Loading Web Fonts Without Performance Penalty From Lighthouse

One thing that will most certainly lose you performance points in Google Lighthouse Performance Audit is loading web fonts. More specifically, loading web fonts in a way that render-blocks.

If you simply drop @font-face into your CSS or load <link rel="stylesheet" ... /> tags into your <head/>, Google Lighthouse will hate you. Even if you are loading a Google Font.

Don’t despair! It’s very easy to avoid this penalty.

Step 1: Skip the <link/>

To avoid render-blocking, don’t just add the default <link .../> or @import { ... } code that Google Fonts gives you to your site. Google Fonts gives you a link to a stylesheet which loads the fonts. We want to skip this interim step and load the content of that stylesheet directly.

So for example if I want to load the font Raleway, Google gives me:

<link href="https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Raleway" rel="stylesheet">

So I load the URL https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Raleway in my browser and get its contents.

The CSS file contains all of the @font-face { ... } rules for loading my font. I’m going to copy them into my site’s CSS.

Step 2: Setup Font Swapping

Now that we’re loading the fonts directly via @font-face { ... } rules in our own CSS file, we need to instruct the browser to how to handle the font before it is fully-loaded. We use the font-display CSS rule for that.

Setting font-display: swap; tells the browser to use the closest matching font in the font stack, and then swap in the web font after it loads. Setting font-display: optional; tells the browser to use the closest matching font in the font stack that is currently available, or is available within 100ms of page load. In other words, the web font will not be swapped-in if it is not almost immediately available.

What’s the downside? The font-display property doesn’t have great cross-browser support,and the default behavior varies from browser to browser. On most browsers the default behavior will be FOUT: a flash of unstyled text,while the browser displays the closest matching font, and then loads the web font when it becomes available. This experience can be a little jarring.

If you use font-display: swap; and your user’s browser supports it, your users will experience FOUT before the font loads for the first time. After the font is loaded and cached, it will be used immediately.

If you use font-display: optional; users whose browser supports the property will not notice FOUT, but they may experience a page rendered in the closest matching font in the stack when the web font is not immediately available. On subsequent loads (when the web font is cached), pages will render immediately using the web font.

Small Rental Agencies: Don’t Bother with a Zillow Feed

This is a follow-up to a previous article we wrote about integrating with Zillows Listing Feeds.

While the technical specifics of integrating with Zillow remain true, recent experience has led to the conclusion that small agencies cannot trust Zillow Listing Feeds to work for them, and we cannot make the recommendation to use them.

Zillow Feeds Explained

Zillow is a popular real estate and rental aggregation service. At the time of writing, Zillow, HotPads, and Trulia are all the same company using more or less the same database. Getting listed in one usually means you’re listed in all three.

There are numerous methods that agencies and agents can publish their listings to Zillow. A popular method is by building a Zillow Listing Feed. The basic premise of building a feed is that you can take the data you’re managing elsewhere and publish it in Zillow’s XML format, which they will read and update daily. Agencies and agents love feeds because they already have to enter the same data into their websites and/or MLS. Building a feed means they can publish to Zillow without doubling their workload: they no longer have to enter their listings a second time into Zillow Rental Manager.

Our History with Zillow

In my previous position at another agency, I built my first Zillow Listing Feed for a local real estate agency. It was not without it’s issues: we learned some hard lessons about how Zillow compiles data from multiple sources and decides which is the “source of truth” for your listings, but overall it was a massive success. When I started Reich Web Consulting, I made it a goal of mine to leverage this new skill set to build affordable solutions for other real estate agencies and agents.

I built a WordPress plug-in for property management that tracks all 200+ data points available in the Zillow Listing Feed specification. This solution was massively successful to the three small local rental agencies that currently use it. I was hoping this would be something that got big. That would make a difference in the rental agency community.

Client Number 5

In late 2018, the co-owners of one of the agencies using this solution decided to part ways. One kept the old site and feed. The other started a new business with a new website, and a new feed. The new business has about 100 properties, with anywhere from 2-8% of them vacant at a given time. We submitted our feed to Zillow in late December.

Where Things Went Wrong

Our history with Zillow informs us that getting listed takes time, so when they weren’t showing up by mid-January I didn’t get too worked up. I contacted feeds@zillow.com, the support address referenced in the Zillow Listing Feed specification document. No one responded. Another month later I tried again, with no response.

