Monday, September 15, 2014


That's what some internet commentaries are calling the proposed merger between Zillow and Trulia.  Last week, the FTC made another request for information from the companies to determine if antitrust laws would be violated by the move. It seems that the agency is debating whether all real estate advertising - online and off - is viewed equally or if they will regard the online market specifically. A chief executive for Zillow maintains the former which, if the FTC agrees, will pave the way for the merger. I disagree.

I've done many different types of marketing and talked to agents who have been in the business for decades. While there is still value in print advertising in some situations, the National Association of Realtors® reports that 9 out of 10 buyers rely on the internet as a primary data source, with 52% starting their home search there. I believe those numbers will continue to rise with the upcoming generations.

I also think that third party sites such as Zillow and Trulia are hurting the real estate industry and my clients, and here's why.

Imagine I go to a listing appointment at a potential client's home. One of the points I make to him is that I am managing his transaction from beginning to end. I know his home and it's features thoroughly, I bring in experts when needed (who have been tested and proven), and I make it a priority to sell, sell, sell his home. I get the listing, and gain the confidence of my new client. Then I put someone else's sign in his yard and outsource the phone calls and leads that come in. If you were my client, would that make you happy with my services?

If you tool around these home search sites, you'll find a few interesting features. One, the listing agent is never (or almost never) one of the agents that pop up next to the pictures, encouraging you to call for more details. The Premier Agents there have no connection to the property, except for that they've "bought" the zip code that property resides in. That means when a potential buyer clicks on an address, the agents who have purchased the biggest advertising packages will be front and center. And how did they acquire the stars? Zillow says stars are awarded to those who have "contributed the most to the Zillow community."

I've conducted my own small experiment, and I've heard the results echoed by other real estate brokerages who've run the same tests. Give a call to one of those agents and you'll get one of several answers: 1) No, they haven't been in the property themselves and can't answer any questions, but would be happy to take you through it; 2) Yes, they saw the listing and would be happy to schedule a showing for you, along with a few others that they happen to have listed themselves; 3) Yes, they are the listing agent but the property is no longer available. (!!!) Gratefully, this last one only happened once, as most agents I've worked have a higher level of integrity than that.

Speaking of the availability of properties, some sites will often leave homes that have already been sold or withdrawn from the market on their website so they can claim to have a larger inventory than their competitors. I've heard from colleagues that they've seen their listings return to the websites again long after they were taken down, and that homes in pre-foreclosure are now being posted For Sale even though they are not yet on the market officially. What do you think your feeling would be if you were researching and calling repeatedly on properties you couldn't have? Would this instill confidence in the process or just aggravate you?

As obvious as this is to those of us who conduct transactions day in and day out, it can be hard to convince the public that these household name sites are really doing them a disservice. Sellers want to see their property pictures on every real estate site they've seen and not seen, but this exposure doesn't necessarily mean a faster sale. The sites measure their "success" in the number of hits received, but data shows that there is no correlation between hits and actual sales. In fact, statistics show that these third-party sites have an extremely low success rate. The growing opinion among professionals in the real estate industry is that sharing listings with these types of sites is doing more damage than good, and the risk of losing exposure by not utilizing them is much smaller than it may seem.

I also find my conversations with potential sellers starting more often with damage control. They've seen an estimate of their property online and they're setting their expectations based on this sometimes grossly inaccurate figure. Whatever algorithm is being used, it doesn't take into account the local market or neighborhood, or even improvements on the home they can't know about. I've seen two nearly identical homes estimated with more than a 15% difference in value, or basement square footage being valued the same as above-ground. Not only does this sometimes create an initial mistrust in the relationship (where the expert is not the one getting the benefit of the doubt) but it sets up false expectations for the seller and can even mislead them to make choices not ideal for their family.

Slowly but surely, real estate firms are starting to recognize this and reexamine their marketing strategies. Those who have pulled out of third-party syndication for their listings have actually seen sales improve by significant numbers; one California firm said their revenue went up by 40% shortly after they made the change, once again receiving the buyer calls for their clients that were once lost in cyberspace. 

If you're looking for a helpful replacement for the sites I've mentioned above, see if you can find the public portal for your local MLS; some places have them but some don't, check with a local agent. In the Boulder area, ours is It's timely, accurate, and will give you the right person to call. Better yet, ask your friends for a referral to an agent they like and ask to be set up on a listing alert. This is a daily, weekly, or hourly search and email  from your MLS customized to the kind of home you're searching for.

I've chosen real estate to build a career, both because I am interested in all aspects of the housing industry and because I get a lot of satisfaction in putting families in homes they love. I like the flexibility in my schedule, the variety in my work days, and I think it's a pretty positive way to make a living. Anyone who's worked with me knows that I really do care about my clients and want to ensure that they get what they need with a minimum of hassle. 

I'm not just a real estate agent, but a Realtor®,which means I subscribe to a code of ethics. I have found that the business practices of many third-party real estate sites are just incompatible with that code. Do we all have to make a living? Sure. Do we all have the same priorities? Absolutely not.

I would love to help you with your real estate journey. 
Please contact me at 303-917-7143 or