Technology

What’s the next big thing for Zillow Group?

9 moves that shouldn't surprise you

Eighteen months ago, Zillow was like the Chicago Cubs when the baseball team was down three games to one in the World Series.

The Trulia integration fell off the rails; the online giant blew its financial numbers; it was engaged in a face-mauling lawsuit with its chief competitor, Move; and it was just coming out of a yucky HR lawsuit that was Trumptastic, with claims about a boys’ club in its California sales center.

The Ziggnernaut was humbled.

But the Cubs came back, and so has Zillow Group.

This week’s Q3 earnings call and three previous “good news” quarters are evidence that the real estate giant is playing like a champion with record user and revenue growth. And the company is profitable, deflating naive industry critics’ claims that the Seattle firm was upside down financially.

The entity now seems poised to make some other big moves. What might they be? Here are my guesses.

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Global acquisition

Zillow Group only plays ball in the U.S. (the largest housing market in the world, yes), but growing into an Uber-like valuation requires global expansion.

Will it acquire one of the big overseas real estate portals?

These assets don’t come cheap, but starting from scratch is also expensive in the overseas portal expansion match up. Consider how Uber finally got a toehold in China through taking a 20 percent stake in the leading Chinese ridesharing company.

It’s go-it-alone plan failed after spending more than $1 billion.

User authentication

Zillow Group must be working on some blockchain-like experiments that would allow it to authenticate its leads — imagine leads being identified as real people instantly. The company must convert its zillions of eyeballs into transactions for its customers.

Picture Uber sending drivers thousands of prospects who are thinking about taking a drive to the park. Then, letting the driver sort through these leads in some crazed way to close a genuine rider.

Zillow Group must get more exact with its promise. Better conversion equals higher prices and more loyal customers.

Chat bots

Zillow offers a concierge service to groom and filter leads. But its system does not scale.

Soon, the company will deploy chat bots to do the work of actual people for screening, filtering and dissing leads that are not going to transact.

Ad ‘auction’ marketplace

Zillow is experimenting with this already, but get ready for a rollout across their properties.

Confused? Think Google AdWords — no one is calling you from Google to buy keywords. Rather, their market place is a simple DIY system for purchasing ads online, and prices fluctuate based on demand.

You bid on ads and pay the piper when your bid is accepted.

Zillow Group must work hard to get agents a return on investment, or they will drop them like a Samsung Galaxy Note 7.

Mortgage leads = buyer leads

The real estate industry has never been very good at connecting people seeking a mortgage with those looking for a home.

As Zillow Group increases its prowess authenticating leads through blockchain and bots, it can begin to create a dynamic marketplace where the buyer/borrower twains meet.

I can also imagine some mega deal between Zillow Group and Quicken Loans.

2017: The year of the seller

With OpenDoor boasting a compelling homeseller offer and shaping up to be the next mega player in online real estate, Zillow must up its game on its consumer feature set for sellers. Zestimates are interesting, but not enough for an active homeseller.

Maybe a HomeGain-like marketplace is ready again for prime time, where Zillow Group matches ready sellers with qualified agents, offering the seller a compelling reason and a more uniform way to engage both Zillow and listing agents.

A LinkedIn partnership

The Zillow Group founders are buddies with the gang at Microsoft, who just acquired LinkedIn, so a partnership is not difficult to imagine. The best professional social network is already working all sorts of real estate angles, and hordes of agents are using the service to find leads and to network.

Like it did with Facebook, Zillow Group’s best strategy may be to hitch up with a burgeoning competitor.

Speaking of partnerships, I would love to be a fly on the wall for the meetings that OpenDoor has had with Zillow Group.

What proof do I have? Everyone is meeting everyone all of the time.

Dust Upstream and every other data provider

The race for who can create the perfect listing data base (not MLSs as we know it) is on with four key competitors: Upstream, CoreLogic, Move and Zillow Group.

Upstream is embryonic and held back by too many politics. CoreLogic is a vendor with a roadmap that is kidnapped by the companies that it sells to.

Move has always had the universal advantage with built-in MLS adoption because of its sisterhood with the National Association of Realtors, but now the playing field is more even. The company must keep up with Zillow’s technology — and contend with its own MLS lovefest.

Game on: Who can buy the most expensive cocktails at exotic locations for MLS executives?

Everything that is not on this list — and more

The Trulia acquisition threw me for a loop; I was blindsided by Zillow Group’s ambitions. Not anymore.

The behemoth is cooking up stuff you and I can only imagine. Becoming a broker? No, it already is one, isn’t it? Becoming a franchise — why? Zillow has the most powerful brand in real estate already. Becoming an MLS? Don’t be fooled by semantics.

What then? I don’t know, but think big — really big, so long as the giant avoids tripping over the kryptonite of its past: arrogance.

Email Brad Inman