What’s in a Portmanteau?

It has been 90 days or so since Spencer Rascoff and Stan Humphries of the Zillow Group released their Screen Shot 2015-03-10 at 10.02.14 AMbook; Zillow Talk. Published by Grand Central Publishing, the volume carries the subtitle The New Rules of Real Estate. One cannot help but observe that there has been a lack of buzz and discussion across the industry regarding the book’s unique and highly relevant contents. This compelling collection of knowledge, discovery and insight should have the potential to change how the industry thinks about the new realities of its various markets and how it judges properties as being appropriate for consideration for purchases or rental. Moreover, it might also drive industry reconsideration relative to the role of respect in its interactions with the consumer.

As a starting point the book offers the proverbial 100,000-foot view of the changed (and changing) role of research, statistics and information across the entirety of our culture including the real estate sector. The authors talk in reasonably humble terms about having created a collection of technologies that use a million valuation models to process 3.2 terabytes of data each day. They don’t suggest that is the ultimate technology. For Zillow Talk technology is a mere supporting actor. This is not a book about technology or mining gold. This is a book about what one, anyone, can do with the crown jewels of an expanded, innovative and creative real estate related information system. That’s all.

While it is difficult to nail down which of book’s many salient points are the most compelling, a particularly strong argument can be made for the concept of replacing myths with facts. The authors gently point out that for much of the past fifty years real estate related decisions by consumers, and even institutions and investors, have been made on the basis of cultural myths, many of which were created and propagated by real estate service providers.

Here again, avoiding a more conflictive and combative approach, the authors generously don’t suggest that these myths never had a basis in fact. Rather they choose to suggest that if the myths were true fifty years ago there is data available today that proves they are no longer true. The only question is whether real estate service providers have enough respect for their clients to make such information the basis of their value proposition.

A bit of advice for would be readers. If you don’t believe that virtually every aspect of your life, profession and business have, over the past nine years, changed in some significant manner then by all means don’t read Zillow Talk, it will just confuse you.

If you don’t believe that over the past nine years virtually every aspect of the real estate industry and marketplace has changed then don’t read Zillow Talk, just continue to confuse your clients and customers with myths and misconceptions.

Finally, if you don’t believe that the significance, ramifications and evidentiary value of information, data and documented experience is the single most important determinant of your value and survival proposition as an agent, a broker and even a consumer then don’t read Zillow Talk. Better you spend your time considering another industry or occupation, because it is increasingly clear that the world has discovered your intransigence and is in the process of acting on it to your detriment.

This is not to suggest that Zillow Talk represents any manner of ultimate truth or Holy Grail, because it clearly doesn’t. It represents a change of direction relative to how we, as a culture, think about real estate. It is the beginning of a new road that will offer many new directions over the next several years.

Zillow Talk is an excellent read. My sense is that the subtitle title won’t do the book any favors, especially given Zillow’s still controversial role in the current real estate industry. Interestingly enough the book has little to do with Zillow other than providing an opportunity for the author’s to share their story (the very purpose of books) and to highlight the intellectual and statistical import and relevance of research and the consumer real estate experience. Had Harvard University published the same book it might have been entitled “The History of the Future of the Real Estate Marketplace” or “The Story of Real Estate Moving Forward.” Declaring one’s work as being the “new rules of real estate” isn’t exactly the path to popularity, but then again power is as power does.

Screen Shot 2015-03-10 at 10.11.50 AMSpeaking of rules it does seem that Zillow Talk might establish one new rule. For the past decade the decision leaders of the industry have waged a historic battle over the ownership and control of data not unlike the California miner of the 1800’s relationship with gold, lots of activity but little or no end user functionality. Zillow Talk takes a giant step forward by talking about information as the key commodity of the transaction, and by driving the discussion of what one can do with it in the context of a real estate experience.

Zillow Talk is a must read book for anyone who considers themself a true student of the industry rather than a utility outfielder in the marketplace. There is little doubt that it will become mandatory reading for any individual who aspires to be a serious participant in the real estate industry.

The authors have been exceedingly kind in their treatment and lack of judgment regarding the traditional real estate service provider. There were many points along the way that criticism regarding traditional practices could have been extended. No such treatment was given.

Zillow Talk will likely also serve to define the difference between the two agent groups in today’s Screen Shot 2015-03-10 at 10.13.36 AMmarketplace. The traditional real estate service provider’s efforts are all too often focus on controlling and processing the consumer or client. The more contemporary service provider moving forward will support a value proposition focused on the facts and circumstances of the inventory and marketplace. This second provider will emphasize that market behaviors and statistics actually have a lot to say about determining what manner of experience and outcome the consumer will garner out of their real estate experience.

Before concluding we return to the title of this article. What’s in a Portmanteau? The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines portmanteau as a word or morpheme whose form and meaning are derived from a blending of two or more distinct forms (as smog from smoke and fog). The term Zillow is such a creation drawn from the word “zillions” and the word “pillow.” So now you know. It’s a Harvard thing.

Screen Shot 2015-03-10 at 10.16.43 AMThe rules of discourse have also changed. Those who read Zillow Talk for the purpose of being a critic, offering criticism or sustaining the status quo should know from the start that merely rolling one’s jaundiced eyes, shrugging one’s wimpy shoulders or waving one’s arrogant arms will not suffice here. Through Zillow Talk Rascoff and Humphries have laid down a serious piece of research. Any critical response with less intellectual authority will simply make the respondent a fool by comparison.

Ownership and control of data is no longer the essence of greatness. Moving forward that distinction will belong to those who understand how to use data to make excellent real estate related decisions and drive profitability.

One Comment

  1. Posted March 11, 2015 at 3:18 AM | Permalink

    I found the Zillow Real Estate book well written with a clear vision for what the future holds for all of us who practice Real Estate, I now understand the portmanteau (combination) of the words “zillions” and “pillows”.
    We as Realtors can control our destiny and even prosper in the coming years. For our name itself provides the key to our very survival. Our name Realtor stands for REAL solutions for TOR tomorrows problems. Zillow with all their analytics, economists and computers still not tell the buyer or seller where the fault lines are, the telltale signs of graffiti, the legal problems which accompany the property, the heir ship problems to be overcome, the future for the area, the true story of the area schools, how to maximize curb appeal, how to correctly stage the home, what loan is in the buyers best interest, what neighbor to absolutely avoid living near, the unwritten history of the property, how deep the water is in the street after a heavy rain, and most of all what is best for your family. There will always be a place for the educated, professional caring Realtor who adds the God quality to the transaction. Zillow will remain a very good tool to provide data to assist the realtor and the client and nothing more than that.

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