When Marilyn Wilson’s mother moved to California not too long ago, Wilson was tasked with selling her mom’s house in Buffalo, New York. She dutifully listed the house and waited for buyers to come calling.
A few days later, Wilson, a real estate consultant and managing partner of the WAV Group, went to Zillow.com to check on her listing. What she found was disconcerting.
She saw four agents mentioned as the listing agent, with her name at the bottom of the list. She called the other three, but none knew anything about the house. “All of them were from the other side of town,” she recalls. “One was 45 miles away.”
Welcome to what some call the “pay-to-play” world of Zillow, which charges agents a premium to be named on listings that are not their own. Zillow calls it the “premier broker” program, by which agents pay a fee to secure leads from people inquiring about houses in certain ZIP codes.
According to the company website, when a shopper makes an inquiry through Zillow (or the Zillow-owned site Trulia), the company confirms that the prospect is ready to speak with an agent. If so, it hands the would-be client off to the “premier” agent – as opposed to the listing agent who, ostensibly, knows more about the property than anyone else, save for its owner.
If the premier agent can’t arrange a showing for the home, or if the buyer doesn’t like it, the agent can take them to other houses on the market – probably to his or her own listings first. Now, the listing agent has lost a potential sale, as well as a potential new client.
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