Special Guest Post: James Dwiggins on Zillow/Trulia

The following was posted on Facebook by a friend, James Dwiggins, earlier today. James is not only a very smart guy — also one of the tallest guys in the industry — he’s also the CEO of Nexthome in San Francisco. Because this is long, detailed, and worthy of saving past what Facebook thinks it ought to be, I repost it as a special Guest Blog, with his full permission.

The original thread may be found here. I’ve taken the liberty of minor formatting for legibility but have not otherwise edited this. The image/photo to which the comments were attached is at the top.

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I’ve been traveling the past week so I haven’t been able to comment on the Zillow/Trulia buyout and I know many of you have asked for my thoughts.

Let’s set the stage first: Trulia was founded May 1st, 2004 and according to CrunchBase, they received 32.8M in venture funding before going public. Zillow was founded in January 2005 and according to CrunchBase, they received 92.5M in venture funding before going public. Both companies set out to change the way consumers search for real estate online and make money off the advertising revenue.

According to NAR, in 2001, homebuyers used Realtors 69% of the time when purchasing homes. In 2013, that number is now 88% of the time. While homebuyers continue to search more and more on non-real estate company sites, ironically they are also using Realtors more as well. My take: finding a home online is the easy part and constitutes about 5% of the entire home buying process.

The hard part begins once you want to make an offer and actually purchase it, which consumers understand to some degree. If they didn’t, those numbers would not be increasing like they have and lots of alternative models that past several years that tried connecting buyers and sellers online would have succeeded. In fact, almost all of those companies have failed. I’ve attached the actual chart showing the increase in Realtor usage from the 2013 NAR Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers.

With regards to everyone worrying about Trulia and Zillow becoming a real estate company or franchise. We all need to understand that this is not their model whatsoever or for their shareholders sake, shouldn’t be.

At the end of Q1 2014, Zillow had 52,968 premier agent subscribers. At the end of Q1 2014, Trulia had 66,700 premier agent subscribers. As everyone knows, their business model depends highly on having real-time listing data on their sites which is provided by brokerages and agents who in many cases are paying for premier placement.

If they became a real estate company, you could almost guarantee two things: 1.) 52,968 & 66,700 premier agents subscribers would likely stop advertising on these sites, destroying their revenue, and eventually the companies as well… and 2.) If Zillow and Trulia were real estate companies, they wouldn’t want competing agents advertising on their sites either. That would be allowing competitors to take away buyers and sellers from their own agents which makes no sense. It’s exactly why every real estate company and franchise doesn’t allow its competitors to advertise on their sites now. That would be counter productive to making money.

In other words, I can’t possibly see how Zillow and Trulia becoming a real estate company would make any sense whatsoever so we should stop worrying about this. If we as an industry are scared of this idea, then we should be paying closer attention to Redfin who is trying to make this kind of model work to some degree. They are not the first and they certainly won’t be the last.

Are Zillow and Trulia dominating the online real estate space and will they continue to grow? The short answer is yes… until either “organized real estate” starts listening to consumer needs and builds something they actually want and will use, or another outside entity creates it. Lots of companies create game-changers and then lose the throne. Think AOL, Netscape, Internet Explorer, IBM. It can be done and it will happen again including our space.

In closing, this is just two major online portals consolidating their businesses in a market that is fast becoming oversaturated as it is. They have just over 110,000 combined subscribers in an industry that has 200,000 potential subscribers at best. They’ll combine resources, streamline operations – (job consolidation) and hopefully become profitable. Please feel free to chime in if you see something different. RobKeith,ImranNobuAaron, I would love to get your take on this as well.

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I will add my thoughts in the comments.

-rsh

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