With Zillow’s stock having already tripled in price this year, it’s been hard for some to get a handle on this week’s news that Australian billionaire James Packer’s has shelled out $298 million to take a 9.3 percent stake in the fast-growing listing portal.

Forbes contributor Neerja Jetley thinks “It is [a] fair bet that Packer is betting that real estate will be the same kind of electronic marketplace that has eliminated travel agents and dented the incomes of stockbrokers and car dealers. His sights must be trained on the estimated $69 billion in commissions that could slowly evaporate if Zillow does to real estate what Amazon did to books or Expedia to travel. It could be a long haul, but Packer is not a man in a hurry.”

While many real estate agents have voiced similar views that Zillow is out to “disintermediate” them, the company has gone out of its way to dispel such fears. Years ago, the company dropped the brokerage licenses it had obtained to ensure access to listings, and CEO Spencer Rascoff has said the company intends to stay focused on growing its audience.

“Selling access to our audience is the big pie,” Rascoff  said in a conference call with investors last month in conjunction with the release of second-quarter results.

Two-thirds of Zillow’s revenue still comes from its selling “Premier Agent” subscriptions to agents, who get leads and increased visibility from the site. While the number of Premier Agent subscribers as of June 30 was up 71 percent from a year ago, to an all-time high of 38,807, that’s a small fraction of the potential, Zillow’s boosters say. Revenue from Zillow’s mortgage business was up 126 percent during the same period, and Rascoff said that based on its prominence in the mobile arena, Zillow could grow its mortgage business by ten- or twentyfold.

Those factors — along with Zillow’s recent moves to grow its presence in the rentals space — may be a bigger part of Packer’s analysis than expectations for industry disruption. Source: forbes.com.


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