Zillow: Friend or Foe?

Between a research piece that encourages renters not to move and a new initiative that bypasses real estate agents, Realtors may be wondering if online real estate database Zillow is friend or foe.

The faster technology and business models evolve, the more the lines blur between what’s going to help or hurt – just ask the hotel and taxi cab industries how they feel about Airbnb and Uber. But even after Zillow’s acquisition of Trulia in 2015 and a petition signed by 32,000 agents in protest of its Instant Offers pilot program that connects investors directly with people who want to sell their homes, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) declines to take a hard line, saying it could not “sponsor or encourage a boycott of Zillow.”

What should agents be doing in light of Zillow’s bold move into their territory?

The answer lies in the remainder of the NAR’s statement on the matter which urges its members to “inform their clients and customers of the value they bring to the real estate marketing and sales transaction and the problems and risks sellers may encounter in marketing and selling their home without using a Realtor.”

Basically, NAR is telling agents who feel threatened by Zillow’s actions to strengthen and communicate their value propositions. Great advice, but it requires a solid game plan and consistent action – which is a great opportunity for mortgage companies and loan officers to step in and be part of the solution for an issue almost every single sales person has.

Zillow is basically a gigantic lead generation machine. The new controversy is who the business from this new model will be directed to. It’s important to point out that Zillow has always sold the ability to capitalize on the massive traffic they generate – 160 million visitors per month with 50% of them planning to buy or sell homes – via various advertising programs like Zillow Premier Agent.  And, it’s unknown what impact Instant Offers will have because it’s only in the pilot phase in two markets – Orlando and Las Vegas.

Upset Realtors who would like to petition against Instant Offers first need to take a look in the mirror and ask themselves, “Do I currently have any (or many) leads that I gave up on or haven’t followed up on?”  Every producer knows that the more leads they “work,” the more clients they’ll close. So rather than get upset about what Zillow is doing with their leads, it’s time to get serious about our own.

It’s tempting and typical for loan officers and agents to set aside the tedium of managing, tracking and following up on piles of leads when the number of transactions they’re servicing and guiding to close increases. However, the business climate gets faster-paced every day and we no longer have the luxury of neglecting prospecting for any reason.   

Automated co-marketing through a compliant CRM can help the agent and the lender manage challenges that are time-honored like procrastination and the tendency to gravitate toward the lowest hanging fruit.  

In order for Realtors and MLOs to follow NAR’s advice and convince consumers that their service is valuable, they first need to get an audience with them. MLOs need to ask themselves and the Realtors they wish to partner with the following:   

  • Are you Consistently reaching out to and staying in front of your leads?
    • How often?
    • Is your marketing fresh, relevant and addressing the questions and concerns of consumers in the current market climate?
  • Do you have a presence in places where today’s buyers and sellers are seeking information, such as social media, branded websites, blogs, single property websites, mobile accessibility and more?  
  • Do you have the right message when consumers find you?  
    • Open house flyers that show real financing options outside the widely-assumed need for 20% down?  
    • Engaging social media posts that provide value in the form of current market and community information? 

It’s possible to create the presence and consistency you need to be the resource consumers go to after their initial online research on sites like Zillow. The public wants what you have according to a survey by Discover Financial Services: 67% of respondents said that after using apps and the internet to explore real estate and financing options, they still prefer to work with a professional.

The sales cycle for mortgage and real estate has grown quite lengthy – particularly when dealing with Millennials. Rather than being discouraged and giving up, consider this an opportunity to prove your value over time. Mortgage companies and MLOs can use automated co-marketing as an easy way to maximize exposure and execute the consistency necessary for conversion. Establishing and managing co-marketing partnerships is the way to help Realtors do the work they can’t, won’t or don’t like doing.

People seem to have a love-hate relationship with innovation. Many things we can’t live without today weren’t overwhelmingly embraced initially… there was even a time when there was a significant resistance to cell phones – and we all know how that turned out.  

Whether an agent views Zillow as an entity that’s simply part of the business landscape today or as an opponent, Zillow and sites like it aren’t going away any time soon.  Rather than obsessing over new and potential threats to their business, Realtors need to get their own house in order and truly, consistently work the opportunities they already have. Helping agents do this is the perfect inroad for mortgage companies and MLOs who have embraced technology for efficiency and compliance to build and strengthen profitable relationships.  

Listen to our recent podcast by Total Expert founder and CEO, Joe Welu, “Zillow, Friend or Foe?” to learn more.

Sources:  Zillow, National Association of Realtors (NAR), Discover Financial Services, DMR (formerly Digital Market Ramblings); https://www.zillow.com/research/save-rent-money-dont-move-15831/