I do love me some good meaty debates on industry issues, even if it can be passionate. Especially if it is passionate, as long as the debate doesn’t descend into irrational ranting or rudeness. I get to enjoy that with many of my friends, like Sam Debord and Andrew Flachner. I hope Tni Leblanc, with whom I will engage in this post, will be someone I get to call a friend in the future.
A bit of background: my post on Zillow’s Instant Offer was crossposted (with permission) to Inman. Tni left a lengthy comment, and I invited her to do a guest post here on Notorious. She declined, and left even more thoughts. I figured I’d respond to them all here so Facebook doesn’t just lose them as time goes by.
Go ahead and check out the original comments here. I will reproduce big chunks of them here on this post because I’m going to engage in a bit of fisking, which I haven’t done in quite some time.
For the TL;DR crowd: go ahead and skip this post. It’s gonna get lengthy and may not be all that interesting to you. 🙂
Diminishing the Industry and the Profession
Tni is extremely articulate, and passionate. And I loved some of her phrases. I do think she took a bit of an offense at my original post:
And what about the perceptions of OUR industry? You know, the morning after type stuff. Does this make our industry look more or less trustworthy? This website positions itself as number one for online views and then pivots to offer a program like this — a dubious value proposition that is a kissing cousin to a bait and switch. Even if you don’t care about Zillow — you have to recognize that this DIMINISHES our industry and profession and we will all pay for that whether we are successful and doing well or not. And it matters that Zillow, in particular, is doing it. The concentration of power in one entity who can make one bad decision and affect the course of our industry in a blink without holding any license or accountability. Why are we worried about that? We’re obviously triggered fools!
Apparently, Tni believes that a website conducting a trial to create listing leads and to gauge consumer appetite for lower-priced investor offers diminishes the real estate industry and the profession. I guess it’s because she thinks offering consumers the option to take an investor’s offer or to get a CMA from a listing agent is close to a bait and switch. How the consumer’s perception of a website affects the industry and the profession is unexplained.
Here’s the thing, though: Zillow != Realtors. Zillow != Brokers. Zillow != Agents. In fact, its main competitor makes quite a big deal of the fact that it is the Official Website of REALTORS, carrying the REALTOR brand in its URL. In fact, I’d argue that based on historical evidence, the actions (or inactions) of real estate agents affect Zillow far more than the other way around.
Consumers are not morons. (We’ll return to this theme later.) They are fully aware that Zillow is a website that advertises listings to generate leads for its paying advertisers: the real estate agents. We’ve been to websites like Autotrader, you see, which work the same way. We’ve been to health insurance websites like www.supercheapinsurance.com, without confusing the website with the insurers.
But that’s the less important point.
The Industry Does A Fine Job of Diminishing Itself
Maybe Tni and I inhabit alternate realities. In her world, Realtors themselves have not gone out of their way to diminish the industry and the profession. They’re all defenders of the home, local experts each and every one, and eat Ethics Bran for breakfast.
But that fantastic dreamland isn’t the world I live in, as we can see:
And then we have stuff like this, which is, sad to say, not incredibly rare:
Of the two in the video, Robert Lindsay, a former President of the Passaic County Association of REALTORS, remains a Realtor in good standing, now with REMAX.
I gave a presentation once where I talked about this phenomenon of Realtors having trysts in empty listings, and a good half dozen people nodded along and said that happened in their markets as well. Here’s one from right here in Houston:
Less deliciously scandalous and more prosaically, Zillow’s Instant Offer wasn’t even a glimmer in Spencer Rascoff’s eyes when NAR released the DANGER Report with its #1 threat being massive incompetence:
Go to any gathering of Realtors, of brokers, of agents anywhere in the country and ask them what the #1 problem they have as working professionals. The answer is routinely “The agent on the other side.”
The working Realtor complains routinely about the incompetence of the agent on the other side, who doesn’t even know how to return phone calls in a timely fashion, nevermind putting a contract together. Talk to managing brokers who often say that they run adult daycare centers for people who simply refuse to learn the basics of a transaction.
But Zillow is diminishing the industry? Riiight.
It’s Not Fair
Ideas are a dime a dozen. You might have a new bad idea, but who cares until Wal-Mart decides to adopt it. That is the point. And everyone put out of business is just a bad business person, they just failed to innovate? They didn’t do enough follow up? You’re forgetting about the collateral damage. Are these the kind of lies people tell themselves when they get to the top? That the economy is fair and always rewards those that work hard? LOL. People aren’t fair. How could the economy be?
I’m not even sure what the point is here. I think it is that the economy isn’t fair, and that some agents who will be unable to compete are victims of the Giant Corporations. Or something.
Said socialist argument might have a shred of a point were it not for the fact that long before Rich Barton and Lloyd Frink dreamt up the idea of Zillow, the 80/20 rule was in place: 20% of the agents do 80% of the business. Most agents don’t produce more than a deal here and there. Long before Zillow even registered a domain name, companies like Coldwell Banker, Remax, Keller Williams, and everybody else were already classifying their agents into quartiles and giving out awards to Top Producers.
I don’t hear a whole lot about managing brokers desperate to recruit the bottom quartile, unproductive agents. Do you?
What can I tell you, Tni? Real estate is a cutthroat business and everybody competes with everybody else. The rich get richer, the big get bigger, and commission checks don’t fall out of the sky the minute you get your real estate license.
You of all people ought to know that. You’re crushing the life out of your competitors with your 65 transactions in the last 12 months, and 379 sales over your 14 year career. The average REALTOR does 12 transactions a year; shouldn’t you be satisfied with doubling that number and let the rest go to someone who isn’t as good at innovation or following up? You are directly responsible for many REALTORS in your market going out of business and choosing to become Uber drivers, or something, because they can’t make any money when you are doing five times the average amount of business.
Think of the collateral damage! Forget the economy being unfair — how about YOU be fair to all those poor agents you’re crushing because you’re more innovative and follow up better?
At some point, haven’t you made enough money?
But Zillow… Is So Big!
So, you want us to believe that Zillow who sits atop the real estate online hill adopting a strategy is only as relevant as Opendoor or Offerpad? How many people even know Opendoor or Offerpad exist? The fact that they are the number one real estate site online is not adequately accounted for in your analysis. The triggering. The triggered. Teenage angst. You gots to chill. Are you serious? Are you trying to insult us into submission? You don’t sell real estate, you have a Realtor. What does he really think about Zillow? Is this meta theory and we workers just can’t possibly understand?
A bunch of thoughts here.
First, I guess I don’t much care whether you believe that Zillow adopting a strategy is only as relevant as Opendoor or Offerpad; it is what I believe.
Second, I don’t know how many people know that Opendoor or Offerpad exist. But I can say that (as of this writing) 6,435 consumers do… because they sold their home to, or bought their home from, Opendoor. Add in some number of Realtors, tech company execs, venture capitalists, business journalists, and so on, and I suspect we’re up to a pretty sizable number of pretty influential and powerful people.
Third, that Zillow is the #1 real estate website has no bearing on this particular product — except insofar as how it might prove out to be a useful moneymaker for Zillow. In fact, I’m curious why you think it makes a difference whether the #1 website does it or the #10 website does it.
Fourth, the last time I spoke with Blayne, he had no problems with Zillow. He saw it for what it is: an advertising website. But feel free to ask him yourself.
Ah, the Consumer… the Idiot Consumer…
And hello, what about the CONSUMER? This is a transaction that many people do only a few times in their lives and they want to put them in front of 15 professional investors without any representation? That’s cool right?
Oh yes, do let’s talk about the CONSUMER.
I’m a consumer. So is my friend Dr. David Hong. One of these days, I’m going to have to record a podcast or something to tell his story. Do you take us for babbling babes? I’m a lawyer, he’s the head of his department doing research on cancer drugs. Did we become complete idiots in your mind because we didn’t take a license exam that is easier than getting a hairdresser’s license?
In fact, I’m willing to venture that most consumers who are buying or selling are likely quite accomplished at their chosen fields, and quite intelligent, well educated, and capable of making good rational decisions for themselves. The evidence of that is the fact that they (a) own a house, or (b) have the financial wherewithal to purchase a house. Dumbass losers tend not to be homeowners or homebuyers in America.
