Hi, it’s Taylor Swift.
Home is a special place. Growing up, home was where I felt most free to be myself. I know you have that feeling too. It’s in all of us.
Finding a home in which you can live your best life is a journey, and it’s so important to have someone you trust to guide you. I have come to understand just how important having that person is when buying or selling a home. It means everything.
That’s why I am excited to share that I have launched something special for all of you. It’s called My Favorite Agents, and I know you’ll be as excited about this as I am.
Now, for the first time ever, you can start your journey to buy a home, or sell a home, with a real estate agent my team has vetted to meet my standards for expertise and kindness. We select only agents who are local experts in your market, and who agree to treat you as they would treat me.
I am also making My Favorite Agents 100% free to all of you. There is no cost to get connected with the perfect partner for your journey, because I want you to find your own special place to call home.
With all my best wishes,
This business would be as big as Zillow within a year.
Z does about $1.5 billion annually connecting people with real estate agents. My sketchy iPhone calculator math tells me that Taylor would have to touch about 10% of all transactions at a 35% referral fee to beat that.
You don’t think Taylor Swift could do this? I mean, Zillow’s got a big brand. But Taylor Swift? She’s got 100X the juice. Right now, she’s pretty much keeping our economy from sliding into a recession. Taylor Swift is a cultural and economic juggernaut powered by adoration.
It’s kind of depressing to think about this, really, but it’s not real, and a Taylor Swift real estate play is almost certainly not going to happen in the future.
Unfortunately, what got me thinking about this is real and is even more depressing.
We just conducted a survey with our friends at BAM of 1,000 agents across the country for an upcoming report. One of the questions we asked was where the agents who are paying for leads are getting them.
Predictably, Zillow led the pack, followed by Realtor.com, HomeLight, and Ojo. We asked respondents who did not choose one of the big names to cite their source.
Let’s just say that a lot of people have their hands in the real estate cookie jar.
Former Fox News commentator Glenn Beck, for example, who was mentioned several times by respondents, owns Glenn Beck’s Real Estate Agents I Trust. Dude is squeezing what remains of his celebrity to rake referral fees from deals.
Somewhat less random is financial guru Dave Ramsey, who offers to connect his audience of millions to “Ramsey Trusted” agents.
Sure, OK, fine.
I know these things have been around forever. And they take many forms. There’s nothing conceptually different from Glenn Beck and Zillow, honestly. The formula is simple: Build an audience, get licensed, make connections, collect referrals. Zillow adds tons of value for consumers, so there’s a big difference in execution, but you take my point.
You could argue that there’s absolutely nothing odious about this. Agents have been paying referral fees forever. In relocation, for example. You could say that agents gotta get business somehow, and how’s this any worse than paying for a newspaper or bus bench ad 30 years ago? And that everybody does it anyway — think 1-800-Dentist.
And yet… it’s all different. If you’ve spent any time in real estate, you are quite familiar with the “referral agent,” the licensee who doesn’t actually practice real estate, but is adept at running their own little Glenn Beck operation from the tennis club, neighborhood association, or maybe just by being obnoxious on Facebook. There are also tons of hustlers happy to set you up on this magical path. There’s a subculture of vampirism in our world, and it has grown in recent years.
Spend 15 minutes Googling around this space. It’s like wandering a few blocks off the Las Vegas strip, and will make you feel just as grimy.
So listen, my point: I may find all of this foul, but whatever, that’s me, Mr. Prim and Proper. The actual problem is deeper. If commissions are under attack, if the industry is increasingly accused of sloppy, shady, anticompetitive stuff, if smart lawyers and policy makers are investing energy in turning over all the rocks in the business, and if good agents and brokers are forced to compete with bozos for too few transactions, well, this is just reckless. It’s a bad look in this context, at the very least. And why must pro agents have to live with this constant skim?
And at the end of the day, if someone were to ask, “Hey, would real estate fees be a lot lower if there weren’t so many people not actually working in real estate taking 20, 30, 40 percent of so many deals?” it might get a tad uncomfortable.
The residential real estate industry has mastered the self-own.
It might be good to break that pattern before we get owned.
Or before Taylor Swift sets up her referral network.
Enjoy your weekend.