Spencer Rascoff is chief operating officer at Zillow, a real estate valuation, search, marketing and information Web site that consistently ranks among the most-visited online real estate destinations.
Rascoff will speak during a session at the upcoming Real Estate Connect conference in New York City titled, "Should Your MLS Be in Front of Consumers?" and will also attend a "Meet the Leaders" networking session at the conference.
He answered a set of questions posed by Inman News:
What do you see happening in the real estate market in 2009?
Unfortunately, given the continued economic downturn and the accompanying job losses I think the velocity of home sales and price of sold homes will continue to decline in the majority of markets. Some areas have already declined so much though that the incremental decline will be minimal.
Still, I don’t see a recovery in any major declining cities in 2009. The one wildcard is whether Treasury adopts a plan to lower mortgage rates by force. If mortgage rates drop significantly — either through government action or through market forces — then perhaps we’ll start to see bottoming out and markets start to rebound in late 2009.
What advice do you have to help real estate agents and brokers get through this market?
It’s more important than ever to use technology to improve your business — given the market and given changing home-shopper habits — as most buyers are doing research online first. In 2009 you need to make yourself and your listings stand out on the Web. Specifically, you need to embrace listings distribution: make sure that your listings and your persona are everywhere that clients spend time online.
What sparked the idea to start your company?
We started Zillow almost four years ago with a simple premise: empower the consumer with loads of real estate information, and empower real estate professionals with unprecedented marketing opportunities. We haven’t wavered from those basic premises one iota.
What’s been your biggest challenge in running the business?
Zillow’s biggest challenge is prioritizing initiatives. We have more ideas than we have time or people to pursue. It’s a good problem to have, of course.
What new features are in the pipeline? Can you share any future plans, goals?
We have plans to improve the usefulness (of Zillow’s Professional Directory) to consumers and agents. In addition, more and more MLSs are sending Zillow listings, which is great for their member brokers and their agents.
What lesson did you learn in the last year?
Your company should raise money when you don’t need any because that’s when it will be available to you. We talk a lot about "saving for a rainy day." Well, guess what? It’s pouring outside right now.
What would your second career choice be and why?
My second career choice would be to stay at home with my kids.
What is the biggest problem in the real estate market today, and how would you fix it?
The biggest problem in the real estate industry today is clearly overleveraged homeowners. That’s the root of the housing crisis and the current economic downturn. Solving it is a Herculean task that will require a lot of different things, but one aspect is requiring better disclosure and explanations of mortgage terms to buyers and refinancers.
(Why has the government standardized nutritional information on the back of our food packages but it’s almost impossible to figure out the terms of your mortgage?)
What do you most enjoy about working in the real estate industry?
I like working in the real estate industry because of its entrepreneurial culture. Brokers and agents are, at the end of the day, in business for themselves. So they’re very self-starting and open-minded. It’s fun working in an industry where people are willing to experiment with ideas that they think will improve their own fortune.
Tell us something we don’t already know about you …
I was a chess champion as a kid. I led our elementary school team to the national title and I was the fourth-highest-ranked chess player under 12 (at age 9) in the U.S. That was a long time ago though!
Hear Zillow’s Spencer Rascoff speak during the Real Estate Connect conference in New York City. Click here for more details.
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