Compare Zillow Flex Program and Clever Real Estate

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

Partner Agents
25%-40%
Referral Fee
Clever Real Estate does not provide real estate services to home sellers. Instead, this company matches consumers with various real estate agents in exchange for an undisclosed referral fee. Referral fees set by such networks range anywhere between 25%-40% of the entire agent’s commission.

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
25%-40%
Referral Fee
Clever Real Estate does not provide real estate services to home buyers. Instead, this company matches consumers with various real estate agents in exchange for an undisclosed referral fee. Referral fees set by such networks range anywhere between 25%-40% of the entire agent’s commission.
Question: What is the difference between Zillow Flex Program and Clever Real Estate?
Answer: Both Zillow Flex Program and Clever Real Estate function as a referral fee network that enables broker-to-broker collusion with use of blanket referral agreements.
Compare Zillow Flex Program and Clever Real Estate 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: 17 February 2019
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 and Selling with Clever Real Estate

Clever Real Estate is a referral fee network designed to collect fees by matching consumers with local real estate agents willing to pay it. Clever Real Estate operates as a licensed real estate brokerage in Missouri under License #2017042277, 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.

When consumers submit information to Clever Real Estate, this information is simply shared in exchange for an undisclosed fee with real estate agents in a process known as a "blind match."

Clever Real Estate Pricing

Clever Real Estate revenue comes from undisclosed referral fees. Referral fees set by such networks range anywhere between 25%-40% of the entire agent’s commission.

Listing Services

  • This Service Does Not Represent Sellers

Buyer's Agent Services

  • This Service Does Not Represent Buyers

Clever Real Estate Editor's Review:

Clever Real Estate is a referral network that claims it does not endorse, validate, or recommend any legal agreements between homeowners and buyers and real estate professionals, but we find these claims to be false.

Using its website, Clever Real Estate engages in a process known as price fixing because it sets listing rates and rebates for independent real estate professionals using the network.

Clever Real Estate sets a flat listing fee of $3,000 for homes sold under $350,000 and 1% listing fee for homes sold over that amount; for home Buyers Clever Real Estate sets a 1% rebate. For purposes of the present discussion, brokerage fees are always negotiable and no broker should set rates and rebates for other brokers. Each firm should establish its own policy as to its fee structure and charges, amount of commissions, and rebates.

Price fixing is prohibited by federal antitrust legislation. Individual agents must never discuss, or set rates with brokers outside of their own company. By setting rates and rebates for other brokers across the United States, Clever Real Estate operates with a sole purpose to collect referral fees, where such service effectively results in lower quality of service, pay-to-play bias, and a "blind match" with agents willing to participate.

Consumers using this network have zero control over what agents the company shares their information with. Instead of being "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.

Why Price-Fixing Damages Consumer Experience

Clever Real Estate claims to connect consumers with an agent who will charge $3000 or 1% of the home, and that their "service" is free. First of all, Clever Real Estate is not free, their fees are simply hidden within a referral fee that the agent will pay after the transaction.

More importantly, price-fixing is an uncompetitive practice, and every agent who participates with Clever Real Estate is a participant in the scheme. Saving consumers from having to pay excessive brokerage fees can never be justified with price-fixing, especially in exchange for a financial gain between brokers.

Antitrust laws are essential for real estate professionals. Real estate professionals customarily operate in cooperation and competition with one another, a practice that presents a host of opportunities for antitrust violations. In reality, it is easy to comply with antitrust laws. Agents simply need to be aware of the rules and take care to conduct business lawfully.

Several laws combine to form the core of federal antitrust laws, but the Sherman Act is the primary piece of these regulations. Section 1 of the Sherman Act states: “Every contract, combination in the form of trust or otherwise, or conspiracy, in restraint of trade or commerce … is declared to be illegal.” This means that (1) there must at least two parties agreeing to take action, and (2) the agreed-upon action must restrain free trade.

The parties in this case are Clever Real Estate and any broker they refer you to. These two independent parties are carrying out a common course of action by setting fixed commissions with the use of blanket referral agreements for mutual financial gain.

Agents must never agree on commission rates or 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 fees, service offerings, and rates due to any outside influence.

Commission rates should never be fixed through collusion. 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.

Further, it is a per se violation of antitrust laws for brokers to set “standard” compensation that will be paid to other brokers. Referral fees amount paid to Clever Real Estate (the money it receives for your information) are "blanket" fee agreements.

Real estate agents (only when they act in full brokerage capacity) may discuss or negotiate the referral fees concerning an individual transaction, but real estate professionals are not allowed to enter into “uniform” or “blanket” agreement on how a commission will be split, or a “standard” referral fee paid. The reason for this is exactly the premise behind the Clever Real Estate business model – brokers (yes, Clever Real Estate is a broker) work to steer consumers toward other brokers in exchange for a pre-arranged referral fees.

From this discussion, it becomes clear that 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.

While Clever Real Estate price fixes an arbitrary rate for all agents, such proposition becomes absurd when comparing home transactions worth $15 Million to home transactions worth $150,000 in different states, rural, or urban areas, variable market conditions, etc. Obviously, in some situations, consumers' interest maybe with the lowest fees, in other cases, consumers are looking for the most experienced agents, etc.

The true VALUE of any real estate agent is their ability to negotiate honestly. If an agent is unwilling to negotiate competitive terms in compliance with the law, there is no reason for consumers to assume that they will be willing to negotiate competitively when it comes to their home purchase or a home sale.

Update: on June 19, 2019, Clever Real Estate has originated a request to the editor asking for this review to be removed.

The following is a link to the notice originated by Clever Real Estate, dated June 19, 2019.

The following is a link to the reply written by the editor of this review, dated June 28, 2019.

Where does Clever Real Estate operate?

Clever Real Estate currently operates in select areas across United States.