The year in real estate was marked by big-name brokerages and franchises using their capital to gobble up market share and boost their value propositions with enhanced agent technology.
Through acquisitions, some of the largest franchises and brokerages entered into a technology arms race, to see who can build out the best and most comprehensive technology platforms.
The fight for industry supremacy extended beyond technology offerings, into major outright brokerage acquisitions, with three of the industry’s top-20 brokerages in sales volume or transaction sides according to the Real Trends 500, finding themselves under new ownership.
Here are some of the biggest news items in acquisitions that Inman reported on, in 2018, listed chronologically from when they were announced:
In February, RE/MAX dove into the race to build the best real estate platform by acquiring booj, a Colorado startup with end-to-end technology including websites, mobile apps, predictive analytics and lead generation systems.
Six months after the acquisition, RE/MAX formally announced plans to build “an online platform that will deliver substantial value to consumers and allow RE/MAX agents to connect with homebuyers and sellers in a more meaningful way,” according to RE/MAX CEO Adam Contos.
In May, Ebby Halliday became the first brokerage in 2018 to find themselves under new ownership when the iconic brand – and largest indie brokerage in North Texas – was acquired by Warren Buffet’s HomeServices of America in May, 2018.
In November, meanwhile, longtime CEO Mary Frances Burleson stepped down and Chris Kelly, a veteran HomeServices of America executive, took the helm.
On the surface, the $2.5 million acquisition by Quicken Loans sister company In-House Realty was on the smaller side. But the move, in May, was actually the first step towards the launch of a new consumer-facing site, which was eventually rebranded as Rocket Homes, to compete with the likes of Zillow and realtor.com
Zillow’s acquisition in August of Mortgage Lenders of America, a national direct-to-consumer online mortgage lender, was aimed at streamlining the home buying process through Zillow Offers, the real estate tech giant’s home buying and selling program, which launched in April.
The move will allow consumers who buy homes owned by Zillow to also get a mortgage through the company.
Compass, the ever-growing tech-focused brokerage, made its biggest splash in a year full of acquisitions when it acquired Pacific Union International in August. Compass sealed the deal by paying Fidelity National Financial, which owned a 62 percent take in the company, $43 million in cash and an additional $27 million from an earn out if the company meets undisclosed metrics. Pacific Union ranked fifth overall in sales volume on the Real Trends 500 in 2017.
Earlier in the summer, Compass also acquired Paragon Real Estate Group, in a move that massively bolstered its Bay Area presence.
Move Inc., a subsidiary of News Corp. and the operator of realtor.com, announced in August it was acquiring concierge lead generation platform Opcity for $210 million. The move allows realtor.com to offer traditional lead generation and a service where it matches vetted buyers and sellers with real estate agents.
Keller Williams’ move to acquire SmarterAgent – a mobile-first platform that connects to more than 650 multiple listing services – was a big step towards the franchisor building a consumer-facing end-to-end real estate platform to challenge the likes of Zillow and Redfin.
The company plans to roll out that consumer-facing platform in the first quarter of 2019.
Opendoor’s acquisition of discount brokerage Open Listings in September gave the iBuyer a team of salaried, in-house buyer agents and agent partners. It transformed Opendoor simply from a company that acts as a buyer and seller, to one that actually employs real estate agents while also working with agents from other brokerages and splitting commissions.
In September, in one of the biggest brokerage acquisitions of the year, Howard Hanna Real Estate Services acquired Allen Tate Companies, ranked 10th in transactions on the Real Trends 500, to create a powerhouse real estate force in the Mid-Atlantic and Eastern United States.
Combined, the two companies have 11,000 personnel, including agents and employees, across 326 offices in nine states.
The companies called the move a partnership, but a Howard Hanna executive confirmed to Inman it purchased a controlling stake in Allen Tate and would keep the latter brand intact.
Real estate artificial intelligence startup OJO Labs acquired WolfNet Technologies, a longtime IDX website builder for brokers and agents, in October.
The deal combines a new consumer-facing property search tool (OJO) with a trusted agent-and-broker focused software and data company (WolfNet).
EXp Realty announced in October it would be acquiring VirBELA, the virtual reality platform behind eXp’s cloud-based virtual world since 2016.
The acquisition allows eXp Realty to go beyond its current virtual world offerings and operate outside of the constraints of the typical vendor and customer relationship, as well as add additional revenue streams.