Snapshot

The search for a home is a significant and often daunting process. Consequently, consumers are increasingly seeking digital platforms that provide detailed, clear, and convenient information for property transactions.

Spearheading this digital shift, Zillow has redefined how people engage with property transactions with its suite of comprehensive and transparent real estate services. As the most visited real estate website in the nation, Zillow offers a wide array of services, including selling, buying, renting, and financing options.

The platform is renowned for its extensive property database, featuring around 140 million U.S. homes, and the Zestimate, a patented home valuation model. This model, known for its accuracy, has positioned Zillow as one of those brands with such household recognition that it is now a verb.

Zillow caters to individual buyers, sellers, renters, and real estate professionals, serving a multitude of needs from first-time buyers exploring financing options to real estate agents seeking efficient client management tools. Zillow’s services also appeal to sellers looking for innovative ways to market their properties, including a partnership with Opendoor for instant cash offers. The platform’s rental marketplace is a critical component, addressing the needs in a market with millions of rental units, as it seeks to leverage the substantial portion of renters who have plans to purchase homes.

At present, Zillow is pursuing a growth strategy centered on its vision of a “housing super app”. The company’s focus is on creating a cohesive ecosystem that addresses all aspects of the real estate process. This vision includes improving touring experiences for potential buyers, financing preparation, expanding seller services, strengthening its partner network, and integrating various services to streamline customer transactions, ultimately supporting customers at all stages of the home-buying journey.

Background

Founded in 2006 by former Microsoft executives Rich Barton and Lloyd Frink, Zillow began as an online platform aimed at providing consumers with a more transparent and accessible way to see home values. With the introduction of the Zestimate, an automated valuation model that estimates home prices, Zillow revolutionized access to real estate information, setting a new standard in the real estate market.

Early success was marked by the rapid growth in its user base as the platform drew in millions of users. This growth was further fueled by the expansion of its listings to include not just home values but also property for sale and rent.

In 2011, Zillow went public, after which the company began a series of strategic acquisitions aimed at broadening its product range and consolidating its position in the market. This included the purchase of Trulia in 2015, a major competitor, effectively making Zillow the largest player in the online real estate space.

Over the years, Zillow has continually innovated its platform, adding various features and services to enhance the user experience and extend its market reach. This includes tools for mortgage information, and a suite of services that cater to buyers, sellers, and renters alike.

Using its data analytics capabilities to streamline the process, Zillow expanded into direct home buying and selling with iBuying in 2018. Although the service was wound down in 2021, citing operational complexities and market unpredictability.

Leadership

With an impressive background rich in technology and entrepreneurship, Zilliow co-founder and CEO, Rich Barton, has been a driving force in the company’s rise as a leading online real estate platform. Under his guidance, the company has significantly enhanced transparency in the real estate market and he has been instrumental in steering Zillow through various stages of growth, including strategic acquisitions and taking the company public.

Prior to Zillow, Barton’s career was distinguished by his role as the founder and CEO of Expedia Inc., originally a group within Microsoft Corporation in 1994, before it was spun out. With a leadership style characterized by a focus on innovation and customer-centric solutions, Barton also revolutionized the travel industry by making it accessible online and transforming how consumers plan and book travel. He also served as a venture partner at Benchmark, a venture capital firm, where he continued to demonstrate his knack for identifying and nurturing innovative technology-driven businesses.

Customer

Zillow has evolved from a mere online platform for real estate browsing to a comprehensive service provider catering to various facets of property transactions. At the heart of Zillow’s offerings is its vast database of real estate listings, which includes an array of properties for sale and rent. This database is complemented by the Zestimate, a proprietary tool offering automated home value estimates, which has become a key feature for users looking to gauge property values. The platform also provides detailed information on neighborhoods, schools, and market trends, making it a valuable resource for buyers and sellers alike.

Zillow Home Loans provides prospective buyers with direct mortgage financing options. This service streamlines the financing process, integrating it with the home shopping experience. While title and escrow services through Zillow Closing Services, further simplify the transaction process.

Zillow serves a wide variety of customers across the real estate spectrum. Homebuyers utilize the platform to search for properties, assess home values, and understand market trends. Sellers benefit from Zillow’s vast audience and tools like the Zestimate to price their homes competitively. While real estate agents use it to list properties, reach potential buyers, and leverage Zillow’s CRM tools to manage client relationships effectively.

Renters form another significant customer segment. The platform’s rental listings cater to a wide range of housing needs, as well as offer tools for searching, applying, and even paying rent online. These services provide value to both renters seeking homes and landlords looking to fill vacancies efficiently.

