Compare Zillow Flex Program and Aalto

For Sellers

Referred Agents
Referral Fee
Zillow Premier Broker program does not provide real estate services to home sellers. Instead, this program matches consumers with various real estate agents in exchange for a 25%-40% referral fee. Zillow Premier Broker results suffer from pay-to-play bias because the network does not match consumers with agents unwilling to pay a significant part of their commission.

For Sellers

Listing Rate
Minimum commissions and other terms may apply. Buyer's Agent Commission (2.5%-3%) is not included, but you may be able to negotiate this as well.

For Buyers

Referred Agents
Referral Fee
Zillow Premier Broker program does not provide real estate services to home buyers. Instead, this program matches consumers with various real estate agents in exchange for a 25%-40% referral fee. Zillow Premier Broker results suffer from pay-to-play bias because the network does not match consumers with agents unwilling to pay a significant part of their commission.

For Buyers

Partner Agents
Referral Fee
Aalto does not provide real estate services to home buyers. Instead, this company claims to match consumers with various buyer agents in exchange for a hidden referral fee. Aalto Partner Agent Network results suffer from pay-to-play bias. It is not entirely clear why Aalto allocates consumers to a “network” of buyer agents, other than to receive a kickback from their commissions. To comply in good faith with RESPA (12 U.S.C. 2607) Section 8 exception for cooperative brokerage and referral arrangements, real estate agents must render referral agreements in a particular instance for a particular transaction. Blanket referral agreements between brokers are prohibited by federal antitrust regulations.
Question: What is the difference between Zillow Flex Program and Aalto?
Answer: Zillow Flex Program is a referral fee network that enables broker-to-broker collusion with use of blanket referral agreements while Aalto is a listing real estate agent that offers savings to home sellers
Compare Zillow Flex Program and Aalto for home buying and selling. HomeOpenly is an impartial and an open resource focused on trending real estate services, portals and start-ups.

First published: 15 August 2021
Last updated: 15 August 2021

Buying and Selling with Zillow Flex Program

Consumer Warning

Zillow Flex Program is a broker-to-broker collusion scheme, where all real estate agents agree to pay massive kickbacks to receive your information. As a consumer, you will always overpay for broker commissions subject to hidden kickbacks and pay-to-play steering promoted in their referral scheme. United States federal antitrust laws prohibit consumer allocation and blanket referral agreements between real estate companies. Do not allow your information to be "sold as a lead" between brokers in exchange for massive commission kickbacks paid from your future home sale, or your future home purchase.

Zillow Flex Program is a real estate referral fee network that is designed to collect undisclosed referral fees from real estate agents. Within this network, Zillow Group screens and refers consumers to real estate agents with a pre-existing "blanket" referral agreements. Zillow Group refers to this referral service as a Zillow Flex Program because it allows brokers to participate without paying any upfront costs to Zillow Group.

As a consumer filling out a contact form on the Zillow-owned (Zillow, Trulia, etc.) web site, "you authorize Zillow to make Real Estate Referral and acknowledge Zillow may be paid valuable consideration for facilitating such referral." Zillow Group does not disclose to consumers how much "valuable consideration" it receives from participating brokers. "The established referral fees are specific to each market in order to account for local pricing trends," according to Zillow.

Zillow Flex Program is a form of pay-to-play consumer brokering product that relies on the use of blanket referral agreements to pay for each referral. Blanket referral agreements between brokers are a per se violation of the Sherman Act. With Zillow Flex Program consumers are effectively pre-screened by Zillow and “sold as leads” to whoever is willing to pay for this information with a share of their commission.

Zillow Flex Program Pricing

Zillow Premier Broker does not offer paid services to consumers directly, instead, the portal generates revenue with estimated 25%-40% referral fees from real estate brokers. Zillow Group declines to disclose the exact fee amount.

Listing Services

  • This Service Does Not Represent Sellers

Buyer's Agent Services

  • This Service Does Not Represent Buyers

Zillow Flex Program Editor's Review:

This review is focused on the Zillow Flex Program program only. Two separate reviews are assigned to Zillow Instant Offers and Zillow MLS aggregator programs. Since Zillow was first founded, it has idolized itself as a real estate Internet company. However, with an introduction of Zillow Flex Program in 2018, this is no longer the case.

Today, Zillow acts as a "paper" real estate broker. This fact allows Zillow to receive referral fees from real estate agents across the United States.

