Technology

Rupert Murdoch: ‘What the hell does Zillow mean?’

Media titan seeks to allay real estate agents' concerns at Real Estate Connect

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NEW YORK — Some real estate tech watchers have suggested that realtor.com is due for a name change, arguing that the label doesn’t deliver enough marketing oomph.

But Rupert Murdoch, executive chairman of News Corp., the media conglomerate that now owns realtor.com operator Move Inc., made it clear that he thinks talk about a name change is a bunch of baloney.

“What the hell does Zillow mean?” Murdoch said when asked whether “realtor.com” remains relevant. “We know what Realtor means.”

The statement epitomized the tenor of Murdoch’s much-anticipated keynote address at Real Estate Connect, which was brimming with kind words for real estate agents and seemed tailored to put to rest any fears they might have about News Corp.’s plans for realtor.com.

Zillow has not hesitated to play on those fears. Before the deal had even closed, Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff told Mad Money’s Jim Cramer that with the News Corp. acquisition, realtor.com is now “rupert.com.”

“I think what it means is realtor.com is no longer the Realtor’s website,” Rascoff said at the time. The acquisition would makes real estate brokers and agents more likely to want to partner directly with Zillow.

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This week at Real Estate Connect, Rascoff has continued to suggest that News Corp.’s acquisition of Move is a game changer for realtor.com.

“It drives me nuts when I hear Realtors say, ‘Oh, that’s my website,’ and MLSs say, ‘Oh, it’s our website,” Rascoff told an audience at Connect Wednesday. “No, it’s not. It’s Rupert Murdoch’s website.”

Murdoch said realtor.com’s close relationship with real estate agents and the National Association of Realtors was one of the primary reasons News Corp. bought Move instead of Zillow or Trulia. The quality of realtor.com’s audience and the accuracy of its listings were also unique draws, he said.

Murdoch sought to assure real estate agents that Move will keep their interests at heart in its push to regain ground on Zillow and Trulia.

“There’s no digital substitute for the human touch,” he said, citing real estate agent’s local expertise, vendor networks and bargaining skills as crucial benefits to homebuyers and sellers.

Murdoch said realtor.com had absolutely no intention of replacing real estate agents. He said Move is not going to adopt the business model of REA, an Australian listing portal majority owned by News Corp., which charges real estate agents to list properties.

“We understand this is a different business model, absolutely,” Murdoch said of the cooperative brokerage model in place in the U.S.

To grow realtor.com, Murdoch said Move will first focus on building a better product that is “absolutely friendlier to agents.”

Then the plan is to “get out and market it hard,” he said.

That effort will involve promoting realtor.com across News Corp.’s sprawling network of media properties, often by having the publications “refer” to realtor.com.