Agents’ love-hate relationship with Zillow, Trulia and realtor.com

by Jason Porterfield

No such agreements bound its competitors, which emerged in the wake of the dot-com bubble. In 2005, Trulia launched its beta design in California and went national within a year. Zillow launched in 2006. Both sites offered information and data that was once available only to Realtors, and they presented it in such a way that it was easy for visitors to navigate.

They also included unique features meant to set them apart in the marketplace.

Trulia aggregated a variety of data streams, such as information on schools and crime, to give users a picture of the neighborhood around each listing. Zillow offered its famous – or to some, infamous – “Zestimates,” the estimated sale price of a property arrived at through a proprietary algorithm. Suddenly, realtor.com wasn’t the only place for homebuyers to seek detailed property information online.

As with many other aspects of the real estate industry, the three portals endured changes in the wake of the market crash and recession. Zillow bought Trulia in 2014, and News Corp. acquired Move later that year.

For the consumer, Zillow and Trulia may seem to provide many of the services that an agent or a brokerage might offer early in the home search process. In this respect, there may not appear to be much of a difference between the three. Each pulls listings from the MLS, and each presents information in a similar fashion, free of charge. Site visitors can filter their searches within a particular community by changing parameters, such as price and the number of bedrooms. Then, they can save their search results and sign up to receive regular updates on properties that fit the bill.

Zillow and Trulia give users access to listings through 350 MLSs. Trulia continues to focus its efforts on presenting lifestyle information, such as WalkScore, commute times, crime data, the distance to businesses and even the option to search for homes within a particular school district.

Zillow focuses more on pricing than on lifestyle features with its Zestimates, based on a price-estimating algorithm that lets consumers claim their own home on the site and derive an estimated sell price. The site includes data on past trends within an area and even provides forecasts based on coupling those trends with the Zestimates to predict whether prices will rise, fall or hold steady.

By contrast, realtor.com offers listings from more than 800 MLSs, a more complete picture of what an area’s real estate market actually looks like. The site features tools that search public records, providing information on every home on a particular block, including records of renovations for each particular property. Still sponsored by NAR, it does not show for-sale-by-owner properties.

“Realtor.com has done a great turnaround in the last couple of months,” says Lyn Sims of RE/MAX Suburban. “Its site looks pretty interesting. Zillow is looking a little old and crusty. Realtor.com looks cleaner and edgier, and it seems like it provides more useful information.”

“In the last month or so, realtor.com has brought on some people and made some changes that I think are really moving the site forward in terms of the quality of content,” Geller says. “They’re adding features, which Zillow is also doing. They were, for a period of time, falling behind in what they were offering. Now, they are continuing to build the site and add to the site to make it competitive with Zillow. I wouldn’t have said that a year ago.”


The Lead’s the Thing

Many agents now see the syndication sites as a source for leads, even if they are not actively participating by paying for ZIP code listings. Zillow, for instance, reported having 123.7 million unique visitors per month for the three-month period ending Dec. 31, 2015. The high traffic numbers for the online portals brings more eyes to listings, as users take advantage of search categories to find homes in particular neighborhoods and within set price parameters.

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  • Sheryl Duncan says:

    If they could manage to get the home info right…it would be a different story!!!! The home owner thinks the agent has put in the wrong data. They are an ongoing source of problems for the listing realtor. The best one thkugh is when they put a price on the home without ever seeing it!!!!!! Don’t know why realtors put up with it!!!!!!!!!

  • David price says:

    Looks like Chicago agent magazine has drink the Kool-Aid of Trulia and Zillow

  • Thanks for your comment, David! We took a balanced view of the syndication sites, and throughout the story, our terrific sources explain the pros/cons of all three; definitely let us know, though, if there is some aspect of the topic that you think we missed.

  • David Barr says:

    Corrine Guest nailed it. It absolutely blows my mind that agents are actually giving up control of their own marketing to unlicensed 3rd parties like Zillow and Trulia, and then paying for the privilege of paying them to get leads from their own listings. What this article doesn’t mention that Realtor listings and FSBO (for sale by owner listings) are co-mingled on Zillow. The licensed agent has no control over an unreliable FSBO listing in the same neighborhood as one of their listings, which can negatively affect property values.


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