How Bizarre: Zillow, ShowingTime and Paranoid REALTORS

I love this industry, I really do. It has some of the best people I have ever met, real salt of the earth people who genuinely care about their clients, their communities, about each other, about the country, about the world. They’re real sweethearts and genuine and fun, fun people.

But there are times when I look at paroxysms of craziness erupting, and I ask myself, “Really? This is what set them off?” Meanwhile, I spend years pointing out actual threats and actual problems that deserve a look and some action, and… *crickets*.

It’s so bizarre.

Earlier today, I got a call from Errol Samuelson, who apparently drew the short straw and was given the task of informing me that Zillow was acquiring ShowingTime. I suppose they expected that I would ask all kinds of sticky questions, poke around all kinds of thorny issues or whatever. Sorry, I could hardly stifle a yawn as Errol was telling me about this exciting acquisition. I couldn’t understand why he was even calling me, since… well, a big tech company buying a small tech company isn’t exactly news. Or exciting. Or even interesting. I wasn’t going to write on it or anything.

Then I mistakenly logged into Facebook. Holy hell! WTAF is happening here?

I don’t get the angst. I really don’t. Maybe it’s all the lockdowns driving people crazy, stuck behind their computer screens. But my goodness, some of the vitriol and paranoia wafting up from Facebook this evening… is… well, quite something.

So let me see if I can understand the reasoning the rationale for why seemingly thousands of otherwise normal REALTORS have gone batshit crazy today.

ALL YOUR DATA ARE BELONG TO US!

By far the most common rationale appears to be that this is a big “data grab” by Zillow, since ShowingTime is used by hundreds of thousands of real estate agents to schedule in-person physical showings.

Before we get much further, let’s remind ourselves what ShowingTime actually is. It’s a piece of technology that lets buyers and their agents schedule time to go show a home for sale. It has some feedback mechanisms so the buyer agent can let the listing agent (and therefore the seller) know what the buyer liked or didn’t like about the house. It provides the listing agent with the number of showings, so he can tell the seller what kind of activity there is on the house. That’s it. That’s what it does.

It’s a bit like Calendly or Doodle or Meetingbird or any of the dozen or so online scheduling tools, except it can be integrated into the MLS for ease of use.

Prior to being acquired by Zillow, ShowingTime was one of those little utilities that agents liked to bitch about… when the other agent wasn’t using it. Oh why oh why is the other agent such an ass backwards luddite stuck in the past, forcing me to call and email a dozen times just to schedule a 15 minute showing? Why, the MLS should make ShowingTime mandatory, so I can just click a few buttons and schedule the showing! I don’t want to hire an administrative assistant just to schedule showings!!!bbq11!!!1

Somehow, this modest little utility has been transformed into the Holiest of Holies of secret client data that must be protected at all costs, or else everything is doomed. The argument appears to be something like, now that Zillow owns ShowingTime, they have all of the data to know how many showings, who is showing the house, what buyer is touring, and so on. Here’s a comment I found so… interesting:

When they acquire this program they acquire all our history on all our listings. Who the customer was, all their contact information, how many showings each home had, what type of feedback the home had- run that against the numbers they already have about selling price and time on market- they control ALL the data.

So, ALL YOUR DATA ARE BELONG TO US!!!!

Thing is… try as I might, I’m not sure how I see ShowingTime collecting all of this data from all the agents using it to schedule showings… without, you know, sharing that data back to the agent using it to schedule showings. I mean, who in the world would use a scheduler that doesn’t tell him how many showings each home had and what type of feedback the home had? That’s the whole value proposition of ShowingTime on the data side, isn’t it? And it’s right there on the homepage of the website.

Which means… you know who else would have “all our history on all our listings, who the customer was, all their contact information, how many showings each home had, what type of feedback the home had?” Ah yes, the listing agent. If only that listing agent were to “run that against the numbers he already has about selling price and time on market!” Why, he would control ALL the data.

Speaking of which… if the agent wanted to control ALL the data and use it to diabolically take market share… why, it seems ShowingTime has a whole suite of products for that agent or broker to do just that:

One does wonder how it is that none of these products ever get discussed in just about any conversation about how the agent could monopolize the market by using ALL the data at his fingertips. In fact, I’d love for ShowingTime to let me know just how much revenue they make from these DATA products. How many brokers and agents currently foaming at the mouth are subscribers to these?

