Today Zillow announced that it has test-launched a new program called Instant Offers, which it claims will help home sellers and agents. But upon close inspection this program is full of legal caveats for home sellers and agents alike.
The new program claims to offer options to home sellers so that they can avoid traditional marketing such as open houses and photographs. Here is how it works, according to what I read: a seller decides to use the program, which offers 3 options –
1. Sell directly to investor buyers: Without placing the home on the MLS it is offered to investors for purchase – almost like a For Sale by Owner listing. The investors can make an offer. At that point the homeowner can decide whether to take the offer or list on the MLS with an agent the traditional way (Zillow will recommend the agent). Zillow will benefit financially from the agent referral as more agents will want to advertise with Zillow). It is not clear how Zillow will benefit financially when sellers do not want to work with agents, but maybe there will be some kind of agreement between it and the investors.
2. Sell to investor buyers and use an agent recommended by Zillow to assist with the sale: If the homeowner wants to list their home Zillow will recommend one of it’s “Premier Agents.” These are agents who pay Zillow for advertising. Zillow wins here (like above) because 70% of its revenue comes from these agents who advertise.
3. Reject offers and list on the MLS with an agent: Zillow will of course recommend one of it’s Premier Agents (note that Zillow is NOT a broker, rather these agents achieve this status by paying Zillow money to advertise their names and services).
Ok…so you may think this is good – it gives home sellers options. But here are the other points to consider for all home sellers:
1. Potential lower sales price – investor buyers typically do not pay high prices – they offer a quick sale but the catch is that they want to save money. For those who have to sell quickly this could be a good thing, but for those who want to realize top dollar this is not the answer. If you have a home that is a true fixer upper an investor buyer is great as well, but there may be competing investor buyers out there on the open market and you could end up getting more if you have multiple offers, so choosing the Zillow program really puts your back against the proverbial wall.
2. High Fees – People always complain about high fees for selling homes. This program appears to charge a 9% service fee to those who choose to sell to one of the Zillow partner investors. Rather than pay such a high fee for a likely lower net sales price, it’s better to interview professional skilled area agents. Standard commission rates in CA are around 5% but commissions are negotiable.
3. THE LEGALITIES – Selling a home is a legal transaction, with contracts, paperwork and deadlines that are imperative to get right in order to prevent a lawsuit down the road. Although Zillow says it will recommend the seller work with an agent to get through the paperwork process with the new program, sellers have the option to forgo this. This is problematic, to put it mildly.
If I can give you one piece of advice only when it comes to selling your home, it would be this: have a lawyer review all your paperwork, including seller disclosures. If you do not want to hire a lawyer, make sure your agent has a good broker and have that broker review all your paperwork (or better yet, find an agent/Broker who IS an attorney). There are also many highly skilled agents who know what they are doing – find one.
4. Errors and Omissions insurance and lawsuits – Every broker (at least here in CA) must carry errors and omissions (E&O for short) insurance. It protects them in the event of a lawsuit brought by a party to a real estate transaction. Here’s the biggest problem with Zillow’s new program – Zillow is NOT a broker. If a home seller opts into the program and elects not to work with an agent, who is going to assume liability for contractual paperwork? What happens if disclosures are not filled out correctly, or if there is a problem with the home that is discovered after closing? The seller is put in a very bad position.
Agents could be hurt by this new program if they do not advertise with Zillow, as they will not be recommended by the company program. This is a lose-lose for hard-working professional agents everywhere who do not choose to pay money to Zillow, as home sellers in their areas may not even come across those skilled agents if they opt for the Zillow recommended agent.
These and many other questions do not have clear answers and as an attorney I say this program is fraught with potential problems for home sellers. So while Zillow may think the Instant Offer program is a great new “thing,” in my opinion, or until I see otherwise, sellers should steer clear. This program is in a test phase right now and is only available in Las Vegas NV and Orlando, FL.
For more information on the legalities of selling your home please contact a skilled attorney or broker in your area, or feel free to contact me with any questions by responding to this post.