Oh lawd Zillow put us in front of 15 professional investors without any representation! Zillow done come to my house and dragged me out by my hair in front of the investor firing squad shooting bundles of cash at me! Save me!
First of all, you’re completely ignoring the fact that the consumer has FILLED OUT A FORM asking to be sent an Instant Offer from these 15 professional investor werewolves. Who put whom in front of the werewolves of Wall Street?
Second, if I get an offer from an investor, do you imagine that I’d be like, “Oh derp, dis here rich fellow wants to gimme moneys!” and take it? Or do I think about it, think about what’s important to me, and decide what *I* think is in my best interest?
If my decision happens to be wrong, guess who suffers? Me! Not you, not the Realtor down the street — none of you have any skin in the game if I choose to screw myself by taking an investor’s offer.
How little you think of “consumers” as if they’re drooling idiots who can’t put their pants on without your guidance and permission.
In fact, even if you were to represent me, and you give me your advice, is it not my right to make whatever decision I think is best for me and my family even if that risks your disapproval? Are you my fiduciary, or am I yours?
Making Us All Look Like FOOLS
Is the Realtor racing (in Zillow time) to pony up a CMA designed to make selling to an investor unappealing on the basis of owner uploaded photos working as a fiduciary? LOL. Does that value you are throwing out there have any meaning? Are you responsible for it? You are comfortable that those in our industry are willing to do this in a timed scenario off emailed photos? You are ok knowing that consumers are using this info to make a major financial decision on the basis of this “process?” This is like Realtor Olympics Obstacle Course Edition. Or wait did they just shift liability for the equivalent of a Zestimate onto us? This makes us all look like FOOLs and it being on the number one site that consumers visit for real estate is VERY important. All that — just to get seller leads because seller leads are where the real dollars are and that’s what they want. If they get those, they might actually turn a profit — for awhile.
As it happens, I am more than comfortable with listing agents presenting a CMA using just the address. Because that leads to a listing appointment. Which then leads to a real discussion about the property, about the seller, their needs, their particular situation, and then presumably leads to a proper professional pricing along with a marketing strategy. I trust both the professional (sometimes) and the consumer.
As a matter of fact, doing a CMA is a critical part of just about every listing presentation I have ever heard of or seen. In fact, take a gander at this here real estate coach:
While we’re at it… can you please not pretend that the sight-unseen CMA is some sort of an exotic new thing that Zillow cooked up in its Laboratory of Satan?
Shall I continue to post image after image, page after page, of REALTORS offering “Free Market Analysis” for a property they have never seen?
All this self-righteous indignation about value thrown out there and responsible for it and all is a lot of horse dookie, seeing as how real estate brokers and agents have been offering them for DECADES!
By the way, you think sending out a CMA hoping for a listing appointment makes you look like FOOLS? Sorry, it doesn’t. THIS makes you look like fools:
I for one would rather have agents pay for listing leads from websites than do the above. I’d prefer that agents send out free CMAs of houses they have not seen to doing these kinds of asshole salesman phone calls that just drip with bullshit and insincerity.
The Eeeeeevil Zestimate
After all, the Zestimate was always designed to be a seller lead tool, but the agents I know that use Zillow get mostly buyer leads. Hasn’t the Zestimate been a fun and wild ride for the consumer and Realtor? I wish I could bill Zillow for all the time I’ve wasted correcting information that was dumped into consumer’s minds from visting their site. You are right, we can get seller leads another way. But this may be the only way for Zillow to get them. And they want them.
Last I heard, every executive at Zillow from Spencer to Amy to Greg to Jay Thompson suggested using the Zestimate to prove value as a real local expert. I mean, seriously, if you can’t show that you know more about your market than a computer algorithm, perhaps the problem isn’t with the computer algorithm. Don’t take my word for it. Go search Facebook and social media and find for yourself legions of agents not whining about the Zestimate, but using it as a way to prove value.
