ZipRealty Inc. posted a $13.3 million loss in 2008, even as agents handled more closings and the company achieved a 10th consecutive year of revenue growth.
The Emeryville, Calif.-based brokerage reported that agents handled 17,156 transactions — a 23 percent increase from 2007. But net revenue per transaction fell 15 percent, to $6,145, limiting net revenue to growth to a more modest 3.5 percent.
In a conference call with investors Thursday, ZipRealty President and Chief Executive Officer Pat Lashinsky said the company’s strong balance sheet leaves it well positioned for future growth, and that he sees signs of a bottom forming in housing markets in the second half of 2009 or early 2010.
ZipRealty saw a dramatic increase in business in the final three months of the year — the 4,335 transactions closed represented a 42 percent increase from the same period a year ago.
Lower revenue per transaction limited year-over-year growth in net revenue to 18 percent, but the the $2.7 million loss for the final quarter of the year was an improvement over the $5.9 million loss posted at the tail end of 2007.
Volume spikes the company has seen in markets like California show an "increased meeting of minds between buyers and sellers," particularly for low- to medium-priced homes, Lashinsky said. In some California markets, he said, homes are drawing multiple offers.
While states that saw volatile price swings like Florida, Arizona and Nevada are "working their way to stabilization," there’s "not the same level of price capitulation as on the West Coast," he also said.
After expanding into a total of 16 new markets in 2006 and 2007, ZipRealty entered only two additional markets last year — Long Island, N.Y., and Hartford, Conn. This year, once the company opens for business in Portland, Ore., in April, Lashinsky said it may expand into one additional market, which would give ZipRealty a presence in 37 markets.
ZipRealty added 636 agents in 2008 to reach a total of 2,816, but agent headcount grew by only two employees during the fourth quarter. Lashinsky said agent productivity grew as a result not only of better recruitment and training, but "a willingness to part with agents who haven’t contributed."
While the pace of expansion has slowed, Lashinsky said the company will continue to invest in technology and people in order to increase market share, agent efficiency and customer satisfaction in markets it already serves. Chief Financial Officer Lanny Baker said the company expects single-digit or "low double-digit" revenue growth in 2009.
ZipRealty claims a 40 percent year-over-year increase in visitors to its Web site, who Lashinsky said are being converted to customers "in record numbers." A Web site redesign that will allow keyword searches of listing details like "granite countertops" is set to debut this month, he said.
As a midsize company, Lashinsky said ZipRealty is poised to continue gaining market share as larger competitors retrench and smaller companies struggle to come up with the capital needed to survive the downturn.
ZipRealty ended the year with $49.4 million of cash, cash equivalents and short-term investments, and no long-term debt.
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