The Blog of Brian Copeland

Will the Zillow Acquisition End Your Business?

Folks.  Define your value proposition.  For consumers who are reading this, I hope you will finish this and understand what a REALTOR does.  For real estate industry people who read this, I hope you will get a refreshed perspective and a challenge to up your game.

Over the past 24 hours, and technically over the past five years, all I have heard in circles has been the “sky is falling” mentality about internet sites that showcase real estate listings.  I’ve also read a few opinions.  A few were from people I really respect. The vast majority of opinions I’ve seen are written or expressed by people who I’ve never seen in this industry at association events, trade shows, courses, conventions and the spheres of true influence in the industry.

I’ve grown frustrated that no practitioner who is truly connected has gone into detail about what this means for our business, not our industry but our business.  “Industry” is impersonal and too abstract.  “Business” is in your home and office every day.  It’s tangible and impactful.

I want you to look at the chart I sketched, down and dirty, that shows what I personally consider the pillars of what I do on a daily basis.  This isn’t copied from a book or a class.  It’s just one guy’s perspective from the trenches.  I’m certain things have been omitted, but you’ll get the general idea.

The Pillars of A Real Estate Professional In Brian Copeland's Opinion

I have to ask you a question.  When did online syndication become the center of your value proposition?  When I look at the smartest 35 REALTORS I know out there (yes, I can name the 35), none of them are threatened, concerned or panicked.  And I’m going to tell you exactly why.

They understand value proposition.  They understand what a quadruple-threat real estate professional is.  They understand that in the 100% that makes up our value proposition, on-line syndication makes up less than five percent of the value proposition.   They have frustrations with the industry, but I’ll touch on that later, and many of you will not like it.  Read on.

Why do agents feel threatened?  Why do consumers feel underserved by this industry’s professionals?  Many agents have grown comfortable.  You don’t crave learning.  This week, I sat in a global course.  I’ve worked with only three global consumers, yet the information I’ve received this week is priceless in serving all consumers.  I’ve been challenged, frustrated and confused in the course, but I knew it was part of expanding my brain and improving my customer service skills.  When was the last time you took a class or attended an education event that offered no continuing education?

We’ve grown comfortable that someone else will advocate for us on the “hills” of government.  A new regulation that some legislator passed impairs the ease and flow of real estate exchange.  We jump on facebook to complain, when we didn’t care to respond to a call for action communicated via email or by a colleague desperately asking for our help to lobby our representatives to stop it. Yes, someone else will handle that for me.

Many have grown complacent in relationships.  We’ve only invested in others when there is something good in it for our wallets.  When given the opportunity to dig deeply into neighborhood action that fortifies our neighborhoods, we’d rather toss a charity a few hundred dollars through a website and feel good about ourselves for the rest of the year.

Syndication services like Trulia and Zillow are not your business value proposition. If they are, leave our industry.  The consumers do not need you. Trulia and Zillow have a place in the real estate scene.  Zillow is a fun site.  It really is.  It’s fun to check your home’s potential value.  It’s fun to look at photos and tours.  It’s a hobby site like Pinterest for many of you.  Enjoy it and keep on going!

As a consumer, if you’re looking to Zillow as the authority, you’re likely the type who doesn’t take your kids to the doctor because WebMD told you everything you need to know about their health.

This is how I explained it to a dear friend who is a news anchor and buyer who kept using Zillow as a source for real estate search.

 “Finally, on the other listings you sent over from Zillow, we do not work with Zillow data. Imagine preparing for your news show as a professional and finding a source that is giving you the juiciest, most original news out there. You report it to the world only to find out, it was completely false. Your integrity is bruised, you’re embarrassed, and the public you work to inform is leery of you every time you get on the radio. Every now and then, the source actually tells the truth and you miss a scoop, but the greater issue of inaccuracy keeps you to your policy of ‘I will not use this source and will only use the ones I KNOW for a fact are accurate to protect and preserve my reputation.’


That is the same policy we have with Zillow. We work with 100s of buyers and sellers each year. Zillow has sent the Zillow-faithful on many a disappointing journey dragging our relationships through the mud alongside them. It’s just not a good match for the value statement we have set forth as a team. In 2011, we actually took a retreat to craft a value-statement around this very issue.


All that to say, none of the Zillow listings you sent over are currently conveyable to anyone. When something is in pre-foreclosure, there is no guarantee of it ever hitting the mainstream market. We’ve chased banks for clients who say, ‘But it will hit and before it does, I want in first,’ and none have ever seen success.


Zillow is like a ‘data tank’ meaning it obtains data from every source it can find and creates a product. It doesn’t care if it’s accurate or not. They simply want your eyes on their site so they can sell advertising to “featured agents” who pay them (no joke) $1000-$10,000 a month for rights to zip codes. It’s an ugly, ugly world we don’t even try to explain to our client-base. When I explain it to the normal ‘Non-you-type,’ they don’t get it, get mad and move along to another agent who they can string along.


The source I pay huge money for (and sit in DC, as I type this, to protect its integrity) is the steward of the true data. Zillow, in fact, obtains its information, too, to grab eyes. If it’s accurate on Zillow, it definitely came from my data source, which I’m checking for you daily (if not hourly.)


I hope that all makes sense.”


The data statement above opens up another can of worms, the MLS (multiple listing service).  I don’t like talking about it because I will make a LOT of people very angry whom I respect and care for a lot.  For consumers reading this, the MLS is the original source point where we enter our listings into the computer and how they end up in all the areas of the internet.

We’ve allowed MLS politics to become a mess.  Just a mess.  There’s no other way to explain it.  We’re afraid to call it like it is in the MLS world.  Unfortunately, many associations would close without the income from their MLS.  When associations close, jobs are lost.  Pride is injured.  Legacy is obliterated.  Egos are bruised.

I’m embarrassed at the pissing wars I’ve seen over the control of this data entry tool.  Most are more concerned about legacy, ego and employment instead of the greater good and success of the professionals that they were founded to SERVE.  I know of agents in some areas who pay over $50,000 a year in order to access the MLS.  Some pay hundreds.  Some pay thousands.  Some, like me, only have to pay one MLS service.  Others pay several MLSes in order to conduct business.

When anyone brings up the term “National MLS,” you will see the fur fly.  For the consumers reading this, do you really care about our battle?  I’m certain many of you didn’t even know about his dissonance until you read this.  You just want the information, which is one part of our value proposition.  Technically, our only value in electronic information is that some of our data is more accurate than Zillow or Trulia.

Our true value is being a cumulative, quality professional through education, advocacy and relationships.  This is why none of the professionals I respect are fearful of mergers and industry change.  Their foundations are so strong, no matter what implied storm is about to hit, they will not only survive, they will thrive.