By March my customer was getting quite frustrated, so I started getting desperate.

I tried calling. There is no published phone number for Zillow feed support. So I dug up and called their customer service number. There is no option for feed support. There is no option for support without an account. Fortunately Client #5 has a Rental Manager account, which they provided. But when I called back I discovered that you can’t get through the call system without a paid account.

So I started emailing anyone at Zillow I could find, including the direct email address of several Zillow support staff that had helped me in the past. I considered naming names and email addresses, but even as worked-up as I am, I don’t want to dox anyone. No one responded back.

By this time it is early April. The feed is still not being pulled by Zillow. I decided to attempt a Hail Mary and resubmit the feed and while doing so, I notice two things. First, I notice the following language:


If you have more than 200 listings, you can send us listings data through our free automated feed program.

Zillow Listing Feed Program

At this point I am pretty certain I know what the problem is, though previous clients have had small feeds and got into the program. I also see another email address: listingsupport@zillow.com and I decide to make one last attempt to get help.

Zillow’s Unsupportive Feed Support

I sent an email to listingsupport@zillow.com simply asking if the mailbox is active, and two days later I get a response back asking how they can help. I tell them my situation in detail. Here is the response I receive back:

Brain,
Thank you for clarifying about your issue. I looked it appears that you are only sending to us 4 listings, which at this point we recommend you just use Zillow Rental Manager to create your listings.
https://www.zillow.com/rental-
manager/?source=topnav&itc=postbutton_sitenav

Phong, Zillow Listing Support

Before the split, the larger company had well over 200 listings which met their requirement. The new company has around 100, and is fortunate enough to only have a few vacancies. I think this might help make our case, so I reply back:

Hi Phong,

The client has significant more units (over 100), but only 4 are currently vacant. It would be very cumbersome to manage all of those manually through the rental manager. Should I be sending the rest of the properties in the feed with a different status?

Brian Reich, CEO, Reich Web Consulting

He responds back:


Brian,
On average, how many properties are vacant?
Thanks

Phong, Zillow Listing Support

Cool, now we’re getting somewhere! I contact the client, get that information, and respond back. I decided to appeal to their humanity by being honest about the situation, why the businesses split, leaving two smaller feeds under their 200 listing recommendation. The email below has been redacted to protect the identity of our client.


They typically have 8-10 available at any given time.

Phong here is some additional background.  This client, Rental Agency B, was previously part of a family business called ”
Rental Agency A” for which I built a feed years ago which Zillow is already successfully processing. With the exception of that site having a brief downtime issue about a year or so back I believe it’s been pretty reliable and low-maintenance for both of us.  The owner of that business was diagnosed with a terminal neurological disease, and as a result his wife and children (all co-owners) decided it was best to separate their interests into separate legal entities.

Rental Agency B is the children’s new business.  All of the properties that are in this feed were previously in the feed of Rental Agency A and had to be legally removed from that site/feed when the business was legally split up. I know it’s not Zillow’s responsibility to care about any of this, but my point was that all of the listings that are in the Rental Agency B’s Feed were rental properties that were already accepted and listed under the other business’ feed just a few months ago. If not for their dad being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and the business structure being forced to change, they’d still be there and we would not be having this conversation. And if not for a lawyer forcing me to split the sites up, I’d put them right back in the feed you are already parsing.  Does that make sense?  I tell you all this to try and make the case that, even though this is a new business, the feed data actually has history with Zillow and is entirely trustworthy; if it were still combined with their family business we’d be at that higher feed size and there would be no issue to discuss.

They have tremendous success with the Rental Agency A feed and really depended on the leads they got from Zillow/Trulia/Hotpads to fill vacancies quickly. I’m really hoping your side can understand all of this and, if necessary, make an exception and parse this feed.

Thanks for your time and understanding.