If you have never used ShowingTime data in combination with all of the other data that you have access to, run analytics on that combined data, to control the market like you think Zillow will somehow with this magic data… what are you complaining about? OMG, Zillow is doing something I could have done for ten years but never bothered! It’s the end, my friends, it’s the END!

Zillow Is Coming For Our Jobs!

Naturally, this control over ALL the data will somehow lead to Zillow putting real estate agents all out of business. Another comment:

“Use our powerful website for free to market your home! Pay no Realtors! Your personal Zillow Concierge will coordinate the whole transaction for free if you use Zillow Mortgage and Zillow Title. Put 6% back in your pocket!”

Let’s leave aside for the moment that Zillow just made $1 billion (with a B) in 2020 from Premier Agents, and Rich Barton can’t shut up about their “class-leading partners” whom Zillow is busy enriching. They apparently don’t even like money over there in Seattle, so forget that for a moment.

A big part of the rationale is that Zillow bought ShowingTime to use on its iBuyer properties, so that buyers can schedule showings without needing a buyer agent! OMG! That is frightening.

Except that Zillow doesn’t need ShowingTime for that, since it already lets buyers access a Zillow-owned home using the Zillow App.

So that seems like an odd decision for Rich Barton and team to make, to acquire an online calendaring company so the buyer can click a bunch of buttons and schedule time to tour a Zillow-owned home using a lockbox to which he has no access code… when he can just walk up to the house, use the Zillow app that he already used to find the house… and open it.

But hey, ShowingTime was totally about iBuyer access to homes.

The FSBO Scenario

Ahhh, but! Rob, don’t you see that Zillow will use ShowingTime for FSBO listings??? So they can go direct to the buyer? There won’t be any need for buyer agents then, or listing agents! Zillow is out to get us all!

That would indeed be alarming… if FSBO listings were not a mere 8% of home sales according to NAR.

But whatever the stat, we’re talking about a homeowner who has so much free time on his hands, and loves dealing with every bit of the unbelievable hassle that is trying to sell something yourself (try selling a bicycle on OfferUp sometime for the joy and thrill of FSBO, and that’s a $300 bike, not a $300,000 home)… and that seller has never heard of Calendly to schedule showings. Now, NOW that he (maybe) has access to ShowingTime, why he’ll never use a REALTOR again!

I mean… really? This is what has so many REALTORS so bent out of shape?

Perhaps the fear is that now that one can schedule 27 showings over a weekend easier than before, no seller will want to list with an agent and have somebody else deal with all of the annoyance and hassle and legal forms and inspection reports and a hundred other things that a good agent does. Right. The difficulty of scheduling showings was what was driving 89% of sellers into the arms of a REALTOR, not the actual service that a listing agent provides, such as (from NAR):

  • Preparing/fixing up home for sale: 12%
  • Understanding and performing paperwork: 10%
  • Getting the right price: 9%
  • Selling within the planned length of time: 6%
  • Having enough time to devote to all aspects of the sale: 5%

I guess some of the REALTORS in the industry have a very low opinion of what a listing agent actually does for the homeowner in a sale. Sheesh.

Keep Calm, And Be Frightened of Real Monsters

I find myself puzzled, nay bewildered, that this minor acquisition of a small tech company by a big tech company is what set off so many people. I mean, Zillow is a $35 billion public company; the $500 million they paid for ShowingTime is 1/70th of the market cap. It’s a bit like how the NRT used to do a dozen small “tuck-in” acquisitions every year without even doing a press release. And this is what’s freaking people out?

Meanwhile, as of this writing, there are the following real monsters out there:

  • Moehrl, Sitzer and Leeder lawsuits seeking to eliminate cooperation and compensation, and $100 billion or so in damages;
  • A Department of Justice who regards real estate as a giant cartel that they must break;
  • A highly controversial Clear Cooperation Policy with a giant loophole in it for large brokerages, which a federal court recently signaled is A-OK;
  • A housing market that has rapidly passed the unaffordable and is heading into the ludicrously, laughably unaffordable;
  • NYS Senate having come to believe that the real estate industry is filled with racists, and will therefore have to take action;
  • Extraordinarily high unemployment rates thanks to government shutdowns;
  • Two entire generations of Americans who are not getting married and having babies, which seriously impacts demand;
  • And of course, a virus that mutates… possibly every year.

Well, it’s the evening of the day of the announcement. It’s a slow news day otherwise. Maybe with time and perspective, and a good night’s sleep, cooler heads will prevail and figure things out.

