Category Archives: Technology

Dear Realogy: What’s Stopping You?

Panel-NARLeadership

This is a brief note that I would have put on Facebook or something, except that such things get lost in the tides of time and Facebook’s rapidly scrolling updates. I want to be able to refer back to this at some later point.

At the recent NAR Leadership Summit, there was a panel of major brokerages and franchises. All of the panelists apparently expressed dismay at the number of MLS’s there are in the United States. Then Alex Perriello (my old boss, back in my CBC days) suggested that consolidation happen through acquisition.

From the Realtor.org story on the event:

Talk of a common platform quickly segued into a discussion of how many MLSs each of the large brokers had to join—and each of the panelists, at some point in the discussion, expressed support for MLS consolidation.

“It certainly makes sense for MLSs to start consolidating,” Peltier said. He suggested several smaller MLSs from the same region could partner to create “a consumer site that does not pick winners and losers,” referring potential clients back to the listing broker’s site.

Perriello caused a stir in the audience when he suggested that MLS consolidation should happen “through acquisition,” with larger MLSs taking over smaller ones that aren’t able to adapt.

“It is an exit strategy for some of them,” he said. “People won’t voluntarily say, ‘Well I think we’ll just close up shop.’”

Perriello reminded brokers that they can leverage a history of cooperation that real estate professionals in other countries can only dream of.

“The majority of brokers around the world do not have the benefits of MLS,” he said. “Competitors don’t even talk to each other much less cooperate with each other.”

Well, as someone who has actually spent time and energy and taken major professional risks to drive MLS consolidation via acquisition, only to run into the brick wall that is MLS governance in the 21st century, I have a suggestion in the form of a question.

What’s stopping Realogy from making offers to MLS systems today?

In Q2/2014, Realogy posted $1.5 billion in net revenues, with $269 million in EBITDA and $68 million in net income. Realogy also posted $198 million in free cash flow in the three months from April through June. It’s also a public company, who can offer stock in any acquisition.

I’ve heard Alex and others from Realogy complain about the MLS, about how many there are, about the need to consolidate, etc. etc. for a few years now. So here’s my suggestion.

Start buying the MLS yourself.

You have the cash. You have stock to offer in any deal, so the seller (usually an Association) has upside to look forward to. You’re part of the industry. You have deep talent in managing businesses. Go make an offer, especially in those large metropolitan areas where the NRT is active.

Start with MRIS in the DC area, which is a for-profit entity owned by twenty-some Associations. Offer them $150 million in cash and another $150 million in restricted Realogy stock so that those shareholder Associations can enjoy the upside of Realogy’s stock price rising.

Why not? What’s stopping you?

To those who say that the MLS can’t be owned by a brokerage, since its competitors would flee… there are three major MLS systems I know of (and others likely exist) that are broker-owned: MLS PIN in the Northeast, FMLS in Atlanta, GA, and NWMLS in the Seattle area. All are broker-owned, and the competitors have not fled the system. But if competition is going to be an issue, that’s easy to solve as well.

Offer to sell to brokerages in the affected MLS area shares in a new company that owns the MLS. So Realogy invests $300 million (in the hypo above), forms RealogyMLS to own MRIS, then sells $200 million worth of shares in RealogyMLS to other brokerages. Done.

If you need someone with actual experience in trying to do such a thing, I’ll be waiting by the phone. Or not, as the likelihood of actual action is probably in the neighborhood of the Jets winning the Superbowl this season with Geno Smith at quarterback.

The fact that this seems fanciful should alert us all to just why MLS consolidation remains a favorite talking point, but not an actual action point. We might all wonder why that is.

-rsh

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.

==============POST BEGINS HERE================

10497383_10152447836884003_2096272870529158559_o

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.

================END POST==============

I will add my thoughts in the comments.

-rsh

As the Real Estate World Turns

There is something about Zillow that brings out the melodramatic in the real estate commentariat, both of the professional variety and often more hilariously, of the amateur variety. The big bombshell from yesterday, of Zillow acquiring Trulia, has brought out some of the finest performances in a drama and in a comedy.

It’s an odd thing to see both massive over-reaction and huge under-reaction. But such is life in the funhouse that is the American real estate industry.

I’d like to look at a few and just… well… comment, I guess. I don’t know if I have much useful stuff to add, except snarky maybe. Though to be honest, sometimes, snark can be useful!

Continue reading

Zillow Acquires Trulia; I Speak With Greg Schwartz & Paul Levine

140725172135-zillow-trulia-buyout-620xa

By now, every reader of this blog knows that one of the biggest deals in recent memory (if not ever) just went down this morning:

Zillow, Inc. (NASDAQ: Z) today announced that it has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire Trulia, Inc. (NYSE: TRLA) for $3.5 billion in a stock-for-stock transaction. The Boards of Directors of both companies have approved the transaction, which is expected to close in 2015.

It appears the rumors were in fact true. The reaction so far this morning might be characterized as stunned confusion, leavened with the expected amount of zaterade. For a variety of reasons, including my business relationship with Trulia, I haven’t commented on the rumors. But now that it’s a done deal, and I’ve spoken with both Greg Schwartz, Chief Revenue Officer of Zillow, and Paul Levine, Chief Operating Officer of Trulia, about the deal, I think it’s worth discussing at least a little bit.

At this early stage, however, everything that isn’t directly stated is conjecture. They two companies announced the acquisition; it hasn’t gone through due diligence, the normal amount of litigation, and the long integration process. I’ll do what I can to provide actual information, and then speculate away.

Continue reading

The Five Unspeakables from the California Association of REALTORS Event

IMAG0262

The above is my view right now, as I’m in the Lakes of the Ozarks for an event tomorrow and Friday, so this post is heavily influenced by the fact that I’m sitting at a bar with a tropical drink, listening to Jimmy Buffet. So if it seems a bit of a disconnected ramble… blame Margaritaville.

But I did get some requests to discuss the event on Monday in San Jose for the California Association of REALTORS. I love this event, because it brings together leadership of organized real estate to look at serious strategic issues in the industry. CAR likes to push the thinking beyond business as usual, and I’m honored to participate.

Steve Murray of REALTrends was spectacular. If you’ve never heard him speak, make arrangements to do so. If you haven’t read his new book Gamechangers, make arrangements to do so. He’s far more radical than you might think for a stalwart of the industry, and he sees almost all of the big issues confronting us. I’m not going to go into much detail of his presentation, since you can get most of it from the book, and I don’t want to misrepresent inadvertently. Instead, let’s talk briefly about my presentation.

I actually went into the event with a different presentation in mind, but based on what I had heard that morning, made the command decision to talk about the five things that we in the industry talk about privately, acknowledge as problems, but don’t really discuss in polite company. So here’s the gist of the Five Unspeakables.

Continue reading