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.
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