Compare Zillow Flex Program and Blend Realty

For Sellers

Referred Agents
25%-40%
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

Not Applicable
0
No Rates
Blend Realty does not currently allocate home sellers to listing real estate agents.

For Buyers

Referred Agents
25%-40%
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
20%
Referral Fee
Blend Realty is a paper broker that does not provide real estate services to home buyers. Instead, this company allocates consumers to real estate agents in exchange for a 20% referral fee. Blend Realty further price fixes buyer commission rebates for Partner Agents set at 1% of their Buyer’s Agent Commission (BAC) in an effort to entice more consumers into the price fixing scheme.
Question: What is the difference between Zillow Flex Program and Blend Realty?
Answer: Both Zillow Flex Program and Blend Realty function as a referral fee network that enables broker-to-broker collusion with use of blanket referral agreements.
Compare Zillow Flex Program and Blend Realty 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: 21 April 2021
Last updated: 25 April 2021

Buying and Selling with Zillow Flex Program

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..

Buying with Blend Realty

Blend Realty is a paper brokerage that operates a consumer allocation and a price fixing scheme designed to collect referral fees by matching consumers with local real estate agents willing to pay it. Blend Realty operates under a variety of broker licenses, mainly California DRE license 02101769 issued to Blend Brokerage, Inc., but it does not produce any services that are typically offered by real estate agents and does not represent consumers when buying or selling real estate in any State. In exchange for matching consumers with an Blend Realty Partner Agent, Blend Realty is compensated by the Partner Agent with 20% cut of their commission. The broker advertises their scheme to Partner Agents as a service where “Buyers have been approved by our network of lenders. No cost to join. No obligation. No upfront fees. No setup fees. No marketing fees. Pay 20% upon a successful closing.

Blend Realty Pricing

Blend Realty revenue comes from the use of blanket referral agreements with random real estate brokers. Blend Realty is a broker-to-broker collusion scheme that scrubs consumer’s information from their network of lenders and passes it along to a colluding broker who is willing to pay for it with a 20% cut of their commission. Blend Realty’s blanket referral agreements further require colluding brokers to price fix their rebates at 1% of the total home purchase amount refunded to their homebuyer from the Buyer’s Agent Commission (BAC) received. This amount can also be expressed as a 30%-40% buyer commission rebate from what is typically a 2.5% to 3% BAC offered to the buyer’s agent by the home seller.

Listing Services

  • This Service Does Not Represent Sellers

Buyer's Agent Services

  • This Service Does Not Represent Buyers

Blend Realty Editor's Review:

For consumers, Blend Realty promises a real estate agent “concierge” platform for top local real estate agents. By gathering consumers’ home preferences and budgets while shopping for a mortgage, Blend Realty scrubs users' information and feeds it into their network of real estate brokers. According to Blend Realty Privacy Policy:

"We collect information for the purpose of connecting you with a real estate agent as part of your home shopping experience. We may connect you directly with a real estate agent or a Broker that maintains a network of agents who will connect you with a real estate agent in their network. We may share the information you provide with, and/or make that information available to, real estate agents, Brokers and/or their successors-in-interest in order to facilitate the process of providing the service you request from us""
"We pre-qualify buyers, filter out the tire-kickers, and connect you with motivated buyers that have a qualification letter from our network of lenders"

For real estate professionals, Blend Realty promises a “no upfront costs” led generation by scrubbing consumers’ information when they shop for their mortgage with various lenders. "These are broker to broker referrals and our buyers have been approved by our network of lenders. The buyers are ready to go house hunting," says the company in their promotional material in their attempt to lure in brokers. Once a potential homebuyer is identified, a Blend Realty initiates a transfer to the Partner Agent. Blend Realty representatives give Partner Agents all the background information on the homebuyer to make the transition as warm as possible.

In other words, Blend Realty is a consumer allocation scheme that scrubs consumer’s information and passes it along to a broker who is willing to pay for it with a cut of their commission: “Never pay for a buyer upfront, only at closing.” If a broker is unwilling to give a portion of their commission to Blend Realty, or to engage in plain price fixing with another broker, the company has no interest in recommending them. Blend Realty further takes no responsibility for any of the actions of the brokers that they allocate to consumers.

"Blend Realty is a separate entity from Blend Labs, Inc. (“Blend Labs”) where you may have previously applied for a residential loan or mortgage. The Service facilitates the process of collecting and providing your information to real estate brokers (“Broker” or “Brokers”), for the purposes of connecting you with a real estate agent. The Service also facilitates the process of collecting and providing your information to moving services including, but not limited to, moving companies, address updating services, and home phone, cable, and internet providers (“Moving Services”)."
"Blend Realty has no control over, and assumes no responsibility for, the content, accuracy, privacy policies, or practices of, or opinions expressed in, any third-party or Broker websites or by any third-party or Broker that you interact with through the Service. In addition, Blend Realty will not and cannot monitor, verify, censor, or edit the content of any third-party or Broker website or service. By using the Service, you release and hold us harmless from any and all liability arising from your use of any third-party website or service."

