What the Launch of Zillow Offers Means for Agents

The increasing power of Zillow’s online platform since its launch in December 2004 has always been the source of a love it or loathe it conundrum for real estate professionals. While some enjoyed the access the platform gave them to buyer leads through its Premier Agent program, others saw the platform as double-dipping, forcing them to pay for leads generated by the MLS data the agents themselves had helped to develop through their professional services and membership fees.

Beginning in January 2021, Zillow will be using salaried agents to manage its Zillow Offers transactions, a shift away from their previous policy of using real estate agents and brokerage partnerships in each Zillow Offers market. Zillow agents will be W-2 employees who work directly for Zillow and are barred from engaging in outside, non-Zillow transactions. This news comes after years of Zillow’s assurances that it is not focused on moving into traditional real estate sales.

Calling the move an effort “to bring Zillow Offers customers a more simple, integrated transaction experience through added services, managed in-house,” the announcement was greeted with suspicion by many agents, while others were quick to point out the advantages possible through certain aspects of the plan. So is this good news or bad news?

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How Zillow’s IDX is changing

One interesting aspect of the Zillow announcement was the information about its shift away from the way it currently collects data on listings “from thousands of disparate data feeds to MLS Internet Data Exchange (IDX) feeds.” This move is designed, according to Zillow, to facilitate more up-to-date and complete information about the listings on its platforms.

One of the biggest frustrations agents and brokers have had with Zillow historically has been the inaccuracy of some of its listing information, which also impacts its Zillow home value estimates. In addition, because it was not subject to the regulations governing other MLS members (since it wasn’t functioning as a brokerage), it was difficult to facilitate changes if needed on the platform.

With the shift to IDX, Zillow will be subject to the same regulations as individual agents and brokerages. In addition, according to Thompson, as a licensed brokerage Zillow will also be joining the National Association of Realtors (NAR), making it subject to the same code of ethics as the NAR’s other 1.4 million-plus members. This may pave the way for a new era of accountability and cooperation on the part of the platform.

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What does this mean for non-Zillow agents?

Zillow made a point of emphasizing in its announcement that the additional services they would be providing through their move to IDX were “expected to expand opportunities for buyers, sellers, and agents.” The company said that they would expand their Premier Agent business, “including connecting other interested buyers and sellers to Zillow Premier Agents, which is expected to be the preference of the majority of Zillow’s customers.”

According to Jay Thompson, a former brokerage owner, current Arizona broker, and retired Zillow Group employee, Zillow’s focus has always been on the consumer experience. This informs their strategies and development. Therefore, Thompson says that integrating real estate services for their iBuyer platform, Zillow Offers, makes “perfect sense.”

Errol Samuelson, Zillow Group’s chief industry development officer, is on record saying, “In thinking about how to make the customer experience smoother, what we realized is, by having a Zillow employee who’s their end-to-end for the entire transaction, it made the whole transaction easier and more streamlined.”

While agents will continue to debate Zillow’s intentions, from a customer perspective, integrated real estate services for the Zillow Offers platform make sense for Zillow’s stated purpose. Becoming a full-service real estate brokerage company does not. In addition, the improvement of its IDX integration and a greater emphasis on better serving its Premier Agents—many of whom complain about diminishing returns despite ever-increasing investment costs—would be good for the many agents and brokers already working with Zillow in other capacities.

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How can you compete with Zillow now?

The good news is that you don’t have to compete with Zillow, at least in its current iteration. While they are implementing agent services, these services are for their iBuyer program only. As they have been fond of saying in the past, Zillow is in the ad business, not the real estate business. Zillow’s revenue model is primarily focused on optimizing its massive platform and streamlining the customer experience in order to increase ad revenue.

If you are concerned about the potential impact of Zillow agents, your best recourse is to make yourself the opposite of Zillow. Instead of being a generalist, be a specialist. Instead of being everywhere, focus on a particular micro-market or niche. Instead of being a passive platform, leverage your insight and expertise to become an indispensable resource to each of your buyers and sellers.

One thing you’ll want to take from Zillow’s strategy: its focus on the customer. What are you doing each day to ensure that you have optimized every step of your process, from the first contact to the closing follow-up, to maximize the client experience?

Stellar communication, thoughtful information, and prompt attention to the details that matter to your clients—these are the hallmarks of exceptional client services. Streamline operations and processes so that this service is delivered efficiently and effectively. All of this is within your power and control in your real estate business.

These are the benefits that Zillow’s announcement conveyed and these are the things that make Zillow so successful. Do the same thing for each and every client you encounter and you won’t have to worry about Zillow’s next move.

Written by Christy Murdock Edgar

Christy Murdock Edgar is a seasoned real estate writer and frequent columnist for Inman. Her expertise in the realm of real estate has helped agents all over the world improve their content marketing strategies.