Ahead of its second quarter 2018 earnings call, Zillow on Monday announced an agreement to acquire Mortgage Lenders of America, a national direct-to-consumer online mortgage lender, a move aimed at making it easier for people to buy homes through Zillow’s nascent Zillow Offers online home sales and purchasing platform. Terms of the deal, including the acquisition price, were not immediately disclosed.
“The goal here is to create an experience when a buyer comes to buy a home through Zillow Offers, where that transaction happens more quickly and more seamlessly,” Errol Samuelson, the chief industry development officer at Zillow, told Inman.
Zillow Offers launched in April 2018 as an expansion of the Seattle tech giant’s existing Zillow Instant Offers program, which let prospective homesellers in select markets visit Zillow’s namesake website to request an instant cash offer on their property from Zillow-approved investors and startup companies. In the expanded version of the program, Zillow began buying and listing homes for sale itself in Phoenix, Arizona, and Las Vegas, Nevada, using real estate agents who paid for Zillow advertising through its Premier Agent program to represent it in the transactions. The move placed Zillow into direct competition with other all-cash, instant homebuying services such as Knock, Offerpad, Opendoor and Redfin.
In the intervening four months, Zillow Offers has purchased at least 19 homes in Phoenix and sold nine, and the company has said it will launch Zillow Offers in Atlanta and Denver later this year. However, Zillow has also had to lower the price on at least one of the homes it purchased.
Zillow’s addition of Mortgage Lenders of America to the program aims to make it easier for Zillow to provide financing to prospective buyers visiting Zillow’s website, especially those interested in the properties Zillow is selling.
“Certainly from the buyers’ point of view, a transaction that happens with fewer surprises and more quickly is very desirable,” added Samuelson, who estimated the deal would close in the fourth quarter of 2018. “But it’s also important to us in terms of our business — if you think about a business where you’re buying a home and turning it around and selling it — it’s really critical that you can keep that whole time down to a min.”
The Kansas-based Mortgage Lenders of America is a client through Zillow’s current advertising product for lenders, which will continue to operate even with the acquisition.
In 2017, Mortgage Lenders of America reported it originated 4,400 mortgage loans through the platform. Zillow said it intends to continue to support and grow the advertising platform for lenders, which saw users submit 23 million loan information requests through its many consumer brands.
As Zillow develops technology around the integration of Mortgage Lenders of America, there’s an opportunity to partner with other brokerage partners that have their own mortgage affiliates, Samuelson said.
“We think that the tools we’re developing for Zillow Offers, some of those tools we can license to brokerages so they can help improve their own capture rate with their own mortgage businesses,” Samuelson said.
Mortgage Lenders of America — which operates with roughly 300 employees out of its Overland Park, Kansas, headquarters — will continue its current line of business, offering mortgages to consumers and participating in Zillow’s mortgage marketplace, according to a release.
“At Mortgage Lenders of America, we are focused on helping home buyers make informed, confident decisions about their mortgage selection,” said Philip Kneibert, president of Mortgage Lenders of America, in a release.
“We are excited to be joining Zillow Group and look forward to working together to develop an innovative new mortgage experience to better serve buyers.”
After the acquisition closes, Kneibert will continue to stay on as general manager of Mortgage Lenders of America, reporting to Greg Schwartz, president of media and marketplaces at Zillow Group.
The acquisition is just the latest part of Zillow’s apparent strategy to move beyond its role as a web search portal and advertising marketplace, moving it further downstream, with more services to directly facilitate real estate transactions. Just last week, Zillow announced a new rental tool that would allow prospective and current renters to apply for apartments and pay their rent through the site, in addition to searching for new rentals.
In July, Zillow announced a new $650 million public offering, half in stock and half in senior notes. The company hinted it could use some of the capital generated to fund future acquisition and growth, in an investor press release.
Zillow has not been shy about making strategic business and tech acquisitions. In September 2017, it announced the acquisition of New Home Feed, a listing management technology for homebuilders to syndicate their listings across the web.
Prior to that, it announced the acquisition of Naked Apartments, a New York City apartment listing database in 2016. Zillow acquired transaction platform dotloop in the summer of 2015, and the year before that, it made a major move to acquire competitor Trulia in a $2.5 billion all-stock deal.