Zillow’s “Coming Soon” Won’t be Coming to Seattle

In case you’re wondering why you aren’t seeing any of Zillow’s “Coming Soon” listings in the Seattle area (or pretty much anywhere in Western Washington, for that matter), GeekWire had a great post today on that topic: Why you won’t find Zillow’s new ‘Coming Soon’ feature in its hometown of Seattle

None of these listings have been posted on Zillow in Seattle since the launch of the service on June 12.


The Northwest Multiple Listing Service — an association of more than 21,000 real estate agents in Western Washington — actually forbids agents from engaging in the pre-marketing of properties. In other words, agents can’t drum up interest in a property before it hits the NWMLS database.
Here’s the relevant part of the rule from the NWMLS:

Members shall not promote or advertise any property in any manner whatsoever, including, but not limited to yard or other signs, flyers, websites, e-mails, texts, mailers, magazines, newspapers, open houses, previews, showings, and tours, unless a listing for that property has been delivered to NWMLS, or input by the member.

Katie Curnutte, a Zillow spokeswoman, said that they were aware of the NWMLS rules when they launched the service. She said they respect those rules, and are not actively encouraging agents to break them.

“It is a marketing tool for agents, so they need to follow the marketing rules of their own MLS and brokerage,” she said. If agents are not acting within the rules of the local MLS, Curnutte said they will remove the “coming soon” listing. She also noted that agents must check a box that they are complying with local MLS rules before posting.

The really amusing bit about all this is how Zillow has stated in the past that they are not trying to compete with MLSs or become their own MLS, but if this feature were widely adopted, Zillow would effectively become an MLS (which is itself nothing more than a marketing platform for advertising listings). Since Zillow is not a brokerage, and therefore not a member of the MLS, they can release features like this that fly in the face of MLS rules, but any agent who attempts to market a listing as “Coming Soon” will no doubt swiftly incur a hefty NWMLS fine.

The box-checking bit is also especially hilarious. Oooh, agents have to check a box! Surely they won’t use the feature in violation of MLS rules now!

I’m certainly no big fan of some of the rules and data practices of the NWMLS, but in this case they’ve got it right. The only one who would benefit from “pre-marketing” a listing is the listing agent. It’s in the best interest of the seller and potential buyers to list the home on the MLS for maximum market exposure.

I could go on, but this Inman News guest post by Doug Miller, executive director of Consumer Advocates in American Real Estate, pretty much sums it up.

In a hot market, pocket listings will almost always generate offers. That is not “test marketing” to gauge demand or pricing. Worse, when that offer comes in, the seller is placed in the undesirable situation of either accepting an offer generated by a semiclosed marketplace or rejecting that offer and putting the house on the MLS. The result is to place the seller in a decision clouded by duress. No fiduciary should ever put their clients in such a situation. And no fiduciary (broker or agent) who is financially biased with a double fee should ever “advise” their clients in this situation, as such advice would certainly be construed to be self‐serving.

Pocket listings exist to generate a double fee. That’s it. Every argument in favor of pocket listings is little more than self‐serving rationalizations that do not survive logical analysis.

If this is a subject that interests you, it’s worth reading the whole thing.

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About The Tim

Tim Ellis is the founder of Seattle Bubble. His background in engineering and computer / internet technology, a fondness of data-based analysis of problems, and an addiction to spreadsheets all influence his perspective on the Seattle-area real estate market. Tim also hosts the weekly improv comedy sci-fi podcast Dispatches from the Multiverse.


  1. 1

    Since Zillow is a marketing company and not a lender or a real estate broker, they exempt themselves from following any laws or rules not subject to them by simply asking users to check an “I agree with the terms” box. Nobody reads the terms, their sales people are trained to say:
    “It’s all perfectly legal.”
    “It’s all been reviewed by attorneys.”

    The terms pretty much say—-if the user violates a law, it’s the user’s fault not ours. Sucks to be you. You agreed with the terms you idiot.

    Well maybe I embellished that^ a little bit.

    I am VERY pro-Zillow but I am against their unethical sales practice of leading lenders and real estate brokers to believe their programs are in compliance with the law.

    The bigger they get, the bigger of a target they will become. And the bigger their responsibility should be as a stakeholder in the R.E. and lending community to provide services that make it easy for their customers to follow the law and not hide behind a “terms of service” checkbox.

    YOU CAN DO BETTER THAN THAT, Zillow. Your customers deserve better. Your stockholders deserve better. And please don’t take away your female employee’s contraception choices tomorrow morning or I’ll really go Bader Ginsberg on you.

  2. 2
    Kmac says:

    RE: Jillayne Schlicke @ 1
    Since that last sentence kinda veered you off the RE topic I don’t feel bad doing so myself.

    You do know that any woman with a prescription for contraception can go to the local neighborhood wallyworld and get said contraception for something like ten bucks don’t you?
    I’m sure real estate agents can afford $10.
    I see no choices being denied here.