Zillow operates under the following real estate brokerage license in the following States:

Arizona CO580407000
California 01522444
California 01980367
Colorado 100080923
Florida CQ1058944
Georgia 76885
Minnesota 40638657
Nevada B.1002277.CORP
North Carolina C30388
Texas 549646
Washington 21212
Wisconsin 835987-91

Real estate agents are allowed to pay one another referral fees with a narrow RESPA provision that is needed to allow individual agents to refer business to other individual agents outside their service area. Despite being registered as a broker, Zillow does not perform real estate services, it simply sends leads to specific agents within its network and uses a real estate license to collect a back-loaded referral fee in the process.

Referral fee revenue is 32x that of a regular advertisement revenue because it results in an economic process called reverse competition, where consumers suffer from elevated costs and lower service as a result. A referral network is anything but free.

The following are some telling quotes from Zillow itself and a Premier Broker program participants. These words speak for themselves.

  • "We receive listing and buyer referrals directly from Zillow's Premier Broker concierge services. These leads have been scrubbed and vetted before they are directly handed off to you." Source: Sonoma County RE/MAX Marketplace, Zillow Flex Program participant.
  • "We will validate all leads first, then send agent-ready buyers to you." Source: Zillow website.
  • "What happens if you miss a call? Don't worry. You won't lose your place in the queue and we will call you with the next connection we validate." Source: Zillow website.

Zillow Group does not disclose the exact amount in referral fees it collects from Premier Brokers, aside from stating that it is an "industry standard." Similar referral fee networks typically receive 25%-40% of the agent's total commission. This is a good reference for the amount in commissions consumers can expect to overpay for their real estate services with a Premier Broker. Zillow Flex Program is a pay-to-play process that harms the industry as a whole and makes buying and selling homes more expensive.

Why does the Zillow allow for such poor UX? There are thousands and sometimes tens of thousands in fees collected from each transaction effectively hidden in consumer’s commission.

Consumers in the United States have been systematically conditioned to a 6% "standard" commission structure, a non-negotiable fact that needs no justification. Unfortunately, this inefficiency alone breeds uncompetitive behavior where real estate agents can easily pay tens of thousands in fees because they are recoverable with a high commission.

Consumers are truly forgotten in this model as an afterthought. When these exigent commissions are amortized over the first five years of homeownership, these fees are the highest single expense line-item - more than the insurance, more than the interest, more than utilities. Clearly, real estate agents only sign-up with Premier Broker because the price of the referral fee can be easily incorporated into their client's agreement with excessive commissions.

RESPA allows for an exception for real estate agents if and only if “all parties are acting in a real estate brokerage capacity" so that individual agents can refer each other when they are out of the local area. This exception has now been turned up-side-down where a referral network does not act in the capacity of a real estate broker. Zillow Group simply uses a license to collect fees without any tangible services done as defined by said license.

Consumers looking to work with a legitimate real estate agent on fair terms should absolutely avoid Zillow Flex Program and never release their full name, email and a phone number to Zillow Group.

The issue of having all US residential real estate markets heavily subjected to these schemes results in noncompetitive behavior, higher costs to consumers and lower quality of service. Having agents "commonly" pay networks 25%-45% of their commission is the true reason why real estate is broken.

Zillow Group matches consumers with "great, amazing, top-producing, perfect agents" based on who first picks up the phone and who is willing to kick in a chunk of their commission, this is the main basis for this process.

What happens when this flawed revenue model is no longer sustainable due to competitive commissions entering the market? The next stage of real estate innovation will have to account for this reality. In play are now competitive open rates, flat fees and buyer’s refunds from highly qualified real estate agents.

Transparent commission rates will eventually bring and end to a pay-to-play phenomenon in the real estate process where programs like Premier Broker simply cannot exist.

Today, consumers should be careful and only negotiate with agents that have no referral fee agreements signed, this is the only way to negotiate for full service at a market rate.

Where does Zillow Flex Program operate?

Zillow Flex Program currently operates in select areas across Fort Collins, CO, Pueblo, CO, New Haven, CT, Norwich, CT, Phoenix, AZ and Atlanta, GA..

Selling with Aalto

Aalto is a California savings tech-enabled broker (California DRE 02062727) that offers consumers listing savings for select areas around San Francisco Bay Area. Aalto claims that it does not list homes on the MLS (and, subsequently, these homes are not shown on MLS aggregators, such as Zillow, Trulia, etc. or on the competing brokers’ websites such as Redfin.) During our research, however, we found that at least several listings are listed by Aalto agents on the MLS, making it unclear why the brokerage lists some homes on MLS and not others, or how the brokerage complies with local MLS rules.

