Zillow’s recent site updates caused a glitch that removed reviews and sales from realtor profiles nationwide, possibly taking away credibility and the prospect of new clients.
On Jan. 17, one of the top realtors in Central Florida Kathy Hereford noticed inaccuracies on her Zillow realtor profile. It was showing zero sales in the past 12 months – when she in fact had 65 – and several of her good reviews were missing. When she posted about this on Facebook, she started getting comments from other realtors who found the same issue.
Many realtors rely on platforms such as Zillow to show their accomplishments to clients, find leads, market their properties and more. For veteran and rookie realtors alike, having only a couple of reviews and zero past sales is damaging to their reputation and future sales.
Hereford spoke to Zillow’s customer service, and they assured her a glitch in the system caused the problem and that it would be fixed in two weeks. But this incident begs the question: Will Zillow’s venture into brokerage harm the business of independent realtors?
The housing market is booming, so no wonder the popular real estate marketplace site Zillow is making changes to make a little more profit. In the beginning, this company’s system was free, and it pulled information from the Internet Data Exchange (IDX) and different multiple listing services (MLS), both of which acquire real estate listings and ads. Real estate agents and owners can also upload listing information. All of this content creates a kind of search portal that benefited realtors, buyers and sellers. In Sept. 2020, Zillow announced that they were migrating from thousands of MLS feeds to MLS IDX feeds to create a more streamlined process.
In a blog post, a Zillow spokesperson said that they are aware of how their process is affecting agent profiles, and they are working to fix the issue. Agent profiles are not going away.
“We believe moving to IDX will create a better experience on our platform for consumers, driving successful home searches for buyers, greater exposure for sellers, and creating more opportunity for our partners in the industry,” a Zillow spokesperson said.
Zillow is a popular online resource for real estate with over 200 million unique monthly visitors. They’re making it easy to type in a zip code and scroll for hours to through listed properties for sale, for rent and not yet on the market. Their included data may include pictures, nearby schools and even LGBT local legal protections. Another popular feature is its Zestimate, which is an estimated market value.
But Zillow is now branching out into being less of a facilitator and more of a player. Over the last few years, they have been moving into a brokerage role. Zillow Homes is the “licensed brokerage entity.” They’ll hire their own agents and make some commission off of the sales of Zillow-owned homes.
“At Zillow, our mission is to give people the power to unlock life’s next chapter, and we want to help them on their journey home through a range of services that meet their preferences — whether through Zillow Offers or through a trusted Zillow Premier Agent partner,” said the president of Zillow Jeremy Wacksman in a statement.
Zillow Offers gives sellers other options than going through a realtor or for sale by owner (FSBO): 1) a cash offer from Zillow on your real estate and 2) help with your listing from one of their partner agents. Zillow Premier Agent is a system where realtors pay money to Zillow for connections with buyers and sellers and resources to convert them into clients. Through Zillow Offers is iBuyers. In Sept. 2020, the company announced that they would hire their own real estate agents instead of relying on independent contractors starting in Jan. 2021 in Atlanta, Phoenix and Tucson. No longer will listings go from the MLS to local brokerages; Zillow dominates more of the playing field.
Even in this Zillow article about the differences between FSBO and real estate agents, they add at the end that “Zillow Offers is a simpler way to sell your home. Avoid the time and effort required to list your home on the open market, and instead, sell to Zillow directly.”
And this is not the first time Zillow has found itself in the middle of controversy. In March 2020, they were in a lawsuit over their Zestimate tool, with the plaintiff claiming they hurt competition and violated U.S. antitrust laws. The suit was dismissed by a federal judge without prejudice. But real estate agents wonder if they’ll be the competition that gets cut down next.
However, not every real estate agent immediately feels the effects of Zillow’s evolution to a brokerage. Katie Pierce, for example, is a Premier Agent based in Atlanta. “As of right now, it’s not affecting me,” Pierce said.
And even though Hereford’s 17 years of business is “99.9% referrals,” she’s realized what’s important in real estate.
“I think it’s really important for people to have other multi-level platforms that they can market their properties on and to just build relationships with clients and work on referrals,” Hereford said. “They all can change what they like to do… We have to keep evolving.”
If you think platforms such as Zillow will give you all of your leads and build your reputation, you may not want to put all your hope in one platform. At the end of the day, Hereford says that buyers and sellers want someone local who’s been in the business for a long time, knows the area, has connections with other agents and can give you one-on-one showings.
“I always come back to the basics, which are to take care of people, do the right thing and build relationships.”