Transparency For Thee, But Not For Me

(I’m going to try an experiment with this post and a couple others in the future. This post will be under 600 words, period. Then I’ll track site stats.)

Over on Facebook, Danny Dietl writes:

…why don’t they [Zillow] just put a disclaimer on the front page that says something like “we are working on having updated and accurate data on properties listed for sale. For now, please understand that many homes listed are not currently for sale or have the wrong list price.” Without something like that YES all day they are deceitful. Jay Thompson [Zillow’s industry relations guy], why not do that if transparency is the goal?

Of course, we’re talking only about transparency as it comes to data accuracy, as opposed to business practices — such as using listings as bait to draw in buyer inquiries — but let’s stick with transparency vis-a-vis just data accuracy.

Danny’s idea is that agent websites, powered by IDX, are transparent in ways that is not. I don’t see it from the consumer’s point of view — and as some folks are so fond of pointing out, I am not now nor have I ever been a real estate agent. So the only thing I can really offer is the consumer’s perspective.

A consumer going to a website is not thinking, “I hope I get to see all of the listings in the MLS that is timely and up to date.” The consumer is simply thinking, “I want to see all of the houses for sale.” That happens to include FSBO’s. Most websites powered by IDX (actually, all of them that I know of, but who knows — some MLS might allow FSBO listings that I don’t know about) do not include FSBO listings.

ALL of the properties for sale may very well include pocket listings that the agent is keeping private, whether because the seller doesn’t want it shown on the Internet (luxury sellers sometimes demand this), or because she knows she can get better results for her seller by working through her personal network. Should that fact be disclosed in a disclaimer?

Under Danny’s rule of transparency, all broker and agent websites should have a prominent disclaimer right on the front page saying:

Please understand that the homes listed here do not include FSBO’s or private listings. This means that our market stats may be incorrect, as it does not take off-MLS sales into account.

That is, to put it mildly, going a step too far.

When contacting an agent, the consumer might want to know if she has ever had any issues with past clients, if she has ever had an ethics complaint filed against her, etc. Under Danny’s rule of transparency, one would have to demand that every agent profile page on a broker or franchise website should list every ethics complaint filed against her ever, no matter how frivolous, as well as all comments/reviews about her no matter how negative and how unfounded.

Again, that is asking far too much. Transparency does not mean committing to marketing suicide. Consumers certainly don’t expect it, although if you choose to be radically transparent, that may yield results. That’s your call just how transparent you want to be.

However, the idea of holding other people accountable to a standard of transparency that you are not willing to be held to strikes me as the kind of thing that eco-activists living in 40,000-sq.ft. mansions and flying private jets to environmental conferences do.

Refrain. Tap the brakes. Transparency is not the goal; effective marketing is. Act accordingly.


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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.

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