Listing homes off-MLS has potential disadvantages to home sellers. Buyers are systematically searching open MLS listings for new homes, which is the whole reason why MLS exists. Selling a home off-MLS (also known as pocket listings) is a conflicting practice because, naturally, it excludes a large number of potential buyers from looking at sellers’ homes.

If a property is not listed on the MLS, the listing agent or brokerage is more likely to represent the buyer, a situation that is often defined by state law as “dual agency” representation. Dual agency must typically be disclosed, and it’s up to buyers and sellers whether they want to engage in a dual agency transaction. Some sellers don’t mind getting less money if they can sell a home privately, but statistically speaking, there are little to no advantages to listing homes off-MLS.

Aalto Pricing

Aalto offers savings to sellers (1% listing fee). Aalto does not advertise buyer’s refunds and does not offer consumers buyer representation services. Instead, Aalto claims to connect potential home buyers to “partner agents,” likely receiving 25% to 35% as a kickback from the Buyer Agent Commissions (BAC.) Aalto likely keeps the entire Buyer’s Agent Commission when it represents home buyers, but sellers can determine what buy-side commission they offer (normally 2.5%). In the event Aalto acts as a dual agent, the total fee it likely receives is 3.5% (1% listing fee plus 2.5% BAC)

Listing Services

  • Off-MLS Listing
  • Pocket Listing
  • Accept and Deliver All Offers and Counteroffers
  • Hold Open Houses
  • Professional Photography
  • Yard Signage Installation
  • Spare Key Lock-box Installation
  • Schedule Inspection Services
  • Schedule Private Showings
  • Closing Duties

Buyer's Agent Services

  • This Service Does Not Represent Buyers

Aalto Editor's Review:

Aalto is a tech-enabled listing real estate agent that represents consumers in select areas of Northern California and offers sizeable savings (1% listing rate against 3% listing commission, excluding BAC) to sellers. Aalto's service includes posting home on their website as an off-MLS listing, professional photos, and 3D images in addition to some typical services offered by a traditional real estate agent. It is unclear if and how many open houses Aalto agents typically hold.

Overall, Aalto offers a questionable off-MLS proposition to sellers, and the company does not openly advertise any savings and tangible services to buyers (other than a blanket buyer agent referral.)

Aalto argues that pocket listings are perfectly legal and serve the needs of many sellers in today's residential markets, against opponents who raise open market, fiduciary duty, and fair housing concerns.

Pocket listings (also known as "quiet" or "off-market" listings) involve the practice of withholding residential listing data from multiple listing service (MLS) systems. Instead, the property is marketed by Aalto brokerage using its website, to existing clients, and new prospects that happen to look there. The practice typically proliferates when market conditions include low inventories, low mortgage rates, and rising home prices. In hot market conditions, home sellers may receive enough buyer offers to outweigh the effects of the limited exposure of their homes on the open market.

Opponents of the practice argue that sellers may be disserved by pocket listings since MLS systems provide the widest possible market exposure and thus produce the highest possible selling prices. They also assert that pocket listings harm the effectiveness of the MLS cooperative brokerage system, skew MLS listings-based data that support accurate property valuations, and beg the question of whether agents may be utilizing narrowed marketing methods to collect the full available brokerage commission instead of soliciting purchase offers through cooperating brokers.

Proponents of the practice say that there are many reasons why sellers may not want to engage in the traditional practice of listing their properties on an MLS. For example, pocket listings are sometimes used to market high-end luxury homes whose owners have no interest in allowing showings to the general public and want the property marketed to those who have realistic means of purchasing it.

Other sellers may have privacy or security concerns about listing properties on widely broadcast MLSs or publishing interior photos of the property. Pocket listing proponents also argue that the MLS, which publishes the number of days a property has been on the market, can disadvantage owners who experience failed transactions due to complications that have nothing to do with the fair market price of the property.

Both supporters and critics generally agree that pocket listings are not illegal, per se. Real estate licensing laws, which vary among jurisdictions, may dictate the specific form of written listing agreement that must be used by licensees, the point at which it must be executed and/or require that certain brokerage relationships and other types of disclosures be included in the agreement. But the manner in which the property is to be marketed, and for what amount and form of brokerage commission, are matters that are generally left to be negotiated by the listing licensee and the seller.

