The battle for the soul of real estate
With the purchase of Trulia.com by rival website Zillow this past week for $3.5 billion, the industry was roiled by another round of intense navel-gazing and speculation about the cosmic meaning of such a significant merger.
With 54 million monthly unique visitors, Zillow boasts the strongest network of real estate data sites, with Trulia’s 32 million in the runner-up spot and onetime giant Realtor.com now at 24 million visitors (comScore June 2014 data). Clearly the big Z has pulled off a coup by acquiring its major competitor.
But what of it? The National Association of Realtors, which represents the residential and commercial agents throughout the United States, sent out a blast email to its membership a few days later. It emphasized that the true value a human being brings to the real estate industry is the knowledge and wisdom (not data, per se) to advise a client respectfully throughout the process. Websites, any one website, could never replace this essential ingredient.
Increasingly we see the respective sides circling each other in the arena – the “big data” websites (both well known and startups) on one side and, on the other side of the ring, the traditional brokerage/brand structures. It almost feels like a fistfight, with the real estate news outlets covering the industry egging them to “get in there and fight” by publishing almost-daily articles about the “era of big data” or “the demise of the Realtor.”
The favorite reference-with-a-wink these days is “The guys who own Zillow owned Expedia before that, and guess what happened to the travel industry”… (wink wink).
I’m not tempted to add my own prognostications in this space, believe it or not. I see plenty of room between the contestants to do business and utilize the best of both sides. One day (perhaps sooner, perhaps later) the industry will have to choose one over the other. I do find it ironic that Realtor.com’s parent company owns the main listing data syndicator that Zillow, Trulia and other data websites rely on (it’s called ListHub). That’s a real head-scratcher.
In the meantime, customers will continue to flock to the data websites for their daily fix of new listings. And they also continue to seek out a local professional when the time comes to get serious about a sale. For 2014, at least, that’s the way of the world.