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Friday Flash: “I Can’t believe it’s Not Brokerage!” and better drinking through technology

I think finding the right Realtor is the great unsolved problem in online real estate.

If we can mine our social graphs to find a pet sitter, surely we can transport an ingrained offline behavior – getting referred to an agent by a friend – to the online world. It’s just a matter of time.

Trulia has stuck a toe in this water with Social Search, but it’s positioned as an agent tool and limited to the Trulia agent directory. Realtor.com has gone deeper with its Hyper Social initiative but it, too, is an agent focused play.

A couple of promising, if flawed, data-driven attempts to solve this problem have been smothered in the cradle, launching and disappearing within days.

So the problem remains. It would be good to see brokers and MLSs jump on it now, not respond to and recriminate over an outside entity’s innovation later.

ListHub, the listings syndicator owned by Move, released a new dashboard that gives brokers more information about the publishers to which they can distribute listings.

Brokers (ListHub does not allow agents to syndicate listings directly) can now sort publishers by filters like “Does not re-syndicate” or “Displays listing broker name.”

It might be simpler just to offer a “Does not mess with my data or business model” filter.

But seriously, I think brokers now have a better basis upon which to make informed syndication decisions. Perhaps less obviously but more importantly, they now have a platform from which they might collectively bargain with publishers.

The brokers’ responsibility? Pay attention!

The sooner the broker/publisher relationship settles into a place where everybody’s cool, the better. There are more important things to focus on.

Since I mentioned re-syndication, I’ll give you an example:

When you visit this page on Curbed, the real estate media site active in about a dozen markets, you see a “House of the Day:”

House of the day

This is a property listed by Houlihan Lawrence, a large brokerage north of New York City (and a 1000watt client). Curbed attracts consumer attention with this content and then sells that attention to advertisers. Curbed got this listing from Zillow (that’s the re-syndication part) and links to the listing as it appears there.

Curbed gets content. Zillow gets link love and distribution and Houlihan Lawrence exposes its listing to a very large audience.

Win-win-win? Or shall we get out the pitchforks and torches?

The answer, either way, should be based on analysis, not impulse.

This Silicon Alley Insider interview of Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff is worth reading. Spencer lays out the market opportunity they’re after very clearly.

The salient quote:

‘We’re trying to move to a world where agents wake up, roll out of bed, and pull out their tablet or PC and manage their day and their workflow based on the tools that Zillow provides to them.”

He also reiterates what Zillow will not go after:

“We have been very clear with the industry that our grand vision is to be a media company, and not to be a brokerage. They want to make sure that we will not have Zillow real estate agents and we will not actually compete with them.”

I believe him.

But here’s the thing: If you’re giving agents marketing support, training, tools for managing your business and loads of information all wrapped in a brand that has resonance with consumers, you’ve essentially created something akin to “I Can’t Believe it’s Not Brokerage!”

I wonder what Fabio is up to these days.

You may think this post is a Zillow-hating rant. It’s not.

It’s a call to action to brokers to create new ways to engage consumers and deliver value to agents.

It is possible.

Holy cow. They’ve done it! The spill-proof beer.

Enjoy the weekend.

[Disclosure: Move, Inc., which operates Realtor.com, is a 1000watt client]

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10 Responses to “Friday Flash: “I Can’t believe it’s Not Brokerage!” and better drinking through technology”

  1. Parker says:

    Do all of these companies really deserve a portion of our commissions? Brokerages should team up and create a non-MLS/NAR portal to display their listings. The brokerage receives the listing inquiry leads and the data will be more accurate and better for the consumer. Participating brokers get the data feeds for their own sites and participating brokerages must meet minimum service requirements. Advertising and current agent/broker MLS/NAR fees go to run the site. Okay, might as well stop dreaming…this might flush out too many inferior agents and brokers.

  2. Alon Chaver says:

    Love your thought provoking “Friday posts” Brian :-)

    Any ideas/examples of “new ways to engage consumers and deliver value to agents” brokers can come up with?

    Delivering sufficient value to agents in order to overcome the appeal of Zillow’s “agents marketing support, training, tools for managing your business and loads of information all wrapped in a brand that has resonance with consumers” seems like a pretty tall order.

    – Alon

    • Parker says:

      300,000 producing realtors at an annual $200 per pop – $60,000,000, 10% management fee over cost. The value is producing a better system for consumers that saves money for realtors/brokers.

    • Alon Chaver says:

      I agree with your math Parker – what I mean to say is, I think this “value offering” displacing a lot of what the brokers currently do and I struggle to see much opportunity for local brokers (as opposed to Franchisors) to compete with such offerings at the scale you point out.