You should bill Zillow for all the time you’ve “wasted” correcting wrong Zestimates; but do send them a referral fee for all the times that the Zestimate, and your correcting it, led to your acquiring a customer.
Agents Are Paying Zillow!!!
Some agents are paying $20,000 a year now to Zillow to likely get mostly buyer leads. Imagine how much they will pay for seller leads? Who cares that the perception of our industry and profession is pushed down.
I dig the passion, but so misplaced! Who cares how much some agent will pay for seller leads? If you don’t want to, don’t! Complaining about some other agent’s marketing strategy is just so… unproductive, no?
Some agents pay $20,000 a year to have their faces plastered all over billboards. Why do you care? If they want to waste their money, why is that any of your concern? If those billboards work for them, what’s it to you? And again with the perception of the industry being pushed down…
Well, it’s not on Zillow at least, so that billboard has that going for it.
The Eeeeeevil Investors!
Who cares if a few consumers get trampled on by investors? Who cares if it ends up feeling like a scam to the consumer? Who cares if it ends up being illegal? I’ll tell you who cares, and it ain’t Zillow. After our industry is diminished and destroyed, a moneyed-zombied Zillow will no doubt still be left standing. But what will be left of our industry and who will protect the consumers?
Consumer trampled on by investors? Well, I guess if you think consumers are just idiots, you would think that. Meanwhile, millions of consumers are trampled on by car dealerships everywhere. Why you’re not up in arms about their leaving thousands on the table for the sake of convenience is beyond me, but could I recommend a new crusade?
By the way… you do know that Realtors by the thousands work WITH investors right? That they represent these evilmongers trampling consumers under their Gucci heels by offering them money for their houses? Sometimes (gasp) they even recommend that their client SELL to these investors! Horrors! (One of the finest REALTORS I know, Sue Adler, sold my house in New Jersey to an investor to my great delight and satisfaction. If I had only known she was doing the Devil’s work when she allowed the investor to trample me by offering me money very close to asking price! I should ignore that she did so in 2011… when the market wasn’t exactly humming, because INVESTOR!!!BBQ11!!)
As for what will be left of our industry and who will protect the consumers, I imagine that it will be the same people doing it today: the conscientious Realtors who take their business and their profession seriously and are not freaked out by some website somewhere offering some newfangled thing or another.
Tech companies can out-tech the Realtor, but they can’t out-human the Realtor.
Of Gut Feelings
Each step of the way we are reassured and reassured again. Ignore all the signs, your every inclination, your gut feeling, the evidence, the track record, the trends, and even reality. No one is supposed to ask where these people are marching us? If I was dating Zillow, my family would rightfully stage an intervention at this point.
And there is the evidence of the Zillow Fever I mentioned in the original post. Did Zillow kill your dog? Did it break your heart and leave you at the altar? Where exactly do your gut feelings come from? What is the evidence and the track record you speak of?
Zillow is an awfully big company now. There are some disgruntled former employees, who were pretty high up. Zillow went through a fairly significant lawsuit with NAR and Realtor.com with senior people being deposed, emails being put into discovery, and the like. If Zillow had some eeeeevil plan to take over and bankrupt you, I think we all would have heard details by now.
But hey, maybe you have the evidence that we all have been waiting for. If so, I and about a million Realtors are desperate to see this evidence.
What Are You Fighting For?
My comment is already where I want it to be. The bottom line is you don’t know the answer and neither do I. You don’t know what effect Zillow will have on the real estate industry long term and neither do I. But what are you fighting for? What do you want to happen? What do you stand for and why?
You’re right — I don’t know what effect Zillow will have on the real estate industry long term. But I can make some educated guesses — what some might call “strategy.”
But you ask what I’m fighting for. What I want to happen. What I stand for and why. Thank you for asking, since you don’t know me that well.
I do what I do because of the first two paragraphs of this document right here, The REALTOR Code of Ethics:
Under all is the land. Upon its wise utilization and widely allocated ownership depend the survival and growth of free institutions and of our civilization. REALTORS® should recognize that the interests of the nation and its citizens require the highest and best use of the land and the widest distribution of land ownership. They require the creation of adequate housing, the building of functioning cities, the development of productive industries and farms, and the preservation of a healthful environment.
