Your personal information keeps ‘free’ real estate websites free
by Adam Andrus
Oct 24, 2013 | 2083 views | 3 3 comments | 27 27 recommendations | email to a friend | print
This article has been edited

Many individuals in Santa Cruz County who use online real estate websites like Zillow, and Trulia among others are blissfully unaware of how “free” consumer real estate websites can afford to be free. As with many websites, they exist to make a profit and must generate consistent revenue in order to remain financially solvent. As I have interacted with buyers and sellers in the real estate marketplace it has become clear that the average person does not realize that using these sites can come at a personal cost. It is due to this that I felt some light must be shed on the subject.

Part of the financial model for these free sites is based on one simple concept: Attract homeowners and potential homeowners to the site by offering information about homes recently sold and currently for sale while simultaneously selling advertising space to real estate agents, mortgage professionals, and others in the real estate industry to generate consistent revenue. As my years in the industry have progressed, it has become increasingly apparent that most buyers and sellers do not realize is how this actually works. Here are the basics.

Individual real estate agents and mortgage professionals pay these sites thousands of dollars each year for ad space in a particular zip code of Santa Cruz County. When a consumer creates a profile, logs on to these websites, clicks on a property and asks for additional details, their information is sent to a real estate agent by email along with the specific property related question.

At this point the consumer has made an important transition; they are no longer just someone browsing a website, they are now a lead. This transition is why these websites exits. Leads are the lifeblood of the real estate industry. They represent a potential sale for an agent.

In short, these websites remain free because consumers are willing to give their personal contact information to both the website, and, when they request property-related information, others in the real estate industry.

It is important to understand that the primary qualification for someone to purchase ad space on these websites is that they have simply obtained a real estate license. Some of these folks do not live in Santa Cruz County, have no knowledge of the local market and are extremely green. If not careful, one may inadvertently give information to an agent who is completely inexperienced and unqualified.

A sobering fact is that if a consumer asks for real estate information on multiple websites, their information may perhaps be in the hands of multiple inexperienced real estate agents who might start to call and email incessantly.

I’ve found it is always good practice to use caution if one is considering offering up contact information online. An experienced, local real estate agent is knowledgeable about the intricate distinctions regarding property values throughout Santa Cruz County and the specific laws and ordinances that govern each area.  Locations like Felton, Scotts Valley and Santa Cruz have explicit differences pertaining to property values, building and zoning requirements, school districts, etc. An agent based in San Francisco or San Jose who obtains ones information from a free real estate site may not be aware of these vital details.

The truth remains that if a person is looking for a property to purchase, or desires to ascertain their homes value, there is simply no substitute for information provided from a trusted, seasoned real estate agent with a solid reputation in the community.

- Adam Andrus is part of The Andrus Estates Team. He can be contacted at 566-8075 or email

Comments-icon Post a Comment
Brad in Seattle
October 26, 2013
Hi Adam,

While you're correct about someone of the sites mentioned that sell leads, you're incorrect about Redfin, and should probably correct your story.
Sam K
October 25, 2013
Hey Adam,

IF you do a bit more research you would see that Redfin is an actual brokerage and does not sell any advertising space whatsoever.

Ellie Kravets
October 25, 2013
Very negative article!

I believe that Buyers are smart & they will work with local & knowledgable Realtor. Plus they can also read reviews from past clients on Trulia & Yelp. Any respectable agent will not "call & email incessantly".

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