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21 February 2020
Rochelle DeClute

Zillow fans the winds of change in Canada’s housing industry


Rochelle and Rick DeClute, seen in their Toronto office on Feb. 13, 2020, say they saw potential in Zillow early on.


At this time last year, many real estate agents were watching the arrival of the U.S.-based Zillow Group into the Canadian market place with a mix of curiosity and trepidation.

For lots of people, searching real estate listings is as all-consuming as following Raptors basketball or scrolling Instagram.

And Zillow is a giant online data portal that feeds that obsession.

Consider the keen-eyed searchers looking at a four-bedroom detached in Lansing, Mich. who spotted the killer from the Scream slasher films lurking in some of the interior shots. It was actually the listing agent hiding in a bedroom closet with a butcher knife but the stunt worked: 209 N. Chestnut St. rocketed to the top of Zillow’s most viewed properties.

Last year a red-brick Georgian in suburban Maple Glen, Penn. blew up on when online house hunters spotted a sex dungeon in the basement. People are paying close attention to those wide-angle photos.


Some Canadian brokerages embraced Zillow’s arrival as an opportunity; others were spurred on to create more user-friendly websites for their own brand. The industry juggernaut,, undertook its own transformation as it prepared to face new competition.


Rick and Rochelle DeClute of Toronto-based Union Realty Brokerage Inc. are two agents who saw potential in Zillow early on. Because the portal is a marketing company that doesn’t employ any agents, they don’t view the platform as competition so much as another tool they can use to draw eyeballs to their listings.

Zillow also offers the property’s listing history and details about nearby schools. There are decorating blogs and walk scores. In the United States, sellers can tap into the platform’s use of artificial intelligence software to produce a “Zestimate” of a property’s market value.

“The power behind it is phenomenal,” says Mr. DeClute, who is a self-confessed real estate junkie, searching listings all the time, all over the place.

The DeClutes began supplying listings to Zillow last spring.


Their listings also appear on the Canadian Real Estate Association’s site, which displays properties from the Multiple Listing Service of real estate boards all across the country.

“It’s not a platform people interact with well and look forward to using,” Mr. DeClute says of MLS. “It’s more of a sales tool than an information tool.”

The DeClutes started supplying listings to Zillow in the spring.


The DeClutes say the database is designed to funnel users to the listing agent.

“That benefits realtors really well, and I don’t know that that benefits the consumer really well,” Ms. DeClute says.

She says she believes some Canadian agents are reluctant to embrace evolving technology and new industry players because they are uncomfortable with handing power to the consumer with a lot of information – including previous sale prices – that used to be provided only by real estate agents.

But she believes agents can add value in many ways. When she bought a property in Florida, for example, she hired a local agent to represent her at the table. Even though she has years of experience in buying and selling real estate, she knew the Florida agent would know the ins and outs of local transactions.


She believes agents need to provide invaluable insight to buyers and sellers who can already find a trove of information online.

“It makes us up our game.”

Some Canadian agents are unsettled by Zillow’s practice in the United States of allowing real estate agents to pay a fee in return for the contact information of consumers who submit a query on the site.

So if a house hunter submits an online form asking for more information about a two-bedroom condo in Seattle, for example, the person who gets back to them may not be the listing agent, but a competing agent who paid for that lead.

“Agents who are afraid of the platform say, ‘they’ll take our leads and sell them back to us’ – which they may do,” Mr. DeClute says. “I think there’s a fear that it will diminish the control over the transaction a realtor will have,” he says.

“Speaking to colleagues in the United States, some of them are resentful of the investment they’re making every month,” Ms. DeClute adds.


The bottom line for the DeClutes is that they know from talking to their clients that sellers would prefer to have their properties receive international exposure on Zillow. The client’s priority is the sale of their own home – not the business expenses of the listing agent, Mr. DeClute stresses....