Zillow's new way to spite your neighbor

Mix Zillow’s amazing capacity to quietly market itself and its new feature (list your home on Zillow, FSBO or FSBAgent) and you have a great new service for driving traffic… to your annoying neighbor’s house. List their house at 25% below Zillow’s estimated value and invite people to come by to see the place anytime after 8 on weekdays. You could alternately ‘claim’ their house and hold it until they decide to sell, at which point you get to choose the price, at least on Zillow. To be fair, listing someone’s house has always been possible on Craigslist, but you never had to send in proof of ownership to be able to reclaim your house from them.

More seriously, I’ve been expecting Zillow to launch a service like this for quite a while, but frankly I thought it would take them a little bit longer to get their act together and figure out exactly how it would work.

A few thoughts:

1. Zilllow is making it a pain to bulk upload listings, which gives FSBOs exactly the same capacity to list as the biggest companies. They’re doing this for two reasons: Individuals are more likely to list (and look at ads and puruse the site) if their agent doesn’t say “we automatically list so you don’t have to worry” AND because it makes it harder for competitors to get the same information. If they allowed bulk submit, third party websites would do most of the work posting listings to all the free listings sites on the web. (So Greg, I disagree with you here) Expect an API for listing if people aren’t listing in high numbers (see number 3).

2. Many consumers already believed that Zillow had houses for sale, so this revelation won’t surprise the real estate-casual public.

3. Zillow has the best shot at getting the chicken or the egg (you need one to get the other). Most non-MLS sites (Trulia, Propsmart, ForSaleByOwner, etc.) have had the nasty problem of beginning with no listings and no searchers (no chickens or eggs). Each has tried a novel and somewhat successful way of getting searchers or listings – crawling sites for listings, offering free listings, pay-per click ads to lure searchers, etc. None of them seem to have hit the point of no return: the point at which searchers start using the site exclusively, causing any remaining listers to clamor for inclusion. Based on the marketing buzz alone, Zillow may be the first to hit this point. Once (if?) they hit some critical number (70%? 80%? 90% of listings?), the tide will turn and nearly all holdouts will list themselves. They can always include an API to increase inclusion, but I think they’d rather have agents and consumers list manually and add more information to their Zillow listings.

4. Zillow almost has enough buzz to get the holy grail of online real estate listings – actual people listing their own homes en masse and actual searchers using a non-MLS based site. Uninformed home buyers will probably use it to search for homes until they realize that, at least in the short run, Zillow doesn’t have a bunch of the houses that are for sale.

5. Many local MLS systems will probably fall by the wayside as the primary places that agents and consumers go to search for houses. This is because most of them have too many rules and regulations for using their data, which binds the hands of innovators.

6. Is ‘Make Me Move’ basically a slow motion auction with no end date? You state a “buy it now” price and wait for bidders to inch up to that price? It seems like a surefire way to see get a bunch of homes, but you never know if you’ll find that gem in the rough. It certainly won’t work for commodity-like homes in suburban developments or condos unless the “buy it now” price is really close to the market price.

7. Agents, you’re kidding yourself if you believe that Zillow isn’t going to make your life harder. When anyone can list their home on the web without paying $500 to some brokerage, it’s time to offer real services or get out of the game. Also, if people know someone who has successfully done a FSBO, it’ll seem a lot easier for them to do the same.

Agents and brokers of the future, you’re also kidding yourself if you believe that Zillow is responsible for shrinking commissions (they’re coming) and a changing industry because it’s not: Zillow is just the product of the web’s relentless market and information opening power. We are leaving the time of the agent-leads-consumer model in the real estate industry and we are entering the time of the agent-coaches-consumer model. More on how I hope to participate in this change in the coming weeks and months.

Update: I suspect Zillow will allow for bulk uploads in the future no matter what, but it makes sense to take things like this slowly. They will need to be especially vigilant to keep out listing spammers who could use an API to upload dozens of false homes.