As for Zillow (a company with $25 million in investment thus far), my take is this: predicting real estate values is a clever and successful (and expensive!) starting point for them. When they say that their model will be entirely based on advertisements (zads?), I predict a very broad interpretation of advertisement. You could say that homevalues is all advertisements, right? What if Zillow charged $10 (initially) to list a home and $200 to make it a “featured home” – those would be advertisements, right? Same goes for advertising agents (a la this very promising site). All they’re saying is, for now, they aren’t going to take on RedFin for the 0.5% of the market that wants to buy a house entirely unaided.
It’s a clever model because consumers will go to the site to check the value of their home before they sell and to check the estimated value of a home when they buy (even for a laugh if it’s wrong) – this was money very well spent and is worth 10 times more than advertising. If (when) Zillow starts showing listings on their site, that seller will go to an agent to list it (until they find one through Zillow) and they’ll say “lets list it on Zillow for $10,” or, “I’ll list it on Zillow for $10 if you don’t want to.” Zillow will not make it in the long run without houses that are for sale on the site. According to Rich Barton, CEO and founder, working with the approximately 900 MLS in the United States would be “a Herculean task” that they’re not willing to take on. So they get the eyeballs that every MLS-alternative has been clamoring for now, and they get the revenues in the future. See? Clever.
I think Keith Castonguay (perhaps melodramatically) hit the nail on the head, but he was wrong about the eyeballs: they will come from features and word of mouth, not primarily advertising. He’s also wrong about the absolute nature of Zillow; just as there are competitors for online travel booking, there will be competitors for this. Don’t think Zillow’s undertaking is without risk; they have to get a lot of listings (and features) on there before someone with an alternate model gets computer generated house values next to MLS listings. It’s a pain to search for property when only half of what’s available shows up. If Zillow prices listings too high or people just don’t sign up fast enough, other giants will stomp on it.
I also expect Zillow to make money from other ventures too – mortgage ads, home staging recommendations, what-have-you.