Such interests impose obligations beyond those of ordinary commerce. They impose grave social responsibility and a patriotic duty to which REALTORS® should dedicate themselves, and for which they should be diligent in preparing themselves. REALTORS®, therefore, are zealous to maintain and improve the standards of their calling and share with their fellow REALTORS® a common responsibility for its integrity and honor.
I am fighting for my girlfriend, who is a true REALTOR, as well as most of my friends who are true REALTORS. They work their asses off not just for their clients, but for the public. That is what makes them a professional.
They take on those obligations beyond those of ordinary commerce. They accept grave social responsibility and elevate the profession to the level of fulfilling patriotic duty. I may not agree with everything they say or believe all the time, but I know that their hearts are in the right place. They might fall short of the ideal, but at least they have them.
They’re the people who tell clients not to sell, because the time isn’t right — despite the fact that they get paid on commission. They’re the people who inform their friends, neighbors, and colleagues about what’s going on in the economy, in the regulatory environment, in policies that affect housing. They’re the ones who put people ahead of profits, and continue the tradition of honor, integrity, and professionalism begun by their forefathers in the REALTOR movement.
I’m not a REALTOR because I think I can be more effective as an “outsider” in pushing for reform and reminding the REALTORS of their origins, of their purpose, of their reason for existing as an organization and as a movement. As a citizen of this nation, who values private property rights and a community worth living in, I think the REALTOR movement is one worth saving, promoting, and improving.
I contrast that with the vast majority of so-called REALTORS, of so-called professional brokers and agents, who have not a shred of the principles of the REALTOR movement in them.
Now, your turn. What are you fighting for? What do you want to happen? What do you stand for and why?
Not A Game
Thanks for looking at my bio, but Clark Atlanta University is where I got educated. Georgetown is where I learned about BS like meta theory and other elitist crap. Look I suppose the answer for me is to buy some Zillow stock, ride the wave, and then I will have the time and opportunity to think the big thoughts, right? Is that the smart money in this “game?” Well I’m not playing a game. This industry means something to me. This is how I earn my living by working every day. This is where I found opportunity that I didn’t have to interview for. Opportunity I couldn’t get even with a Georgetown Law degree. In fact, this is how I paid off my student loan debt from my Georgetown.
And good for you and kudos, and I mean that. It’s wonderful that you have been so successful in real estate, and I don’t know you, but I have a feeling that you’re doing it the right way, with deep care and concern for your clients.
But in all seriousness, the answer for you is not to worry about Zillow at all. Zillow is a freakin’ website! It doesn’t go out and have sex in empty listings, bringing shame onto your profession. It doesn’t fail to submit offers to clients hoping to double end the deal. Zillow doesn’t ignore inquiries from buyer agents it doesn’t like. Zillow doesn’t screw up the contract forcing clients to lose money. It’s a freakin’ website!
If this industry really means something to you — as it does to me — then you have got to wrestle with those words in the Code of Ethics. Beyond ordinary commerce. Social responsibility. Patriotic duty. To what extent are you and your fellow Realtors showing THAT day in and day out?
And if you are, why in the hell would you or anybody else be worried about a damn website?
Homeownership for working and middle class folks means something to me not just because this is my field but because this is the only major investment most families are able to make. We sit with people going through divorces, after their parents die, who’ve lost jobs and it is our duty to put their interests before our own and give considered advice that we are accountable for. I actually help and protect my clients. Zillow is saying login, upload, and we can figure this out for you in about 5 minutes. Without knowing anything about this person’s situation (even worse if they did!) they are going to pop out a resolution? That is simply not legitimate in my view, and even if it is in your view, it is certainly nowhere near equivalent. And I do not care if you can get Realtors to participate in it or consumers to say it’s fantastic. It’s not! It is a denigration of our industry.
And as I said in the first post… if your client goes on Zillow and uses Instant Offer… you’re not doing your job. Why in the world would anyone who has a REALTOR go cruise some website? Women who are happy at home don’t go on Bumble. (Men might, but that’s cuz we’re dogs.) If your client, or your sphere, or your neighbors are going on Zillow instead of contacting you… you failed to do enough to inform them, educate them, and let them know that you care about them.