Brian Reich, CEO, Reich Web Consulting

A day later, I receive a final reply:

Hey Brain,
Thank you for that update. Though I really appreciate the interest and the efforts made, I took a look at the Rental Agency A feed and from the looks of it when I looked from beginning of this year, it hovered from 0 listings to 2 listings and nothing more than that.
The reason why we have the Zillow Rental Manager product built is for reasons like those where it isn’t necessary to use your bandwidth and just to manage 2 listings when you can easily just use Zillow Rental Manager and do that.
Thanks 

Phone, Zillow Listing Support

At this point I’m resigned to accept that this conversation is going nowhere, but I’m frustrated. I’ve built several successful feeds that were accepted in spite of their size being below 200. I’ve submitted feeds in the past and did not see the language about 200 listings in the past (though it is entirely possible that I just missed it).

What I’m most frustrated about is the fact that Zillow doesn’t seem to understand or care, about the impact this has on smaller rental agencies. To quote Phong, it isn’t necessary to use your bandwidth and just to manage 2 listings when you can easily just use Zillow Rental Manager and do that.” He’s completely missing the point. Is Zillow Rental Manager easy to use? Sure. But not any easier than the solution my clients already have in place. Forcing them to use it forces them to double their efforts. And the claim that it’s just 2 listings is wrong. As I already told him they have over 100 and the vacancy status of those units change over time. Doubling the effort to manage a portfolio of that size is a considerable hardship. I sent a final reply more out of frustration than anything:


Phong,
I’m done arguing my point. I’m clearly not going to get anywhere, but this is kind of ridiculous. My clients have a lot of properties, and they’re fortunate enough to keep them rented. I’m not sure why that’s counted against them. Rental Agency A‘s Zillow feed was critical for helping them keep their apartments rented, and constantly tell me that Zillow sends them the most qualified leads. As renters they love your front-end service. So based on that I built a system that allowed rental agencies to manage their properties in one place and feed them to their website, Zillow, and other aggregation services.  So to counter your point: unfortunately, no, they can’t “just as easily” use the Zillow Rental Manager.  It doesn’t get any easier than editing/updating your listings once, in one location. If they also have to manage all of their properties in the Rental Manager that essentially doubles their workload.

I build APIs as part of my job. If Zillow doesn’t want people integrating with their API, or has strict rules about who can access/use it, then they should be transparent about that. API’s are all about maintaining consistency over time.  How is it that this is the fourth feed I’ve built and sent to Zillow and I’m only now being told my clients are too small to participate?

Having built a pretty terrific WordPress plugin for property management that integrates with your API, I was hoping I’d be able to feed more information to Zillow in the future and make it easier for smaller rental companies to leverage Zillow without doubling their workload. Clearly making integration easy for renters isn’t actually what Zillow wants.  I’ll make sure that all of my rental and real estate clients are well aware of this in the future.

Brian Reich, CEO, Reich Web Consulting

The Takeaway

What advice can I offer rental agencies and agents?

Zillow only wants feeds with 200 or more listings, and that statement is a rule, not a request. As of the time I write this (4/25/2019), if you’re an agent with only a handful of vacant units at a given time or your portfolio is below this threshold, don’t waste your time building a feed to Zillow, Trulia, or HotPads. Accept that you need to either manually manage your listings via the Zillow Rental Manger or participate in a larger service is already integrated into Zillow, such as an MLS.

What advice can I offer to Zillow?

With great API comes great responsibility. When you create an API or similar service such as feed aggregation and make it public, you accept a certain amount of responsibility for making sure the experience stays consistent and does not break integrations. At some point Zillow instituted this 200 listing minimum. At some other point, they decided to actually enforce it. The language on their website is way too soft and calls a feed “the best solution” for agents with 200 or more listings. It does not say it’s a hard requirement to participate. It should.

Second: if Zillow wants to limit participation in the Zillow Listing Feed service, then don’t make it public. This entire fiasco could have been avoided if Zillow simply but feed submission behind a form that rejected us because the feeds didn’t meet their requirements.

Third: update your documentation. The Zillow Listing feed docs list a support email address that worked in the past but seems to be dead. This led to me beating my head against a brick wall and disappointing my client for months until I accidentally stumbled across a different email address.

Finally: take communication with developers participating in this program seriously. We can work together and help each other, if you’re willing to listen. Out of desperation I tried contacting several individuals at Zillow that have assisted me in the past. According to the LinkedIn profiles of those individuals, they are still at Zillow. But they did not respond to my requests, even by directing me to the right support channel. Instead myself and my rental agency client are left with a 4 month customer service nightmare.

