In the past six months, Zillow has faced one firestorm after another as its stock steadily leaked value. Less than a year ago, the stock peaked at $160 a share (around the time it acquired Trulia); today, it stands at $86. The clatter around the innovative Seattle media company was deafening.

Rumor talk

In the past six months, Zillow has faced one firestorm after another as its stock steadily leaked value. Less than a year ago, the stock peaked at $160 a share (around the time it acquired Trulia); today, it stands at $86. The clatter around the innovative Seattle media company was deafening.

One insider called it being caught up in the “swirl.”

Recently, the online realty giant has been a tad more quiet, according to my unscientific chatter meter. That could mean a few things:

  1. Nothing.
  2. Something big is cooking.
  3. The company is managing the “swirl” better.
  4. No news = no noise, and Z continues to execute well as its consumer traffic grows.

Of course, door No. 2 sparks my curiosity.

The unsubstantiated rumor earlier in the week was that someone big was going to acquire Zillow. A likely candidate was Google, according to the whispers.

I heard one naive industry observer spout that Google allegedly had no real estate strategy. Wrong! The search giant collects hundreds of millions of dollars (my vague estimate) from real estate-related companies — including Zillow — that show off their listings, rentals, services and personalities through search ads.

However, G and Z are aligned in interesting ways. Both rely on search to earn their living; both are laser-focused on the consumer; both depend on industry advertising; and both tap the blue color palate in their branding (hahaha).

Apple and Facebook have the financial chops to buy Zillow, but the fit is a stretch. Another media company? It would need a hefty market cap to ingest Z. Comcast, maybe, but too weird for my brain to grok.

My nose tells me something is marinating at Z, and it may or may not be another “Oh my gosh, are you kidding!”

In the last year, the online realty industry has been sprouting surprises, like the upstate New York prison break, and every day the news delivers a bolt from the blue. The scoop coming, if any, is probably Zillow doing more gobbling than being gobbled.

(Footnote: Zillow’s super savvy CEO Spencer Rascoff was on CNBC this morning … so much for my “tad more quiet” observation.)

Serious talk

On Tuesday, three young men and three young women were tragically killed when a balcony collapsed in a Berkeley, California, apartment building.

The building owner is “Granite Library Gardens, an investment fund managed by New York-based BlackRock. BlackRock leases the property to Greystar, a Virginia company that owns more than 400,000 residences nationwide,” according the Los Angeles Times.

That is a mouthful, reminding me of the secondary mortgage market when third-rate loans were sold again and again to empty names of big-shot investment groups who were hard to pin down for accountability in the subprime mortgage debacle.

Last month, I stayed in a hotel in Italy that was owned by a family who lived on the property. A few days later, I stayed in another hotel owned by a half-hip, awards-busting U.S. hotel chain. The family-owned inn gets a 10 rating on my 1-10 scale, the corporate joint a 4.2. at best, despite its sky-high rates and fancy-dancy goodies that were as thin as the service.

Plenty of slumlords live near their properties. But the danger of so many buildings being owned by REITs and other faraway investors is that the level of care can die with distance, despite the contingent liability that goes with shoddy maintenance and neglect.

PR talk

Ten years ago, I often received calls from industry folks seeking consultants who could help with marketing, branding, tech strategy and social media — a big gap in the market. Today, firms like 1000watt Consulting, have filled the hole with a raft of quality services to help companies stay in touch with the future — a blue ocean of opportunity for savvy consulting companies.

A gap in the market today is for companies seeking PR at a time when digital and social media have jolted the business and when the old-school news pitches can be tired and pathetic. Solo operators like Dave Platter, Roger Cruzen and Kevin Hawkins have been burning up the residential real estate publicity tracks with integrity for decades.

Several firms in the mortgage PR business plod away, such as Bill Campbell in New York (disclosure: we hired Bill to help us with publicity around a study Inman published on the nexus between mortgage and real estate services).

Now, a next-generation PR hound is dropping his digital business card: Los Angeles social media maven, guy around town, former realtor.commie Audie Chamberlain. A lanky, persistent (sometimes annoying) digital hack who is well connected and dogs it for his clients, which include an L.A. broker, a real estate marketing agency, a real estate tech vendor and a nonprofit homeless group, among others.

Proof this is a PR guy: The name of his new firm is Lion & Orb — a moniker that fits the rather quirky Audie personality. I have no clue what it means and was sheepish about asking.

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Wow, that is the first time in my 30 years as a journalist I have given PR to PR firms. There are so many bad ones — an 80-20 rule like Realtors; actually, more like 90-10.

Smelly talk

From my Los Angeles NextDoor account: “PLEASE DON’T DEPOSIT FULL DOG POOP BAGS IN EMPTY BARRELS ON TRASH REMOVAL DAY.”

FYI: I don’t have a dog, and remember: Most gossip is no better than a barrel of dog poop, and often smells worse.

Onward!

Email Brad Inman.

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