In effect, Blend Realty is a self-serving scheme designed to funnel consumers toward brokers who pay them a kickback at the close of consumers’ transactions. Consumers using Blend Realty have zero control over what agents the company shares their information with. Instead of being “scrubbed” and “sold as leads” consumers looking for a competitive and fair representation can consider negotiating directly with real estate agents, or with help from unbiased consumer-focused online services that do not collect referral fees.

Price Fixing

Agents must never agree on commission rates or buyer rebate amounts with any outside party. Agents must take care to avoid even the implication that they have discussed or reached an agreement about their service offerings, buyer rebates, and/or listing rates due to any outside influence, especially with another broker.

Broker compensation fees must never be fixed via agreements between two or more brokers anywhere in the United States. All commissions and rebates must be set by each real estate agent individually and may only be negotiable between the consumer and the real estate agent.

Genuine quality and honest real estate professionals establish pricing for their services independently, and without any kickbacks. The truth is, every single agent is different, and every single agent has an individual commission structure. If an agent is unwilling to negotiate competitive buyer rebate terms in compliance with the law, there is no reason for homebuyers to assume that they will be willing to negotiate competitively when it comes to their home purchase.

More importantly, in the United States price-fixing is an illegal uncompetitive practice, a felony, outlawed by the virtue of Section 1 of the Sherman Antitrust Act.

Consumer Allocation

Blend Realty is a broker-to-broker collusion scheme. All Partner Agents agree to pay Blend Realty a pre-arranged referral fee, on all closed transactions, through their employing broker. A referral agreement between Blend Realty and a Partner Agent for a random transaction that may or may not happen sometime in the future is executed in advance.

Blend Realty engages in consumer and market allocation agreements with Partner Agents brokerages, because it is a broker itself. Instead of representing consumers to help buy and sell homes, this “paper” brokerage actively disengages from its licensed activities so that every Partner Agent knows that Blend Brokerage, Inc. will not compete with them. Blend Realty does not act in a real estate brokerage capacity, instead, their real estate license is used to collect a blanket referral fee from the largest number of brokers possible.

Sherman Antitrust Act effectively requires all active real estate brokers to proactively compete for consumers. An agreement or an understanding between brokers not to compete for a mutual benefit is a "per se" violation of antitrust regulations in the United States.

The amount of a referral fee between brokers must be negotiated with respect to an individual transaction. It is a per se violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act for real estate brokers to agree on a “standard” referral fee that will be paid for producing a client. Real estate professionals are not allowed to enter into blanket referral agreements between one another because such agreements always restrict free trade.

Brokers are not allowed to organize their operations into any collusion schemes and networks, and instead, all brokers must compete for consumers on a fair playing field. Legitimate agents who choose NOT to engage in the Blend Realty “no upfront costs” scheme are harmed as well because consumers are steered away from them in a highly competitive real estate market.

Kickbacks and Unearned Fees

RESPA, among other things, is designed to prohibit abusive practices such as kickbacks and referral fees between mortgage companies and real estate brokers.

The statutory exemption for a payment to a cooperative brokerage and referral arrangements between real estate agents and real estate brokers requires all agents to compete against one another. To comply in good faith with RESPA (12 U.S.C. 2607) Section 8 exception for cooperative brokerage and referral arrangements, legitimate real estate agents must render referral agreements in a particular instance for a particular transaction.

Actions of Blend Realty “paper” brokerage directly increase the costs of owning homes in the United States due to added blanket referral fees, consumer allocation practices, price fixing, and reverse completion between brokers. Partner Agents in the scheme have no incentive to compete for consumers individually with lower fees, instead, they have an incentive to compete for Blend Realty’ attention. In this scheme, both colluding parties benefit from offering consumers higher commissions. Blend Realty promotes Partner Agents as somehow “superior” to those outside of the network, thus limiting free-market competitive forces and steering consumers in self-interest toward a network of very few agents who chose to agree to participate in the scheme.

Similar attempts to by-pass RESPA prohibition against kickbacks by means of delivering a “service” of a “paper” brokerage to a home lender are not new, specifically Better.com, HomeStory, and Rocket Homes all utilize blanket referral agreements to by-pass RESPA.

Blend claims that if offers “a digital lending platform that supports and simplifies applications for mortgages, consumer loans, and deposit accounts” and that “its Digital Lending Platform is utilized by Wells Fargo, U.S. Bank, and over 285 other leading financial institutions to acquire more customers, increase productivity, and deepen customer relationships.”

In the real world, Blend and Blend Realty are a single company, both designed and built with massive VC capital to rake hidden fees, by-pass RESPA, collude with independent brokers for a cut of their commissions, and openly price-fix services of others.

The entire RESPA prohibition against kickbacks was enacted specifically to stop mortgage companies from entering into “symbiotic relationships” with real estate brokers. Blend Realty may seem like a clever by-pass of RESPA’s prohibition against kickbacks, but this loophole is built entirely on the use of blanket referral agreements between brokers designed to restrain free trade.

As an active licensed brokerage, Blend Realty owes absolutely no duty of care to consumers, takes no responsibility for the transaction, and does not help consumers to buy homes - all despite receiving a direct financial benefit from the home purchase completed by the homebuyer.

Where does Blend Realty operate?

Blend Realty currently operates in select areas across United States.