Having said all of that: Zillow, I get it. I know you probably don’t want just anyone submitting feeds due to feed spam and listing scams. Other aggregation services that pretty much list whatever you throw at them similar to Ron Burgundy reading whatever you put on his teleprompter, are rife with scammers. I understand why you might not want to let just anyone participate. But you can make that a heck of a lot clearer.

And last: what advice can I offer to my future self, and those like me?

Don’t sell Zillow integration services to small real estate agencies and small rental agents. Or possibly to anyone.This has been a disaster of epic proportions for me. My business spent considerable development time and money building a WordPress plug-in for agents large and small to manage their listings from their website and feed them to aggregation services like Zillow, Trulia, and HotPads without duplicating their efforts. Based on past experience with Zillow we had no reason to expect it would be a tremendous failure.

We understand that the buck stops with us. I have a disappointed client. I have refunds to issue. But the most frustrating part is that this is all true in spite of the fact that I delivered a fully-functioning product. They have a feed that there is no technical problem with except that it doesn’t meet this minimum listing requirement, which was not communicated as a requirement to participate in the program in the first place.

I’ve lost a little money, and a lot of time on development. But the development hours pale in comparison to the amount of time wasted trying and failing to draw a conclusion to the situation due to Zillow’s lack of consistency and lack of communication.

I will not be offering Zillow feed integration services to customers in the future. But something tells me, this is exactly what Zillow wants.

Tips for UPS API Integration

I do a lot of shipping integrations for my manufacturing automation customers, and for my customer’s customers. While we always document these tips internally, I thought it would be useful to catalog and share them. Below are some helpful tips we’ve compiled for UPS API integration.

TIP #1: Customer Account Numbers Use the Number Zero, Not the Letter O

Customer account numbers are a series of six letters and digits.  If you have a UPS customer account that contains something circular, it’s always the number zero (“0”) and not the letter “O.” This tip comes directly from UPS API support.

TIP #2: UPS Mail Innovations Doesn’t Support Third Party Billing

UPS Mail Innovations is a unique shipping method that utilizes the local postal service to complete the final leg of your shipment. Unlike other shipping methods, it does not support third-party billing. That is, you cannot use one account to ship the package and bill the package to another UPS account using the BillThirdParty payment option. Mail Innovations shipments must be generated using the BillShipper option. That leads us to our next tip.

TIP #3: BillShipper Requires that you Add the Shipper Account as a Payment Option

To use the BillShipper payment option, you must add the account you’re billing for the shipment as a payment option in the UPS account being used to access the API.  You can do this by logging into the account on ups.com and selecting Payment Options. You’ll need a few pieces of information, including:

  • UPS Account Number
  • Default pick up Zip code
  • Invoice # from most recent account invoice
  • Date of most recent account invoice
  • Payment due amount from the last invoice
  • Control ID of the last invoice

 

Need Help Integrating with UPS?

Having trouble integrating with UPS? Don’t hesitate to contact Reich Web Consulting today.

How to Intregtate a Website with Zillow Using a Zillow Listing Feed

Update: Based on some recent experiences with Zillow, we’ve got a very different perspective now on what real estate and rental agents should participate in the Zillow Listing Feed program, and whether or not we’ll offer technical services to insist. Zillow has minimum size requirements that prohibit smaller companies from taking advantage of the feed program. Read the article to learn more. We’re leaving this article up because the technical details are still entirely accurate, if you’re large enough to take advantage of them.

Here at Reich Web Consulting, we’ve got more than a little experience working with real estate clients.  One of the most important factors in helping our customers succeed online is maximizing their visibility both on and off of their website. We must ensure that their rentals and for-sale properties appear correctly in real estate aggregation services like Zillow, Trulia, and Realtor.com, and the best way to do that is with a Zillow Listing Feed.

But integrating with Zillow can be daunting. It’s important to understand how Zillow works and approach your integration with realistic expectations.

This post imparts the knowledge I’ve accumulated through several Zillow integrations and will help you navigate the bumps you may encounter along the way.

Understand What Zillow is (and Isn’t)

I think Zillow did an excellent job of describing themselves:

Zillow is a media site – we display content and sell ads around the content. (Zillow FAQ)

Their goal is not to provide accurate property listings. Zillow aggregates real estate listings from a variety of sources, provides a user-friendly interface to search and review them, and profits by selling ad space around them. Zillow is a service that shows other people’s real estate listings. Zillow is not:

Zillow does not make money from real estate. Zillow makes money by selling ads on web pages that happen to contain real estate listings.

