Zillow – The Pros and Cons of Clicking “Contact Agent”

We are all using online real estate aggregators like Zillow and when we do, lurking ever so persistently is a button to click to get more information, the “Contact Agent” button.  Once clicked, down the rabbit hole you may go. We are going to talk about “Contact Agent” buttons and your experience when you give them a click.

Zillow and others have become a kind of master MLS. They aggregate property information from almost every possible source and pull it together into one convenient service which makes it the go-to for most of us.  They built a better mousetrap.  And that button is the trigger.

To start, we need to understand that Zillow and other aggregators are businesses. They provide a free service to you which is paid for by advertisers.  In this case, a significant portion of the advertising revenue generated by Zillow is paid by licensed real estate agents and brokers.  These agents and brokers show up along with the properties on your screen.

Zillow was among the pioneers of the real estate aggregators and it has developed over time beating or buying its competitors to become one of the most dominant players in this industry. With an audience interested in real estate beating a path to its door, Zillow then executes its business plan.  They make a deal with agents to get those agents in front of you for an opportunity to connect.  For a certain price, which varies by area, they will give an agent a certain “percentage of voice”.  This means that agents pay them to show up on your screen and the amount they pay is equivalent to how often they show up as an option you can click on for more information.  As their model progresses, it becomes an auction with the agents and brokers as the bidders.  And it’s always changing.

There is nothing evil going on here, but it can be misleading.  Many who click to learn more think they are connecting with the listing agent but find themselves connected to a buyer’s agent.  Many would agree you might be better represented by a buyer’s agent.  Listing agents themselves would argue to the contrary for fairly obvious reasons.

Often, when a buyer first starts getting into the idea of buying a property, they’ll go to an online aggregator like Zillow.com or Realtor.com and start clicking on properties they are interested in, asking for more information by clicking a button.  Suddenly, their phone starts ringing, their email notifications start chiming and their eyes get bigger.  Every click has started an outreach and follow up system of its own, carefully orchestrated by the aggregator’s system and the systems of those agents and brokers who paid to participate.

Zillow’s and other aggregator’s value and services, if used as intended, can all result in a win-win situation if the agent cares for and follows up with their clients as common sense would dictate.  If you’ve clicked the “Contact Agent” or similar button on a number of different occasions, you were likely connected with different agents and had a different experience with each.

Your experience will vastly differ from agent to agent.  You might get a brand-new agent who has paid so they can get their first leads.  You might get a seasoned professional who, while incredibly competent, might seem skeptical because they know only about 3% of the connections that they make via an aggregator will result in a completed deal.  Or you might connect with an agent with a ton of 5-star reviews who has a huge team of agents working with them only to be tossed off to one of their newest agents.  Each has a different personality and level of intelligence.

The good news is that you should soon connect with an agent that is relatively smart, kind, and trustworthy and who has a work ethic and sincere interest in you and is committed to helping you find a great home.

When you find someone like this, it’s time to change up the system a little.  You should let them know you like them and the way they do business and that you’d like to use them exclusively in your search.  To Zillow and other online aggregator’s credit, they have a system that can connect you directly with that agent going forward, notifying only your preferred agent of the properties you’d like more information on.  This stops the deluge of different agents contacting you and it builds a stronger relationship with one which should significantly increase their focus and dedication.  Just let them know and they’ll send you a link that allows you to choose them as your dedicated agent on their platform.

Searching for and buying a home should be an exciting and fun experience.  Online aggregators have significantly increased access to information and changed the landscape dramatically.  In many cases, in very good ways.  In tandem, the industry is more regulated, negotiations more complicated, and opportunities for a deal to the wrong way are increasing.

Online aggregators are providing a wonderful service in sharing the vast array of properties available for sale with anyone interested at no cost.  While the initial deluge of agents you might come across can feel oppressive, it very likely will put you in contact with an agent who may become an incredible trusted resource you want to stay connected with for many years to come.

Zillow – What You See Isn’t Always What You Get

You may have noticed on your own or read in another post that when you click to get more information about a property in Zillow, you may connect with the listing agent or a buyer’s agent who is known as a Premier Agent.  Often buyers are a little surprised to be quickly connected to someone only to find out that the person they are talking to isn’t the actual listing agent.

There is another frustrating factor that buyers often experience when using online real estate aggregator’s services.  Many are the times when a buyer develops an interest in a particular property and goes ahead to connect with an agent only to realize later that the property is no longer available.

Such frustrations make online real estate aggregators appear dishonest or misleading.  However, this has more to do with how the system works than a deliberate effort to mislead or bait and switch potential property buyers.  Granted, it can inadvertently work that way but the problem seems to be more systemic than malicious.

All across the country, real estate professionals have organized and created a system in which, they can include the information about properties they have listed for sale on behalf of others.  That listing often is included in a list with all the listings of other brokerages into one database.  This service logically is known as the Multiple Listing Service.  And there are hundreds if not thousands of Multiple Listing Services across the country.

