The listing agent
If you search for properties on Zillow and find one you’re interested in, you can “click” to be contacted by an agent. There are two ways to do this: the first is to select the listing agent. Did you know? A listing agent has already signed an agreement with the seller, which outlines his confidentiality and fiduciary responsibilities to that seller. Translation: he cannot legally give you any information that might not be in the seller’s best interest for you to have. Realistically, it is nearly impossible for an agent to represent both of you fairly, equally and at a high level of service. Zillow is bad for the buyer if it recommends working with the listing agent.
A random agent who has paid for your lead
If you take the other route (not selecting the listing agent), what you get is a random agent who has paid Zillow to show up on listings in that zip code. It is very likely that any agent who is shown under “contact agent” knows nothing at all about the property or possibly even the neighborhood. Now, remember, these agents have paid for your lead and don’t want to lose it. Ask yourself how likely that agent is to be honest with you and explain that the area property you’re interested in is not really in his purview. So whether it’s the original property you inquired about or others nearby that the (randomly assigned) agent shows you, that agent may not be knowledgeable enough to offer you the best representation. Zillow is bad for the buyer if it suggests working with an uninformed agent.
Apparently, I’m not the only one who is concerned about Zillow’s methods. The very afternoon that I wrote this article, a class action suit against Zillow regarding this issue was filed.
Get a recommendation!
Finally, if you were looking for a service provider, would you call the one who advertises the most (and spends the most money paying for leads) or would you ask people you know and trust for a recommendation? If you are not from the area you are considering buying in, then you may not know someone you can ask. You can, use the power of google to search for highly recommended agents for particular locales. There are reviews available on line and I’d suggest calling a few that seem to specialize in helping buyers, particularly relocating buyers who are inherently unfamiliar with the area and will require more time, patience and hand-holding. I’d suggest including the word “relocation” in your search for agents who sell in the area you are considering. Then call and talk with a few. Keep in mind that while experience and how many properties an agent sells are important, rapport and personality fit are also vital in a real estate relationship. The time you’ll spend talking to a few agents in order to choose one to represent you is time well spent.