A Zillow search result screenshot with the ad space highlighted.

Zillow’s reason for being isn’t real estate. It’s ad space.

Zillow and other aggregators have an awkward relationship with the real estate industry.  Renters and buyers find the convenience of aggregators useful.  But agents and brokers find aggregators frustrating because they often appropriate their copyrighted material, list their properties without their permission, and often list incorrect or outdated information. Agents assert that  aggregators don’t really seem to care about listing accuracy, because their primary directive is to sell ads, not to provide accurate listings.

But the darned services are so useful that real estate customers just can’t help themselves.

While realtors generally despise aggregators, they’re also well aware that ignoring them is a monumental marketing misstep. Realtors embrace services like Zillow begrudgingly. This is understandable. Aggregators have largely usurped the realtor’s role in the home buying process.

If you’re a realtor, broker, or real estate company with properties to sell or rentals to fill, what’s your best course of action?  Embrace aggregators and take control of your listings. And the best way to do that with Zillow is to build a Zillow Listing Feed.

What is a Zillow Listing Feed?

A Zillow Listing Feed is an XML document that’s specifically coded to provide property listings to Zillow.  A Zillow Listing Feed:

  • Is an XML document that meets the Zillow Feed XML specification
  • Changes dynamically as listings’ details are updated
  • Is periodically downloaded by Zillow and checked for updates
  • Is checked for accuracy and combined with other data sources to build a Zillow listing

Businesses with only a handful of properties may find that managing their listings directly on Zillow meets their needs.  But realtors, brokers, and clients with large sale or rental portfolios will benefit from creating a Zillow Listing Feed.

Your Zillow listing feed should not be a static file: it should should be a dynamic document that changes as the status of your listing change.

A sample Zillow Listing Feed XML document.

A sample Zillow Listing Feed XML document.

How to Build a Zillow Listing Feed

Building a Zillow Listing Feed isn’t a job for a realtor.

Building a Zillow Listing Feed requires knowledge of your property management database which could be FlexMLS, your website’s content management system (such as a real estate plug-in for WordPress), or something else entirely. It also requires knowledge of a web programming language such as PHP that can read your database and translate your properties into the Zillow Feed XML format. This isn’t a process I can describe here, since how is dependent on where you store  your data.

You’ll want to hire a developer with the proper skills. If you don’t have such a developer, we’re kind of experts at this. Give Reich Web Consulting a call for a consultation and quote on your Zillow integration.

Once you’ve built your feed, you’ll submit it to Zillow. And then after that, all of your listings will appear in Zillow exactly as you’ve provided them in the feed. Right?

Not so much.

Zillow is quirky. Continue reading for a deeper understanding of what Zillow will do once it has access to your feed.

Approach Zillow Integration with Realistic Expectations

To the changrin of realtors everywhere, Zillow listing feeds and Zillow listings are rarely a perfect match.

If you decide to integrate with Zillow by building a Zillow Listing Feed you need to approach the project with a good understanding of Zillow’s process and a realistic expectation of how your feed will influence Zillow’s search results.

A Zillow listing with problem points highlighted.

Zillow listings are rarely prefect. Realtors get particularly upset when Zillow decides they’re not the realtor, or when the ZEstimate gives customers an inaccurate idea of the property value.

Zillow Builds Listings From Multiple Sources

Zillow aggregates real estate data from a variety of sources, only one of which is your Zillow Listing Feed.

Zillow’s process for building listings is similar to how Google builds their search index.  Google uses 200 signals to rank your content. Some you can influence directly, and some you can’t. Zillow is similar.  Zillow builds listings from multiple sources including manually entered data, Zillow Listing Feeds, and a variety of third-party data sources such as MLS (Multi-Listing Service) databases.  They verify sources and eventually combine them into the final listing.

How Zillow combines the data sources is not always obvious, accurate, or within your control.

Some data, like Zillow’s ZEstimate numbers, are controlled by complex algorithms and can’t be directly changed through your Zillow Listing Feed, or by updating a property directly on Zillow.