In today’s world, each MLS has a component known as an Information Data Exchange.  This is a feed that a subscriber can pay to connect to so they can have access to the data at that MLS.  That’s how individual brokerages, agents, and specifically related to this article, online aggregators capture listing information and regurgitate it on their own websites.

Online aggregators pay a fee to be able to pull and update information from MLS’s that they subscribe to.  The challenge comes in regards to how much information can be updated and aggregated in a timely manner.  There are simple software glitches, human data entry glitches, and other issues that can make the output of anyone subscribing to the Information Data Exchange information less that completely accurate or current.

Since agents are constantly changing and updating information, and different areas have different regulations the create a different status, it becomes impossible for aggregators to perfect.

The main focus of the aggregator is to get the basic information out there.  When this happens, it leads to the very quick propagation of new listing as well as change in property prices. When a property changes a price, gets withdrawn, goes under contract, enters escrow, attorney review or it is sold out, that becomes another avenue for a new discrepancy.

One more problem comes when aggregators pull information from other aggregators perpetuating some misinformation.  If you get into the weeds of a listing you’ll be able to find where their current information comes from.  In some occasions, you will realize that the information is not coming from an MLS but from another source, maybe the listing brokerage’s website or the owner trying to sell it on their own.

Online real estate aggregators services are most often free to the user but they are not always complete, current, or accurate.  That is where an agent and brokerage comes into play.  They have direct access to the MLS and to the other agents and brokerages.

A good agent should be in a position to give you all the necessary information about a particular property which is more accurate and up to date. While they may not have all the information you need in their head, they do have it at the tip of their fingers and they can get it to you relatively quickly.

The best system that can work for you as a buyer is to connect to a reliable agent.  In Zillow, you can connect with that agent so they are the only one notified when you are interested in a property.  That way, any properties you look at will be sent to them and you can avoid the never-ending line of agents trying to get you to buy their listings or trying to get you to buy something so they can pay this month’s rent.  It’s a great way to simplify things and develop a relationship that should serve you best.

The truth of the matter is that Zillow has created a brilliant system.  It motivates anyone who hopes to be a successful agent multiple reasons to pay to be considered Premier and it motivates those interested in real estate to use them as a one-stop-shop for information.

It may feel like top agents wouldn’t need or use this service but indeed they do and frankly, the top agents spend the most overall.

The truth is that the barrier to entry into the real estate market is incredibly low while the barrier to success is incredibly high.  Beginner, seasoned, and top performing agents and teams are all deeply integrated into the Zillow platform.  It’s incredibly hard to tell the difference by just relying on Zillow reviews.  There are terrible agents who are great at curating glowing reviews and long time very successful agents who don’t care much about Zillow beyond their basic needs who have few reviews because they aren’t concerned about curating them.

The best advice is to find someone you trust and who you believe to be competent.  Add to that the use of online aggregators to get to know the market and to supplement your agent’s efforts to find places you might love.

Finding a great home isn’t particularly easy but it doesn’t have to be hard either, especially when you have people you can trust, like a great agent, helping you. 

Zillow – Listing Agent vs Premier Agent (Buyer’s Agent)

You are on Zillow.  You find a property that captures your attention.  You see what you believe to be the button to contact the agent who knows all the information.  And finally, you talk to someone who may know some but wasn’t what you expected.  Zillow is a big machine and there is a LOT going on behind the current.  Here we’ll dissect one small piece.  What is the difference between a listing agent and a Zillow Premier Agent?

You go to the Zillow platform and search for properties.  Suddenly you see a place that is really interesting and you want more information and maybe even want to go see it.  Right there in front of you are a few pictures of smiling agents who can help you. 

You click on one believing they will be the listing agent who knows as much as anyone about this property.  Suddenly things happen quickly and you find yourself on the phone being connected with either that agent or one working with them.

They already know the property you are looking at and likely offer to show it to you.  Without getting into the weeds, this agent may or may not be the listing agent but in most cases will not be the listing agent.

To start, let’s talk about a listing agent vs a buyer’s agent for now.  There is a school of thought that suggests that it’s better to work with a listing agent.

Who Is A Listing Agent?

A listing agent has a contractual relationship with the person selling the property. This means that they have a fiduciary duty to the seller. Therefore, listing agents owe the seller Obedience, Loyalty, Disclosure, Confidentiality, Accountability, and Reasonable Care/Diligence.

On the other hand, a listing agent has only one duty to the property buyer which is honesty. This means that they should provide the buyer with honest information all the time but without compromising the seller’s oath of confidentiality.  Take note!  As a buyer, the listing agent is focused fully on the best result for the seller.  Yes, they know the most about the property.  Yes, they know the seller and their true motivations.  No, they are not going divulge information that might lower the price and get you the best deal.  Not, at least, if they are ethical. And that thought that you can negotiate some of that commission you think they are making to save you more money, may not be what it seems.

