It starts with “Z” and rhymes with pillow

It starts with “z” and rhymes with pillow.

I awoke with a start. You know that feeling when you are nearly asleep, starting to drift and you jerk awake as if jammed in the clavicle with a stun gun?” “Not again!” I yell. It’s 8:30 and therapy starts at 9!

I’m in and out of the shower, like Clark Kent through a phone booth. Racing feverishly, I arrive, anxious for another session. I’ve suffered greatly since the upheaval. Therapy has helped but my fate looks forever sealed. The damage widespread, irrevocable. Why didn’t I do anything to stop it? The thought haunts my fried brain as if on a recorded loop.

Looks like they’re just getting started. I sit down next to Tim, a former stockbroker. Next to him, Maggie, a former travel agent, next to her, Bobby, whose record store was bankrupted many years ago. Leading today’s therapy session is Wayne, he stood about 6 feet tall, a formerly handsome man, now showed years of depression and heavy drinking in his sad, dark eyes. Wayne owned a chain of Blockbuster video stores before losing everything when Netflix destroyed him.

Today was my turn to speak in our therapy group. “Welcome to another therapy session of Disrupted Industries Anonymous” Wayne said to bring us to attention. “This is our first session of 2023, and I am very excited that Bart has agreed to speak today and share his story. As you know, Bart’s been with us for over a year now, but has been too heartsick and grief stricken to speak. He’s ready now to share his story. Bart, the floor is all yours,” Wayne announced.

As I stood, Frank gave me a reassuring nod. I really like Frank, a former executive at Encyclopedia Britannica. He’s battled through both divorce and depression after having the rug yanked by Wikipedia.

“I’m a little nervous but here it goes. My name is Bart Vickrey, and I was once a proud owner of a small real estate company in Valparaiso, Indiana. It was back in 2015 when I started to really take notice of the beast. It was buying up whatever it could get it’s hands on, it was Postlets, then Diverse Solutions, Rent Juice, Buyfolio, then the mortgage tech company, Mortech, followed by Hot Pads, then Street Easy and Retsly, then a whopper, the gobbled up Trulia, followed by Dot Loop and it just kept going.

All the while, this Frankenstein was being funded by the very people it would eventually destroy… the real estate agents. We unknowingly assembled and then brought the monster to life, and then it turned on us and burned down our beautiful village. As you know, this Frankenstein has a name, Zillow.

You are all familiar with the brand, they now have real estate offices in every city and every state. You guys probably still remember Century 21, Coldwell Banker, Keller Williams…. and some in Valparaiso still have a recollection of Bart Vickrey & Co Real Estate. Sadly, they are all distant memories now,” I said begrudgingly.

“As its power grew, it fed more and more on the desperate, instant gratification driven agent. Fees were raised and the same leads were distributed to even more agents who were ready to drop everything on the whim of the buyer and show them homes. After all, the buyer had been assured by Zillow that there’s always another agent ready, willing, and able to suckle their teat.

Revenue grew and acquisitions continued. In 2017, they rolled out the referral model. Not only did you pay for leads, but if you were lucky enough to find a viable buyer in the piles of steaming sh__, …uh… leads, being dispersed, you now were required to pay a referral fee.

It started at 25% and steadily grew until reaching a robust 38.5% in 2019. Then, it all came crashing down for us. First major blow was the real estate downturn that started in the fall of 2019. Not nearly as widespread as the crash we survived in 2007, but enough to weaken the revenue stream enjoyed by Zillow. They’d been planning it all along, but economic times had opened the door sooner than the original projection.

In the spring of 2021 panicked reports started circulating all over the internet. The first was spotted on Park Boulevard in San Diego, then on Camelback Road in Scottsdale, followed by sightings on 5th Avenue in Naples, Florida, and Michigan Avenue in Chicago, Illinois. Zillow had finally done the unthinkable, opened their own real estate brokerage offices.

At first, I remember mistakenly thinking, “They can’t compete with us, we are experts!” But their business model was unforgiving. Commissions were 3.95% and they did not cooperate with outside brokers!

Right under our noses, Zillow had been recruiting an army. They offered tuition free real estate schools and promised guaranteed salaries. The college grads responded in droves. They were, of course, fed up living in mom’s basement, saddled with a monkey of debt on their backs. Not to mention, the inadvertently created “part-time” class of worker created by Obamacare. These part-timers were eager to show homes every evening and on weekends to help supplement their incomes,” I snorted excitedly while my audience nodded in unison to my rant.

“Honey? Honey, it’s time to get up,” said a sweet, familiar voice. “Hey babe, coffee’s brewed and ready for you, you sack rat….you slept in a little,” she said softly. “What year is it?” I said groggily. “Uh, duh, are you joking? It’s 2015, now get up!” she said.

Holy shit!  It was only a nightmare, there’s still time!

1 Comment

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