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Zillow Buys Trulia, But What Does that Mean for Realtors? MAR Monday Memo 08/04/14

Good morning MAR members!

Another quick memo for this week, the dog days of summer give us the quiet season for real estate…and news in general.

I’m back from vacation, re-entry was painful, but I survived. I love the summer here in Marin, as many folks are also out on vacation and thus it’s easy to get around, easy to get a reservation for dinner, easy to find parking. Well, easy to get around as long as you don’t get caught in one of our endless road construction projects around the county…everywhere you look, some road is dug up with a flagman…I guess I can stop calling it the quiet season and call it the road construction season!

While I was away, the big news was Zillow buying Trulia for $3.5 BILLION. Say that again…$3.5 BILLION. For a website.

The whole thing has created an immense amount of chatter in our industry. When I was at the Inman SF Connect conference several weeks ago, everywhere I turned the term “Big 3” came up as it related to consumer-facing real estate websites. Conventional wisdom was the “Big 3” dominated and everyone else in the far distance as far as relevance (Big 3=Zillow, Trula and Move/ For a while, it was the possibility of Trulia buying Move. I guess that’s not happening…so now it’s the BIG 1 (Zulia?), the smaller 2 (Move/, and everyone else.

I find myself remarkably nonplussed by this development.

Yes, there are a lot of competing views on the acquisition. Given that it’s summer vacation, people need to talk about something. The best summation of the news, for me, came from Cameron Platt. Cameron is a recent past-president of the Oakland Association of REALTORS® and was last year’s CAR Chairman of the statewide YPN (Young Professionals Network). This year, he sits on the CAR Executive Committee. Last week Cameron posted on Facebook what he described as the best summation he’d heard about the Zillow/Trulia deal: “Let me get this straight, one website just acquired another website, and that means that I can’t sell real estate anymore?”


Yes, there is much industry chatter out there. Brad Inman, Publisher of Inman News, described the move as “checkmate” in his article about the merger. Click here to read. Brad Inman proclaimed that Zillow was going to become the next Amazon, with everyone else as a rounding error. There are lots of competing views on Inman’s website, summarized here.

Some think this is huge news, others think it’s not news at all. Steve Tobak of Valleybeat, who writes on technology business, was decidedly uninspired by the deal. Click here to read.

I think our very own MAR member Mark McLaughlin summed it up best in his piece on the acquisition. Click here.

His analysis of the comparisons of Zillow to Amazon clarify one thing: Zillow isn’t becoming Amazon anytime soon, and to do so they would need to take over all the revenue of the entire real estate industry. Not likely.

Now, I agree that Zillow and Trulia are incredibly attractive websites that our customers visit with great regularity. But when you look at the numbers…$3.5 billion!…for a one-third of a combined company with $340M in annual sales…and neither of which currently makes any money yet…you wonder how the numbers will add up. Is it really a $10B company?

At the Inman SF Connect conference a few weeks ago, I heard Trulia CEO Pete Flint tell the audience that they were going to do for agents what they had done for consumers…he was going to provide us with the same fantastic level of tools and features that consumers enjoy. Really? It seems to me that to find a return on that $3.5 billion investment, Zulia is going to need to find new and creative ways to squeeze more money out of the agent community. Don’t forget, we are the largest source of revenue for these companies…for their increasingly marginal-quality leads. Those marginal-quality leads are about to get more expensive, most likely. Zulia’s shareholders will demand it.

OK, enough on that. Let’s focus on selling some houses.