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Hand it to Rich Barton and company: Zillow.com is keeping the innovations flowing. The company is probably still best known for its Zestimates—estimated market values of most of the houses in the country, whether they’re for sale or not.
But CEO Barton, President Lloyd Frink (pictured here, because I’m sick of showing Barton’s picture), and CFO and marketing veep Spencer Rascoff aren’t stopping there. Their aim is to make Zillow into the go-to place on the web for residential real estate, with lots of user-generated content.
Three of the latest innovations:
—Q&A, which allows anyone to ask a question about a house, and anyone else to answer it. Zillow is hoping this will be a big traffic generator. One hopes that this doesn’t degenerate into a contest between puffery (by the owner) and insult (by people who are trying to talk down the price or just feel mean). Zillow thinks that lots of agents will answer questions about houses, even ones they aren’t listing, to show how smart and useful they are to potential clients.
—A feature that allows anyone to point out that a house is for sale.
—Local advertising, a la Google’s AdWords Select. The price is 1 penny per viewing of an ad, with a minimum spend of $10. You can have your ad appear whenever somebody clicks on a house in a particular area. I’m betting this will garner a lot of ads from everyone from Realtors to lawn-care companies.
Rick Aristotle Munarriz of the Motley Fool wrote a smart analysis of Zillow’s strategy recently.
I spoke with Saul D. Klein, president and CEO of Real Estate Electronic Publishing Co. in San Diego, who launched listings on the Net for his client the National Association of Realtors back in 1995. He says that real estate agents need to figure out how to become experts on Zillow so they can help their clients use it to their best advantage.
In a way, every house that appears in Zillow with a “Zestimate” of its value is like a “stub” in Wikipedia—that is, an incomplete article that awaits fleshing out by members of the public. Over time, the information on each house will become richer and richer as people collaborate.
Says Klein: “We Realtors tell people that real estate is a networking business. What’s the Internet? It’s the ultimate networking tool!”
BusinessWeek editors Chris Palmeri, Prashant Gopal and Peter Coy chronicle the highs and lows of the housing and mortgage markets on their Hot Property blog. In print and online, the Hot Property team first wrote about the potential downside of lenders pushing riskier, "option ARM" mortgages and the rise in mortgage fraud back in 2005—well ahead of many other media outlets. In 2008, Hot Property bloggers finished #1 in a ranking of the world's top 100 "most powerful property people" by the British real estate website Global edge. Hot Property was named among the 25 most influential real estate blogs of 2007 by Inman News.