The Dog Woke Me Up

Apr 4, 2007 Michael Wurzer

When I wake up in the middle of the night, which is often, I have a bad habit of looking at the tablet PC I keep beside my bed. (My habit used to be my Treo, but now I have this little tablet PC I just love . . . .) Especially now that I’m writing this blog, I’m almost maniacal about checking my feed reader to see what’s going on in the Tonight was no different.AJ

We have a new puppy in our household. His name is AJ and he’s been really great so far and usually doesn’t make a peep all night. Yesterday, however, we had a snow storm and the little guy was having trouble staying out long enough to do his business, so he woke up about 2 a.m. and had to go. When I finally got back to bed, out came the tablet and then the second dog in my life kept me awake with their comprehensive coverage of Zillow’s latest announcement. My reaction to Zillow’s news: Yawn.

I was riveted by the coverage provided by the Bloodhound but I think this tidbit on TechCrunch may tell the real story: “Zillow claims 4.1 million unique visitors came to the site in March (Comscore (U.S.) says 1.8 million, down from 2.3 million a year ago, and 33 million monthly page views).” Can these numbers be right? (Heck, we’re doing more page views than that.) Perhaps that’s why Zillow is cranking up the PR machine again.

Zillow’s problem is simple: LISTINGS. They don’t have them and that’s what consumers want to see. Without listings, Zillow isn’t even cute and cuddly. Zillow’s solution to their lack of listings is novel. Instead of getting real listings, they’ve “opened up Zillow’s database of homes” so that “[a]nyone (not just owners and listing agents) can now indicate whether a home is for sale.” My reaction is the same as Tom Hanks’ in the movie Big when he’s listening to the pitch from the super-sophisticated toy executive for his idea of a transforming building: “I don’t get it.” Why would anyone besides the owner or their agent want to post a property for sale? And, even if they did, why would anyone care? How is that a listing? Zillow has been trying to get owners to post listings, but that hasn’t been a runaway success, and my guess is that getting the listings from non-owners isn’t going to work either.

What I really don’t get is why they don’t try to get listings from the big franchises, brokers or the MLS. I know Barton and crew have said agents are overpaid, but isn’t now the time to try to make nice? Trulia and Google Base have been successful in getting the listings, perhaps Zillow could too. What might work is for Zillow and Trulia to merge. Trulia has listings and the better user interface and Zillow has the guesstimates technology. Together, these databases would be very useful for professionals and consumers. Zillow has a great idea (the same as the NAR’s PAG report) of trying to document every property in the country, but the flaw in their execution is that they are ignoring the MLS database, which arguably is the richest source for property information. Without the listings, I don’t think Zillow’s new community tools are going to generate much traction.

I’ve got to get back to sleep now, but, before I do, let me just repeat what I’ve said before: Now is the time for brokers, agents, and MLS organizations to realize and increase the value of the MLS data repository. I’ve got another post or two on this topic, so stay tuned.