Compare Zillow Flex Program and UpNest

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

Referred Agents
30%
Referral Fee
UpNest does not provide real estate services to home sellers. Instead, this company matches consumers with various real estate agents in exchange for a 30% referral fee. UpNest results suffer from pay-to-play bias because the network does not match consumers with agents unwilling to pay 30% of their commission to UpNest.

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

Referred Agents
30%
Referral Fee
UpNest does not provide real estate services to home buyers. Instead, this company matches consumers with various real estate agents in exchange for a 30% referral fee. UpNest results suffer from pay-to-play bias because the network does not match consumers with agents unwilling to pay 30% of their commission to UpNest.
Question: What is the difference between Zillow Flex Program and UpNest?
Answer: Both Zillow Flex Program and UpNest function as a referral fee network that enables broker-to-broker collusion with use of blanket referral agreements.
Compare Zillow Flex Program and UpNest 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 UpNest

UpNest works as a referral fee network that collects pricing and services data from a limited pool of Referred Agents and sends it to consumers as non-binding proposals. UpNest operates as a licensed real estate brokerage in California under BRE License # 01928572, 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 UpNest, this information is simply sold to real estate agents who are willing to pay for it with a 30% share of their commission. If an Agent does not want to pay a referral fee, the consumer will not see any proposals from them using the UpNest platform.

UpNest claims to provide savings, but consumers are likely to overpay for their Referred Agent's commission due to added mandatory 30% referral fee.

UpNest Pricing

UpNest revenue comes from referral fees and sale of user data.

Listing Services

  • This Service Does Not Represent Sellers

Buyer's Agent Services

  • This Service Does Not Represent Buyers

UpNest Editor's Review:

UpNest is a referral fee network in business to collect fees for matching brokers with consumers. Referral fees are highly disadvantageous for real estate consumers because these are hidden and not negotiated. One of the major expenses for real estate consumers, when buying or selling a home, is real estate service fees and closing costs associated with the purchase, or sale.

Service fees and closing costs are, for the most part, a necessary expense. Real estate agents significantly help home buyers and sellers to navigate a complicated and competitive real estate process in exchange for a legitimate commission as a reward. Other closing fees usually include required services such as property appraisals, inspections, title insurance, etc. – all in some way help to legitimize the sale and to manage risk. There can be much said with regards to managing closing costs by choosing a motivated competitive agent who is willing to offer a buyer’s refund or a competitive listing rate.

On the other hand, while claiming it saves money to consumers, UpNest simply adds referral fees into already a fee-ridden process – consumers experience false and fabricated savings in this model. In economics, this process is known as reverse competition.

The platform works with a limited pool of Referral Agents willing to pay a very significant part of their commission to UpNest. This referral fee is back-loaded into Referred Agent's agreement, instead of being handed to the consumer directly. The consumer technically does not pay UpNest, but he/she ends up with a higher cost of commissions when working with their Referred Agent. UpNest is not a free platform, these fees are simply hidden.

Let's say a real estate consumer, James, wants to hire a buyer’s agent in one of the States that allow buyer's rebates when buying a median-priced home for $250,000. A local competitive buyer’s agent, Jill, offers James a 50% buyer's refund while helping him in this process. This is a typical refund Jill is able to organically negotiate with all her customers. The estimated commission refund, in this case, is $3,750 paid back to James from Jill in a form of buyer's refund, assuming a 3% Buyer’s Agent Commission.

On the other hand, James also receives non-binding proposals using UpNest platform from Referred Agents with a 30% referral fee attached to the back of every proposal. When James is faced with these types of proposals, results are quite different. Firmly assuming that the profit margins and service offerings remain the same for Jill and Referral Agents using UpNest, any possible buyer's refund offered by Referral Agents must be reduced to account for the UpNest referral fees. The referral fee in this scenario estimated at $1,125 due to UpNest from a Referral Agent. With the profit margin fixed, the estimated commission refund a Referral Agent may offer to James is now only $2,625.

James just effectively “paid” UpNest $1,125 for a service that is supposed to be “free”.

One reason the amount of savings may ever be matched by Referred Agents versus Jill's competitive savings is due to broker-to-broker pricing collusion - if Referral Agent is willing to reduce their fee beyond market rates to compensate UpNest out of their own pocket, which is highly unlikely and unreasonable to assume.

Because referral fees are pre-set between UpNest and Referral Agents in advance, the cost of the referral has to be eventually be paid by the real estate consumer.

The reason we give UpNest a low score is due to exigent fees and the way these fees are structured. UpNest plays down fees to consumers, it states directly that the service is 100% free, but then it rigidly locks every Referred Agent into an added cost. The vast majority of competitive agents refuse to play this game and UpNest simply steers consumers toward a limited pay-to-play network. As a licensed real estate agent that doesn't perform any real estate services, or takes any responsibility for the transaction, it's not entirely clear how this process works under the Business and Professions Code.

Should real estate agents distribute "bids" of other agents for a fee? If one to say that the 30% fee is indeed necessary, why not structure it as an actual service fee that is properly charged, instead of having to be back-loaded into Referral Agent's agreement? The answer is simple – if UpNest was to charge Agents for its service directly, no Agent would ever sign-up. Agents only sign-up with UpNest because the price of the referral fee can be easily incorporated into their client's agreement.

UpNest clearly doesn't provide any tangible value to the real estate consumers as a licensed real estate agent. UpNest further audits all transactions because it needs to find out how much money real estate agents receive in commissions, inevitably collecting private details of consumer’s agreement for home purchase or sale.

This effect is known as a “blind” match. Truly competitive agents who offer great savings to consumers can never use UpNest. For example, a highly competitive flat fee listing service has a set competitive price – they would never be able to pay 30% of this amount to a third-party. UpNest 30% referral fee only works is with services who are “silent” on their commission – if a client comes directly to an agent, one price is given, if a client uses UpNest, another price is in play. We strongly believe that real estate consumers looking to buy or sell a home should always use 0% referral fee platforms in order to avoid paying a higher cost in commissions.

By using UpNest, consumers further encourage pay-to-play referral fee bias to thrive in a broken real estate industry.

Where does UpNest operate?

UpNest currently operates in select areas across United States.