The blueprint for beating Zillow 

Zillow is a website with real estate listings. You have a website with real estate listings. So why are they worth $35,000,000,0000 and you’re not? Let’s discuss the Blueprint for Beating Zillow.  


There is not a company in the history of the real estate industry that creates a more emotional reaction than Zillow

They’re a $30 billion dollar brand. Consumers love them. And their team is smart.

Your goal, and what we will teach you in this article, is to become as synonymous with real estate locally as Zillow has become nationally.

But how do you develop a strategy to compete against such a dominant market leader?

You lean into your strengths to create your own local Zillow. A better Zillow...

1. Self-Serve Search vs. Curated Searches

The big lie that we tell ourselves is that we want choice. We don’t. Too much choice creates anxiety and stress. Barry Schwartz’s book, The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, dives deep into this concept. He breaks down “The Jam Study” where shoppers were presented with a display of jam that had 24 varieties. Then the next day a display was created that had 6 options. While the display with more choices attracted more shoppers, those shoppers were one-tenth as likely to actually make a purchase than the shoppers who were presented with 6 jams.

We’ve moved from the age of information to the age of recommendations. Everything in our lives is served up to us in the form of a recommendation.

The movies we watch.
The products we buy.
The food we eat.

All specifically designed for our unique needs.

So, why aren’t we recommending homes the same way for our prospective customers?  

Don’t just drive traffic to your website through ads and marketing that force the customer to do all the work. They already get that through Zillow.  

Instead, create curated, niche searches that fit a specific need and serve up those homes in a useful way. That’s exactly what our client Jordan Rossman did to generate $33,150 in commission (and counting) from a single marketing campaign. It was relevant. It was timely. It was useful. And most importantly, it worked.

When you create original content that adds value and you promote that content through social media, recommending to the consumer that they check it out, they now associate you as a resource and trusted authority.

What searches can you create that no one else in your market is?

Pro-Tip:

When you want to create original content that involves hand selecting listings for your community, use this formula:

Location + Price + Amenity

Example:

Top 10 Homes For Sale Right Now in Dublin, Ohio with 3D Walkthrough Tours

2. Market Stats vs. Market Commentary

If a consumer wants information about home values, recently sold properties or generic market trends, they can just go to Zillow. And they do. Let’s face it, the Zestimate has been a huge part of Zillow’s appeal. 

But is that what they are really looking for?

I’d argue that when someone asks the question “How’s the market?”, they are really asking “What’s happening in the market right now and why? And where is the market going? And how does that impact the value of my home?”

The truth is, market stats are the same for every agent in your market. The number of listings, the number of solds, the average days on market, the average list price, the list to sales price, inventory levels, time on market - None of those “market stats” are a differentiator because every single agent in your market can go into the MLS and pull the exact same numbers.

The differentiator is your expert opinion and commentary about those trends. Consumers want you to provide them with context and expertise so they can make a more informed decision.

Think about how the news, especially politics and sports, has changed in recent years. We no longer tune in to hear the news. We tune in to hear people's opinions of the news. 

Below is an example of how our client Dan Wurtele from Vancouver, BC used market stats with market commentary to position himself as an expert. Seriously, you can’t read this article Dan wrote without feeling like he is super sharp and a total expert who you would want to hire or refer business to. 

A few smart things he did here that you can copy:

Pulling in eye-catching charts and graphs

Analyzing historical data

Presenting different potential scenarios

Discussing how prices will be impacted

Pro-Tip:

To make your commentary about what is happening in the market even better, provide it on camera. 🎥

Anyone can tell the consumer what happened. It’s understanding and accurately predicting the future that they want to pay you for, so they can make the right decision.

3. Seller Content vs. Buyer Content

When you go to most real estate agents' websites, they look like a bad version of Zillow or Redfin with by far the most prominent feature and call to action being “Search for homes”. 

But what Zillow does a really good job of that most agents don’t is loading their website with truly helpful information for sellers. They do this through their Zestimate, seller’s guides, blog articles and market reports, all tailored for sellers.

Do an audit of your own website. If you were in the market to sell your home and you went to your website, would you hire yourself? Are you positioning yourself as the listing agent of choice?

One of our awesome clients, Gretchen Coley, is a great example of getting this right. 

Gretchen’s site features a home sale guarantee with a beautiful video that she produced for it and categories like “why sell with our group” and “why choose us”. 

She’s also got options — a guaranteed sale option, an instant cash offer option, a fix it up and sell it up option and a buy before you sell option.

By providing the consumer with options, she allows them to see her as a trusted guide leading them down the best path for them instead of trying to sell them on one particular idea.