We use proprietary automated valuation models that apply advanced algorithms to analyze our data … to generate each home’s Zestimate. (What is Zestimate?)

Let your realtors know that not every detail of their Zillow listings can be changed and help them understand what can and cannot be influenced by their Zillow Listing Feed. Failing to set this expectation can leave realtors with the mistaken impression that incorrect listing data is always the fault of a broken feed (and the programmer that built it).

Zillow’s Approval Process

Zillow specifies that it can take 4-6 weeks to process and verify your feed.

Please allow a minimum of 4 to 6 weeks before the feed is activated. (Broker Feeds FAQ)

In other words: you’ll submit your feed to Zillow and it’s likely that you won’t see your data reflected in Zillow’s listings for a month or more. Don’t panic.  But do ensure that all agents with properties listed in the feed are aware of the time gap between feed submission and seeing the feed reflected in Zillow. Otherwise you’ll be hearing a lot of complaints that you’re powerless to resolve.

After your feed is verified and your listings appear in Zillow’s search results, your feed will be periodically checked for changes.

Zillow’s Refresh Rate

At one time the Zillow’s FAQ specified that feeds would be checked for updates every 24 hours. But that information is now conspicuously absent.

Zillow specifies that feeds must be updated at least every 24 hours in order to be accepted, which seems to indicate that they plan to check it for updates on a daily basis.

Since Zillow doesn’t explicitly state how often they’ll download your feed, I decided to see for myself how often my client’s feeds were being updated.

I downloaded the raw access logs for their website and filtered the records to display only requests for the feed URL, and only those accessed by a user agent called HotPadsFeedFetcher, the name of Zillow’s feed crawler.  On this particular client the feed was being accessed at least once every day by Zillow and often twice. Good news indeed.

But regardless of the results that I see in my server logs, experience tells me you should not expect Zillow to reflect the changes in your feeds very quickly. Here’s a post on Zillow’s community bulletin board that shows the confusion around Zillow’s update schedule. The consensus seems to be that there is no consensus.

I’ve seen Zillow take days to update listings based on my feeds.  I’ve also seen it ignore some feed updates completely.  We’ll talk about what to do when that happens momentarily.

Do Certain Data Sources Get Preferential Treatment?

According to Zillow’s Listing Feed FAQ, manual property listings will override data submitted in your Zillow Listing Feed.

No active listing data that is manually created and maintained will be accepted in a feed format. (Broker Feeds FAQ)

What this seems to indicate is that Zillow won’t accept feed data for properties that have been manually created by a realtor. Beyond that Zillow doesn’t seem to provide any guidance as to whether one data source is trusted more than another.  Experience indicates that it’s a case-by-case situation.

Can Realtors Manually Update Properties in the Feed Through Zillow?

Yes and no. Properties in a Zillow Listing Feed can and should specify the name and email address of the realtor listing the property. Once the feed data has been accepted, that realtor can log into Zillow using the email address specified in the feed and manually edit property details.

But unless listings are updated in your feed, they’ll revert back the next time Zillow downloads it. If you’re going to use a Listing Feed, consider it the primary source for your listings and have your realtors avoid making manual changes that they’re not also making in the feed’s data source.

If a realtor is antsy to change a Zillow listing they can manually adjust it by logging into Zillow.  But make sure the same change is made in the feed’s data source too. A listing from a feed with have manual updates overwritten when the feed refreshes.

My Feed is Right but my Zillow Listing is Wrong. How Can I Fix it?

You’ve paid a programmer to build your Zillow Listing Feed. You’ve submitted the feed to Zillow, and waited the 4-6 weeks indicated by Zillow’s FAQ. Your listings still aren’t showing up. Or they’re showing up with incorrect data. What do you do?

The first question to ask: is your feed technically sound?

