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The industry has been buzzing this month since real estate titan Zillow announced it acquired ShowingTime—and presumably its network of nearly 1 million agents and hundreds of multiple listing services—for $500 million. Since transforming into a brokerage last year, the tech giant has become a major competitor to brokers and agents throughout the nation, prompting many to adjust strategies and reassess business relationships.

“I think that brokers and agents have already shown some concern about this. Zillow is a competing broker now, and I don’t know that brokers and agents are comfortable with a single broker having control over the scheduling process. Imagine if, say, Keller Williams had purchased ShowingTime—would any other agents or brokers use it?” asked Joseph Rand, chief creative officer at Howard Hanna | Rand Realty in New City, N.Y. and executive director of Broker Public Portal.

Following Zillow’s entrance into the brokerage world, RISMedia conducted a survey of more than 2,000 real estate professionals and found that 87% considered Zillow’s foray into the brokerage space as a “negative” for the real estate industry at large, while only 3% said it was “positive.”

Kuba Jewgieniew, founder and president of Realty ONE Group, for one, admires the brand’s aggressive expansion to control the end-to-end experience for homebuyers by scaling its data capabilities and fintech solutions, and he notes that if Zillow didn’t do it now, someone else would by the end of the year.

The current rate of international money flowing into the U.S. real estate industry is “staggering,” he says, and everyone is racing for data-based solutions, including showing services. Jewgieniew notes that Zillow paid a very high premium for ShowingTime, but that inflated cost was almost immediately justified on Wall Street as its stock price soared to an all-time high market capitalization of $53.6 billion, which more than covers the amount of the transaction.

“Zillow wants to keep business in their ecosystem now,” Jewgieniew says, referencing other American brands Tesla and Amazon, which have successfully transitioned into broader business models. “Zillow began as a lead-generation company and has diversified into a data company. They are ahead of brokerages and title (firms) in terms of fintech. They are streamlining it and making it more efficient.”

Jewgieniew does, however, say there are approximately 2,000 tech-enabled tools available to real estate agents, and no one should be beholden to any one single application or function.

For instance, a new showing service called Local Showings is set to launch imminently, according to an announcement last week from Delta Media Group. The family-owned real estate brokerage technology firm is led by CEO and owner Michael Minard, who says its showing service is well over “90% complete.” He notes that Delta already works with MLSs that cover 97% of the properties sold in the U.S.

“We have been inundated with calls from real estate brokerage customers, non-customers and MLSs to build an independent system,” Minard says. “The industry needs a showing service that is not beholden to Wall Street.”

Additionally, another tool called SentriKey Showing ServiceTM will be available to all state and local REALTOR® boards whether or not SentriLock is their lockbox provider.

“Competition benefits consumers, whether we see that play out through the nation’s MLS system or with the numerous resources accessible to agents and their clients. Overall, we remain focused on finding new innovations that will ensure REALTORS® have every tool at their disposal to best serve clients and maximize efficiency,” says Bob Goldberg, CEO of the National Association of REALTORS®.

With ShowingTime now aligned with Zillow, some agents and brokers may look to cut ties with the company. According to broker/owner of RE/MAX Capital Realty, Kendall Bonner, mixed emotions surrounding the acquisition seem to stem from a lack of transparency on Zillow’s part.

“I think the overall industry response is mixed and confused, which is understandable. Clarity of mission and vision is key for any business,” says Bonner. “Our understanding of the mission and vision of Zillow is unclear; their words and their actions do not appear to be in alignment. They say that they acquired Showtime for R&D and to fix inefficiencies but fail to clarify where those inefficiencies exist. The reality appears that they are actually seeking valuable data, and what remains unclear, for some of us, is what they plan to do with that data.”

In a statement released earlier this month with news of the ShowingTime purchase, Errol Samuelson, chief industry development officer at Zillow Group, said, “ShowingTime will remain an open platform available to all industry participants, and we expect to grow ShowingTime’s engagement through all channels to ensure touring is easier for the industry and consumers.”

Andrew King is a contributing editor to RISMedia.

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