The Truth, Since The Wheel

Let me close by noting an eternal truth. This has been true since the invention of the wheel, or maybe even earlier: If your job can be done by a machine, it will be and should be.

If your job is hauling rocks on your back, and the wheel is invented letting one wagon driver haul many rocks, then your hauling rocks will be done by the fancy new wagon. And it should be, so you can do something that requires more than a strong back and legs.

If your job is rowing a boat through ocean waves, and the steam engine comes along, then your job should be done by the steam engine and it will be.

If your job is copying a book laboriously by hand, and Gutenberg invents the printing press, then your job will go away. And it should.

If your job is screwing two parts together on an assembly line, a mind-numbing drudgery, and robotics comes along… yeah, your job is going away. And it should. Modern manufacturing uses either craftsmen with skills, or CNC operators and designers whose jobs can’t be done by a machine.

If your job is to sit at a teller window and give people cash out of their bank accounts, the ATM will make your job go away. And it should. Because none of us — including the REALTORS currently screaming about Zillow — actually wants to wait for business hours, go stand in a line, to fill out a withdrawal slip and get $200.

So if your job is to schedule showing appointments manually, yeah, that job will be done by a machine. And it should be. If you believe that your entire value as a real estate agent is that you coordinate when your client can go see a house, then yeah, you have no value and should find something else to do. If you believe that no one will use you to help them buy or sell a house because they have access to data… then yeah, you have no value to offer and probably should find a career where you can add real value that only a human being can add.

If, on the other hand, you know that your value as a professional goes beyond data into interpreting that data for actionable insight, beyond having a tool that they don’t to knowing how to use that tool, beyond routine administrative tasks that should be done by machines to actual advice, skills, know-how, counseling, expertise and caring… then what in the world do you have to worry about that one tech company bought another?

Keep calm. Bring value to the buyer or seller, and they will never abandon you. Worry about the real monsters lurking out there.

-rsh

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Rob Hahn

Rob Hahn

Managing Partner of 7DS Associates, and the grand poobah of this here blog. Once called "a revolutionary in a really nice suit", people often wonder what I do for a living because I have the temerity to not talk about my clients and my work for clients. Suffice to say that I do strategy work for some of the largest organizations and companies in real estate, as well as some of the smallest startups and agent teams, but usually only on projects that interest me with big implications for reforming this wonderful, crazy, lovable yet frustrating real estate industry of ours.

27 thoughts on “How Bizarre: Zillow, ShowingTime and Paranoid REALTORS”

  1. A voice of reason. Well said, indeed. It’s funny as a Managing Director of several Commercial offices, I see these huge emotional outbursts on things that are molehills, without seeing the actual disruptive threats to the residential industry. In the Commercial world we have consistently had discussions about agency and compensation with our buyers (who GASP often actually pay us!) without relying on an MLS to guarantee our fee. We can pull some anecdotal information together, but the final art of relating that to actual market conditions is our value proposition. Not access the “magic MLS”. Whenever we are in front of our clients, they are asking themselves these critical questions:

    1). What can you do for me I can’t do for myself?
    2). What can you do in a more efficient manner than your competitors?

    If you can’t answer these with something OTHER than “I’ll put your house on the MLS and it will sell”, you deserve to be replaced by a better provider/agent. Asbestos underwear is on, bring the flames… =)

    • John,
      Spoken like a true commercial practitioner! I’m a commercial guy also and can’t imagine a time when a Zillow would intervene into our business. Yet. Frankly I CAN imagine a day when a tech-leveraged company puts leasing agents into the dustbin of history via some simple online showing tools like Manaport virtual office tours, an online lease application process and so on, can’t you? If the final link to either keeping or losing our business is the ability to simply unlock a space whether commercial or residential then I refer back to your two essential and honest questions and say, “Time to start building solar panels.” Adios.

  2. I follow industry news pretty closely, and also only took notice of this after reading the agent hysteria. It’s weird cause they bought dotloop a long time ago, and you’d think Zillow’s access to actual contracts would be a much bigger privacy threat. ?‍♀️

    It gave me an idea though.

    1. Duplicate, iterate, and marginally improve showing time’s tech
    2. Brand messaging based around “we’re not Zillow”
    3. Replace showing time as an MLS partner
    4. Give me money.

    • Trisha,

      Zillow corporate just joined our MLS as an active brokerage. Our MLS committee was scared Zillow would file a DOJ complaint so allowed them in to the club. The obvious path for Zillow is to channel all its business to local Zillow agents for a higher fee of course. There will be a definite thinning of the herd, which might be a good thing!