      In light of such numbers, you have to ask “Are local brokers heading the way of the local travel agents”?

      – Alon

  3. Ross K says:

    Already underway in Canada guys. The Zillow BS just does not fly north of the border.

    It is amazing to watch regional MLS associations without a single property portal expert on staff making massive online marketing decision that will forever change the face of real estate. If you ever need help email me at rosskay@rosskay.com

  4. Mark McLaughlin says:

    Brian –

    Fascinating perspective – especially from Mr. Rascoff, CEO, Zillow! If Zillow does aspire to be of value to a real estate professional one would think his first set of priorities and commitment to our industry would be as follows:

    1 – Use an IDX feed for listing content. It comes with a set of standards, ethics, cooperation and respect that the entire industry is based upon.

    2 – Treat our “exclusive listings” as exactly that – do not leverage them against us to create revenue opportunities.

    3 – If you site traffic is so substantial and focused these consumers will certainly pay a modest monthly fee for access to timely and accurate information.

    4 – Discontinue the industry’s most obnoxious tool, the z-estimate! It is rarely, if ever, accurate and does not serve a consumer well.

    It is time for the real estate industry to stand shoulder-to-shoulder and create a bill of right for the syndicators. Once all our interests are aligned, I welcome the opportunity for Mr. Rascoff to present his valuable tool set to our professionals.

    Mark A McLaughlin
    Pacific Union International, Inc.

    • Ross K says:

      There is simply no financially viable way to safely Syndicate, nor is there any statistically viable data to attach any positive consequences to syndication.

      Clearly with mls associations being forbidden by federal statute for establishing membership criteria that prevents attacks from web entreprenuers from gaining IDX access to all regional mls content, the current model is no longer valid for mls.

      Really it is time for a competitive mls system to launch in each regional association area, but as a private enterprise owned by the majority of the regional mls users who share common business model goals. There is no stAtute in any state that prevents a competiing system from starting up and further nothing stopping one brokerage from belonging to multiple mls sustems.

      Then you need to consider a regional property portal that generates 3rd party passive income streams as your marketing portal of choice for all owners of your new for profit mls.

      What REALTORS don’t get is a system like this can be up and running in 30 days with an upfront cost(including staff) for under 100,000 dollars for the first 365 days of operation. After that time the system generates positive cash flow making it not only zero cost to the REALTOR owners but actually provide quarterly earnings from over 137 potential revenue streams REALTORS are already creating but generating no income from.

      ZILLOW is worth nothing unless the REALTORs supply it with content. Foolish to build a marketing medium for someone else to earn money from and subsequently force you to pay to be seen on.

    • Alon Chaver says:


      I think you are spot on (here and in your extremely thoughtful Open Letter to Trulia)…but what I am missing are “the incentives” for Zillow to do what you suggest.

      How can anyone generate venture returns without “disrupting” the rules of the current ecosystem?

      How can any public company successfully exceed analyst expectations, quarter after quarter, without continually extracting more value from the market?

      What would the added costs of complying with suggestions #1 and #2 do to Zillow’s profit margins? Rate of growth?

      Isn’t that a big part of the industry outrage: We all have to “fish by the rules” and “pay (fishing) license fees” – how can we compete with Zillow’s ability to “just go upstream, use nets, and pay nothing”?

      This is not to say that Zillow has not delivered value to consumers…and maybe even agents.

      But until “the real estate industry stands shoulder-to-shoulder”, and figures out how to structure the right incentives for Zillow to align with the long-term success of the entire industry, they will have to continue to do exactly what they are doing.


      – Alon

  5. Michael Sosnowski says:

    So, if i listen to the wonderful life BS being tossed around by the CEO of Zillow, I should just put my (and my company’s) future in his hands – how comforting.

    Local boards still have all the power – they just don’t have the strength, business plan and overall creative know-how to take back control. I continue to congratulate those MLS’s that have opted out of syndication.

    The report you referenced by ListHub is really a joke. A long list of syndication partners – but only the top few who actually have any views – Oh wait, I need to check for listing info on Vast and Hotpads – really!

    Regarding the property on Curbed – the brokerage in NYC should have a website or blog that functions as Curbed does – only better and LOCAL!

  6. Ross K says:

    Here are some hidden facts Zillow does not disclose.

    Each REALTOR in North America generates (on average) over $8000 per year in potential 3rd party passive income streams. Brokerages themselves on top of the $8000/associate streams, represent over $50,000 each if they have at least a 5% market share in a trade area with population of over 100,000. Some of the larger brokerages have the potential to generate passive income in the Millions, on top of the $8000 each associate in their office would also earn.

    Zillow’s long term goal is to capture those revenue streams and others. It will do anything it can to accomplish this goal.

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