Changes to Zillow/Trulia: Brokers and Lay Persons Need to be Aware

Since I am licensed in Colorado and New York I follow both markets. StreetEasy while not known in CO. is one of the de-facto multilist services in NYC used by brokers and clients alike. StreetEasy is similar to how the consumer site of  www.REColorado.com works here in Metropolitan Denver presenting listings to the general public and providing contact information for the Listing Broker.

While the following may be more oriented to brokers, the information is truly relevant to all concerning the presentation of properties and how the listing broker or those looking to build a relationship with a buyer is changing. In Colorado we have quite strict criteria developed by the Colorado Real Estate Commission concerning representation and disclosures.

StreetEasy is planning a significant, industry-wide change to their lead generation process. They are switching their focus from lead generation for exclusive selling agents (those brokers who have a contract to list the property with the seller) to a more buyer agent focused site. Since StreetEasy falls under the Zillow/Trulia umbrella, this will apply to all three sites.

Some brokerages pay the Zillow/Trulia group to keep other agents off the listing detail pages of exclusives (of note, the vast majority of listings in Colorado are exclusives i.e. represented by one agent/brokerage) on Zillow, Trulia and StreetEasy, so that all leads go directly to the listing exclusive agents. As of March 1st, 2017 this option will not be available. Instead, the sites will allow buyer agents to receive leads from all listings. Potential customers on these sites can select the exclusive agent, however, leads will default to buyer agents who pay to appear on listings within specific zip codes.

Will this muddle the information put out to the market? Depends on the level of disclosure. I understand why Zillow/Trulia is taking this action i.e. additional revenue generation. However for buyers and sellers who may be doing research on listings and/or are considering engaging in a brokerage relationship, it will become more confusing. Is the broker who contacted you the listing agent whose fiduciary duty is to the seller, or are they looking to represent you as a buyer and thus owe their fiduciary duty to you, or will they be a transaction-broker?

When I represent a buyer I desire to talk to the actual listing broker; I have access to this information from our Multilist service. For the general public brokerage relationships may become more confusing with the potential for buyer brokers to insinuate representation or insights on a listing which is not actually their exclusive. While it will be the responsibility of clients to insure their brokerage relationship is correct for their needs and their broker, regardless of the relationship is treating them in a professional and ethical manner my concern; the listing of brokers and lead generation will add to confusion on behalf of the general public.

I believe in Colorado we have multiple layers of protection and disclosure forms to insure proper representation and fiduciary duties associated with specific brokerage relationships. However in this day and age of Internet marketing and information  sound-bites there is a good chance there will be confusion. Stay tuned as if we see an uptick of complaints filed with the Real Estate Commission concerning representation, more clarity and disclosure requirements may come down the pipeline to catch up with technology.

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