  3. Rob,

    Enjoy reading your insights but it would be appropriate and help the reader if you would disclose whether you have ever or are currently being paid by Zillow. You seem to run to their defense at the drop of a hat and invalidate hard working agents by calling them “paranoid”. Their concerns are reasonable and it is pretty obvious where your bias exists. You can have bias but just be upfront because it is kind of obvious at this point.

    • Sigh. This again. Read more of my blog and you’ll see that I had a relationship with Zillow, which ended in 2017. I wish I were getting paid by Zillow, but I’m not. I have always been transparent about such arrangements. But my wife does work for them if you want to suspect whatever you want to suspect.

      Which concerns are reasonable? I just don’t see it. I’m open to being convinced, if said concerns are reasonable.

      • Ah, Rob Rob Rob, when you are commenting on something like this, the disclosure should really come up front in the article, don’t you think? And, frankly, you’re sleeping with the enemy here. If you want me to believe you’d write an honest anti-Zillow article after disclosing your wife works for Z, I’d have to call bulls#@t on that.

    • Or you could just accept that Rob knows more about this industry than pretty much anyone. He has criticized Zillow in the past, as you would know if you’d read his posts over the past several years. If you think Rob has made biased statements, you should be specific if you want to be taken seriously. Your general claim of bias is meaningless without citing instances of bias.

      Many thousands of agents have built their businesses in partnership with Zillow. You make it sound as though all agents are anti Zillow. My experience is that the hardest working, most productive agents do not waste their time complaining about Zillow’s actions. They are too busy closing business, often from leads generated from their Zillow advertising.

  4. You are missing two pieces of information in your article I believe. Last year Zillow told Realogy that in a couple of weeks we will no longer accept your listings and a fee. All listings must come from an MLS. That left hundreds if not thousands of brokers scrambling to call their MLS and ask them to turn on listing feeds to Zillow. If Zillow does the same thing with showingtime, that means thousands if not tens of thousands of brokerages will be trying to figure out how to schedule showing. If your first response is but they say they won’t do that, they also said they wouldn’t be a brokerage. Second, showing time has a new program called offer manager. This is being sold to the MLS as a way to organize and build a list of all offers submitted on a property through showingtime. You should look this up. My final thought, if Zillow is a brokerage, and an MLs has an MLs wide program of showing time, I’m now charging brokerages a fee paid to a competitor in order to belong to an MLS. This just seems wrong to me

    • Thanks for the information, Greg. Guess I’m left wondering why either of those things makes a difference….

      Say you’re 100% correct; Zillow will use ShowingTime somehow to screw tens of thousands of brokerages. Since ShowingTime is often provided as a free benefit by MLS’s, it would have to be some kind of a reverse of the Realogy situation you bring up. Like, maybe Zillow says, “Give us all your data, Mr. Broker, or you can’t use ShowingTime” or something like that. Say that happens.

      So? I don’t get how that leads to the end of the world for brokers or agents.

      On #2, okay, so ST has some new thing called Offer Manager. Which is not proven yet, but whatever. It will organize and build a list of all offers. Okay, so let’s say this gets adopted by a million agents across hundreds of MLSs, and Zillow owns it. I guess the idea is that Zillow will snatch up this offer data, incorporate all of the offer information into its database, and then use that to… what exactly? Improve the Zestimate? Make its Zillow Offers more accurate? Harass the buyers to jump ship to another agent? I’m just not seeing what the problem is here; that might be because I don’t sell real estate. Maybe you can tell me how this is such a horrible thing?

      On the whole “fee paid to a competitor” thing… sure, I guess if that’s some kind of a sacred thing, whatever. I’ve personally never understood that, but sure. I don’t think I have any direct competitors, but if I had one, and that competitor released some new tool that would make my life easier and make me more money, I’d gladly pay said competitor for that tool, but that’s me.

  5. I am sorry to say but Zillow and the other big real estate guys are relying on how “smart” are the agents and their brokers. They make their money injecting fear in the agent`s mind and having their friends in the media to write how great is this software they have just purchased for $500M.Then their stock price soars and everybody is happy.
    Read the user reviews and then you will know that musicales do happen but only in our minds.
    Real estate is a people business and not a software business. People make the software works not the opposite. So, if the average agent is lazy to pick up the phone or to provide services, no app in the world can do it.

