After adding a third agent advertiser slot to the query box on listing detail pages this year, Trulia could conceivably add a fourth in 2015, CEO Pete Flint told investors on the firm’s third-quarter earnings call.
Flint said that the firm completed the rollout of its third agent ad slot in the third quarter to create more ad inventory.
“One of the primary drivers of our subscriber growth in 2014 has been our inventory expansion program,” Flint said. “The inventory expansion has enabled us to take advantage of pent-up demand from agents in many of our high-demand ZIP codes across the country over the past year.”
Trulia and its Market Leader subsidiary ended the third quarter with 77,900 agent subscribers, representing a net increase of 18,200 agents so far in 2014.
Agents sometimes refer to the ads for buyer’s agents that appear on many Zillow and Trulia listing detail pages as the “three-headed monster,” because the pictures and contact information of one to three agent advertisers appear in a box where consumers can submit requests for more information about a listing.
Zillow, Trulia and realtor.com all make money selling consumers’ contact information as “leads” to buyer’s agents, although the lead forms that appear on realtor.com listings are unbranded and don’t display the names and photos of agents who pay to receive leads. Homes not for sale in Zillow and Trulia’s databases also include agent ads.
When the sites have more agents who want to buy access to leads than they have that access to sell, they have to turn some business away.
Franchisors, listing brokers and agents can pay to brand or “enhance” their listings on the sites, and prevent ads and lead forms for buyer’s agents from appearing next to their listings. When the websites enter into deals with big brokerages or franchisors that prevent them from running ads for buyer’s agents next to their listings, that can reduce the number of ads, or inventory, the companies can sell.
Adding a fourth agent advertiser slot to Trulia’s query box next year “could make sense for us,” Flint told a JP Morgan analyst who asked whether such a move might be in the cards. (See the 29-minute mark of the earnings call.)
Flint said Trulia is also considering switching from a share-of-market ad model to an impression-based one next year to create more inventory. Zillow, entered into an agreement to buy Trulia in July, made that switch in 2012. The move allowed Zillow to sell more ads as it grew consumer traffic.
Like Zillow and realtor.com, Trulia sells ads to agents by ZIP code. While Zillow sells ads by number of monthly impressions and realtor.com charges by number of leads delivered a month, Trulia sells a percentage of impressions in a certain ZIP code per month.
If Trulia did decide to roll out a fourth ad slot, some listing detail pages would have five agents to the right of the photo well. When Trulia has the data, it includes listing agents for free in the second slot in the agent contact list on their listings. The other three agents that show up in the list are paid subscribers.
It’s not clear yet how Trulia’s model will change, if at all, when Zillow brings it under its wing as expected sometime in the next few months. Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff has said that Trulia will continue to operate as a separate brand under Zillow. Flint told investors on the earnings call that Trulia expects the deal to close in the first half of next year.
Trulia’s third quarter
Unique visits from mobile devices were up 89 percent from a year ago, representing 54 percent of Trulia’s traffic in the third quarter — the first time that mobile visitors have accounted for the majority of the site’s traffic for a full quarter, Flint said on the earnings call.
Trulia, with Market Leader, saw a net addition of 3,900 agent subscribers in the third quarter over the second quarter total, a notable quarter-over-quarter deceleration of agent additions. Between the first and second quarter, Trulia reported a net addition of approximately 7,000 agents.
Zillow saw its own slowdown in agent subscriber growth in the second quarter, which accompanied its announcement that it is not targeting all agents, but is focusing on top producers.
Bradley Safalow, who covers Zillow and Trulia as founder and CEO of the Wall Street firm PAA Research, sees the slowdown in agent customers as a sign that Zillow and Trulia’s potential for bringing on new agents and growing revenue to meet their large market caps is limited.