The Flaw In Zillow’s Strength: Your Competitive Advantage

Yesterday, Kendra Gemma sent me a link to an article in the San Diego Union Tribune about the real estate syndication flap.  That, in itself, is pretty amazing:  Kendra, who is in Sarasota, is sending me a link to an article in my hometown newspaper!  (Here is a link to the article)

The piece was a rehashing of the syndication battle but focused on one of the underlying truths about the big aggregator sites (Trulia, Zillow, Et. Al.):  their data is littered with errors and inaccuracies.  It’s easy to see why:  Zillow, for example, receives real estate listing data feeds from dozens of sources.  Your Help-U-Sell listing may get to Zillow via your MLS, your ListHub account, Help-U-Sell, personal input, and on and on.  Zillow has an algorhythm that kicks in when it spots duplicate listings and grants priority to feeds they deem most reliable, but it has to recognize the listings in question as duplicates first.  So there are duplicates on Zillow.  And status changes are often mishandled by agents and/or syndicators, so there is the potential for many homes listed as ‘For Sale’ on Zillow actually being sold and closed.

One San Diego broker did a test last month.  She went ‘one of the popular real estate search sites’ (unnamed) and did a search for houses in her Scripps Ranch Zip Code:  92131. She then did the same search in her MLS and compared the results.

There were 220+ results on the search site.

• 54 were not for sale on the MLS

• 46 were condos, although she limited her search to houses.

• 24 had sold. One dated back more than a year.

• 17 were contingent.

• 10 were in escrow.

• 8 were expired, canceled or withdrawn.

If you do the arithmetic, there were problems with 159 of the 220 results!  The article mentioned that this particular broker has a problem with syndication in general, and I have no idea whether or not that played into the results, BUT I think you’d be wise to do your own search and comparison for your area.  And, please, when you do:  share the results with me!

(Before we go any further let me remind you that I LIKE Zillow.  They took an opportunity on which the REALTOR community turned its back and quickly became the home search tool of choice for consumers.  Bravo.  Now they kick off leads like crazy to brokers who are sharp enough to pay their price.  Instead of moaning about how wrong that whole scenario is, I think it’s wiser to recognize that at this moment in time, Zillow is a lead generating titan, and to find ways to tap into that flow of potential buyers and sellers. )

Here is a lesson in packaging.  I found it  not in the article, but in the comments to it:

Mark and Karla Stuart, Prudential California Realty:  We were so frustrated with the innacuracies created by all of the different IDX sites, including Trulia and Zillow, we created our own….exclusively for San Diego County. It is 100% accurate, and doesn’t waste our client’s time with “Pending” and “Sold” listings, and is updated overnight, every night. Our goal was to be 100% accurate with regards to what is coming from the realtor’s database, the MLS. Though expensive, it has served our customers quite well. http://www.freesandiegosearch.com

Wow!  Their website sounds like a dream come true!  No inaccuracies!  Just as up-to-date as the local MLS!  You can’t beat that! And you know what?  It’s the same IDX feed you have you your website. The feed you have on your Help-U-Sell site comes straight from the MLS, every night, and is as accurate as the MLS is at that moment in time.

It’s time to start working on how we communicate this to potential buyers.  It has to be done quickly and elegantly during the first meeting.  Something like:

Agent:  How long have you been looking?

Buyer:  Oh, a few weeks, I guess.

Agent:  You found me on Zillow, is that how you’ve doing your searches?

Buyer:  Yes.

Agent:  It is very easy to use, I know. . . but have you noticed how many homes on there are not really for sale?

Buyer:  Well, now that you mention it . . .

Agent:  They have a real challenge there; it’s because they’re trying to do a local job on a world-wide platform.  They get housing information from so many sources it even confuses them!  Listen, how about letting me give you access to the local MLS – without all the data from Boston and St. Louis and Puerto Rico gumming up the works!  You’ll have the most accurate and best information on houses for sale today in this market?

Buyer:  You can do that?

Agent:  Sure.  I just need an email address and phone number and I can set you up with a buyer’s account  on my website.  You can search to your heart’s content, save listings, even set up email alerts when new properties that meet your needs come on the market.  Plus, any time you have a question or want to see something, I’m just a click away.

Buyer:  Sounds pretty good.

It’s the same basic pitch the Listingbook folks use.  Of course, their feed is real-time, not once a day, and they have ways of tracking buyer behavior on their site that are very powerful.  But the same concept applies:  The most popular home search tool buyers have is loaded with bad data.  You can give potential buyers a better search tool without the inaccuracies.  I’m suggesting you set a registration threshhold on your website – use either option:  3 searches and then register or register to get detailed information.  When you use your dialogue and sign up a new buyer, you go into OMS, create a buyer account for them, and communicate it back to them via email.  By doing it this way (as opposed to having them do it themselves), you’re giving them something of value.  And since the perception of Value is a key consideration when choosing a real estate professional,  it could be the start of a wonderful working relationship!

(If you haven’t read our discussion about syndication, you can access it by following these links: Syndication Storm, Syndication Update, The Final Word on Syndication and Another Word on Syndication.