The home search wars continue. In this latest installment, Keller Williams (KW), the nationally-franchised brokerage, is making a major stake against online listing aggregator, Zillow.

Zillow appeared on the scene at the heights of the last real estate recession, an antidote to the distrust many homebuyers and sellers felt after being burned by the housing industry. Zillow allowed consumers direct access to local multiple listing services (MLSs), giving buyers and sellers more access and the freedom to make more informed housing decisions.

But Zillow’s rising popularity with clients met heavy resistance from real estate brokers and agents. The objections are many, including:

  • the inaccuracies agents have to address in property zestimates;
  • outdated listing information published on Zillow; and
  • what agents see as an unfair use of MLS data.

Earlier this year, at KW’s 2019 conference, the company announced plans to jump into the listing aggregator game, calling out Zillow by name.

The big reveal? A consumer-facing mobile app, alongside a new customer relationship management (CRM) tool for agents, Command. Specifically, it has acquired the SmarterAgent platform and plans to open virtual brokerages across the U.S., which operate without a physical brokerage space. Following Zillow and Redfin’s leads, it has also recently purchased a mortgage company and launched an iBuyer program.

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Zillow, Redfin test out full-service model

KW’s CEO claims their new app will stand out from Zillow due to its ability to address the hyper-local nature of real estate. For example, the app will include market analyses of individual neighborhoods its clients are searching.

In an amazing show of confidence, KW claims that with these steps to create a new platform, “other companies are competing for second place.”

Can traditional brokerages really catch up?

Zillow transformed the real estate industry by taking something that was outdated and inaccessible — MLS data — and translating it into a user-friendly experience direct to consumers. Zillow and other online listing aggregators haven’t entirely made brokers, the gatekeepers of real estate, nonessential. But they have created a new key and handed it directly over to homebuyers and sellers, the clients of traditional brokerages.

Over a decade later, long-time industry players are struggling to catch up, hoping to return to the good old days when a call to your local friendly real estate agent was the first step to buying or selling — and not a visit to Zillow.

While KW’s efforts to play ball with Zillow are laudable, is it really plausible that a traditional real estate brokerage will be able to shift gears and catch up with tech companies like Zillow and Redfin?

The CEO of KW believes they have already won (a belief sent home by his on-stage air guitar when he announced their tech wars “victory”). But ensuring clients think of KW’s site before Zillow will be a challenging task, one determined not just by the strength of the technology, but by the quality and persistence of agents who will be the ultimate publicists of the new tech to their clients.