The consumer wants and has choices and you've got to be in a position to give them those options too.

If you're charging a premium for your service, you need to act like a premium brand.

4. Real Estate Information vs. Real Estate Stories

If you’re trying to Zillow-proof your business, you have to identify what they don’t do.

Sure, they’re all in on reviews, but if you take a moment to read them, you’ll realize that, after a while, they blend in and all sound the same.

That’s because Zillow doesn't go deep on the story of the buyer or seller - but you can. And storytelling is one of the most proven and effective forms of marketing that has ever existed. 

Through the lens of a customer story, you’re able to provide insightful information about the real estate process, while at the exact same time positioning yourself as a trusted advisor who can help your future customer navigate all the pitfalls.

These stories build an emotional connection with your brand and help sell your services. 

Here is an excellent example from our client Eric Rollo’s website. After reading the story, it is crystal clear that the agent on Eric's team, Max, went above and beyond for his client Angela. But as you read the story it also clearly goes well beyond the typical 5-star review you find on Zillow. 

A well-written customer story creates a magical moment where your future customer's inner voice will say “I’m just like Angela and if Max can help Angela he can help me too.”

By using storytelling instead of a simple review, you can create content so compelling that it has been proven to increase the time on page by nearly 300%.

Remember: the single most important thing that has to exist for you to get hired to sell someone’s home is trust. Stories build trust. 

5. National vs. Hyper-Local Content

A lot of agents don’t want to blog because they don’t know what to write about or they don’t have the time, but here’s a powerful reason to create content: Zillow is not going to create area-specific, hyper-local content. Only you can do that. 

The truth about real estate is that 95% of the people you know and who live in your market are not going to buy or sell a home this year. So if everything you promote is listings, just solds and success stories, you’ll end up becoming white noise. 

Blog articles will set you apart by keeping you in front of the whole market.

Our client Jay Marks does a great job of this with his Foodie Friday segment. It’s so popular that people will even notice and call him out if he skips a week. By blending his love for community and passion for food, Jay has become an authority on more than just real estate, which makes him memorable and makes his content in people’s newsfeeds a welcome addition. 

You can do the same if you:

Create content for your community

Create content around your passion

Create hyper-local content that no one else is

According to an annual NAR survey, 87% of all home sellers and buyers would say that they would use their agent again, but only about 15% actually do. So, yes, marketing is great for attracting new customers, but if you want to increase referrals and repeat business, you need a marketing strategy that caters to people post-transaction.

6. Mechanical vs. Emotional Branding

Rhiannon Ferrari, one of our clients in Ohio, did something unique and special for her past clients and sphere of influence: she hired a photographer to go take pictures of them on their front porch during COVID’s shelter in place.

Some might say there’s no ROI in this activity if it doesn’t necessarily lead to a deal, but what it inarguably does is builds your brand. It makes people like you and trust you more. Which is priceless. 

Investing in leads, traffic, postcards and widgets isn’t enough. You have to really be committed to building your brand, and that involves doing things where you don't know what the ROI will be. 

Zillow does this with emotion-evoking TV commercials about soldiers returning from war and searching for properties with their spouse while they're away.

This stuff works.

Stephanie Lanier, one of our clients in Wilmington, North Carolina, has an excellent example of this. 

Stephanie’s bio video shows more than just her business, it shows who she is and why she does what she does.

The video humanizes her by eliciting an emotional response and reaction - something that’s typically missing in the real estate industry even though buying or selling a home is a highly emotional experience.

Real estate is often mechanical not emotional so when people feel something, they remember it.

Zestimates vs. Zactimates

Brian Boero of 1000Watt famously said that the Zestimate was “God's gift to Realtors.” 

Right now, the Zestimate feels more like a pain point for agents.

But you can use it to market your brand more effectively.

In May of 2016, GeekWire broke the news that the CEO of Zillow, Spencer Rascoff, sold his home for 40% less than the Zestimate. 

So we sent an email out to our client's databases about the inaccuracy and it blew up with  responses.

“If Zillow can't get the Zestimate right for their own CEO's home, they probably can't get it right for your home either.”

This is an easy talk track because it’s not you saying the Zestimate is wrong, it’s a mainstream media outlet. 

You can also do this by putting that type of copy into an ad campaign or landing page:

The bottom line is that your local customers use Zillow as their primary source of real estate information because they associate Zillow as the authority on real estate.

How do you change that habit? How do you become the destination of choice?

You have to provide information that is more localized, more personalized and more valuable to the unique needs of your local customers.

If you do that, you can compete and win the consumers attention and trust. You can build your brand to become synonymous with real estate, locally.

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