    Read the reviews.
    https://justuseapp.com/en/app/686156346/showingtime/reviews

  6. Well said, Rob.

    But I’m puzzled that you’re surprised by the “H&H” (hysteria and histrionics) this announcement introduced.

    It’s no different that when Z acquired Diverse Solutions, Hotpads, Buyfolio, **Trulia**, StreetEasy, or Dotloop.

    The volume of hysteria was significantly reduced for the acquisitions of Moretech, Retsly, and Bridge Interactive because, well, no one really understood at the time (or even now) what those folks did/do.

    Within 4 seconds of hearing of the ShowingTime acquisition, my reaction was, “this is gonna be a shit-show of epic proportions.”

    I’d think as an employee/shill of Zillow you’d be well aware, and unsurprised, of the reaction an announcement like this would generate.

    Absolutely nothing, zero, zilch, nada about the general industry reaction is a surprise.

    Signed,
    A fellow shill

  7. Thanks for your perspective, Rob. I always enjoy your insight. The only issue I have with this acquisition is that if an MLS’s only service to set up showings on its platform is ShowingTime, it should investigate offering an alternative and give its users a choice. To only offer one of its member’s tech tools to all members presents a problem. I believe most MLS’s will provide an alternative and give its members a choice in a very short period of time.

    • Oh, any time there is only one choice, it’s not great. So yes, if an MLS wants to offer multiple systems, I think that’s ideal. More choices, the better. And I can’t see why that more choices thing would only apply to this tool, instead of ALL tools, including the MLS software itself — Front End of Choice is a dream most MLSs simply cannot offer even in 2021.

      Of course, there are a few reasons why most MLSs won’t be able to do that… starting with the outdated tech platform that most of them are on, the fact that most don’t control their own databases, the inability to connect disparate apps on the backend, etc. etc.

  8. This seems to be a very narrow minded and one sided article. I would contrast this to the Nvida purchase of Arm Holdings. A chip maker (To be clear THE ONLY CHIP MAKER) that supplies the worlds leading tech companies. Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon have stepped up and asked the SEC to stop the sale because it creates an conflict of interest that disclosure does not fix. It is considered an anti-trust issue. The fact that Zillow is now a brokerage, puts them in a clear conflict of interest/anti-trust arena. What about open door? How many zillow agents will they select over other companies to be “transaction coordinators”. It seems it would inevitably muddy the waters for Opendoor as well. The implications of Zillows purchase of ShowingTime has far reaching ripples that are not being discussed here

    • That’s possible, I guess… but I’m finding your example to be inapt.

      Zillow acquiring a showing service is the equivalent of Nvidia acquiring Arm Holdings? So that’s a chipmaker acquiring a chip designer. For $40 billion.

      “The fact that Zillow is now a brokerage” puts them in a clear conflict of interest/anti-trust arena… how? Because an online scheduler is essential to operating a brokerage? Perhaps you can explain your logic.

  9. Who cares? I’m still going to make stacks of money in this game. It’s a people business. When you’re spending a quarter or half a million dollars on the important emotional asset of your life, you’re not going to leave it 100% up to an algorithmic system. Zillow.com, realtor.com, dildo.com, whatever, will never take over the entire real estate transaction. You’re going to want to talk to an actual professional who’s familiar with the area and the nuances of the housing prices in that area.

    • Rob,
      I agree with you 100%. Anyone I talked with, asking will they trust a 100% algorithmic system to transact a sale or a home purchase, the answer is NO! The problem I see is that in many places in the internet you will find brainwash articles from companies like Zillow who probably paying for those articles. A public trade company cares on revenues and not what is good for the consumer. Unfortunately there are millions of people who buys those lies.

  10. You seem to avoid one glaring fact, Zillow is no longer just a regurgitator of home sale data, they are now a BROKER. As such, they are competing with all other agents for that sale of a home. And now owning the showing appointment platform, one can imagine the conflict of interest that arises. Say Zillow has a listing or has a buyer agent that wants to show a property that in this hot market has great demand. It would benefit Zillow to provide priority to the Zillow agent in showing the home before another broker’s agent. Surely you see that? With the monkeying around of electronic systems that has been proven in today’s vulnerable systems, I would look very carefully at the algorithms and methods the newly owned appointment setting program uses and whether there exists any bias toward Zillow agents. To ignore this is a fools folly.

    • I guess if Zillow had agents, maybe? They are a “brokerage” to do iBuyer stuff, period. If that changes, then my opinion will change, because I base opinions on facts and reality.

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