Who Is a Buyer’s Agent?

The agent that represents you and isn’t the listing agent for the property being sold is known as a buyer’s agent.  The good thing about this is that they are more likely to be dedicated to you, helping you find your future home and getting you the best deal possible.

In most cases, a buyer’s agent will be dedicated to you with no buyer’s agency agreement. If you like and trust your agent, a buyer’s agency agreement helps anchor that dedication.  When you are dealing with listing agents you might notice they seem more responsive and motivated, and they should be.  In the event they can represent both the buyer and the seller, their income may be higher. 

Some buyers believe they’ll get a better deal from a listing agent by negotiating a discount because they aren’t paying another side of the deal.  This can prove to be enough bait to capture the buyer.  Beware, there is more going on here than meets the eye.  We’ll talk about that in another post.

Blinded by the perception of possible initial savings, negotiations may prove out to have cost the buyer more.  The buyer may never notice.  Remember, the listing agent owes everything to the seller including getting them the highest sale price.

If your spouse was divorcing you, would you go to their attorney and suggest they represent you too and in turn give you a discount on legal fees?  In many cases using the listing agent is penny wise and pound foolish.  Note, I’m a listing agent as well as a buyer’s agent so I’m not sharing this flippantly.

Having said that, it’s also true that there are particular times when working with a listing agent makes more sense. One such scenario is during an overheated seller’s market when you are highly motivated to buy a particular property.

As I conclude, Zillow is a magnificent online real estate aggregator providing a truly helpful service. It is not the end-all for you to mindlessly click through and suffer dealing with endless phone calls, emails, and text messages from the long line of agents who you’ve been connected with.  It is in your own best interest to connect with one professional agent and let them know you are dedicated to them being your agent.  Interestingly, Zillow allows you to connect with one agent as your personal representative.  I strongly recommend you do this when you find someone you trust and feel comfortable working with.

Hopefully, this helped clarify some things and will help you in your search for a new property.  If you have any questions or comments, please let me know.  I look forward to hearing from you!


It was a gorgeous spring Easter Sunday, April 20, 2014, when I received a call that my boss, client, and business partner for over 15 years had passed away unexpectedly. Over the course of our career together, we had purchased, renovated, restored, and in many cases created and put businesses in a number of the buildings. By 2016 I had spent nearly 20 years working on over 30 properties and starting more a dozen small businesses that employed roughly 150 people. Real estate was always part of everything we did. Everything I did. I purchased my first commercial building in 1994. And thus the choice to go into real estate. Instead of retiring at 54, I would, as a dear friend called it, “re-fire” in the real estate business. And where else but in the nations largest, most densely populated, and most competitive area, the greater New York City metropolitan area.

It seems like quite a jump having started my adult married life in a trailer. A common place to start when you live in a deeply rural seriously poor area of rural America. Then we moved into a little 26’x26′ coal mining house. That little place gave way to a new home we built on the same site. And when I say “we” I mean family, friends, and me. I have pictures of my 4-year-old son “helping me” tie cement forms together to pour our basement walls and of a dear friend of mine, who now owns the largest real estate brokerage in the area, helping me set roof trusses dangling off of my father-in-law’s tractor bucket. That was a big step for us. We still own that home and we’re thankful to have our niece and her family living there now.

Then we restored another turn of the century Arts and Crafts home called Porter Hall. In 2016 we made the jump to Union City, New Jersey and bought a condo standing on the cliff looking over Hoboken at the entire Manhattan skyline. We sold that condo and purchased another in Union City significantly increasing the size and further improving the view of Manhattan. Why Union City? Because we feel it and the surrounding towns will become the next Brooklyn. We think of it as the 6th borough.

One year ago, my daughter Morgan left a very lucrative career to join me in the real estate business. With her help, we are firmly part of the 21st-century digital era. I’m the old salty one. She’s the vivacious, bright and motivated one. The two of us have proven to be a solid team. And to make it better, we became part of the Lisa Poggi Team of Douglas Elliman. Our team is the #1 Elliman team in New Jersey and Lisa herself is responsible for setting a couple standing real estate records in the area. It doesn’t hurt that she’s represented a number of people that are household names in sports and TV.

But who is that other pretty girl in the picture? That’s Miriam, she’s effectively our work mom. Reminding us of what we need to do, keeping things straight, doing all the things my daughter and I are terrible at and doing it with the best attitude anyone could hope for. She’ll “high five” us for anything short of a complete brain fart. Regretfully we have plenty of those. Being human haunts us.

And here we are! That’s enough about personal stuff. Now let’s get to the heart of why we are all here, to get into the details of all things real estate. Whether you are a first time home buyer, a seasoned investor, a new real estate agent or a long time professional, I hope you’ll find great value here! Welcome to williamburch.com!