Does Zillow Lie to and Abuse its Power Over Real Estate Brokers? One Agents Perspective.
You've read the headline and are probably wondering "What the heck crawled up Nick's butt to cause him to hate on Zillow so much?" Well, let me clarify a little. I don't hate the Zillow Group. From a customers perspective, Zillow has created a platform that serves them well. After all, that's all that I want as a buyer. Show me all available homes within my set criteria and show them to me fast. They do that well. The customer interface is second to none and that's what site visitors deserve.
Let me clue you in to how Zillow treats it's premier agents; I'm a small broker who's fresh into a new market. I'm smart enough to know that Zillow will play a big role in my sellers listing exposure and is also a good source of buyer leads. I became a Zillow "Premier Agent" roughly one year ago(Oct 2nd 2014), which costs me quite a bit of money....$1200 a month to be exact.
Should I expect some level of service for that kind of monthly marketing investment? One should hope. Now I know some agents pay less than that, but I also know some agents pay quite a bit more. It all depends on how many zip codes and impressions you buy. Last month I received approximitely 80,000 impressions in the three major zip codes in this area. A good amount.
WEBSITE DATA FEED ISSUES:
Zillow offers, as part of their premier agent package, a fully functional website with IDX feed integration. In laymans terms, Zillow will port all of the listings from your local MLS system and display them on an agents website for the customer to search in a user friendly format. A nice feature. That's where the first sign of trouble appeared.
On February 20th 2015, new listings stopped being fed to my brokerage website. I did what anyone else would do and submitted a help ticket. Zillow responded to me stating there isn't a problem and that I needed to rearrange the widgets on my home page. Although the solution didn't make any sense, I complied and rebuild my "new listing" widgets to try to alleviate the data stall. To no avail.
One month later on March 22nd, I submitted another help ticket for the same issue. My site wasn't porting and displaying new listings from our local MLS. New customers were coming in to my website and weren't being provided with the most up to date information. I was furious. Zillow closed my support ticket and responded with a "It appears your issue has been resolved" It hadn't. I replied to the support desk again stating the issure for the THIRD time and provided specific MLS#'s of new listings that were missing. On March 30th, 8 days later!, they were still "working" on the issue.
Completely fed up, I switched to a more robust web/IDX platform. How many customers did I lose the whole month Zillow didn't update my website? We'll never know. Now for the kicker, on April 27th, yes two whole months later, Zillow found the problem and responded with a solution. TWO MONTHS LATER! I had to politely tell them to cancel my feed. What a complete waste of energy and money.
SALES CONSULTANT ISSUES:
In my last year with Zillow, I've had 4 sales consultants assigned to my account. By no doing of my own. Each time they spam email me with "new zip codes available, hurry and call me asap" messages. So I do. Naturally because I want to buy up as much space as possible. When I first signed on with them they added my desired zip codes to a "wait list" and said they would notify me when space was available. They say things like "you're #2 on a list of 9 other agents waiting for that zip" providing me with some hope that my patience was paying off. So when I'd respond to their spam sales email they'd assure me that space sould be coming soon, but none was available like the email stated. Constantly baiting me to call.
I began to notice new agents appearing in the listing feed that I watched religiously waiting for space. Thats weird, I was #2 on the list but I've seen four new agents pop up after I originally put on the wait list. It didn't make any sense. Then on Sept 23rd of 2015 I receive another "sales bait" email because my zips were now open. I had enough. I responded to one of their customer satisfaction surveys voicing my displeasure with their sketchy sales practices. To their credit, my new(4th) inside sales associate called me right away. She was paitent as I unloaded my concerns about their sales practices, my website issues, my "wait list" issues, etc and proceeded to tell me that my desired zips were open. I asked her "Well, what about this wait list I've been on? I thought I was #2?" She had no good answer and seemingly had no knowledge about the existence of a list. What? They've been stringinly me along arbtrarily this whole time.
At that time my Zillow spend was about $800/month. She offered me all available space in my main zip and includung my current spend, totaled $1200/month. A big bite out of a small brokers marketing budget. I agreed. What else was I going to do? Let some other broker buy the space? I don't think so. We consolidated the spending by getting rid of some smaller zips and focusing on the big three. The next day I get en email from Zillow asking my why I dropped some zip codes and what could they do to get me to pick them back up. Excuse me? I just signed on to pay you another $400 a month and you're asking me what's wrong? I replied to the obviously generic survey stating the same. 4 days later I receive another Zillow "sales bait" email stating "Waitlist now open! Call me right away", so I replied asking my (new)sales associate what the hell they wanted now. And, not to my suprise, nothing was open. They had put me back in to their stupid sales spam system. Is this how youre going to treat a $1200/mo customer?
Now I'm going to preface this by saying I'm human. After taking such a large marketing bite in the previous month, my credit card that I use to pay for this advertising venue wasn't large enough to process the whole amount. It declined, naturally. I received a flurry of calls and emails from my new inside sales agent and Zillows billing department. I explained the issue and charged a half payment to the card, which I paid off in order to charge again. Growing pains. Two weeks later I get a call from Zillow threatening to cancel my account. Why? Evidentially the Zillow Billing rep didn't charge my card the first time. Ok so charge it I told them. Over the span of a week, unknown to me, Zillow tried to rerun my card so many times(for the full amount) that Capital One locked it. What a mess. We got through it. Next month I would use a different card.
Nov 4th rolls around and my old card declines. They send me a message that I have until the 18th to fix the billing problem. We certainly will. In the span of one day Zillow called my business line 4 times and my personal phone 3 three times. Then I get an email from someone at Zillow stating they are pulling my account down at 3pm because I was two months past due. I responded that my account was only past due by two days and already had the email stating I had until the 18th to fix the card issue. "I checked with billing and you are right", "thanks for being on top of it" he says. No shit I'm on top of it. Obviously you aren't I thought. So I updated our company card on file. This was Friday afternoon. On Monday I get a call from my friendly inside sales associate stating "I don't know what's going on with you but we're canceling your account at 3pm today". Oh really? Harrassing much? I promptly forwarded the email trail I had with the "general manager" stating I had until the 18th. No response. The right hand obviously isn't talking to the left, or just doesn't care and will use any means necessary to fix the account.
Yes, I'm griping. Was this last issue spurred my something going wrong on my end? It sure was and will claim responsibility. What I dont agree with is the lying, harrasing culture that Zillow obviously promotes.
I like what Zillow provides to the public. They rose up in a time of lackluster property search sites with mediocre search functions to give the user a better experience. Good for them and a smart business move. We agents, in some markets, are forced to bend to their pricing demands and poor service in order to stay ahead of the game. I'm more than happy to do that because it helps me market my customers property and generate that much coveted offer. It's all about the customer and netting them the most money in the shortest amount of marketing time possible.
Service is not dead, Zillow and you're not too big to care. Maybe it's time to take a hard look at your company's sales culture?