the Zillow paying listing agent. 

I assume there’s a missing word or two there, so I put them in. But that point is almost as if Mr. Caruso completely missed the whole to-do about syndication and portal practices of the past few years. Here, I’ll let Jim Abbott of ARG Realty Group tell Caruso what’s what vis-a-vis buy side agents:

“Talk to the source!” That source would not be you, the buy side agent. So all that Zillow is doing is listening to the Jim Abbotts of the world who demand that inquiries from portals go to the listing agent.

Then you have the “Zillow can’t survive without our content!” meme playing out. Here’s Christopher Lee:

Will someone step up to the plate and look up Copyright laws? Why do we not afford our efforts, Writting descriptions, filling out our mls profile sheets and taking photos is our own doing, not Zillow, Not Trulia and not Realtor.Com. If we understand that we are the editors the writers and graphics design field reps, why are we not demanding that our work is protected under copyright laws. Look to the business of a paparazzi, who for the right shot can get thousands of dollars paid to them by the magazine or Web based news model. Why do we do more than them and then pay our MLS’s to publish our Creative Content. Why have our boards not looked at the fact that WITHOUT our Content these sites are worthless! We have never needed Zillow, Trulia or Realtor.com.

Seems to me we’ve been hearing this since Zillow’s traffic was around 10 million uniques, not 81 million. That horse done left the barn, yo.

But the “copyright” angle — which is being fully explored in two lawsuits — is even more interesting. Brokers and agents keep wanting to push this idea that the listing information — at least the photographs and the descriptions — are their creative works.

If we push that concept along further, then one might reasonably ask whether I, the homeowner whose property you are taking photos of and writing up fancy marketing descriptions of, might have some sort of an interest in all this dough you’re making off of those photos and descriptions. By the way, if by “editors and writers” you mean of descriptions like this one, which I just pulled off of HAR.com, um….

LOVELY HOME – READY FOR IMMEDIATE MOVE-IN. NEW INTERIOR/EXTERIOR PAINT, NEW STAINLESS/BLACK KITCHEN APPLIANCES, NEW KITCHEN COUNTERS, ISLAND KITCHEN, NEW LAMINATE WOOD FLOORS, COPPER PLUMBING (2002), REFRIGERATOR INCLUDED, BUILT-IN BOOK SHELVES IN DEN, OVERSIZED LOT, SPLIT FLOOR PLAN. WALKING DISTANCE TO ELEMENTARY SCHOOL & EASY ACCESS TO 99, I-10, KATY MILLS MALL, SHOPPING & RESTAURANTS! YOU’LL FALL IN LOVE WITH THIS BEAUTIFUL HOME!

Yay for all caps! More yay for “YOU’LL FALL IN LOVE WITH THIS BEAUTIFUL HOME!” I mean, not everyone can write copy like that. It probably takes years, if not weeks, of experience to come up with such gems of the English language. David Ogilvie must be turning over in his grave with regret that he didn’t hire real estate agents to write copy for him instead of high-priced alcoholic writers.

Beyond the Haterade

If one were to go beyond the haterade drinkers, and actually look at some real issues that Zillow’s Coming Soon raises… they might be these.

1. A few MLSs have “Coming Soon” features within the MLS itself. Are they engaging in evildoing, or is it only third party companies that can be moral criminals?

2. Many an MLS has been talking about pre-marketing for the past year or two. They’re still talking. Zillow acted. What is it about the governance and management of the MLS that makes them talk and talk and talk, while non-MLS companies act and act and act? Is it a good thing or a bad thing that the MLS governance appears designed to do as little as possible as slowly as possible?

3. Seeing as how Zillow is not holding a gun to anybody’s head, or breaking into brokerage databases to get these Coming Soon listings… shouldn’t we be asking why the broker or listing agent would voluntarily offer Zillow these Coming Soon listings in the first place? What are the advantages of doing so?

Sam DeBord says the reason why brokers and agents do it is for “buyer leads and double-sides”. Okay… but Jim Abbott above makes clear that “buyer leads” is not evil; it’s good for the seller and the buyer. And double sides — meaning broker dual agency, or designated agency, not individual dual agency — is what every single broker and agent team leader in America wants.

If those are truly evil, then shouldn’t real estate follow lawyers and simply prohibit broker dual agency or designated agency, and force firms to refer business out to their competitors? (Without the 25% referral fee, of course, since that would taint the loyalty of the buy-side brokerage.)

Anyhow, I have to go to work. These are just a few random thoughts. Many are probably wrong. Some might piss you off, especially if you’re high on haterade already. All I can say to you, if you’re in that category, is… don’t you have a past client you should call instead of yelling at me? 😀

Peace y’all.

-rsh

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Rob Hahn

Managing Partner of 7DS Associates, and the grand poobah of this here blog. Once called “a revolutionary in a really nice suit”, people often wonder what I do for a living because I have the temerity to not talk about my clients and my work for clients. Suffice to say that I do strategy work for some of the largest organizations and companies in real estate, as well as some of the smallest startups and agent teams, but usually only on projects that interest me with big implications for reforming this wonderful, crazy, lovable yet frustrating real estate industry of ours.