The path forward is becoming more clear. Zillow is rapidly expanding their ibuying enterprise, and because they are so well-known, they have a shot at a major disruption.
In the video below, Mike describes how homeowners who used to rely on their zestimate for a home valuation are now getting a written quote from ibuyers – for free. In Phoenix, the center of the ibuying universe, 40% of homeowners get a quote from an ibuyer before selling their home.
In effect, ibuying is the new zestimate, and more tangible because if you like the number, you could sell your house instantly.
Sure, Zillow is losing money, but their first-year volume is remarkable:
Since launching Zillow Offers in April 2018, more than 170,000 homeowners have requested an offer through the program. In the second quarter alone, there were 70,000 requests.
Zillow reported that it made $1,578 on each home it sold in the second quarter before interest expenses are calculated. After interest expenses, the company, on average, lost $2,916 per home. Barton believes that, eventually, the company will earn 400-500 basis points of return before interest expenses on homes it sells.
It’s an improvement, however, over the company’s first-quarter numbers, where it lost, on average, $3,268 per home it sold, after interest expenses.
“Over time, our unit economics should benefit more from other adjacent services, like mortgage origination, title and escrow,” Barton said in a letter to shareholders. “We expect to be able to leverage these services to support Zillow Offers and improve the consumer’s overall transaction experience, while also generating cost savings for Zillow and our customers.”
They are the only real estate company that has been willing to spend $100 million per year in advertising, and it’s what made them who they are today. It won’t matter if they charge 7% to 13% for their service, all that matters is that they advertise it – which may not be that costly.
Because many or most homeowners have saved their home on Zillow (giving up their email address), they will get regular solicitations to sell their house to Zillow.
Look how easy it is – one click and you get a cash offer…….just like 500+ others near you:
If you have 18 minutes to spare, Mike’s presentation below is a full examination:
Mike mentions that he thinks the companies who position themselves at the start of the consumer journey will win. Stay tuned for a Compass announcement shortly!
Sure, they offer convenience, but the reason it works is because it’s so vague – sellers will never know the money difference between selling to an ibuyer or an open-market sale. The trendy-hip, sell-with-a-click factor could lure sellers into giving up an extra 5% or so without ever realizing it.
(pay 3% more in ibuyer fees and then sell for less than open-market sale)
Hat tip to reader ‘just some guy’ for sending in the article:
When Dora Cagnetto decided to sell her townhouse in Phoenix this year, a real estate agent told her that she could get around $375,000 for it. Maybe $390,000. But she would have to replace the carpet and paint the walls. At 68 years old and recently retired, she thought it sounded like a lot of work.
One evening, after the carpet had been ripped up, Ms. Cagnetto saw an online ad for Zillow Offers. Zillow, better known for telling people what their homes are worth, would buy her home itself. She uploaded some photos and got back an offer: $382,000, minus a fee for Zillow. No repair work or open houses necessary. And Zillow paid cash.
Ms. Cagnetto estimated she effectively paid $10,000 to $15,000 for the privilege of turning over to Zillow the job of replacing the carpet and the bathroom countertops and doing other light repair work.
“My son, he’s like, ‘Well, oh, I could have done that,’ and maybe he would have saved a little money,” Ms. Cagnetto said. “But to me it was like, I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to hire somebody to do that, I don’t want to put carpeting in, I don’t want to paint these walls.”
The Phoenix area has become a hub of the iBuying phenomenon. With its relatively new housing stock and miles of buff-colored subdivisions, the market is affordable, uniform in look and steadily growing.
Whether iBuying works outside markets like Phoenix and Las Vegas is an open question. The model has yet to break into the Northeast, where the housing stock is older, the weather drives up maintenance costs and there are fewer of the kind of cookie-cutter subdivisions that the industry’s algorithms assess best. Prices are higher, too, making mistakes costlier for the companies.
A good article with evidence here by Ryan discussing the accuracy of the zestimates, and how Zillow calculates their success rate based on their updated zestimates once a property sells.
His comment section is full of examples where Zillow adjusts their zestimate to the list price once a property comes on the market, which is a practice Spencer denied on twitter below when discussing their prize winner for best algorithm improvement:
Ryan’s comment section will make you think that it is still an on-going practice for zestimates:
While the old tradition of broker cooperation via the MLS is slowly eroding, there is an opening for others to intrude. Two quotes seen this week in different articles:
Founder and CEO Rich Barton said in a radio interview on April 1st that he sees Zillow Offers as an evolution of Zestimates. In fact, at some point in the future, a Zestimate and a cash offer may be the same thing, he said in an appearance on National Public Radio.
