Big businesses like Trulia, Zillow, and Realtor.com strive to be the consumer’s best advocate. They aim to present honest, valuable information, and want to be known as the “trusted source” for all real estate inquiries. Zillow’s mission statement says it best:
“Our mission is to build the most trusted and vibrant home-related marketplace to empower consumers with information and tools to make intelligent decisions about homes.”
Some Realtors have greatly benefited from these companies and seen their bottom line positively impacted. The amount of traffic these aggregator sites generate can be a great asset to local real estate agents who are constantly striving for increased viewership. Zillow, Trulia and Realtor.com receive millions of visitors, so agents are almost guaranteed to have more exposure if they partner with these companies.
Despite the obvious benefits of advertising on these sites, there are some real estate agents who prefer to stay away. They would rather operate independently of these companies for fear of being exploited. The privilege these sites give to big financial contributors seems troubling to some agents. For example, anyone can have negative reviews removed if they give Zillow a certain amount of money. This practice can be perceived as misleading to the consumer. There is also the issue of inaccurate “zestimates” that some Realtors detest. Very often, these agents have been forced to convince their clients that Zillow’s estimate is wrong, and theirs is the best way to go.
National portals like Trulia, Zillow and Realtor.com are also slow to show new listings. On the local MLS, a property that is listed appears in a matter of minutes. But some studies show that it can take as long as 9 days to populate to nationally syndicated sites like Zillow. That lag time is huge for a buyer and could be the difference between getting the sale or not. This also means that listings shown as “active” on aggregator sites could actually no longer be available. One study found that approximately 36% of the listings shown as active on Zillow and Trulia were no longer for sale in the local MLS, compared with almost 0% on local brokerage websites.
Realtors are forced to weigh between the pros and these sites, and this very act of judging causes much controversy within the industry. The massive amounts of money and influence behind the businesses gives them the ability to reach consumers and present their products as completely trustworthy. Zillow is one of the most used real estate portals currently, and the fact that it has so much readership brings into question whether or not it is a necessary to one’s real estate practice. Simply put, can a Realtor run a successful business without Trulia, Zillow or Realtor.com?
We had an opportunity to discuss this topic with top producer Rama Mehra of the San Francisco East Bay. Rama is now 2nd year recipient of the Worldwide Platinum medal award from Keller Williams . She is also recognized from the Northern California/Hawaii regional offices (given by Tony Brodie) as the top agent for the Danville market center with a volume production of over 40 units and $31,000,000 in production. She believes that a real estate agent can have a successful practice without partnering with Trulia, Zillow and Realtor.com. According to Rama, Realtors offer the same information these companies do.
“A Real Estate agent can very effectively run a business without Trulia, Zillow and Realtor.com. None of them provide anything extraordinary which Realtors cannot access from their own MLS data.”
Her concern is with the tactics third party companies use to attract people to their sites:
“The biggest issue in my opinion is that these companies have run effective marketing campaigns, bringing consumers to their websites; then generating traffic and selling that traffic back to agents. Their agenda right now is to buy out smaller companies that provide services or products for Realtors and consolidate the services Zillow & Trulia offer.”
According to Rama, Realtors who have joined forces with these businesses, do not realize how they are negatively effecting their own personal business:
“Realtors do not understand that by giving their dollars to these companies and blogging on their websites, they are generating traffic for these companies rather than their own websites and creating their own digital footprint.”
Rama believes that experience, local knowledge, integrity and good reputation can not be replaced by technology. Often times, the algorithims (formulas) used by these companies fail to consider the small yet distinct “micromarket’s” within an area that makes each region unique. She suggest that only an experienced real estate agent with local, and detailed understanding of the market can act as the expert in a specific area. There simply is no substitute:
“The real value of a Realtor comes in experience. For example, in my market place I know most of the floor plans, layouts, upgrades, standard options, builder reputation, quality of construction. Appraisers call me to get my input on valuation of many of these homes in Windemere. They are not using Zillow Realtor.com., or Trulia for data only, housing demand, market volatility, consumer demographic, buying selling patterns, why two similar homes do not get similar offers- these are things that cannot be quantified by algorithms.”
So what is the main motive behind these technologically advanced companies? The answers vary. Those Realtors who partner with third party companies and enjoy the benefits of increased viewership, recognize the value it offers consumers and real estate agents. While some agents like Rama, feel that their only motive is money. She believes that these companies are “brain washing” consumers with false data, and playing on their emotions to make them buy into inaccurate information. According to Rama, only an experienced and knowledgable real estate agent could help the consumer weave through the complications and complexities inherent in real estate transactions.
“The push of technology in the name of disruption is nothing but the agenda of the powerful tech companies to generate revenue for themselves. Consumers are being brain washed into believing that data alone is what drives pricing. The biggest ingredient of the soup is emotions- buying and selling a home is a time of emotional turbulence and a good real estate agent is and can be the only neutral party to balance these emotions- a trustworthy source to guide them through the complicated process.”
Whether you are an advocate for Zillow, Trulia, Realtor.com, see these companies as an asset to your practice, or vehemently protest third party sites, the most important thing a Realtor can do is keep their customer’s best interest at heart. With the information that is available to consumers, it is important Realtors continue to build their business upon genuine relationships and great service that can’t be measured. Honesty, integrity and professionalism are the best ways to survive in a constantly changing real estate market. Rama sums it up perfectly:
“Realtors too need to bring their ‘A-game’ to the table. Be an honest and trustworthy person who works only for the best interest of the client. That should be our unique selling point to beat algorithms and apps.”
What do you think? Is it possible to run a successful real estate business without third party sites? Feel free to leave comments below.
For more information about Rama Mehra, for any real estate questions or to speak with her directly contact: