The Zillow-Trulia Merger & Your Real Estate Business

Last week, Zillow revealed publicly its intent to buy Trulia for $3.5 billion. Obviously this news (and the rumors we’ve been hearing for some time) are hot topics of conversation in the real estate world. The consolidation will allegedly take place whilst still maintaining the distinct identities of both Zillow and Trulia. Only time will tell. But what will a Zillow-Trulia merger mean for your real estate business?

Last week, Zillow revealed publicly its intent to buy Trulia for $3.5 billion. Obviously this news (and the rumors we’ve been hearing for some time) are hot topics of conversation in the real estate world. The consolidation will allegedly take place whilst still maintaining the distinct identities of both Zillow and Trulia. Only time will tell. But what will the Zillow-Trulia merger mean for your real estate business?

On July 28th, Zillow announced via a press release that “it has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire Trulia, Inc. … in a stock-for-stock transaction. The Boards of Directors of both companies have approved the transaction, which is expected to close in 2015.”

Spencer Rascoff, CEO of Zillow, stated: “Consumers love using Zillow and Trulia to find vital information about homes and connect with the best local real estate professionals. Both companies have been enormously successful in creating compelling consumer brands and deep industry partnerships, but it’s still early days in the world of real estate advertising on mobile and Web. This is a tremendous opportunity to combine our resources and achieve even more impressive innovation that will benefit consumers and the real estate industry.”

Pete Flint, Trulia’s CEO, then commented: “Trulia and Zillow have a shared mission and vision of empowering consumers while helping real estate agents, brokerages and franchisors benefit from technological innovation. By working together, we will be able to create even more value for home buyers, sellers, and renters, as well as create a robust marketing platform that will help our industry partners connect with potential clients and grow their businesses even more efficiently. Our two companies share complementary employee cultures with innovative, consumer-first philosophies and a deep commitment to create the best products and services for our industry partners.”

By the (self-reported) numbers:
• Zillow reported a record 83 million unique users across mobile and Web in June 2014.
• Trulia reported a record 54 million monthly unique users across its sites and mobile apps in June 2014.
• Approximately half of Trulia.com’s monthly visitors do not visit Zillow.com
• Approximately two-thirds of Zillow.com’s monthly visitors across all devices do not use Trulia.com.
• “Maintaining the two distinct consumer brands will allow the combined company to continue to offer differentiated products and user experiences, attract more users and maximize the distribution of free content across multiple platforms, apps and channels.”

The Zillow-Trulia merger might not create the “pricing power” juggernaut that many people fear. We’ve been reading comments by agents and brokers all over the web, and the fact is that many MLS boards and independent agents are starting to pull their listings – they simply don’t want to have to pay to advertise next to their own listings. There are also frequent rumblings about the data and Zestimates on Zillow being inaccurate.

Citron Research cites a deal struck between Realogy and Zillow/Trulia. Realogy—the world’s largest real estate agency, comprising Coldwell Banker, Sotheby’s, ERA, Century 21 and Better Homes—secured a lucrative deal for its agents that “prohibits all other agencies from advertising on their listings” at a cost of less than 95% what any other agency pays. What’s more, Realogy is aggressively pursuing their own online offering that will compete head-to-head with Zillow-Trulia in the consumer-focused online real estate space, with a new product expected sometime in 2015.

“We believe that there is a space in there that we can compete in. It will have features like Zillow and Trulia. It will have features that you wouldn’t put on a real estate brokerage website. An example of that would be Zestimate that Zillow uses. There are certain features that we believe we can effectively do and be able to cast a net outcome, a consumer-oriented facing website arena and be able to capture leads, reviewing [scrub then] as I described, and then put them in the hands of our sales associates so we create the business opportunity,” NRT CEO and President Bruce Zipf is quoted as saying on May 9th during a Realogy Investor Day Q&A.

Rascoff, Zillow’s CEO, has been quoted as saying, “It ought to be quite clear to a listing agent or a broker that it behooves their seller to have their listing displayed on Zillow and Trulia or sites that Zillow powers.”

Indeed, Zillow powers some of the internet’s major property search engines, and together with Trulia will indeed have a massive reach. But for how long, with competitors like Realogy making such significant strides, technologically and on behalf of its agents at the bargaining table? And how long before Keller Williams, Remax, Berkshire Hathaway, or other agencies demand and negotiate the same deals Zillow-Trulia have granted Realogy?

Many real estate professionals feel a loss of power in the face of the deal, which cements a growing resentment at having to pay Zillow to advertise their listings. Online forums reveal many of these agents calling for boycotts, while still others agree there isn’t another viable option.

Inman News contributing writer Joseph Rand writes in his Op-ed “Why Zulia doesn’t mean checkmate,” that: “The bottom line is that Zillow needs listings more than listings need Zillow. Which means that Zillow needs the people (brokers and agents) who take those listings more than they need Zillow.” I’d venture that he is bang on with that assessment.

Where does your business fit in? Do you use Zillow to obtain leads? One thing I can say with certainty is that this isn’t over, and we’ll be talking about the Zillow-Trulia merger for some time to come. How do you feel about all of this? I’d love to hear your thoughts from the proverbial trenches.

By Jess Maria

Jessica Maria is an avid business and lifestyle writer on subjects ranging from technology to real estate to immigration. Her work has appeared in magazines in the United States, New Zealand, Australia, the UK and the UAE. She lives in California’s wine country, with her husband and two young sons.

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