• Yahoo could readily shift to a lead-generation machine, much like realtor.com and Zillow have become.
  • You can imagine a variety of financial-related companies, including real estate, plugging into Yahoo for leads.
Dan Gilbert: Chairman and Founder, Quicken Loans Inc.

Dan Gilbert

Imagine if all-purpose guru Dan Gilbert of Quicken (online lender) and mega-rich ethical capitalist Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway (owns HomeServices) are the winning bidders for Yahoo. It was reported over the weekend that they have teamed up and are on the hunt.

For the first time in history, real estate-related companies would own their own consumer distribution channel.

(Footnote: Yes, the National Association of Realtors did own a big chunk of realtor.com, but it is a trade association — and brokers, agents and franchises were a creek or two away away from owning their own stream of leads.)

Consider: Yahoo, although second fiddle to Google, remains a mighty portal. Currently, Zillow powers Yahoo’s real estate channel — but anything can change.

Purportedly, Gilbert is interested in Yahoo because of the verticals like its popular finance channel — which are being poorly monetized, according to some cyber ad experts.

It’s ad-supported today, but Yahoo could readily shift to a lead-generation machine, much like realtor.com and Zillow have become. The portals don’t want to admit it, but that is what they are.

Lead generators promise a more exacting result than ad traffickers — more qualified customers that are less random and therefore more expensive for agents to buy.

The tools that Zillow is building, for example, are more like Lending Tree and Yelp than Google and Yahoo.

Whatever. Back to my point.

Warren Buffett

Warren Buffett

One way for the industry to cut its dependence on the two big portals is to have its own distribution platform — or at least a third alternative. The Broker Public Portal is one answer, but that one is tricky — building a consumer brand from scratch is more difficult than keeping people sober in New York City on Halloween or St Patrick’s Day.

You can imagine a variety of financial-related companies, including real estate, plugging into Yahoo for leads as the mega portal builds out conversion and customer management tools — like Zillow and realtor.com are doing.

Farfetched? Maybe, but I have seen some weirder company reboots.

Would this be some kind of game-changer for the entire industry?

Probably not, but it does mean that another savvy capitalist — in this case, Gilbert and his Quicken gang (smart guys) — would own a distribution channel. Think Rupert Murdoch and News Corp. Generally, it would be good for the industry to have another smart and well-capitalized person around the table of online real estate.

More competition for Zillow and realtor.com is good, considering the two can raise prices at will unless they have more competition.

So in the end, let’s hope the mortgage guy and the financial genius get their hands on Yahoo. The alternative may be a cable company, God forbid.

Too big to fail — and big enough to monopolize mortgage services

Sometimes, I read something that just bugs the heck out of me. This little item did that: In its quarterly Mortgage Lender Sentiment Survey, Fannie Mae’s Economic & Strategic Research Group found that 44 percent of respondents, particularly larger lenders, said that the TILA-RESPA Integrated Disclosure (TRID) rule gave them a competitive advantage.

“One of the things I hear is that even though lenders are adjusting to TRID, it is miserable and costly. A different view of the entire mortgage loan life cycle, process and workflows, and service providers is needed to successfully implement TRID,” said Mickey Vandenberg, SVP and national escrow administrator, WFG National Title Insurance Company.

When I did a real estate purchase last year, it closed just as TRID was enacted, and my escrow company had not been deemed TRID-compliant — and it almost squirreled my deal. Then I learned that only the “big guys” had the chops to become TRID-compliant because of the inordinate amount of legal, technical and business process work necessary to make the grade.

I figured someone would solve that problem, but apparently not.

Maybe consolidation is a good thing for the back-end. My escrow officer preferred a land line for our communication (he even had an admin — how old-school is that?), which meant voicemail hell.

I think his last computer upgrade was buying a PC with a second disk drive.


Email Brad Inman

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