Is this a move to make their website friendlier to other agents working under other brokers, or a first get tough Compass swipe at Zillow?
Inman reports that last week, without fanfare, Compass made “a big change to the way it displays listings on its consumer-facing website. Every non-Compass listing now shows the listing agent and contact information for the listing agent, making Compass’ site aesthetically more similar to Zillow or realtor.com than a brokerage website.” (See example from a McKinney listing above.)
And how generous is this: Compass has even included a form for agents to fill out to contact the listing agent through MLS. To be clear, it’s the agent from a rival brokerage. And to be fair, Ebby Halliday has always listed the competing agent and broker on the company’s most popular site, though not as boldly.
“We are now showing the true listing agent on every listing on our website, even when they are not Compass agents, ” Compass CEO Robert Reffkin said, in a statement. “We hope other brokerages will appreciate the transparency and trust of always showing their listing agents.”
If a buyer is already working with a Compass agent, and the Compass agent sends the buyer a listing within the Compass system, the listing agent’s contact info will not be provided, since it won’t be needed.
“We are going to provide transparency to the consumer,” says Erik T. Bahr, General Manager, Dallas & Fort Worth Real Estate, Compass. “The aggregators get MLS content very quickly, and they do a good job of getting it to the consumer. The challenge is there is often consumer confusion as to who to contact about the listing.”
This process has put agents in a tough spot: Realtors procure a listing, prepare the home with the seller, take photos, then all their work is displayed on the popular website, but the listing agent doesn’t necessarily get credit for it. Rather, it is often an agent who has paid the most for an advertisement.
To explain: consumers find a listing on Zillow, then excitedly contact the “Buyer’s Agent” agent whose name pops up vividly next to the listing. That agent is the “Premiere Agent”, a Realtor who has paid Zillow big bucks to push their name up to obtain sales leads. Zillow sells certain zip codes to agents, and hotter real estate zip codes have agents competing against each other. Some could be $200 a month, some could be $2500 to $3000 or more. For example, 75225 would take at least $5000 per month to get the agent’s name up as the “buyer’s agent” for every house in that zip code. Top Premiere agents spend $50,000 to $60,000 per month to get those leads and be the only “Buyer’s Agent” listed on a listing. Why would they spend this kind of money? Zillow says people tend to search 70 to 80 times before they reach out to an agent, this on a site that gets about 200 million pageviews a month.
No surprise, the Premiere Agent advertising program is a premiere revenue stream for Zillow. But that could be changing as Zillow heads into the iBuyer realm. According to Inman, “in the fourth quarter of 2018, Zillow’s Homes segment accounted for only $41.3 million in revenue, far below the $221 million Premier Agent brought in.”
Zillow is anticipating a major shift in its operations and the U.S. real estate industry writ-large.
Zillow executives said during the company’s fourth-quarter earnings call on Thursday that they expect its Zillow Offers direct-to-consumer, online homebuying and re-selling program to become a revenue giant within five years, dwarfing its current top revenue stream, Premier Agent, its online paid advertising program for real estate agents.
If Compass — and other large Real Estate firms — played the same transparency game, who would have to even go search for homes on Zillow?
By putting the competing agent on their consumer-facing site, Compass is breaking a new ceiling, something not even innovator Redfin has done.
“What’s most assuring for me,” says Erik, “is that our agents believe this is the right move. The agents see the long play of this in the future as a positive move for the industry.”
It’s similar to what happened with Google search, says Erik, who came to Compass from Facebook: once consumers realized that often the highest ranking businesses had paid to be at the top, they knew how to search and were better educated shoppers.
“There is not 100% clarity right now, and that’s where we are trying to bring some transparency,” he says. “Our model is based on the belief that an agent benefits from an educated consumer, not a confused consumer.
By the way, if you want to pay Zillow only $200 a month, go for it: 75210 and 75215 are both available: