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.