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!