There’s always something to howl about

Where Is He Wrong?

This was in the San Diego Union Tribune, and references an occurrence at a local real estate meeting here last week.

Wednesday: Jim Abbott, owner of a San Diego real estate brokerage, backed out from appearing on a real estate event’s panel after he was told to refrain from speaking negatively about real estate search sites including Zillow.

Zillow reserved a table at Thursday’s 2012 Real Estate Success Event, held at downtown’s San Diego Convention Center. Abbott is against third-party housing websites because he says they are inaccurate, misleading and take business from listing agents. Leaders from such sites say their platforms are popular with consumers because they’re easy to use and offer lots of information.

Here’s Jim Abbott’s video explaining why Zillow, Trulia and are…well, worthy of having something bad said about them.

Where is he wrong? If Zillow, Trulia or really believe he’s off the rail, then why an effort to keep him down. Seems like a nice enough fellow. Not caustic. Simply telling a story.  Oh, and I know this isn’t “just in” news.  It’s simply news that I believe we as Realtors, actual fiduciaries to our clients, have a duty to take a stand on.

I, for one, think Mr. Jim Abbott is on point, articulate and taking us to an important question all of us should ponder and stand on as well.

Where am I wrong?


24 Comments so far

  1. Eric Estate March 27th, 2012 4:28 am

    Maybe the sponsors feel there would be less repercussion to alienate the small guy (who will end up changing the world) rather than offending the bigger more popular websites.

  2. Teri Lussier March 27th, 2012 6:59 am

    Where did the muzzle come from- Zillow or the conference organizers? Who are the conference organizers?

    Zillow should be missing David Gibbons right about now as this is certainly not WWDGD. Ahhh, the good old days of the Makes me a bit nostalgic…

    Is Jim Abbott wrong? Maybe, but what a genius move to produce a video about it so agents all over the country can discuss this.

  3. Don Reedy March 27th, 2012 8:22 am

    Teri, I don’t have the particulars as to who squelched the discussion. Zillow IS the 800 lb. gorilla, though, and whether they put the hammer down or allowed it to be put down….well, WWDGD was violated.

    I really hope we’ll get feedback from lots of BHB folks, and others (like Eric) who want to weigh in. What interests me most is whether there is time to educate the lemmings before they all leap off the cliff.

  4. Jeff Brown March 27th, 2012 9:55 am

    This is merely more evidence that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Been watchin’ these yahoos since 1969. They aren’t now, nor have they ever been the sharpest tools in the shed. Look for the ‘R’ indeed.

  5. Jim Abbott March 27th, 2012 10:54 am

    Don and fellow bloggers. Regarding my “un-invitation” to the San Diego Real Estate Conference, it went down like this. After the our video went viral among the first local guys to take up our cause was Craig Sewing – who had me on his radio show – with a glowing intro as to my reputation and motives. After the show he asked I appear at his conference and offered my office free tickets (a $300 value or so they said!) 4 days before the event, I was emailed by Mr Sewing with this exact message:
    “Unfortunatley (his sp) Id emailed Jim last week, one of the sponsors of the event is Zillow. This has created a conflict where I was informed having Jim as a panelist would be a conflict of interest.”
    Now, we can question Craig Sewing who portrays himself as an authority on all things real estate yet doesn’t understand the term “conflict of interest.” He seems to have a clear grasp of the terms “hush money” and “influence peddling.” Can you think of others? Tool? Any way, Mr. Sewing’s conference was poorly-attended, started over an hour late, cancelled the promised lunch and left most with the feeling they’d sat through an interminable informercial. One of the sponsors has contacted me as to the details of my absence. They too, were told they couldn’t present their product which also offended Zillow. I believe they want their sponsorship money back. Who can blame them?

  6. Dan Connolly March 27th, 2012 4:27 pm

    Well that was a great piece! To answer your title question “Where is he wrong?” He was wrong with one thing and that was that he forgot to mention the Zestimate and take it apart for the worthless piece of crap that it is.

  7. Jeff Brown March 27th, 2012 4:34 pm

    Hey Guys — I wrote this about five and a half years ago about Zillow. Dan, you’ll appreciate it. 🙂

  8. Thomas A B Johnson March 27th, 2012 7:38 pm

    What David Gibbons did is found the love of his life and seeking splendor, got the heck out of real estate.

  9. Jim Klein March 27th, 2012 11:14 pm

    There’s nothing more splendid than a single guy moving the world, and this is one of those instances IMO. What a marvelous job, Jim, and the best part about it is how good you must feel. Don, this is one of the classics of all time, with that title.

  10. Teri Lussier March 28th, 2012 9:04 am

    I’m a bit torn about this. I think Zillow, et al, could provide a valuable service for the public, whether or not they do now, they could, the potential is there and that’s not a bad thing. Also, at this point they provide a valuable, albeit unintentional, service to Realtors by allowing us to show that, whodathunk, we do know what is going on in the market, that we really are the best source of information, so that’s not a horrible work-around either. These sites are not going to go away so it might be in our interest to learn to coexist.

