We’ve talked at length about the issues with Zillow’s Zestimate, which, despite a retooling, can still be off by tens of thousands of dollars. That creates frustration and mistrust among home sellers and buyers.
But, there’s another reason real estate agents, buyers, and sellers are aggravated with Zillow. Agents are checking their personal listings on Zillow’s site and finding their names grouped with several other agents’ names—none of whom have a connection to the home. In some cases, these agents may not know they appear on that particular listing, and they might not even be familiar with the home, which means they won’t have the ability to speak to its details or selling points.
“Welcome to what some call the ‘pay-to-play’ world of Zillow, which charges agents a premium to be named on listings that are not their own,” said the Miami Herald. “Zillow calls it the ‘premier broker’ program, by which agents pay a fee to secure leads from people inquiring about houses in certain ZIP codes. According to the company website, when a shopper makes an inquiry through Zillow (or the Zillow-owned site Trulia), the company confirms that the prospect is ready to speak with an agent. If so, it hands the would-be client off to the ‘premier’ agent—as opposed to the listing agent.”
Having first crack at this buyer mean the Zillow Premier agent can show the home, even though it’s not their listing, and also redirect the buyer to other listings—“probably his or her own listings first. Now, the listing agent has lost a potential sale, as well as a potential new client.”
Zillow calls this “an incredible lead generator” for agents—and, not surprisingly given the company’s excitement about this program, it generates a huge amount of revenue for them. The company reportedly refused to discontinue the practice despite the prodding of numerous Realtors.
So what can buyers and sellers do as a workaround?
What buyers can do to protect themselves
Pay close attention to the listing. “When buyers click on a listing, they have no idea they are not going to get the listing agent,” Kat Palmiotti of Grand Lux Realty in Monroe, New York, told the Herald. “Sometimes they get contacted by 10 different agents. It can be frustrating to a buyer.”
If the listing agent is identified and you’re planning to reach out, contact him or her as opposed to the other agents listed. That way you can assure you’re working with the individual who not only secured the listing fair and square, but who also knows all about the home.
There may be important details about the home’s construction, floorplan, or features that an unaffiliated agent can’t provide. In some cases, premier agents may not even be located in the areas where the home is located—another reason to make sure you’re working with the listing agent.
What sellers can do to protect themselves
Talk to your agent about Homesnap. Homesnap started out as “a consumer-facing app for displaying information about local homes by taking a photo” three years ago, said TechCrunch, and has grown into a mega portal used by real estate firms and multiple listing services across the country.
“Among other things, Homesnap’s technology allows you to take a photo with your mobile device of any house and instantly be shown all its pertinent details: size, number of bedrooms and baths, property taxes, school district, asking price (if it’s for sale) and even its estimated value (if it’s not),” said the Herald. “The idea is to give buyers and sellers a better online search experience than the one provided by companies such as Zillow, where agents spend beaucoup bucks promoting their listings.”
Homesnap also sorts listings according to the user’s search data instead of clouding them with featured or paid listing.