Zillow: Could it change how you do business?

Realtor.ca has a new competitor from south of the border.  Zillow.com is America’s largest real estate search engine and as of a few weeks ago, started marketing Canadian property listings, including over 400 here in the Lower Mainland. What could it mean to your business?

Depending on who you ask, Zillow’s breakthrough into the Canadian market is a game-changer for real estate marketing here and once it’s completed its expansion, Zillow could be a direct threat to Canada’s current number one real estate resource, Realtor.ca.

Other experts say, there’s no need to panic. Healthy competition is a good thing, but no third-party website can hope to compare with the most trusted real estate listing service in Canada.

What is Zillow?

Zillow, whose corporate head office is based in Seattle, incorporated in 2004 and launched the Zillow.com website in 2006. Since then, Zillow Group – Zillow, Trulia, StreetEasy and RealEstate.com – has amassed an active database of more than 110 million U.S. homes – including homes for sale, homes for rent, foreclosures and recently sold.  Zillow is known to be one of the most comprehensive real estate databases in existence.

In its first quarter 2018 press release, Zillow reported more than 175 million average monthly unique users to its mobile apps and websites. We think Realtor.ca is amazing (and it is) with its over 300,000 listings at any given time and 264 million unique visits per year.

Isn’t Zillow only for those interested in American real estate?

In June 2018, Zillow announced that it would start including its first Canadian property listings later in the year having successfully negotiated with Century 21 Canada to import its national listing data and display it for free.

A few weeks ago, Zillow followed up on its summer press release to announce that it had subsequently negotiated several more agreements with multiple Canadian brokerages and franchisors and would soon be posting more than 50,000 Canadian listings, making them the first non-U.S. or foreign properties marketed on Zillow.

If you log on to Zillow.com right now and search British Columbia, over 2,300 red dots populate the map of BC – these are all Century 21 listings. They look just like the American listings, including price (in Canadian dollars), property description and photos; in addition, there’s an agent photo, contact info and a link to the brokerage website. The site is intending to target both Americans looking to buy a home up north and Canadians searching for local properties.

Why would a Canadian consumer use Zillow?

Given the very limited number of Canadian listings available on Zillow currently compared to the breadth, scope and accuracy of Realtor.ca, it doesn’t make a lot of sense for Fraser Valley buyers to go home hunting on Zillow.

However, one Zillow fan, who happens to live and sell real estate in Canada, believes Zillow will attract devotees.  Brian Finley was born, raised and received his real estate license in the US and has lived and worked as a buyer agent in Edmonton for almost 20 years. “Personally, I love Zillow. It’s great. As a consumer, it speaks to me.”

The 30-year real estate veteran spent almost half his real estate career working in the U.S. before moving to Canada. Finley was in the Fraser Valley recently teaching a series of advanced courses for our brokers. He has used Zillow dozens of times both as a consumer and professionally and says that although it may not yet have the recognition and respect here that Realtor.ca has, it could pose a threat to Realtor.ca in the future.

Why would a Canadian REALTOR® use Zillow?

According to Finley, “REALTORS® here need to be prepared that Canadian consumers will want it. From an agent’s perspective, it’s an additional advertising platform that provides exposure.”

Currently that exposure is highly limited – Zillow.com has only 7 per cent of the BC listings that Realtor.ca has.  In addition, there’s a slew of search criteria in Zillow that doesn’t function for Canadian listings, and may never, because of the inherent challenges in collecting the data in Canada:  FSBO, Coming Soon, Foreclosures, For Rent, and so on.

Limitations aside, Brian Rushton, Executive Vice President of Century 21 Canada, agrees with Finley. In his REM column, – Century 21 and Zillow – he says “Zillow has the tools, resources, brand recognition and massive traffic that will bring unprecedented global exposure for C21 listings and our agents.”

One of Zillow’s key attractions for agents is lead generation. However, time will tell if the Zillow lead generation model will work the same in British Columbia as across the border and in the rest of Canada because as one astute Surrey Broker pointed out, BC is the only place that doesn’t allow dual agency.

Why would a REALTOR® pay (extra) money to increase the number of eyeballs on their Zillow listing, when they will have to either refer the client to another colleague or help them as an unrepresented buyer?  Thus coming full circle, back to the question posed right at the outset, what Zillow could mean for your business and the potential impact on Realtor.ca.

Is Zillow really a threat to Realtor.ca?

Opinions vary on that question. Phil Soper, President and CEO of Royal LePage, said recently in an REM column that some Canadian REALTORS® “may choose to experiment with third-party listings aggregators such as Zillow”, but the smart ones will continue to embrace and leverage the value of Realtor.ca, a trusted service that has “no equivalent in America.”

The Canadian Real Estate Association, fully aware of the increased competition from other real estate listing websites, launched an enhanced Realtor.ca in October including a more powerful search engine, access to more local information, more homebuying tools and it announced that sold and historical data will be coming soon to Realtor.ca. Finley says that’s great and exactly what CREA needs to be doing.

In the meantime, as Zillow and other third-party providers emerge and evolve, it’s up to REALTORS® to keep abreast of all the developments in online listings advertising and decide which ones could offer value to them and their clients.

Given the amount of competition online and the speed and frequency of consolidation, the best approach may be to look for ways to optimize your presence on these websites without spending extra money. For example, by just uploading a recent, professional photograph and ensuring your contact and professional info is always up to date – will immediately give you a marketing advantage over REALTORS® who don’t.  The same goes for your blog, social media pages and website too.  By keeping them fresh, engaging and current, you’re already differentiating yourself.