“Ideally, I would like to have the Zestimate be a live offer on every home in the country,” said Barton, adding, “It will take quite some time to get there.”
Glenn Kelman, CEO of Redfin, a real-estate brokerage that has also got into the home-flipping business, said he still believes the endgame for Opendoor, as well as his own company, is to get buyers to purchase homes without necessarily using an agent.
“A large number of these companies, Redfin included, are going to be selling direct to consumers,” he said.
Will consumers trust them enough to buy and sell houses based on their fabricated estimates of value, without a realtor on their side? All that needs to happen is for these ibuyer companies to overwhelm the public with advertising, and convince you that their value estimates are close enough.
The advertising is the key. Consumers don’t have much real estate experience and education, and it’s not easy finding helpful resources (how many real estate blogs are there?). They just want to click and go!
It will be like TrueCar, where they advertise that their valuation system gives you an advantage, and to go down to one of their dealers to buy the car for that amount. TrueCar has sold over 2 million vehicles!
It’s out in the open now – Zillow intends to change the game. An excerpt from an interview with Rich Barton where he admits Zillow used agents to get big, and is now deciding how to use that power:
An excerpt from I-News:
Barton also indicated there could be major changes coming to the way that Zillow deals with agents. Thus far, Zillow has derived profits from charging agents to appear on the site, with the idea being that would-be homebuyers will find those agents and end up working with them.
But that’s changing.
Barton told Stratechery that he wants to move away from a subscription based model and toward “a success-based compensation scheme that is around what happens when consumers actually close a transaction.” That will delay Zillow’s revenue but should whittle down the number or people the company is working with and improve the consumer experience.
“It enables us to move from a system of huge floors of people dialing for dollars for advertisers, which is what’s happening right now, to a group of people where we are actually interviewing and selecting partners we think can do the best job for our collective consumers,” Barton said. “It’s a complete mindset switch in the way we are thinking about things.”
The comment appears to reference Zillow’s Premier Broker Flex Pricing program, which debuted last year.
J.D. Ross, another cofounder at Opendoor, picked up on Barton’s comments and opined that Zillow appears to be acknowledging it will ultimately displace real estate agents.
A Zillow spokesperson noted that Ross’ comment was merely his interpretation and pointed to another part of the interview where Barton discussed the importance of agents for the company’s future business. Barton described Offers as a “fast lane,” but added that most consumers will still choose a more conventional “right-hand lane.”
“So we see both of these lanes as critical because we want to serve everybody, we want to get everybody to a better place,” Barton said, referring to both Offers and the company’s agent-based business.
Mike has been the leading resource on the ibuyer industry, and he sees it the same way I do – Zillow wants (and needs) to commit fully to their ibuyer program because advertising income from agents is starting to lag, which could be a major shift in the real-estate-selling business. He is having a seminar for those who might be interested.
Zillow, the world’s largest real estate portal in terms of revenue, recently underwent a major shift in strategy. In effect, its advertising revenue stream has run out of runway; while still a billion-dollar business, growth has stopped. Thus, it is reorienting towards iBuying and its Zillow Offers program.
In the world of grand strategy, the move is a rare, bet-the-company moment focused on one thing: the battle for the start of the consumer journey. Designed as a maneuver to simultaneously disarm competitors and strengthen its already powerful position, it’s either a masterstroke or a mistake. But in either case, Zillow is clearly “all in” on the gold rush that is iBuying.
Zillow has set lofty goals: buying 60,000 houses per year and $20 billion in revenue. The stock price is up and the company is valued $2 billion higher than it was pre-announcement. This is big.
This Friday I’ll run through all of the major points from this move, complete with charts, data, and insights. I’ll look at the numbers that matter, the metrics to keep an eye on, and what it all means for the larger ecosystem. I’ll also answer your questions! Read more details and register.
Who should attend the webinar?
Zillow’s competitors and potential competitors (portals and iBuyers).
Real estate incumbents looking to formulate their iBuyer strategy.
International real estate portals looking to learn from Zillow’s move.
Investors interested in iBuying and what the market impact will be.
Start-ups with a desire to understand the new landscape, and how they fit in.
When the announcement was first made two weeks ago, Zillow stock went from 34 to 44, but it is back down to 38 today (LINK).
Buying 60,000 houses a year isn’t the game-changer by itself. What matters is what their nationwide advertising does to the seller’s psyche – and will agents keep spending big money to get connected to the sellers who want more $$ than Zillow is willing to pay.
Zillow must believe that flipping homes is their future:
On average, a customer asks Zillow for an offer on their home every five minutes, said Barton, signaling there’s ample consumer demand for a simplified home-selling process.