  3. 3

    RE: Kmac @ 2 – As I explained to Jillayne elsewhere, the Court’s decision doesn’t take away anyone’s rights. That is just Democratic partisan BS. The Court’s decision was based on the fact that there was a less intrusive alternative–the one Obama applied to the non-profit religious entities, which just requires the insurance companies to pay for the same benefits. It took Obama about 24 hours to announce that one after the controversy arouse, but now he claims he needs Congress to act to do the same thing. Jillayne should be mad at Obama, because if anyone goes without anything it will be his fault, not the Court. (I’d also add that the Religious Freedom Act is very clear, and requires the Court’s result if there is a less intrusive alternative, which the court found Obama’s alternate to be.) http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/42/2000bb-1

    The decision yesterday was a very minor decision, which people are blowing up into something it is not. The Court found a compelling government interest in providing contraception benefits! But in any case, the decision was not a Constitutional decision, it was a decision interpreting a statute which was signed by President Clinton after passing through Congress with only three “no” votes.

    Now, as to real estate, interesting that Zillow claims that they were aware of the NWMLS rules when they have a Youtube video showing “Coming Soon” against a map of Seattle.

  4. 4

    Good stuff, Tim! Strong words from Mr. Miller, but dead on. It’s amazing how many brokers fail to appreciate the point – that “pocket listings are bad for the client, and consumers generally – and who actually buy into the “benefits” to the client.

  5. 5

    It’s possible the Department of Licensing might even have issues with “Coming Soon.” I’ve heard rumors that DOL has been going after (or at least inquiring of) agents who have a pattern of having their listings repeatedly close “too quickly.” The concern is that the agent is not properly exposing the listing to the market, reducing the price obtained by the client. Assuming the rumors are true, I could see that they would have real problems with this program.

  6. 6
    Blake says:

    RE: Kary L. Krismer @ 3
    From Justice Ginsburg’s dissent:
    “Would the exemption…extend to employers with religiously grounded objections to blood transfusions (Jehovah’s Witnesses); antidepressants (Scientologists); medications derived from pigs, including anesthesia, intravenous fluids, and pills coated with gelatin (certain Muslims, Jews, and Hindus); and vaccinations[?]…Not much help there for the lower courts bound by today’s decision…Approving some religious claims while deeming others unworthy of accommodation could be ‘perceived as favoring one religion over another,’ the very ‘risk the [Constitution’s] Establishment Clause was designed to preclude.”
    … “The court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield.”

    Activist court indeed!

  7. 7
    Tony Gilbert says:

    Thank you for bringing more local attention to this issue – and for the “mention.” :) I was one of the many local brokers who personally lobbied the NWMLS to do something about this problem. In a perfect world, where all agents are fully educating their clients of the pros & cons of every marketing tactic, such rules wouldn’t be necessary. But we all know, we don’t work in that world.

  8. 8
    judy b says:

    Get your facts straight about contraception prescriptions before spouting off — without insurance coverage, the cost is more like $80.

    RE: Kmac @ 2

  9. 9
    Saulac says:

    By Kary L. Krismer @ 5:

    It’s possible the Department of Licensing might even have issues with “Coming Soon.” I’ve heard rumors that DOL has been going after (or at least inquiring of) agents who have a pattern of having their listings repeatedly close “too quickly.” The concern is that the agent is not properly exposing the listing to the market, reducing the price obtained by the client. Assuming the rumors are true, I could see that they would have real problems with this program.

    Then they should keep an eye on this agent. But I doubt that they do what you mentioned.

  10. 10
    Mike says:

    RE: Saulac @ 8 – That house in itself is an interesting artifact of the bubble. According to the NTS, the previous owners mortgage payment on a ~$100K house was only a few hundred a month less than I pay on a ~$600K house purchased 5 years later…

  11. 11

    RE: Mike @ 9 – Speaking of interesting artifacts, I came across a short sale listing which had previously been a short sale way back in 2002 (or so). I wonder how many calls the agent got back then with people asking “What’s a short sale?”

  12. 12
    Erik says:

    RE: Saulac @ 8
    What is crazy about this to me is that Renton got much nicer from 2007 to 2014 and the price is 1/3rd of what it was in 2007.

  13. 13

    RE: Erik @ 12
    That particular house is close to Renton, but in the dreaded 98178 zip code. The 98178 went down a whole lot more than Seattle and eastside neighborhoods. Mostly because Skyway is in the 98178, and the whole zip code gets tarnished for sharing the zip code. Where that house is is pretty nice, with lake views. What’s weird about the zip code is that it crosses jurisdictions. It’s mostly unincorporated King County, which includes Skyway. But also some of it is within the city of Seattle, some of it is in the city of Tukwila, and some of it is in the city of Renton. Is there any other zip code in the United States that does that? Some of the neighborhood is real nice and overlooks Lake Washington.

  14. 14

    RE: Ira Sacharoff @ 13 – 98178 also went up a lot more before the peak. It more volatile. Our old house was in 98178, and even though it was a lesser value house it dropped more in value than our new house did.

  15. 15

    RE: Erik @ 12

    That particular area can price very differently based on topography. I listed and sold one that sat high up capturing a view just a few houses away from one that sat low with no view, and the price results were dramatically different. The one I listed sold for 2/3rds more than the one a few doors down. There were differences in the house as well, of course. The one down the street looked more like this one.

  16. 16

    […] Below is a Tableau heat map of the results normalized by each state’s population (zoom out to view Alaska and Hawaii, or shift-click and drag to pan the map). As you can see, agents who can use “Coming Soon” have so far been slow to do so. This should not be surprising, considering that many MLSs across the country forbid this kind of practice from their members, just like NWMLS does. […]

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