Compare Zillow Flex Program and Zillow

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
Zillow is an MLS Aggregator, it does not provide listing services to consumers.

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

Not Applicable
0
No Rates
Zillow is an MLS Aggregator, it does not provide buyer representation services to consumers.
Question: What is the difference between Zillow Flex Program and Zillow?
Answer: Zillow Flex Program is a referral fee network that enables broker-to-broker collusion with use of blanket referral agreements while Zillow is a Multiple Listing Services (MLS) aggregator
Compare Zillow Flex Program and Zillow 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 Zillow

Zillow is an MLS Aggregator that allows buyers and sellers to list homes and find out what local homes are available for sale. Zillow aggregates home listing data from thousands of private MLS databases across the United States.

By making this otherwise unavailable information to consumers, Zillow creates a positive value-added experience with local results for the majority of available listings.

Zillow generates revenue with ads using Zillow Group’s Premier Agent and Premier Broker programs.

Zillow Pricing

Zillow does not offer paid services to consumers directly, instead, the portal generates revenue with ads and referral fees from real estate brokers.

Listing Services

  • This Service Does Not Represent Sellers

Buyer's Agent Services

  • This Service Does Not Represent Buyers

Zillow Editor's Review:

This review is focused on Zillow as an MLS aggregator, separate from the referral fee network (Zillow Premier Broker) and (Zillow Instant Offers). Two separate reviews are assigned to Zillow Premier Broker and Zillow Instant Offers programs. As an MLS aggregator, Zillow benefits real estate consumers with highly accurate MLS data and home value estimates.

Today, most consumers ready to buy or sell real estate begin their search on the Internet. This is a logical first step that can help identify similar properties, pricing budget to help make the correct decision about buying or selling real estate. Zillow is one of the main and most well-known sources of such information. Zillow analyzes property values, aggregates data and displays results that make sense to seasoned real estate professionals as well as newbie home buyers and sellers.

Undeniably, Zillow, has a great wealth of aggregate MLS property information, an easy-to-use interface, valuable neighborhood information, excellent user reviews and a wide array of real estate-related services, articles, and forums. Zillow is one of the top real estate platforms in the United States and will likely remain there with acquisitions of Trulia.com, Streeteasy.com, and RealEstate.com “mirror” platforms. The chances are that a consumer either buying or selling a home uses Zillow platform or one of its affiliates as part of their real estate transaction experience.

Zillow is technically free, but Zillow is funded with advertising and referral fees. Zillow advertising costs vary by ZIP code, cost per impression and Premier Broker referral fees are currently hidden from consumers. Agents that sign-up for their Premier Agent program "get in front of buyers and sellers in the largest online real estate network."

This fact ultimately means that real estate agent recommendations provided to real estate consumers by Zillow are biased. Those agents that pay Zillow for Premier Agent accounts consistently show up first in their search results without a clear indication of Premier status. Thus, an agency at the top may or may not be the best choice, yet Zillow implies to its users that it is.

As of 2019, Zillow has further turned to “broker mentality” against consumers with an introduction of Zillow Premier Broker and Zillow Instant Offers programs. Both of these programs effectively take Zillow into a middle-man real estate broker category, and away from an independent portal. Zillow had designed these programs to “trade consumers as leads” and push buyers and sellers onto a select group of real estate agents in exchange for hidden referral fees.

Unlike the Premier Agent program, where agents simply pay for ads, Premier Broker is a pay-for-play lead generator pipeline that qualifies consumers as a service.

This literally means that Zillow qualifies consumers into a commodity where agents buy that commodity; Zillow calls this a “flexible” payment option. Zillow CEO states that “it simplifies selling process because it de-risks the purchase decision for advertisers.” There is no upfront fee to brokers when they receive consumers info as validated leads, so there is no risk to the broker if they quote a consumer a "standard" commission – if the broker doesn’t get the business, they move on to the next validated lead with their overpriced commission offerings.

Like any other limited agent referral network of agents who are willing to pay “industry standard performance advertising expense” the only job for Zillow here is to push a few agents onto consumers en masse. With even a small percent success rate, each time Zillow converts consumers into leads, it receives thousands or tens of thousands in referral fees, typically set at 25%-40% of the commission. This business model is called reverse competition, where Zillow still refuses to acknowledge the exact amount in referral fees it receives from this new program.

The only way real estate agents are able to pay 25%-40% of their commission to Zillow is to either reduce service or jack up the price. Consumers should be careful not to provide their complete information to Zillow including name, email and a phone number in order to avoid being "sold as leads" to random real estate brokers.

Where does Zillow operate?

Zillow currently operates in select areas across United States.