An error in the XML feed format can throw off your listings pretty easily, and support should be able to tell you if your feed is wrong. Run your feed through an XML Validator to make sure it’s proper XML. If the feed passes XML validation, the next step is to make sure that it conforms to the Zillow’s feed specfication. Unfortunately Zillow only provides the spec in PDF format. They don’t provide a validator tool or even a Document Type Definition you could use to validate your feed. So open up your feed in a text editor.  Compare the structure, the tag names, and the tag content to what Zillow expects to see in the feed.  Some common errors are:

  • misspelled or improperly-cased tags (for example, <Prince> instead of <Price>, <listings> instead of <Listings>)
  • incorrectly nested tags (for example, putting <UtilitiesIncluded> inside <Listing> instead of inside <RentalDetails>)
  • specifying incorrect values for tags (for example, using true or false instead of Yes or No for Yes/No tags like <Water>)

Do your best to verify the XML before you submit your listing so technical details don’t prevent your listings from displaying beyond the default 4-6 week period.

My Feed is Technically Accurate But My Listings Stil Aren’t Updating/Are Wrong. What Now?

Get friendly with listingsupport@zillow.com.  

Getting support can be troublesome. Zillow isn’t in the accurate property listings business. They’re in the ad space business.  So at times it seems intentional that they don’t respond promptly to emails or provide a support phone number (though you can sometimes find it if you dig hard enough). That may be true.

So once someone responds back, get a name and direct contact information for that individual, and a phone number if possible, and do your best to make them the point person for your feed. During my first Zillow integration it was incredibly difficult to contact support. But once I did I worked with a woman named Rachel, who over time was able to answer our questions and solve our problems. Shout out to Rachel! I’m not sure if she’s still at Zillow, but at a company who had a poor customer service culture, she was a beacon of light.

Even after you fix any technical glitches you’ll still find that listings have old and inaccurate data.  I’ve made dozens of calls and emails to Zillow to resolve these problems only to be told our feed is correct, it just takes time to verify and update the information.

So How Close is Close Enough?

It’s up to you to decide how correct your listings need to be.  I have some customers that are happy with the instant boost they receive from simply submitting to Zillow. I have other customers that demand perfection in their Zillow listings. Working with support to fix listing data is time-consuming.  If my code causes a listing mistake I fix my code for free. I always charge for my time when Zillow is at fault for listing errors.  It’s then up to the client to decide if it’s worth that expense to resolve.

A Tale of Two Feeds

I’d like to part with a story of two Zillow Listing Feed integrations. One was a huge success. The other was a slow, frustrating, loss for all involved.

My First Zillow Integration

A sales team spearheaded my first Zillow integration. Unfortunately they lacked the information necessary to set client expectations before the integration began.

The project turned into a tumultuous relationship between my employer, the brokerage, their realtors, and Zillow.  The brokerage hired us to redesign their website. As part of the redesign, my agency had agreed to build out the brokerage’s Zillow feed based on the listing data stored in the website.  The sales team didn’t understand Zillow’s 4-6 week time gap, their approval process, or how they build their listings. So through an error of omission, the sales team set expectations the web development team were powerless to meet.

What followed were several difficult months. The client had daily complaints from their realtors about incorrect Zillow listings. They responded with complaints to our sales team. The sales team did the only thing they knew to do, which was to make the development team investigate errors that weren’t errors at all, but a gap in the time it takes Zillow to refresh a feed, verify data, and update their listings. You can waste hours of time waiting for Zillow to say “it’s you. It’s me.”

The realtors lost faith in their brokerage. The brokerage lost faith in us. And we lost faith in Zillow. All because the integration began with unrealistic expectations.

A Recent Zillow Integration

My most recent Zillow integration was the opposite experience.  The client was new to Zillow, but I sold them on its value based on past experience.  I explained the issues with verification time, Zillow’s process, and listing accuracy prior to approval. My client approved the project will an understanding of the results they could expect.

The end results?  I’ve never had to follow-up with this client about incorrect listings.  They’re happy with the exposure that Zillow provided, and that the metaphorical No Vacancy sign still shines bright.

These two projects were technically very similar. But setting expectations made all the difference in the success of the project and the happiness of the client.

Summary

As you can see, integrating your real estate or rental website with Zillow can be a frustrating task.  But it doesn’t have to be.  Follow the suggestions that I’ve provided.  Ensure that your feed is technically correct before submitting it to Zillow.  Be patient. Don’t expect perfection from every Zillow listing.  And by all means, approach the project with appropriate expectations.  Start your Zillow integration with realistic expectations. Understand that a properly-built feed will offer your listings to millions of visitors through Zillow, Trulia, and Yahoo! Real Estate, but Zillow’s process may prevent the details from ever reaching perfection.