“It’s like advertising free beer at a college party,” he said.
They’re finding out that flipping isn’t as easy as it looks though. In addition, realtors aren’t spending like they used to:
In August, the company said that it was taking longer than anticipated to sell the homes it acquires. Three months later, it reported that some advertising customers were pulling their business because they disliked changes to the platform. Shares in the company, which peaked at $65.21 in June, plummeted to a low of $27 in November.
Agents may have told Zillow that they were pulling their business because of changes in the platform, but that won’t be the end of it. As the number of home sales decline nationally, realtors will slow or stop spending money – starting with the very expensive Zillow ads.
Zillow still says they love realtors, but we’ll see about that. Once their advertising income declines, and the homes they bought start piling up, it is inevitable that they will think they don’t need agents any more.
Hat tip to SM for sending in this detailed article about Zillow’s contest to improve the zestimate. No surprise that the winner was a group of analyzers who blended the algorithms to move the needle a couple of ticks. If they would have asked me, I’d say score each agent, and factor in +/- 5% based on who is selling the house – your agent makes that much of a difference!
In Seattle, the typical Zestimate is off by 4.7 percent, which amounts to $35,000 on the median home. Data scientists from around the world competed to improve the algorithm and expect to get the median error rate down to about 4 percent.
On Wednesday, the Seattle-based company awarded a $1 million prize to the winners of a public contest to improve its algorithm. The winning team, three guys from Raleigh, Toronto and Morocco who teamed up despite never having met in person, came up with a way to beat Zillow’s own data scientists to a better estimate.
The contest started a year and a half ago with 3,800 teams from 91 countries and was narrowed down to 100 finalists last year. The teams were given seven years’ worth of data on a sample of millions of homes across the country, and were tested to see how closely their estimated values for each home matched up with the actual sale prices of homes that sold in the ensuing months.
Jordan Meyer, the American on the winning team, reduced his workload at his day job as CTO of an analytics company and poured about six hours a day into the contest, communicating with his teammates, Moroccan computer science professor Chahhou Mohamed and Canadian artificial intelligence startup founder Nima Shahbazi, on the messaging application Slack.
Meyer started by finding every data source he could — the exact longitude and latitude of houses could be used to determine the proximity to streets and therefore determine noise near the house. Slight differences in distance from a body of water could influence a home price by thousands of dollars. In the end each home had hundreds of different data points.
But the strategy that set them apart was trying wildly different algorithms and merging the ones that worked together to get the best blended average.
“It was extremely hard,” Meyer said in an interview. He called the process “relentless experimentation” and echoed Shahbazi, who said in a statement: “For every idea that worked, there were a hundred that didn’t work. But we kept going.”
Zillow has slowly improved its Zestimate from a median error rate of 14 percent when it started in 2006 to 5.7 percent when the contest began in mid-2017. It’s now down to 4.5 percent nationally (it’s higher in some cities and lower in others), and once the winners’ tweaks to the algorithm are incorporated, the company expects the error rate to dip to about 4 percent.
Everyone is getting into the home-buying business. First it was the well-funded disrupters like OpenDoor and Offerpad, and then Zillow, Redfin, Knock and others jumped in – which caused Coldwell Banker, Keller Williams to also announce their programs (plus Compass and others won’t be far behind).
What will the real estate world be like if sellers have multiple choices of cash buyers? Which ibuyer will have the advantage? Zillow is already in the driver’s seat, and they include the additional service of offering a third-party realtor’s opinion too.
From Mike DelPrete – an excerpt:
Zillow announced its Zillow Offers program in Phoenix earlier this year, and started buying houses in May. It is heavily promoting the program across its site. While looking in the Phoenix market, a prominent message is displayed on all active for sale listings.
In its latest quarterly results, Zillow revealed how effective the promotion was: “Since launch, we have received more than 10,000 offer requests from potential sellers.” And: “…in Phoenix, for example, we are seeing about 15% of all dollar value that’s being sold in Phoenix any given month.” That translates to about 1,600 offer requests per month.
Opendoor is on record saying that more than “one in two sellers who received an Opendoor offer” will accept it. It’s currently buying around 300 houses per month in Phoenix, so that’s about 600 offers made per month.
There’s a difference between an offer being requested, and an offer being made. What’s clear, though, is that Zillow is generating a massive amount of offer requests each month, at volumes that rival (and exceed) Opendoor.
Most importantly, Zillow’s leads are coming with zero incremental customer acquisition cost, while Opendoor and other iBuyers must advertise directly to consumers to generate leads.
They aren’t in San Diego yet, but it’s coming. Read Mike’s full article here:
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