During a lively and at times contentious panel on the future of real estate search portals, leaders from Zillow, Trulia, and realtor.com operator Move, Inc. agreed that real estate agents will continue to be the center of transactions.
Keller Williams Director of Research Brett Smith moderated the panel, which featured Nick Bailey, senior vice president of strategic partnership at Trulia; Russ Cofano, senior vice president of industry relations at Move; Greg Schwartz, chief revenue officer for Zillow; and Jason Tang, KW’s executive director of technology.
Smith acknowledged at the outset that he would be asking questions the panelists had likely heard many times before, but they were the questions Keller Williams associates most wanted to hear the answers to.
The first and most obvious issue to address was what the proposed acquisition of Trulia by Zillow means for real estate agents and consumers. Schwartz and Bailey prefaced their comments by noting that the merger has not been approved. Schwartz then offered that Zillow saw two major benefits to a merger of the companies:
- Complementary vision (“Both companies love real estate agents and both companies see agents at the center of the transaction.”)
- The opportunity to build an innovation machine with software to rival Facebook and Google
Bailey shared his experience working at Market Leader when the company was acquired by Trulia. “That’s a great example of two companies coming together for the good of agents and consumers,” he said.
Cofano started by congratulating the two companies. “We can talk about [the merger], they can't!” he said. “We love competition and from our standpoint, it’s both a big change and not a change at all. We’re going to continue to compete reaching eyeballs, we’re going to keep focusing on consumers and we’re going to keep providing leads that close."
Asked how the proposed merger affects Keller Williams associates, Tang reassured the thousands of Mega Tech attendees. “When we first heard the news, there was apprehension,” he said. “After all, eEdge is powered by Market Leader, which was acquired by Trulia, which is being acquired by Zillow.” Associates wanted to know if these companies had access to their information. “We know that’s not true. We have agreements in place. That data is the property of our agents,” he said to applause.
Accuracy of Listings
A second topic of conversation was accuracy. Smith said there’s a lot of handwringing over accuracy, and noted to laughter that “Accuracy hasn’t kept Zillow and Trulia from being very successful.”
“When consumers are ready to buy or sell, accuracy matters,” Cofano said, referring to Move's recent advertising campaign. “They want to see what’s really on the market.”
Schwartz said Zillow is committed to improving accuracy. “When my friends and I started the company, we didn’t dream of creating the ‘almost accurate’ site,” he said. “If the merger is approved, we will focus on providing timely, accurate, up-to-date information.”
“Zillow has a history of products that seem to disintermediate the agent, like pocket listings, for sale by owners and Zestimates,” Smith said. “Help us understand your strategy.”
“This topic comes up every time we’re on stage,” Schwartz said. “You have a vibrant, essential, central role for as far as we can see. This is not the travel industry. Let’s move past this.”
With respect to Zestimates, Schwartz put them into context. “We all know the Zestimate is imperfect,” he said. “If you want an accurate appraisal, you need to work with professionals.”
My Listings, My Leads
Smith asked Bailey how Trulia can generate revenue while abiding by KW’s commitment to “My Listings, My Leads.”
“Buyers want responsiveness,” Bailey said. “Forty-six percent of online leads never receive a response. The key is that the listing agent should always be involved. They know more than anyone. The great thing about real estate is that Greg and I can fight tooth and nail on a getting a listing, and then cooperate on working with a buyer.”
Tang shared KW’s strategy to protect associates’ listings: “By collectively leveraging our agents’ listings, we get better agreements so no other listings appear.”
Cofano joined Move after its proposed Agent Match program was announced and subsequently withdrawn. “I watched from outside,” Cofano said. “It was an interesting example of competing voices in the industry. A lot of folks said we should have never stopped. We listened to what agents said. We know that we are care-holders for the REALTOR® brand. We believe you have a place and that includes being the local valuation expert.”
Search Traffic and ROI
The final topic was the steady climb in search traffic. “Search traffic keeps going up but the number of homes for sale is steady,” Smith pointed out. “How do you determine return on investment?”
“In my experience, agents don’t spend a dollar when they don’t get a return,” Bailey said. “The funnel will continue to get bigger at the top. A lot of that is attributable to mobile. In the past 10 years, it’s been all about building a cool consumer experience. In the next 10 years, it will be about building easier methods for agents.”