Zillow is Now "Encouraging" Consumers On Which Broker To Choose?

Industry Observer with Swanepoel T3 Group

Sometimes you read something that just doesn't sound right, so you read it again and are even more astonished. J. Philip Faranda published a post Zillow Agent Reviews: A Request for Sanity in which he described his surprise about an email he received from Zillow about a consumer who wrote a negative review about Phil. Zillow wrote this to Phil

...we are extending you a “Free Pass” and will not publish this review on your Zillow profile. Please note that this is a one-time courtesy and that you will not receive a “free pass” for similar reviews submitted for you in the future.

But this wasn't a simple case of someone who had a bad transaction. The consumer complained that Phil didn't respond to his inquiry. They never had any contact and yet this consumer gets to submit a review?

I was very surprised at the tone...who is Zillow to give a "free pass" to a paying advertiser?

And then today a bigger surprise. On the Zillow Advice site Phil's post is now being discussed. A Zillow representative named Kristin Acker writes this:

"We connect a lot of buyers with agents, we think if we have unresponsive agents, then we shouldn't encourage buyers to contact them. The reason we went with the "Free Pass" described above, was a way to give agents a chance to start responding to consumers Zillow sends them. 

If you see a review on the live site for not responding, that agent has been reviewed TWICE for not responding (we reject the first one we see and send an e-mail to the agent). We believe consumers should be able to find out that this agent may not respond to you. 

Even I could argue the other side, but at the end of the day, we want buyers & sellers on Zillow to have a great experience and find a great  agent. That's one who responds to their inquiry."

Now I've gone from surprised to shocked. Zillow sells advertising space to agents and brokers. Zillow presents listings that brokers pay to syndicate to the site. Zillow does not "encourage" the use of one broker versus another, except by virtue of offering paid space on their site. And since when did "a great agent" get defined by how fast an inquiry is responded to?

I have supported Zillow as an option for clients to get information about houses and markets. I have never feared that Zillow could replace my expertise in pricing a home. Heck, I even put the Zillow mobile app as a choice on the tablets we give out to buyers during their home search. 

When agent reviews were first rolled out on the various aggregator sites, I remember many discussions here on ActiveRain about the possibilities for abuse by disgruntled consumers. We were assured by representatives from companies such as Zillow that there would be checks and balances in the system to make sure that agents were protected from irrational complainers.

But apparently that policy has changed at Zillow. 

Now Zillow sees itself as the gatekeeper to finding a great agent. Apparently that agent is:
- a member of a brokerage who pays to have listings syndicated to the site
- and/or pays for advertising space
- and manages to dodge any and all disgruntled consumers, even ones with whom no contact was made or services performed.

Just yesterday I was telling someone that I have never, and would never write a post criticizing a single firm like an aggregator or a lender. This situation, however, bothers me enough to break my policy. I refuse to sit back and watch Zillow, or anyone else, disingenuously claim their support for a better real estate industry while they attack the very firms and agents who pay for their existence.

No rational person will agree to this.


Zillow is a registered trademark of Zillow, Inc.



Re-Blogged 4 times:

Re-Blogged By Re-Blogged At
  1. NoCo Home Team 12/14/2011 04:49 AM
  2. Gary L. Waters Broker Associate, Bucci Realty 12/14/2011 06:17 AM
  3. Dorie Dillard CRS GRI ABR 12/14/2011 11:31 AM
  4. Praful Thakkar 12/18/2011 10:24 AM
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Dave Keys
MOVE UP in Google Search Learn How Here - Brea, CA
Chief Search Strategist Real Estate SEO Expert

Welcome Zillow, to the ratings game! Hopefully, they'll figure out that online ratings are like buying weapons in a video game. Anyone heard of Fiverr? This sounds like you can take out a competitor on Zillow for $10.


Dec 15, 2011 02:35 AM #102


Comment by Kirstan Acker of Zillow made just a short time ago at Zillow


Great debate here.

What we see in usability testing is that buyers and sellers use a combination of factors to decide which agent to contact. It includes their picture, their brokerage, their listings, their years of experience, their description of themselves, and their reviews. We are trying to put all the information we have in front of the consumer and let her decide.

Reviews have an impact, for sure. Agents with positive (4.0 and up) reviews (which the vast majority have) get contacted more often than those without.