    What bothers me most about this is that someone was muzzled at a conference in deference to a sponsor. That sponsor could have been anyone- the NAR, a big box broker, vendorslut, doesn’t matter. The fact that a sponsor dictates conference content is disturbing, does not bode well for any of us.

  11. Jim Klein March 28th, 2012 2:05 pm

    “I think Zillow, et al, could provide a valuable service…”

    Hi, Teri. Sure, of course they could. Anyone can. That’s the whole point. That’s what it means to say they should do that, and why it’s so much worse that they don’t.

    Everyone supposes that they can think enough to violate Rule Number One: “Try running your business without a customer.”

  12. Teri Lussier March 28th, 2012 2:18 pm

    Hi Jim-

    Why do you say they don’t now provide a valuable service to consumers, and/or customers? They have created some place outside the real estate industry where people can have conversations with other people outside the industry, they can get solid information there, even if the zestimates are baloney. Zillow is more than a psuedo-idx, it’s Q&A, it’s homes across the country, it’s more than home valuation. And all agents don’t provide great service either so the RE industry is no bastion of excellence. I’m not defending these sites, I’m just trying to look at this from a consumer POV. I’d want access to multiple views, and then I’d take them all with a grain of salt- caveat emptor! Have I missed your point? 🙂

  13. Jim Klein March 28th, 2012 3:45 pm

    Sorry, Teri. I was ambiguous, and I realized it too late. I was speaking of the agents who are violating Rule No. 1, not Zillow or the others. And of course I have no dog in this fight; I just care about the principles.

    It seems clear that the business model of a lot of this is to provide RE agents with the belief that they can produce, and sometimes even service, clients by paying a small fee to someone else. Obviously any person’s actions are their own responsibility, but it just looks to me–offhand, as a lay person–that this desire is being readily filled by a lot of social media-type stuff. I understand that Zillow is different and that there are great success stories, just like there are with the lottery.

    It’s nothing terrible. I mean, it’s all voluntary…though I wonder if Zillow and the others will be forming a Legislative Relations Dept. soon, if they don’t have one already.

    There’s nothing evil in it except that a bunch of RE agents seemed to be getting fooled. And even that’s alright since being fooled is a popular thing these days. As you know, I take “good” as meaning “for the actor,” and that’s how I took Jim Abbott’s video. There looked little doubt to me that he was taking what he believed was the best action for his clients, which ultimately means the best action for him.

    It might help him; it hurt him, business-wise. But he sure looked like he knew what he was doing, and that he has little equivocation that this is the right thing to do. As I know you believe too, when it comes to THAT, even the customers are secondary.

  14. Don Reedy March 28th, 2012 8:57 pm

    I think that what got my goat, made me grab my coat, and clear my throat was Jim’s particularly honest presentation of his analysis. As some of you have now discussed, this isn’t (IMO) a discussion if Zillow provides anything of value. It’s really a discussion of (to coin a BHB term) “reverse disintermediation.”

    Did you ever go to a store to get the “deal of the century”, and found that the lamp that was reduced from $159 to $9 was a plastic replica of A Christmas Story lamp? Sort of irritating, isn’t it?

    Well when arguably the most important aspect of a home purchase or sale is the value of the home, then clearly Zillow’s plastic valuation system is rather…well…irritating at the very least.

    Back to reverse disintermediation. Jim’s point is just so clear to me. Instead of eliminating the middle man and opening the process up so that clarity rules, Zillow has become the egg on the windshield. Teri, you say Zillow provides a community with some value, but our job, our profession, is to keep our buyers and sellers in the cool and clean air that comes from transparency.

    I just repeat myself…Where is he (Jim) wrong?

    As to the issue of exerting influence on any meeting that seeks to, and purports to, educate and enlighten, got to hope that someone from Zillow will appear here and apologize, explain, or at least attempt to rationalize. Anyone listening?

  15. Teri Lussier March 29th, 2012 7:06 am

    >Where is he (Jim) wrong?

    Consumers use it.

    Shake your fist all you want, consumers use it, and I think they want a site like that- a site that they can go to without having some agent looking over their shoulder, breathing down their neck, harassing them to buy a house.

    Maybe a better approach would be to use your handy Zillow profile to educate consumers- you know? Just put this video, or one of your own, directly on your Zillow profile. Add language to the postlets flyers that tell consumers about Zestimates! Educate the public that way, because whether or not aggregators are accurate today, and whether or not they provide real value that you can see, and whether or not you like them, consumers want sites like this, and they use these sites. However, I would like to be wrong about this. Am I?

    >Anyone listening?

    Off topic, but #justsayin- If you had sold your soul, would you be reading BHB?

  16. Don Reedy March 29th, 2012 9:00 am

    Teri, oh my girl, but you do make me think and laugh.

    Here’s the Don take on your comment on how consumers like using Zillow without someone breathing down their neck.

