At Inman Connect Now on Wednesday, Doctorow discussed the future of realtor.com with Inman publisher Brad Inman, who noted that Zillow seems “to be the winner here.” While realtor.com was the nation’s most popular real estate listing portal for years, Zillow has now long surpassed the National Association of Realtors’ official listing site in terms of consumer traffic.
But Doctorow replied, “You declared Zillow the winner. We think the game’s not over. We’re certainly a challenger in this race. We have a lot of that we can build upon.”
Doctorow, a former executive at eBay and Expedia, has made some major changes at Move, elevating two leaders of Opcity, a tech startup Move acquired in 2018, and ousting two longtime leaders at the company, Ray Picard, the company’s chief revenue officer and Hahn Lee, the executive vice president of business development and strategy. Doctorow made Opcity founders Ben Rubenstein and Michael Lam Move’s chief revenue officer and chief operations officer, respectively.
The promotions reflected a continued shift in business strategy for the company. Last year, realtor.com began outright replacing its traditional lead generation platform with the lead referral service from Opcity in some markets, where agents pay the company a portion of their commission when they close a warm lead, rather than pay upfront for impressions. Last month, Move announced layoffs, partially due to COVID-19 but also part of a larger realtor.com restructuring.
In his conversation with Brad Inman on Wednesday, Doctorow remarked that real estate marketplaces are similar to those in his previous companies in that they “are really about connecting buyers and sellers to do things, and to enable the intermediaries who are involved in those markets to help. The more that in marketplaces you keep it that simple and that clear, I found, the better. Consumers really just care about are you helping them get the job done.”
But Zillow has gotten into the transaction with its iBuyer business, so it’s more like eBay and Expedia, Inman pointed out.
“Realtor.com is kind of insistent to stay in the traditional role as an advertising marketplace. Is there a possibility that you’ll turn this more into a marketplace like places you’ve been in the past? Are you going to stick to the News Corp. model of being an advertising platform?” Inman asked.
Doctorow said Move was proud of its history of being an advertising-oriented business and “that will continue to be a significant part of our future.”
“But at the same time, we think that broadening the aperture of the problem of helping consumers trying to search and discover homes to, in the end, helping consumers think about making great homes and, when needed, sell homes, is something that we can contribute to,” Doctorow said.
“We seek to do that in partnership, in deep partnership, with the entire industry. And that’s because we think that … if we do that, we can present more choice to consumers, which is a real value to them. And in the end, we’ll be able to collectively innovate faster than those companies that have a more closed approach that’s oriented towards their own proprietary products.”
Doctorow listed growing traffic and leads, the Realtor brand, and “great data” as a foundation for realtor.com to build on. He said the company would dial up its focus on the consumer experience and touted Move’s Opcity acquisition as “a real competitive advantage.”
“We’ll seek to invest more in it to create more distance between us in the competition. We’ll continue to innovate in our leads and marketing-oriented products. There’s a lot more that we can do to help Realtors accomplish what they need to have happen when they prefer to interact with us that way,” he said.
What is Move doing to help Realtors stand out? Inman asked.
“The more we do to bring more consumers to our site and the more that we can understand about those consumers’ intent, the better we think we can package up that consumer and enable Realtors to serve them well,” Doctorow said.
“So that’ll be a real focus: Getting that rich intelligence and bringing more of them.”
Move will also leverage Opcity’s referral model to connect Realtors to consumers, according to Doctorow.
“It’s a model that provides an excellent consumer experience and, ultimately, we think can be the basis for providing much more to the consumer in partnership with the Realtor. We’ve been in the advertising and leads business for a long time. We won’t rest on our laurels. There’s ways that we’ll need to innovate and we’re beginning to do that with some testing.”
Asked about Move’s relationship with NAR, Doctorow said it was “a gift.”
“It’s an asset that we have probably underutilized, if I’m honest. We see an opportunity to continue and to deepen that partnership. We’re certainly in discussions about the specifics of how that may unfold,” he said.
Both NAR and Move are trying to serve the same customers — Realtors — and so their objectives are aligned, he added.
In the next year, realtor.com will continue to focus on bringing more consumers to the site in new ways and “to create a consumer experience that really stands out,” according to Doctorow. He cited a couple of recent examples: the launch of three automated valuation models (AVMs) and a partnership with home leaseback startup EasyKnock.
The latter is meant “to provide access to creative financing models in this time when consumers frankly need it given the liquidity situation that we’re in,” Doctorow said.
Doctorow also indicated Move would “lean into the industry much more” than it has recently.
“I believe if we take on partnership in earnest, really in discussion with Realtors, with brokers, with MLS, there’s a lot more that we can accomplish when we team up. I believe that we’ll innovate faster and frankly … produce more choice for consumers and more business for all of us,” he said.