Technology

Listings War redux

Author
Brian Boero
No.
98
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They seem so long ago, those days when Realtor.com
paid MLS organizations $3 per listing to
prevent them from partnering with Microsoft; when Homes.com, Cyberhomes
and Homeseekers — the Trulias of their time — were in the weeds
cutting
deals with brokers; when every conference featured a "listings
shootout" panel.

 

It was called the Listings War. It made no sense. It was driven by fear. And nobody won.

Today, the race to amass listings inventory is back on. Zillow’s deal with ERA
is merely
the latest
move. This time, the ethic of web 2.0 and a greater sensitivity to
consumers will rub the rougher edges off the rhetoric, but the battle
will be just
as fierce.

Here’s our take on the field:


Realtor.com
They have the listings (with some
notable gaps) and the traffic, but have somehow managed to
simultaneously create a compromised user experience and
a poisoned well
of industry sentiment. The relationship with NAR they leveraged to
their advantage before looks like a liability now. The very
fact that so many companies are taking a run at them underscores their
failure to consolidate their leadership position.

 

Zillow
Here’s
the deal: We don’t get much of what they do right now. But – and this
is a big but – we do believe they have effectively redefined what a
real
estate listing is. Every home in the United States is a "listing" on
Zillow. This is genius, but it’s an idea that is going to take a long
time to
take hold. We
wonder
if investors’ push for a liquidity event will be too great to see it
through. In the meantime, we think they’ll struggle to gain critical
mass
on listings as brokers may perceive themselves to be but a stepping
stone to this longer-term vision.

 

Trulia

We like Trulia. They’re focused. They execute well. But is $17mm enough? Have they done too well smoothing the path for bigger, newer entrants? Their traffic is climbing, we just hope it’s fast enough.

 

Google Base

Realogy’s in. Bob Hale too.
And
that means something. But our concern that a company this large, with
such grand
designs, can ever make a category-leading vertical play remains.
There’s not enough interest, and not enough patience, to build a
coherent real
estate property. The uneven real estate efforts of eBay, Microsoft and
Yahoo! are case in point.

 

Yahoo! Real Estate

So much potential here. And Michael Yang
is a smart guy. But, as noted above, they are constrained.
Plus, they’ve got the Prudential deal to contend with, which made an
otherwise smart deal with Realogy look somewhat awkward. Nonetheless, if they
can get
buy-in from the top and actually build some of their own real estate
specific apps and content (something they have yet to do in nearly 10
years in
this space) they have a shot at category leadership.

 

Ask.com/Realestate.com

This is our dark horse. Ask’s effort
to take
on Google with a richer, semantic web-scented search
experience is intriguing. And it pairs nicely with Realestate.com, though the
latter
still has a long way to go. Barry Diller made a grand entrance
into the category three years ago. Then Web 2.0 happened and we lost interest. We shouldn’t have.

 

Craigslist

Despite its unique magic, we don’t think there’s much left to do here. A true online real estate
listings leader needs to make more than a straight classifieds play, which Craig seems unlikely to move beyond any time soon.

 

MSN Real Estate

This property has the
feel of a
studio back-lot — a familiar facade that’s eerily vacant upon close
inspection. They pipe some of the network traffic to Realtor.com, but there’s little evidence of serious interest here. For now.

 

AOL Real Estate

We were glad to see some activity here, but it’s a bit to early to tell how serious AOL is about the
category. We hear the beta launched a few weeks ago is just a first step.

 

There are surely
others out there, including a host of smaller listings sites and
horizontal
classifieds properties. But we suspect the group above will be making
the most noise in the coming months. And altogether new entrants will
no
doubt enter the fray. The siren song of real estate always reels ’em in.

 

Hold on tight!

 

Brian Boero