As I’ve said before, I think Zillow is the 800lb. gorilla in the Real Estate 2.0 space right now. Certainly no other site in recent memory has gone live and generated as much controversy (and media attention) as they have. A quick look at their Google trend chart shows how completely they dominate the mindshare right now.
Zillow (Blue) – Redfin (Red) – Trulia (Orange)
So, without further ado, here is my interview with Amy Bohutinsky, Director of Communications from Zillow.com
1. What’s your elevator pitch? How would you describe your company in 50 words or less?
Zillow.com is designed to empower consumers with tools and information to transform the way they buy and sell homes. Step one in our beta site is valuations, or Zestimates â a way to research the value of millions of homes online, and modify those values based on recent remodels or renovations.
2. What inspired you to create your site? What need did you identify that your technology could meet?
The first question anyone asks when looking to buy or sell a home, is âwhat is this home worth?â?. Prior to Zillow, there was no easy way to find this information online, for free and without registration, for just about any home. Our goal was to build a database of millions of homes in America, give information about their value as well as that of all their neighborsâ, plus community and neighborhood trends for home values. We currently have nearly 67 million homes in our database, out of about 85 million that exist according to the U.S. Census. As a beta site, this means we still have homes to add, Zestimates to improve and room to grow â itâs our first step.
3. What has been the biggest challenge getting your site off the ground?
Our biggest challenge is and continues to be the enormous amount of data we work with â more than 2 terabytesâ in geek terms â which is collected individually at the county level across the U.S. (no two counties seem to record the same way), cleaned up and run through our Zestimate algorithm, synched with satellite maps and aerial photos, and updated on our site every week. We will soon be updating Zestimates and home data every day.
4. Real estate is generally seen as a conservative industry, what has the general reaction been to your site?
Consumers are generally very excited to have access to all this data and information on homes, for free, without registration. Many within the real estate industry are enthusiastic as well â seeing this as an opportunity to reach home buyers and sellers via advertising. That said, there are some real estate professionals who view Zillow as a threat and donât like us. This is unfortunate, as Zillow is a research tool, not an agent, and we donât have any plans to act as an agent in transactions. Likewise we donât aim to take the place of an agent or his or her expertise; Zillow is a first step in researching the value of a home.
5. Who is your typical user?
Our users are anyone researching the value of homes â this can be someone looking to buy, sell or a homeowner wanting to know the value of his or her largest investment.
We recently surveyed Zillow users and asked what brought them to the site (note they were able to list multiple answers). Nearly 60% said they wanted to check the value of their own home; 50% said theyâd like to get a feel for home prices in an area; and 30% were specifically looking to determine a selling price or bid price on a home. This tells us our users are not only people in the process of buying and selling right now, but people researching for the future and generally interested in the value of their own home for remodel or financial purposes.
6. What’s your business model?
Zillow is a media site â like any media business model, we generate interesting content (currently in the form of Zestimates and housing data) and sell ads around it.
Nearly 18 Billion was spent online in advertising dollars last year, according to Borrell Associates, with a third of that spent in the real estate or mortgage categories. And we think this is barely scratching the surface. As more and more real estate professionals and related services move their advertising online in the coming years, growth in this category is poised to take off.
7. Who have you identified as your biggest competitors? Why?
There are a number of places where you can get a simple automated valuation for a home, and there have been for years. So I suppose in our current beta site, which focuses on Zestimates, you could call any AVM a competitor of ours. But the ability to scan neighborhoods on a map, both with satellite and aerial birdâs eye views, and see a value on top of each home is unique, as well as data on every one of those homes going back 10 years. Not to mention the ability to modify these values based on specific remodels or additions.
That said, weâve mentioned before that this is a beta site and Zestimates are our first step. Iâm sure as we add more to our site our competitive landscape will change.
This however is not to sound smug â there is an enormous amount of innovation and creativity in online real estate right now. There are some really cool and amazingly useful applications being created by everyone. This is driving us to be better and move faster, as Iâm sure it is with others in this space. Itâs an exciting time for online real estate and consumers are going to benefit immensely.
8. What have you found to be the most effective ways to market (i.e., build the brand awareness/mindshare of your site)?
Early on, we decided that instead of spending on advertising we would invest the bulk of our resources behind building a great product. 70% of Zillowâs staff is on the technology and development side, and this will continue as we build out and release new additions to our site. Since Zillowâs launch in early February, comScore has consistently measured between 2-3 Million visitors a month, with traffic growth throughout the spring. This is solely based on word-of-mouth, with no dollars spent. This tells us weâre on to something very interesting.
9. Web 2.0 is often defined as a web-based service that lets people collaborate and share information online. How does your site either a) incorporate these ideas or b) plan on incorporating these ideas in the future?
Currently Zillow is what it is â a research site to help people determine the value of homes. We have a lot of fun and interesting plans for the future, but we donât like to talk about them until theyâre ready to go. Thus â sorry, we canât give details on future plans.
10. Why do you care about real estate?
We care about real estate for the same reason many Americans are obsessed with it â itâs expensive, emotional, for some of us elusive, and for many of us often frustrating. Itâs a lot of numbers and data, but itâs also evocative of where we lay our heads to rest at night and how we shelter our families. Itâs this yin and yang that captures our obsession and fuels our interest.
Real estate online is still in its infancy. There is an enormous amount of opportunity to help people navigate the process and find more information online to make them smarter. This is where Zillow aims to make a difference.
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Stay tuned tomorrow for an interview with Pete Flint, Co-Founder and CEO of Trulia.com