Inman interviewed Tapan Bhat, Move Inc.’s chief product officer, at Inman headquarters to get his take on realtor.com’s development strategy, who realtor.com serves, and why he has no interest in catching up to Zillow.

  • Move Inc. is set to roll out changes to three realtor.com products in the near future.
  • Move's chief product officer Tapan Bhat emphasizes testing products in different markets before rolling them out nationwide.
  • Bhat says the three groups in the real estate ecosystem -- agents, brokers, and consumers -- are not all being served well by other players.

EMERYVILLE, California — In the year since Tapan Bhat joined Move Inc. as its chief product officer, the realtor.com operator has taken a more test-heavy approach to rolling out new products.

In July, realtor.com started testing multiple-agent lead forms with seven brokerages, turning its usual approach to lead forms — displaying no agent at all — upside down. After nine months of testing, those “choice inquiry” lead forms will be launching nationwide “soon,” the company said.

In the fall, realtor.com flipped the switch on its new MLS data-powered agent profiles in two markets and later rolled them out across the country with ratings and reviews from third-party sources.

In the next few weeks, Move will add an “insights” panel to its realtor.com agent dashboard in all markets to let agents know how many times their profile has been viewed, where that traffic is coming from, and how many leads their profile has generated.

Tapan Bhat

Tapan Bhat

And sometime this month, realtor.com will launch a “Connections for Sellers” ad product in a subset of small test markets nationwide.

“Typically, the way we do our tests we start with a few markets and then we expand,” Bhat told Inman.

“With our profiles, for example, we started with Austin [Texas] and Rhode Island. We gradually rolled them out over the country relatively quickly. We’ve [now] got over 800,000 profiles getting over a million pageviews a month.”

Inman interviewed Bhat at Inman headquarters last week to get his take on realtor.com’s development strategy, who realtor.com serves, and why he has no interest in catching up to Zillow.

What brought him to Move

I’ve been in the consumer Internet sector for a long time. At Intuit, I was the first product manager for Quicken.com way back in the ’90s — the first online finance site. Then I was at Adobe running consumer imaging and video. At Yahoo, I ran a big chunk of the company.

I’d actually talked to Move way back when I had my own startup about doing some kind of potential thing together. The News Corp. thing happened, and they reached out to me and I said, “OK, I’ll come and join you guys” because I’ve been fascinated with this company for awhile.

Part of the reason why I joined was they had the best data, clearly.

Room for improvement at Move

The company seemed to optimize for the industry, for the agents and the brokers. When I looked at it, I was saying, “You know what? These parts of it are great,” but when I looked at what this company was doing on the user experience side, on the consumer side, I said, “There are tons of opportunities for improvement.” I could see a lot of potential here.

It’s very tempting when you look at this industry to say, “It’s all about the agents.” “It’s all about brokers.” “It’s all about consumers.”

The fact is, what we are is an ecosystem. It’s kind of like an eBay [or] these marketplaces where you have to get buyers and sellers. You have to get the consumer dynamic working really well. You have to get the agent and broker dynamic working really well.

To be able to say, “Oh, no, we’re only focused on agents,” “We’re only focused on top-performing agents” or “We’re only focused on consumers,” that does the industry a disservice.

I looked at it and said, “This is an ecosystem where the players who are in it right now — and I’m not going to go through individual people or things — they are not focused on all three participants in the ecosystem. They’re focused on one, two, but there isn’t anyone really focusing on all three yet: agents, brokers and consumers. They’re focused on doing agents and consumers and not a whole lot of attention to brokers.

When I looked at it, I was like, “I think I can do something with this.” I was really excited.

Changing Move’s development philosophy

We’ve been doing a shitload of stuff over the last year. Constantly running around like crazy. Revamping the team of people we’ve brought in.

But one of the big changes is we’ve changed the development philosophy a little bit. Part of what we’ve really had to do is take that ecosystem thinking and infuse it through everything we do.

We spent a lot of effort on understanding the motivations of all the groups. For example, this company always did research, but how do you tie the research together and make it really actionable?

Both with agents and consumers, the other part of it is making sure that everyone sees value in what you’re doing and also really partnering with the industry participants such as agents and brokers in the way we develop our products, both formally and informally.

Why realtor.com is now displaying agents

[With the choice inquiry lead forms] the consumer problem we found is people were hesitant to submit leads. They didn’t know who those things were going to. Secondly, they weren’t getting responded back by many of them.

And the third piece, they want to know “Who is this person? Tell me about them. I want a local expert.”

We actually now link to their profiles. People with profiles who tell you who they are get like 10X number of leads as the other people.

[Previously the lead form didn’t have any agent.] It just said, “Enter your question and we will route it to the right person.” There were reasons: brokers wanted flexibility, blah, blah, blah.

But what we’ve found now is the test-participating brokers are getting 38 percent more buy-side transactions because of this as opposed to people who are in the control group.

Sometimes Move is perceived as a laggard when it comes to products or playing catch-up to Zillow. What would you say to that?

One, I said that we have lots of areas for opportunity. Second, I have absolutely no interest in catching up with Zillow. They can do whatever they want to do. We are focused on building the best consumer experience and the best agent experience and the best broker experience. That helps everyone in this.

They have their model. They can do what they want. I’m focused on delivering the most value to someone who is looking for a house, either to buy or sell, and for the agent and broker looking to help those consumers. I’m very confident that we will be able to have some really cool stuff.

How does Move’s relationship with the National Association of Realtors affect product development?

It doesn’t really affect product development. It helps us in some ways because we collaborate on some things. For example, the [agent] profiles that we did, they published a bunch of best practices [and] we worked with them some on that very closely. They’re great partners for us and it’s a very productive relationship.

But we’ve got to look at two different parts of the business. On the consumer side, we did a lot of research on that and worked with NAR and said, “Hey guys, here are the things that are most important to consumer in finding an agent.” They’d done a bunch of work on the agent side and we actually married the two and we came up with what I think is the best Find a Realtor experience.

I wouldn’t say we are “laggard” in that respect.

What does a chief product officer do?

Define the vision for what does our product experience become. It is a function of seeing what consumer needs are, what agent needs are, how the industry is evolving. How can we anticipate and meet people’s needs in that area and develop some pretty awesome products to meet those needs.

Delight is what we aim for. We aim for consumer delight. The home purchase is the biggest thing any of us will ever buy and something to aspire to. It’s a stressful process, and yet when you find that house you are so excited and you are so scared at the same time. For us to be able to help that person … it’s huge for us.

What are your goals for this year?

Create great products. I want to delight the consumer [and] I want to make our agents and brokers thrilled with working with us.

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for clarity, readability and length.

Email Andrea V. Brambila.

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