@J Phillip: Here's what we found which may surprise you:  Agents with not-quite-perfect review averages get contacted more often by consumers than agents with "perfect" (5.0) scores.

I think that is because consumers know no agent is perfect and they're ok with that. So the 4.8 average looks more believable. They just want to learn as much as they can about a professional they're thinking about working with.

Thanks for all the opinions. We will look at other ways to capture responsiveness, but for the time being, we're sticking with what we have.


Dec 15, 2011 04:25 AM #103
Juli Vosmik
Dominion Fine Properties - Scottsdale, AZ
Scottsdale/Cave Creek, AZ real estate 480-710-0739

Very interesting.  However, there are so many sides to this.  So, what about the client who contacted me from Zillow looking for a 3000 SF CUSTOM home, no more than 5 years old, on an acre or larger with a pool for only $200,000.  Well, I'd like a home like that, too, but that's the most unrealistic thing I've ever heard of.  Because the request, was total unrealistic, I CHOSE not to respond to his request from Zillow.  So, does that make me unresponsive?  What?  I'm responsive to a totally unrealistic buyer?  Personally, I don't have the time.  But, based on what you write, Leslie, I would be "guilty."  

Dec 15, 2011 05:07 AM #104
Jim Kasmirski

This is alarming.  I had a negative post which I need to respond to, from a buyer wth a seasonal part-time job.  It has taken down my score, and from reading this post, the number of times I am shown as a buyers agent as well?  I registered with Zillow at a RainCamp...ActiveRain sponsored.  As Zillow has not responded, can someone from ActiveRain contact Zillow?  This is very disturbing, that an unqualified buyer can trash my long time professional career on a very visible, highly popular website for which I pay monthly.

Interesting move made by Edina Realty. A very bold step, by a huge player in the Minnesota market.

Changes are in order here.

Thanks for the post and all the contributors.

Dec 15, 2011 06:11 AM #105

So what Advice are these people giving Zillow?

Do they share Advice about issues like this? or is there some other reason for their existance?

Who do they represent?

Broker Advisory Board


Dec 15, 2011 06:32 AM #106
Steve Mun
Keller Williams Silicon Valley - Santa Clara, CA
Silicon Valley Realtor

Wow, still no response from Zillow.......

Dec 15, 2011 07:06 AM #107
Michelle Francis
Tim Francis Realty LLC - Atlanta, GA
Realtor, Buckhead Atlanta Homes for Sale & Lease


Fabulous discussion.  Unfortunately, life is not fair.  I agree that the weight of someone who has e-mailed us verses someone we have spent tons of hours with is so off balance as to be insane.  

I would also go so far as to suggest the relative same percentages would show up in terms of who actually can work a deal to closing - if you are good at doing that, one would suspect you can handle leads.

Have you ever read - What The Dog Saw by Malcome Galdwell?  As an experienced Real Estate agent, there are a number of things that go on each day.  We take the data we have and determine how we are going to work with it.  All leads and contacts are not created equal and don't deserve our time.

All the best, Michelle

Dec 15, 2011 10:24 AM #108
Leslie Ebersole
Swanepoel T3 Group - Saint Charles, IL
I help brokers build businesses they love.

Steve: sigh...guess we're not on their radar.

Dec 15, 2011 01:39 PM #109
J. Philip Faranda
J. Philip Faranda (J. Philip R.E. LLC) Westchester County NY - Briarcliff Manor, NY


I am in contact with both Sara Bonert and Brad Andersohn, and I answered Kristin Acker's latest comment. 

They need to know that I won't buy anything else from them if I am going to be treated like this. And MLS systems around the country are going to re-think syndication. 

Dec 15, 2011 03:09 PM #110
Praful Thakkar
LAER Realty Partners - Andover, MA
Andover, MA: Andover Luxury Homes For Sale

Leslie, I am late in joining the thread. I do believe that Zillow should not have a final say on what to publish and what not. Though our combined voice can do something about it.

Remeber the Redfin Scouting Report that was pulled out in two or three days?

Dec 15, 2011 04:59 PM #111
Lenn Harley
Lenn Harley, Homefinders.com, MD & VA Homes and Real Estate - Leesburg, VA
Real Estate Broker - Virginia & Maryland

We reap what we sew.

Agents embraced Zillow, knowing that there was no integrity in their primary content. 

