Consumers continue to vote with the feet.
In 2010, Realtor.com and Zillow were neck and neck in the online real estate eyeball war. Realtor.com averaged 7.0 million unique visitors per month, Zillow was at 6.9 million. Today, while both companies have logged impressive growth due to the explosion of mobile devices, Zillow has more than doubled Realtor.com's monthly traffic, most recently reporting 45.1 million unique visitors while Realtor.com attracted 22.0 million.
Zillow is a publicly-traded company based in Seattle that has built a consumer-centric real estate experience around transparency, disclosure and massive amounts of data that previously was not easily available to the general public.
Realtor.com is operated by the National Association of Realtors, a trade group (to which I belong) that has spent years trying to obfuscate data, limit disclosure and keep the power of information the hands of Realtors, not consumers.
Do I need to go any further?
I may be a Realtor by trade, but on the subject of data and disclosure, I am a Zillow Man.
Which is one reason Realtor.com and NAR are both in huge trouble organizationally.
When you are living in an age of transparency and people do not trust your brand, you are toast.
So why is Realtor.com failing so badly? Consider the debate that has been going on for years inside NAR's Chicago-based headquarters regarding agent production and disclosure.
Consumers want to know what agents sell. (Most) Agents don't want you to know what they sell.
Why? Because the average Realtor closes seven deals a year. Why does the average Realtor close seven deals a year? Because selling homes is hard work, with incredible stress, long hours, ridiculous ups and downs and plenty of drama on the best of days.
That's why half of all agents who take out a real estate license quit in the first year. Over 70% of agents who take out a real estate license will never renew it at the end of their first license cycle.
This is a hard business that chews up newbies, spits them out and leaves smoldering wreckage behind. If you want to live in Fantasyland, go back to watching HGTV.
Unless you are in the top 20%.
For 20% of the agents, those who are tenacious, experienced, creative and consumer-centric, the market is not a savage jungle. The long hours are accepted as part of the job. The interruptions are anticipated and planned for in advance. The drama is avoided by drawing on past experience to anticipate problems before they show up and addressing them early instead of letting them blow up your deal at the 11th hour, or worse yet, at the closing table.
So if you are in this top 20%, you welcome disclosure. You welcome transparency. You want people to know how many homes you sold and how many hours you work, because in a digital world where consumers demand full information you will win.
The problem is that when 20% want disclosure and 80% do not, the dinosaurs win.
That's why many agents like myself are done with Realtor.com. I began building my presence on Zillow five years ago, first asking past clients to review me, then submitting my production history for verification and publication.
Being an early adapter, I purchased the domain ZillowReviews.com in 2010, which now directs web visitors directly to my Zillow profile.
I have over 80 client reviews posted online, information on over 200 past transactions and a complete biography that allows consumers to make informed choices.
All without spending one penny for advertising, since Zillow leverages this platform to build its own brand integrity and because they know consumers want it. (Of course, Zillow's telemarketing sales reps hound me constantly trying to get me to buy paid advertising, which I have no interest in, but that's another story for another post)
Meanwhile, NAR charges me $1,000 per year to build and promote a lousy website, throw cocktail parties for politicians and run ridiculous television ads telling buyers "it's time to get off the fence".
If I'm an average Realtor and I see this going on, I'm not happy.
But if I'm a superior agent, one who looks out for his clients, builds strong systems, embraces technology and leans into being fully transparent, I'll just go where the eyeballs are, because my profile functions as a giant client-attracting magnet.
Consumers will continue to become better educated, with or without Realtor.com.
If an agent wants to crush it in today's market, I would first start by building a strong Zillow profile and promoting it to new clients. If you want to go a step further, create a profile on Yelp and solicit reviews there as well. In fact, go anywhere online where consumers can find unfiltered information and establish a presence.