    Let me count the ways this is wrong. You made your kid do what they needed to do to succeed, and you and their teachers “breathed down their necks.” You picked your spouse and your friends, and what made you, and continues to make you a friend to them is that you won’t turn them loose to their own foibles. No, you “breathe down their neck” to show your love. And lest I go on forever, you could be a real estate agent, but instead you’ve chosen to be a real estate professional, and you even write here to expose what you believe and trust in. You breathe down our necks, and it’s oh so much a good thing.

    I’m not going to be a crusader. Jim Abbott, Kris Berg and some others have taken on that role vis a vis the syndicator spectacle. But I am going to say without equivocation that there should be a voice calling out to consumers and warning them about the “day-old” bread they’re eating at Zillow and other syndicators. (I have to contemplate where using Zillow’s profile page to combat them is kosher).

    And finally, I just so love your last sentence. Duh, what the heck was I thinking? 🙂

  17. Kris Berg March 29th, 2012 5:25 pm

    You aren’t wrong, and Jim was right — in my most humble opinion, of course.

    Consumers are in a lot of places, and that doesn’t mean we have some moral or ethical obligation to plaster our listing information in all of those places. Jim Abbott said it best: Eyeballs, page views, and unique visitors don’t translate to homes sold. These things don’t even translate to homes sold faster at higher prices, as the purveyors of these sites might suggest. Buyers walking across the threshold with their agents does.

    If impressions were indeed the holy grail of selling homes, I’ve got a bus bench one mile from my home that I guarantee would be a flipping gold mine.

    The bottom line is that Z is for-profit, and so am I. The big distinction is that the home buyers and sellers are in my car, and I am at their kitchen table. I remember who the client is; third-party sites are detached from the real work, and their model depends on me handing them mine.

    I won’t link (Greg would thump me on the head), but I have written about this probably once too often. Yes, the Zestimates are flawed, the data is crummy and misrepresented, and the model smacks of an extortion scheme. But all of that aside, if it made a hill of beans worth a difference to my clients, I might succumb to the pressure to be present there. Instead, we have chosen to no longer syndicate (unless a client insists). No video; no fanfare. We just did what we think is the right thing, and Jim was a catalyst. And it has made zero difference. None. Nada. Saying that I must send my client’s listings over there with a big ol’ bow on them is nothing more than propaganda driven by a profit motive.

    He was right.

  18. Don Reedy March 29th, 2012 8:05 pm

    Thanks Kris. You know that I have always respected your views, and just as importantly, your skills.

    I have more to add to this conversation, but it’s not going to change any minds methinks. Syndicators are really strangers at the kitchen tables where we do our work. They are interlopers in our transactions, adding data, not knowledge; shiny new pencils without a sharpener; empty boxes, but with pretty bows (as you say).

    I believe indeed that Jim is right, and you are right, and as Greg often says “you have all the power unless you give that power over and willingly become a slave.” (paraphrased).

    Keep us abreast of what’s happening in your syndicatorless world….

  19. Jeff Brown March 29th, 2012 8:18 pm

    Gotta like Kris.

    Don — Selling real estate sans Zillow and the rest of ’em is as hard as it was when I listed my first home in 1969. That is — it’s not hard if you know what you’re doing, execute well, and have an IQ measurably north of room temp. Realtors buying into these sites’ BS remind me of the disappointed Obama voters when they found out their electric bill and rent weren’t gonna be paid by him.

    Sad, very sad.

  20. Jim Abbott March 30th, 2012 10:06 am

    I am currently helping some very dear clients go through a difficult bankruptcy proceeding. I have shared some of this with Kris and I share it with all of you not to burnish my halo, but because I don’t think it’s out of the ordinary for any true Realtor. The property is unique in its decor (read: challenge) and I have had it listed for nearly two years. My clients, who still have lots of equity were staring down a trustee’s sale which Chase refused to further postpone. Unwilling to see this asset gobbled up by fees, lawyers, etc, I fronted the funds to initiate the BK process for my clients. This happened at the exact time we were pulling out of syndication. Fast forward six weeks to yesterday. We chose from one of four GREAT offers, cash, two weeks to close of escrow. Buyers claim they have been looking for something just like this FOREVER. Coincidence? I don’t think so. All the offers came from brokers within our market area who knew the product and how to sell it. OUr client is grateful and will exit the transaction with their equity in tact and their faith a bit restored.

  21. Cresta Rumery March 30th, 2012 1:49 pm

    Thanks for posting this, Don. Jim, you were spot on and I couldn’t agree more. I’m sharing this video with my colleagues.

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  23. Susan Zanzonico April 30th, 2012 10:57 am

    I think the video is great and there’s nothing wrong with it except, as Dan C. pointed out, Jim should’ve talked about Zestimate. That seems to be what alot of my clients use and reference. It’s frustrating. Most agencies in my area automatically submit to all these third party sites.

  24. Greg Swann May 6th, 2012 10:01 am

    > I won’t link (Greg would thump me on the head)

    I hadn’t read any of this. Cathleen just drew it to my attention. This is untrue. We’re a do-follow blog (all of my weblogs are), and we’ve always been very free with link love. I expect this makes no difference here, but I wanted to put it out there as a matter of policy.