Thematic

Zillow’s focus for growth is centered around its ‘housing super app’ vision. This initiative aims to integrate various real estate services into one seamless digital experience. The vision encompasses touring, financing, seller services, an enhanced partner network, and integrated services. These features are designed to streamline the process for buyers, sellers, and agents, driving more transactions and revenue per customer interaction.

Recognizing the importance of in-person tours in the real estate decision-making process, Zillow is investing in making it easier for potential buyers to view properties and connect with real estate agents. This includes the deployment of its real-time touring product, which has demonstrated success in enhancing connections with high-intent customers. Improving this aspect of the customer journey not only increases user engagement but also boosts the potential for transaction completions.

Financing is another critical pillar. Zillow is positioning itself to play a more integral role early in the home buying process by preparing customers for transactions through Zillow Home Loans. The company has already seen strong traction in this area having experienced significant year-over-year growth in purchase loan origination volume, even amidst high mortgage rates. This expansion into financing represents a diversification of revenue streams and a move to capture more of the value chain in real estate transactions.

Through partnerships with Opendoor for cash offers and the launch of the Listing Showcase under the ShowingTime+ brand, Zillow has been strategically expanding its seller services. These novel solutions that cater to sellers and their agents not only attract more sellers to the platform but also aim to enhance Zillow’s value proposition more broadly in the real estate market.

Zillow’s strong partnerships with leading real estate agents, brokers, and other industry professionals are also significant assets. By collaborating with high-performing and service-focused industry partners, Zillow can implement scalable product testing, direct more customers to top-performing partners, and offer an improved mortgage product experience. This network serves as a key competitive advantage and a channel for sustained growth.

Integrating services across the platform is another key strategy Zillow is using to bring together its engagement, products, and services to drive more transactions and increase revenue per customer transaction. This integration is headlined by Zillow’s “living” database of approximately 140 million U.S. homes, which underpins its proprietary tools like the Zestimate. The sophistication of Zillow’s data science and technology, combined with its expansive property and transaction data, positions it uniquely in the market.

Zillow’s recent acquisition of Follow Up Boss, a leading Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system, further underscores its commitment to providing integrated tech solutions. This acquisition not only enhances Zillow’s product suite but also promises to deliver a more integrated software experience for real estate agents and teams.

Financials

With the exception of a 40% year-over-year drop in 2020 due to the Covid pandemic, Zillow revenue has maintained a solid trajectory of revenue growth. 2022 also saw an 8% drop following the wind-down of the iBuying business. Now as it navigates a challenging real estate market, the company has demonstrated resilience with key areas of growth in its business.

Despite the broader residential real estate industry facing a 14% downturn, Zillow reported only a slight decline in revenue of 3%, coming in at $1.47 billion fit the first nine months of 2023. This decrease mainly stemmed from a 7% drop in residential revenue due to factors such as low housing inventory and fluctuating mortgage interest rates. Additionally, Premier Agent revenue fell by 8%, while mortgages revenue also decreased by 27%, attributed to a decline in advertising services revenue. However, these declines were partially offset by a significant 28% increase in rentals revenue, driven by growth in unique visitors and an increase in revenue per visitor.

Notably in the last quarter, the company’s rentals revenue surged by 34%, and its purchase mortgage origination business grew by an impressive 88%.

Ongoing investment in its technological infrastructure and product development resulted in gross profits for the period decreasing by 6%. However, after shedding the large losses from the iBuying business, the company’s net losses have contracted significantly.

Looking ahead, consensus estimates have Zillow marginally dropping revenue by less than 2% year-over-year for FY23 to $1.92 billion. Analysts also expect the company’s losses per share to dip by 17% for FY23 to $1.29, before bouncing back to $1.46 and $2.16 for FY24 and FY25 respectively.

Risks/Competition

Zillow faces competition from a variety of online real estate platforms, traditional brokerage firms, and tech-driven real estate companies such as Redfin, and Realtor.com. These platforms offer similar services, such as property listings for sale and rent, home value estimates, and tools for real estate agents.

Traditional brokerage firms in particular have been bolstering their online presence and digital tools. Furthermore, smaller startups, often focusing on specific aspects of the real estate transaction process, such as virtual tours or automated valuation models, may be more agile at targeting niche market segments.

However, Zillow’s competitive advantages lie in its brand recognition, extensive property database, and innovative technology. Zillow’s large user base and high website traffic give it a significant advantage in attracting home buyers, sellers, and real estate professionals. In addition, its ability to integrate various real estate services with its vision of a “housing super app”, offers a more seamless user experience.

Conclusion

Zillow is redefining the real estate market through its innovative digital platform, offering comprehensive services that cater to buyers, sellers, renters, and real estate professionals. With its strategic focus on becoming the “housing super app” by streamlining the home buying and selling process, Zillow appears well placed for continued growth.

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