Start there. No website, no algorithm, no AI or bot is getting between two people who care about each other. No bot is replacing My Realtor.
Again, can we please not pretend as if real estate brokers and agents haven’t been sending the “Free Market Analysis” CMA reports for decades in the hopes of securing a listing appointment? If the CMA-via-Zillow is not legitimate, then none of those are legitimate either.
I recommend that you get involved with NAR and amend the Code of Ethics to prohibit the creation and sharing of a CMA of any properties the REALTOR has not personally reviewed. Otherwise, that’s just Zillow Fever talking.
You can take my argument, destroy it with meta theory, but it does not change that my words resonate, and they resonate because it is clear what I stand for. Zillow is not a person, they are corporation that doesn’t stand for anything, they are a simple greed mechanism aimed at our industry. If they destroy it along the way to getting rich, they can just morph and start selling cars. You trust them, and I don’t. You can defend them, but you don’t even know what they will do tomorrow. And neither do I.
I’m not sure what meta theory is, but if it’s anything like Critical Race Theory, then it’s a pile of horseshit. But I don’t need meta theory, because I have the facts. My opinions are based in this reality, rather than a fantasy reality constructed out of emotion and Zillow Fever.
If your words resonate, they resonate with fellow triggered Zaters who are thrilled to see someone else who stands for hating all things Zillow, without actual thought or analysis. That’s fine, I suppose, though I would prefer all of y’all spend a moment thinking about what the real problems of the industry are. It’s not a website, I’ll tell you that.
I’m not here to convince you or anybody else to get on or off any train, Zillow or otherwise. Zillow has plenty of capable marketers and salespeople trying to get you on it. I’m here to combat Zillow Fever, because it harms the industry. It takes the focus off where it needs to be.
Is Zillow a greed mechanism (whatever that is) aimed at our industry? Of course it is. It’s a corporation with shareholders who expect a return. But so is Realogy. And Re/Max. They’re also greed machines deeply concerned with quarterly results and money money money, I suppose.
No brokerage out there is opening its doors as a 501(c)(3) charity. And I have yet to hear of a real estate agent doing a whole lot of pro bono representation. Do you? How many of your 379 transactions were done as charity work?
We’re not solving poverty, or curing cancer, or rescuing abused animals here — we’re helping people buy and sell homes, an inherently commercial activity in which people are going to make and spend a lot of money. Good REALTORS provide a valuable service in that activity, and through properly representing the client’s interests, advance the community, society, and the nation’s interests. But they’re all in business first and foremost.
There’s no shame being in business, none. But there is nobility in going beyond ordinary commerce. I don’t expect Zillow to do it; I do expect REALTORS to do it, and many, many, many of them do every single day. They’re the reason why I do what I do, and still remain in this industry as a gadfly prophet of sorts.
Finally, I don’t trust Zillow to do anything other than what is in Zillow’s best interests. If that happens to be against the nation’s best interests, I’ll be on the rooftops calling Zillow traitorous. If Zillow’s best interests happens to screw consumers over, I’ll be condemning the living shit out of them. If Zillow’s best interests screws over the true REALTOR, the good men and women working for the public by working for their clients, I’d be happy to call them out on it.
But this? This is a freakin’ seller lead-gen product. It’s a fancier version of “What’s My Home Worth?”
And y’all just lose your minds.
As a parting thought, Tni… if you really feel that strongly about Zillow the Evil Greed Machine… can I expect this profile of yours with 59 five-star reviews to be blank the next time I visit it?
It’s one thing to rage against the machine. It’s quite another to rage against the machine while being a big cog in it and benefiting from it….
Bottomline, where we differ is on the question of trust.
I trust the consumer. I trust the (good) real estate professional. I trust Zillow to do what’s in its best interest, which is to compete with Opendoor and to create products that will make them a bundle of cash. I trust the industry to do the right thing, ultimately, after it has tried everything else.
Who do you trust? Why?