Agents and Zillow partner to “co-pilot” changes to real estate

Zillow co-founder and CEO Rich Barton speaks on the Zillow Unlock mainstage Monday with Inman News founder Brad Inman.

More than 1,500 real estate professionals gathered in Las Vegas this week to learn how to unlock the potential in the industry — a potential that is now limited by a “woeful lack of tech investment,” said Zillow Group CEO Rich Barton. But that’s changing now, said Barton, driven by customers who will no longer tolerate a snarled experience that stresses them out.

Barton called on the agents, brokers and teams at the conference to help Zillow transform the experience of finding home by using technology to “become more productive, to hold agents accountable, to run a business that’s much higher in volume.”

Zillow’s 2019 Unlock Conference Oct. 27-29 marks the first time it has brought together professionals from its myriad businesses, including Zillow Offers, Zillow Premier Agent, rentals and new construction businesses for two days of workshops, presentations, meetings and networking at the Aria Resort & Casino. The conference comes as Zillow continues to expand its home buying and selling program, Zillow Offers, alongside tests of new models in its Premier Agent business. For the first time, the event was invite-only.

Agents poised for change

Broker and agent Janelle Waggener with Realty Trust Residential in Brentwood, Tenn. is ready. “It’s like getting your sea legs,” said Waggener. “I’ve been on this journey with Zillow [since 2001] and I feel like right now this is almost like the moment of a new beginning.” It’s a beginning where technology is paired with agent expertise to drive more conversions, something Waggener welcomes. “My father is a computer scientist from back in the 1960s, so technology is never something I’ve been afraid of,” Waggener said.  “It’s a servant, it’s not going to take over.”

Nearly 2,000 Zillow partners gathered this week in Las Vegas for the Unlock Conference.

People and tech together

In fact, the most paraphrased quote at Zillow Group’s 2019 “Unlock” conference came from someone who was not present: Garry Kasparov, the Russian chess world champion defeated by a supercomputer. Barton shared the story of Kasparov’s subsequent revelation: “Man versus machine,” was the wrong paradigm; instead, “man plus machine” was the winning combination, according to Kasparov.

The conclusion resonated with real estate agent Susan Crawford, of Re/Max Results in Orem, Utah, who saw a similar, somewhat surprising transformation in the relationship between real estate agents and Zillow. “Honestly, in the past it felt like Zillow wanted to take over and leave agents,” said Crawford. This year, she said the conference “feels more inclusive.” Crawford has been in the industry for 16 years — before Zillow was part of the industry.

New agents, unlimited potential

Sixteen years ago, agent Ben Ryde was managing engineers and conductors in the railroad industry. He made the switch to real estate after early retirement, figuring his experience buying and selling 10 different houses could be a transferable skill.  His start as an independent agent was humbling, said Ryde, “I didn’t have one sale in my first six months.”  Then he joined the Zillow Premier Agent team HomeTeam4u out of Madison, Wisc. Ryde’s first six months there netted 12 transactions.

Much of that success comes from live connections from Zillow, a cornerstone of the Zillow Premier Agent program. “Especially for new agents who want to do business and help people,” Ryde said, “it’s a great way to get a career launched.”  Ryde said he’s on track to end 2019 with 30 transactions.

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