PU’s Take on Zillow’s “Coming Soon” Feature

This past month, Zillow – after a buyout of Trulia – unveiled it’s “Coming Soon” feature – a way to let real estate professionals advertise and market exclusive listings up to 30 days prior to public MLS posting. This came as a shock to many industry professionals – who for the longest time – prefer to be the gatekeepers of all information real estate related. However – rather than fight a losing battle with technology and time – Pacific Union has decided to embrace and test this new Zillow feature – hoping to implement it in such a way that proves advantageous to our fellow Realtors – and ultimately, their clients.

Zillow claims that it’s website has 81 Million unique hits on a monthly basis – and also claims that their overall website traffic has increased over 50% just since January! This large database of users provides the perfect proving ground for Pacific Union to test the actual quality of Zillow’s daily viewers. With sites like Houzz providing remodeling tips and tricks for consumers – PU doesn’t yet know whether Zillow’s traffic is valuable. In other words – we have yet to conclude the motives behind the average Zillow user. Are they actively looking at homes to purchase or decide on selling their home – or are these 81 Million simply window shoppers – collecting ideas for remodeling or just day dreaming about luxury property in San Raphael? Basically – PU wants to know just how qualified the average Zillow visitor really is – and how valuable is this traffic generally?

For years – the battle between gate keeping and transparency has been fought. Old-school Realtors feel that the MLS provides a safe, secure – and most of all – fair outlet for real estate information. But new-school Realtors and their clients want more – they want information, and they want it all. Zillow’s “Coming Soon” program is a response to this age old dilemma – and they have really stepped out in front of the industry to say – this is where Real Estate is heading so get on board – or move out of the way. So while some agents share pre-market data on sites with subscribers – think Top Agent Network – the idea of sharing this information with the public at large creates some challenges for the MLS and concerns for some Realtors who are scared by the idea of this last commission based economy being changed so drastically.

So for the potential Zillow users – who could very well be qualified buyers – having this information will give the additional resources and time to consider properties for sale. And in the Bay Area where inventory is almost always low in recent days – this will change the 7 days to contract script that has become commonplace. So for agents – depending on how they view this change – many could really use this to their advantage and potentially find more buyers for their own listings than ever before.

So what does this mean for PU? Well – in order to fully vest ourselves in this new system – we will be launching an application interface in early August 2014 that will allow our Realtors to upload pre-MLS listings to Zillow’s “Coming Soon” feature. This ability will be built into the agent’s PU fees – and will not cost any additional money. It is really simple – PU will evaluate Zillow’s system based on the numbers and analytics they generate. If this system allows our agents to close more deals – and our agent’s find the system attractive and beneficial to their clients – we will install in permanently.

In the end of the day – the battle between gatekeeping and transparency will continue. But the industry is already changing – and we can see this everyday. Never will a website or mobile application replace the role of the Realtor – or the value a client represents to a Realtor. Both parties will always need each other – but technology can certainly help buyers and sellers overcome market challenges. For someone interested in purchasing a home – why should an MLS prevent that person from having every bit of information right at their fingertips so they can make an educated financial decision? Zillow even admits – no algorithm can replace human evaluation – as they point to their often hated Zestimate feature – which has terribly low accuracy and only a 2 of 5 star client accuracy rating and only comes within 10% of the final sales price about 1/2 of the time. In San Francisco proper – the rate of error is even larger. A computer can never replace the role of a Realtor. But Realtors can also never replace the role of the computer – and it’s ability to relay valuable market information more efficiently than through old-school gatekeeping methods. Real Estate professionals are inherently specialized to understand a specific market, neighborhood, or city – meaning they will always be able to predict home values with a greater degree of certainty than a computer program.

We know this is a change that many Realtors are not ready for – but as a leader in the Real Estate Industry (see blog post where PU ranks in Inc. 5000 for 2013) – we must be willing to accept the things we cannot change, have the courage to change the things we can – and possess the wisdom to know the difference.