A pocket listing policy subjects Aalto to accusations that they put their own interest in collecting a commission for both "sides" of a transaction ahead of the seller's interests in obtaining the highest possible sale price. Aalto keeps the entire Buyer’s Agent Commission when it acts as a dual agent, but sellers are able to determine what buy-side commission they offer (normally 2.5%). In effect, whenever a buyer is unrepresented, Aalto's total commission is likely 3.5% and not 1% as advertised. According to Aalto, "You are advised that a dual agency relationship may arise if an Aalto Advisor represents both you and a buyer of a property. If a dual agency relationship arises, the terms of such dual representation will be subject to a separate written agreement between you and your Aalto Advisor."

Other critics question whether sellers are being provided with disclosures that fully explain the potential disadvantages of narrowed marketing efforts. Regardless of those issues, it is fairly clear that real estate brokerage relationships, disclosures, advertising, conflicts of interest, and other licensing law strictures may raise serious issues with off-MLS practices.

Aalto further claims to operate a "marketplace" for homeowners. "Aalto's homeowner marketplace connects sellers to qualified buyers, saving you time, stress, and money." Aalto is not a marketplace, but a listing real estate agent with a website. Unlike MLS aggregators, Aalto does not display listings from other brokerages, and, therefore, lacks the networks effects required to deliver a full marketplace experience. Aalto is one of the millions of real estate agents in the United States.

Aalto's proposition is different from a typical listing agent by the mere fact that the listing addresses are hidden. "It is free to get started on Aalto" further makes for a very odd proposition, where it is free to get a listing started with any real estate broker.

"Prior to opening a home for showings through Aalto, sharing your property’s address through Aalto, or receiving the contact information of interested Buyers, a Seller must enter into a written agreement for real estate brokerage services between such Seller and Aalto," in another word, listing a home on Aalto is not free. Real estate brokers never work for free, and sellers' information will be shown only after they sign a listing agreement.

"Sellers start with Aalto earlier than traditional real estate, widening the time frame for homes to be on the market. That means more homes, sooner" is another odd proposition without any basis to substantiate the claim. Buyers browsing homes on Aalto have highly limited information about these properties, numbered at a fraction, of a fraction, of a fraction, of all homes available on the MLS.

"The Partner Agent Program is covered by the Partner Agent Terms of Service. Aalto is not responsible for the work performed or the services provided by any individual in connection with the Partner Agent Program." As a consumer, you will always overpay for broker commissions subject to hidden kickbacks and pay-to-play steering promoted in Aalto referral scheme to an unknown number of buyer agents. United States federal antitrust laws prohibit consumer allocation and blanket referral agreements between real estate companies. Homebuyers should avoid their information being "sold as a lead" between brokers in exchange for hidden commission kickbacks paid from the future home purchase administered by the Aalto Partner Agent Program.

We find no solid evidence that Aalto offers home sellers any advantages to sell homes for higher amounts, in fact, the opposite is much more likely. By withholding listings from the MLS, home sellers are likely missing out on the vast majority of tangible offers from the bulk of the home buyers and their respective buyer agents.

At the same time, some home sellers may decide for themselves that the off-MLS approach is worth the added risk and limited exposure for individual reasons. Aalto does save home sellers equity by offering a 1% listing rate against a 3% listing rate (this rate does not include 2.5% BAC typically offered at 2.5% to the buyer agent.)

Homebuyers should avoid Aalto Partner Agent Program due to hidden kickbacks and consumer allocation between licensed brokers. A homebuyer can easily negotiate a buyer refund on the open market with a licensed real estate broker in California - a fact that Aalto brokerage is silent on. Buyer refunds can save homebuyers tens of thousands in tax-free cash because the refund comes from the estimated 2.5% BAC proceeds received by the buyer agent.

HomeOpenly editorial staff remains overall neutral on the subject with a 3 out of 5-star rating for Aalto: we can neither recommend Aalto nor suggest that sellers refrain from using the brokerage to list their homes off-MLS.

As always, we encourage our users to post helpful and independent reviews about this business with any sentiment. With a controversial proposition such as Aalto, consumer feedback becomes incredibly valuable information to other consumers. HomeOpenly encourages users to post helpful, relevant, and reliable consumer reviews, but users are ultimately responsible for the quality of the content.

Where does Aalto operate?

Aalto currently operates in select areas across San Francisco Bay Area.