Why would agents expect integrity in any program offered by Zillow??

Dec 16, 2011 08:16 AM #112
Leslie Ebersole
Swanepoel T3 Group - Saint Charles, IL
I help brokers build businesses they love.

Lenn: it's a sad situation when loyal customers like Phil are discouraged (see #111)

Praful: yessir. I was all over that, because I could see that it wasn't picking up my real activity based on how our mls records co-listings, co-buyers agents, and so on. 

Phil: I get noisy, but I'm not a rabble rouser. I thought we would see some good things from Zillow in the near future on agent support programs. But this review thing is a concern......I got a series of reviews on Trulia and was going to do Zillow for 6 months, but now I'm not so sure.....does it look better to have no reviews and just tell people....I don't participate in that site? Well, that's not true....we syndicate there.

Dec 16, 2011 11:38 AM #113
Ruthmarie Hicks
Keller Williams NY Realty - 120 Bloomingdale Road #101, White Plains NY 10605 - White Plains, NY

Hi Lesilie - This is why I never used Zillow, never had clients write reviews on Zillow and I even explain WHY there are no reviews of me on Zillow - and I explained this on my Zillow profile.   I only give Zillow what I MUST for the sake of my sellers.  I wouldn't even give them THAT if I didn't feel it could harm my sellers.

Dec 16, 2011 12:40 PM #114
Christine Donovan
Donovan Blatt Realty - Costa Mesa, CA
Broker/Attorney 714-319-9751 DRE01267479 - Costa M

Leslie - It seems that agents should be reviewed based on actual clients and not based on just the lack of contact.  It may not be something the agent saw, received, etc.

Dec 16, 2011 03:25 PM #115
Denise Hamlin, Broker/Owner
Cardinal Realty ~ 319-400-0268 - Iowa City, IA
Helping Happy Clients Make Smart Choices

I read your post a couple of hours ago Leslie and still haven't recovered from the shock of Zillow's actions on this. The idea of letting someone who hasn't had any direct contact to an agent to give feedback is ludicrous. The fact that they're defending their position now rather than apologizing to JP is beyond me. 

I understand that Zillow wants to provide consumers with the best service possible. We all do. But they need to remain fair in their treatment of agents. This is not fair. 

Dec 16, 2011 04:37 PM #116
Harley Wilcox
West Group Real Estate - Victor, ID
Harley Wilcox

Any time we join a site with no control we are putting our marketing image and branding in the hands of others. It seems that one HATER can make a huge difference to our on line presence. One should monitor vigilantly their online image.

Dec 17, 2011 05:29 AM #117
Coral Gundlach
Compass - Arlington, VA
Real Lives. Not Just Real Estate.

I am so conflicted about Zillow, as I have gotten lots of business with great people from my sponsorships there.  But this is so strange.   Why would they allow anyone to write a review, yet the make sure if we solicit reviews that we "prove" they were our client and put in the sale date, address etc.  That's completely unfair and biting the hand that feeds you.  Zillow has no source of revenue without agent sponsorships that I am aware of.   

Dec 19, 2011 12:52 AM #118

One Agent at least took a Stand

Delete my reviews even though they are good please


Dec 20, 2011 06:26 AM #119
Priscilla Hammond
RE/MAX Consultants Realty 1 - Fort Lauderdale, FL
Making amazing happen

From Kristin at Zillow post #104:

They just want to learn as much as they can about a professional they're thinking about working with.

My reply:
Are you not listening to us???? What they're learning about us is not always the truth if the review is from someone we've never worked with.

Dec 26, 2011 07:00 AM #120
John Mosier
Realty ONE Group Mountain Desert - Prescott, AZ
Prescott's Patriot Agent 928 533-8142

I made a decision a long time ago to not pay for Buyer leads. Paying Zillow for a "Subscription" is also paying for leads.  I paid Zillow for a little while for "featuring" my listings, but that did not work out well, either.

We all invest a lot of time and money to learn our PROFESSION. Then a company like Zillow comes along and wants to profit from the PROFESSIONAL work we do. I find that Zillow information is often very far off with their Zestimates. It takes us extra time to correct the damage that they cause.

I have no use for any of them. When they call me with leads to sell I am not very courteous to them. It seems that they always call at the most difficult moments.

Jun 23, 2012 03:30 PM #121
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