Nine years ago, Zillow Group’s chief business officer, Greg Schwartz, traveled from New York to Seattle to interview for a new job. The portal was still in its infancy. He landed at 10:30 p.m. in Seattle. Zillow co-founder, Rich Barton, insisted on immediately conducting the hiring interview in the lobby of Schwartz’s hotel for the next three hours. Schwartz valiantly stayed awake ’til 4 a.m. Eastern time and was competent enough to be hired.

  • Zillow Group chief business officer, Greg Schwartz, believes Zillow has never given better value for money to advertisers than it offers today.
  • Zillow Group is interested in building up the rental platform side of its business because it is complementary to its "for sale" platform.

Nine years ago, Zillow Group’s chief business officer, Greg Schwartz, traveled from New York to Seattle to interview for a new job. The portal was still in its infancy.

He landed at 10:30 p.m. in Seattle. Zillow co-founder, Rich Barton, insisted on immediately conducting the hiring interview in the lobby of Schwartz’s hotel for the next three hours. Schwartz valiantly stayed awake ’til 4 a.m. Eastern time and was competent enough to be hired.

A headshot of Greg Schwartz

Greg Schwartz

He probably wondered what kind of high-pressure environment he was joining, but on his first day of work, all reservations were put aside.

He arrived to a mob of people in the Zillow offices cheering on co-founder Lloyd Frink, who was playing a ping-pong game against a staff member celebrating a birthday.

Frink was in bare feet, jeans and a freebie Oracle T-shirt, trying his utmost to win, as always.

Schwartz was struck by his casual dress — a complete contrast from his job at CNNMoney in New York, where he was regularly upbraided for not wearing a Hermes tie.

“I knew I had arrived — I was looking to be inspired, and it’s been an amazing experience coming on nine years,” he said.

Making friends

Schwartz, known for his self-deprecating style, said the first real estate agent he met who influenced him was Prudential president Earl Lee.

“Earl was the first broker I ever met,” he said. “I was trying not to let on that I wasn’t sure what a broker was. I owned up and built a fantastic relationship with him.”

Bob Hale, CEO and president of the Houston Association of Realtors, meanwhile, was the first MLS head who Schwartz met. Schwartz remembers Hale doing a great job of explaining the association between MLSs and the rest of the real estate industry.

Schwartz acknowledges that there is still work to be done to make agents comfortable with Zillow and its intentions.

He mentions a rewarding case when he was literally taken to the bosom of a real estate agent five years ago. He was in Austin, Texas, speaking at a conference, and afterward an agent picked him up off his feet in a bear hug.

Wary — and not a natural hugger — Schwartz wasn’t sure what to expect next.

The agent, who was ex-military, explained he had been in the business for two years. After a wobbly start, he started putting $200 a month on his credit card to pay for what he called “ZIP code advertising” on Zillow.

That $200 a month expanded to $400 and then $600. “In the second year of business, he had done $200,000 in GCI from his Zillow investment,” said Schwartz.
“That’s a customer for life.” He decided the hug was worth it.

Schwartz’s tenure

Schwartz’s responsibility at Zillow has included leading the sales, advertising and industry relations teams, as well as driving product strategy for Zillow’s advertising products and software tools for real estate professionals.

When he first joined Zillow, Schwartz had trouble trying to figure out Zillow’s business model. He described his first ad campaign involving agents’ faces on buses and sandwich boards as “a fantastically poor idea.”

As Zillow celebrates its 10th anniversary, it is a different story.

“We have never given better value to advertisers than today. We provide the highest-converting leads in the business,” he said.

“If we can drive GCI (gross commission income), brokers, teams and agents stick with us. If we don’t, the advertisers flee,” he said.

“Folks stick with us because they make money, and there are now 100,000 Premier Agents. It took us nine years to get to 100,000 advertisers,” he said.

From rental to sales

In his new position, Schwartz is spending less time on the day-to-day business and more time on working on emerging businesses the group has acquired — such as New York real estate website StreetEasy, its mortgage business and the rental platform acquisition, HotPads. Zillow is also in the process of buying New York rental platform Naked Apartments.

The company has high hopes for leading consumers from its rental platforms to its for sale ones.

“We are putting a terrific amount into our rental business. We think it is quite complementary with our ‘for sale’ business,” said Schwartz. “It’s a natural progression. We are trying to amalgamate these experiences,” said Schwartz.

‘I am an Internet entrepreneur’

With a few years under his belt with the real estate industry, how does Schwartz describe himself now?

“I am an Internet entrepreneur — I have spent my whole career, really, working in Internet companies.”

There is a family real estate connection. “My Dad was a land developer in Canada — he has real estate in his blood — but I’m an Internet guy,” said Schwartz.

In August last year, Schwartz was promoted to chief business officer from chief revenue officer, an indication of the company’s growth to more than 2,000 employees via the Trulia purchase.

So how has that changed his daily life? “I will look a little further out. I’ll be looking at next year, rather than next week — that’s what Spencer (Rascoff) is pushing me to do a little more,” said the senior executive.

Zillow, Trulia, Zillow Group

The Trulia acquisition, meanwhile, is settling down, said Schwartz. “We have gotten to a place of stability and growth now,” he said. Schwartz worked with Trulia president, Paul Levine, at Yahoo, and rates him and his team highly.

While certain functions at Zillow and Trulia are being pooled for efficiency reasons, others — like new product and marketing teams — are being kept separate and in healthy competition with each other, said Schwartz.

Zillow appeals to the consumer who’s ready to pull the trigger and wants every ounce of data at their fingertips, said Schwartz. Trulia is a more finely-tuned interface user experience, which has traditionally done better with first-time homebuyers, he said.

The world is changing

The real estate portal business is going through some changes.

“Emerging Internet consumers are ever more demanding. They expect to have an experience on Zillow, then work with a Realtor in a way that is as efficient and timely as anything else on the Internet,” said Schwartz.

These consumers are driving the rise of teams to aggregate agents so they can perform to their expectations, he said.

Schwartz is probably the Zillow Group executive who is most often cross-examined by agents about Zillow’s vision further down the track.

“Across the country, we are saying we really are successful and pleased with the business model we have,” said Schwartz.

“In Florida last week, four or five thoughtful brokers asked me if we have designs on being something different, but we have no designs on changing anything,” he said.

“I wonder when that question is going to twilight — at our 20th anniversary?”

The mission and purpose of the Zillow Group is to delight the consumer and to be the best marketplace for brokers, teams and agents, he said.

“It’s pretty simple,” he said. “And I’m working with people who love working here — I don’t think that’s known. It’s a genuine group of friends that run the business.

“The next ten years on, we will be here together, running Zillow Group,” he added.

As for the future for real estate professionals, he said: “I think agents, teams and brokers will still be central to the transaction..”

Email Gill South.

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