The elephant in the room with Zillow’s acquisition of Trulia is mortgages

Do the math and see why this deal makes so much sense

In the articles I’ve read dissecting the events of the last few days, I’ve been surprised to find virtually no reference to what I believe is a key part of the value proposition of a combined Zillow and Trulia: the monetization of products and services that precede, are needed for, or follow the purchase of a home.

The elephant in the room with all these services is mortgages. Here is the math:

Elephant in the room image via Shutterstock.
Elephant in the room image via Shutterstock.

Around 90 percent of all residential purchases will require a mortgage. That mortgage will average around $250,000, and lenders will pay anywhere from $600 to $1,000 to acquire a mortgage customer. There will be around 2.5 million mortgages for home purchases in any given year, making the potential revenue anywhere from $1.5 billion to $2.5 billion every year.

Now, when Zillow is reporting 83 million unique visits from desktop and mobile users in June, and Trulia is reporting 54 million, it’s not much of a jump to estimate what percentage of mortgage referrals might be possible with all that traffic.

Last year Zillow earned about $21 million (around 10 percent of its revenue) from mortgage referrals. To put that number in perspective, Chase alone spends around $2.5 billion (yes, billion) on marketing each year.

Acquiring mortgage customers as a lender is tough and expensive

If you have a captive audience of people who can purchase a home only by taking out a mortgage and they give you enough personal financial information to determine if they can qualify for a loan, then your company is positioned quite well to provide value to the consumer and make a lot of money in the process.

As an added bonus for “Zulia,” if the customer does get through the process it only further locks them into using that site and provides key insights into their willingness and capacity to buy. All of this, of course, improves the quality of the lead once they are ready to talk to an agent.

I’ve spent long enough in the mortgage industry to know that an online preapproval has the potential to cause a raft of challenges to the agent on the ground. The well-established agent/lender relationship is testament to the value agents can provide their clients.

I have no doubts that Zillow is working on that. Navigating the mortgage approval process is up there with the property sale process in terms of complexity. I’m guessing that’s why Trulia was just as happy not to go it alone.

Regardless, as property portals, there is one thing they both understand well:

Agents and brokers might not be able to get paid by a lender, but Zulia sure can.

Disclaimer. I am the CEO of Planwise, a technology company that has financial tools and mortgage pricing that are integrated into property search websites.

Vincent Turner is the CEO at Planwise, a San Francisco-based technology startup that helps people make better financial decisions around big decisions like buying a property.


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