Loyalty, not listings

I was in Iceland last week, but even 3,500 miles away, I couldn’t avoid Zillow’s #PremierAgentForum in Las Vegas. For 24 hours, it blanketed my social media timelines like moss on a lava field.

It looks like they produced a great show, one that seems to have stacked up against any of the big conferences in real estate, or any of the big real estate brand shows for that matter: R4, GenBlue, Family Reunion, etc.

As I watched the tweetstorm of effusive praise roll by, I couldn’t help but wonder to myself – “What brand do these agents feel most loyal to these days?”

Do they see themselves primarily as RE/MAX, Coldwell Banker or Keller Williams agents? Or do they think of themselves as Zillow Premier Agents above all else?

I suspect for a good deal of them, it is the latter.

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Agent loyalty is the lifeblood of a brokerage.

There are many great real estate companies and leaders out there that understand this. They secure agent hearts and minds through culture, vision and leadership: Howard Hanna, Pacific Union, Rand Realty, among many others. They get it. They know they must create something unique that will keep their agents close to the brand.

Retaining that devotion is a full-time job for brokers. Moving forward, I think this will only become more critical, as Zillow accelerates its own agent culture.

Zillow is giving their agent customers almost all they need to run a successful real estate business. It started with the obvious: leads. But they are now providing impressive technology – a new Premier Agent app – and are leveraging their vast operational expertise to provide a new service called Premier Agent Assist, which acts as an outsourced call center and virtual assistant service for their customers.

This is all wrapped up with a big nice shiny bow once a year: a couple days in Vegas, a rented nightclub. Friends, drinks, mixers, selfies. The whole shebang. Life’s pretty good if you’re in Zillow World.

Which brings me back to my point. These are all things that the brokers and brands in real estate have traditionally provided their agents. So if Zillow has picked off all the fun stuff, what’s left?

I remember back in 2006, when Zillow launched, there was a lot of chatter about them becoming a brokerage. That they could get their broker licenses in all 50 states, snag the IDX feeds and drive a stake into brokers’ businesses.

But I don’t think they even need to do that anymore. In fact, why bother? Why deal with the headache? If they end up winning the hearts and minds of productive agents, the result could end up being the same anyway.

The fear for so many years among brokers is that Zillow is building its business off their listings, but I’ve come to believe that is missing the forest for the trees, or the lichen for the lava field, if you will. The truth is, I suspect, rather more simple… Zillow is building its business off of their agents’ loyalty.

And that’s a far more precious commodity.

[Full disclosure: Howard Hanna, Pacific Union and Rand Realty are 1000WATT clients.]