I may have found the Tellar in Zillow’s Cellar!

Out of curiosity about a fellow panelist at the CB event, I did a google search on Jorritt Van der Muelen, it brought back a few blasts from the past… Anyone else remember when Rob McGarty (pre-Redfin days) was talking about Zillow’s application to patent an auction marketplace around real estate listings? Well, the Google Search on Jorritt turned up the patent application from the Zillow team for the auctioning of real estate listings.

I’m not experienced in reading patent applications, but here is what I was able to gleam:

  • Lots of big players from the Zillow team are on the patent. They include Spencer Rascoff (CFO), Scott Bekemeyer (now with ZipRealty), Lloyd Frink (President), Kristin Acker (VP Product & Design), Jorritt Van der Muelen (VP Partner Relations), and Chloe Harford (Dir Strategic Planning).
  • They claim their invention does 23 novel things.
  • My reading of the patent reviewer’s response (download it here) is that he thinks all but 3 of the claims are too obvious to patent. The only thing that the patent reviewer finds worthy is their idea that they could use a phone to call in auction bids, which appears to be pretty tangential to their idea.

Similar to the patent reviewer, I don’t find the process described in the patent application to be very interesting. It might help if I had access to the diagrams and figures described, but that is neither here nor there…What makes the patent interesting is that it shows that very early on the team put quite a bit of thought into how Zillow could play a central role in the real estate transaction.

I’m included to think that Zillow has probably dropped this idea completely in order to retain the support of real estate professionals (the bulk of their potential advertisers). However, that is just speculation. It’s also conceivable that Zillow may be distracting us with the rumors of a mortgage product so that they can continue to amass listings from brokerages before they unleash an auction tool that will allow consumers to buy and sell properties directly from their website.

Zillow pillow

Published by

Dustin Luther

Current lead up the team managing Brand and Influencer Engagement programs for Dun & Bradstreet. You can find me on Twitter (@tyr) or LinkedIn (DustinLuther)

15 thoughts on “I may have found the Tellar in Zillow’s Cellar!”

  1. Oh you little investigative reporter! I can’t WAIT to see what Zillow has to say about this one.

    The Internet does indeed have a loooong memory. I, too, am seeing things online from my last career that nobody ever imagined would end up in a really public forum. Fortunately, nothing bad, but who knew back then….

  2. Good post. Interestingly I think both Zillow & Cyberhomes are thinking of the same idea. I think they both want to become the “initial” information source for consumers and want to be able to control the referral of services.

    They identify / engage the consumer and their interest early one w/ the home value bait (and eventually w/ listings), then they can control the referrals of all other services associated with the real estate transaction.

    This role is currently performed by the individual realtors and brokerages who suggest most of the individual required services to their customers. I also think the Z patent for auction services will reappear in the near future (after getting more inventory as Dustin suggests) with some slight modifications that revolve around what I indicated above.

  3. I am just a Realtor pounding the ground in Houston, but I am starting to see deja vu all over again in our market.

    Zillow: A solution for millions of foreclosed properties, perhaps? After all, once the bank owns the house, wouldn’t they want to recapture the loan from the next borrower?

    Back in the oil/S&L bust days REO’s had the best financing available because the owner was the lender, and man, they had some deals… This was in the days of 14% + mortgages. If Zillow can get traditional listings feeds from the brokers (Realogy is testing Zillow with ERA), and then can inject the waves of REO inventory, new auction model or traditionally listed, they could leapfrog the competition.

  4. Hi Dustin,

    In the early days, before Zestimates, we were trying to identify the consumer’s edge in real estate and kicked around a lot of ideas. Auctions were one of them but frankly, the concept did not test well and looking back on our experiences it’s not surprising that auctions aren’t widely employed in selling homes. We then realized that it was access to information and expertise that were the missing from the real estate marketplace and so we settled on the media business model and advertising product.

  5. David: thanks for stopping by. I can’t say I’m surprised by your response, although I would say it is a bit bold to say that expertise was missing from the marketplace. Nonetheless, I think I know where you are going with that comment.

  6. And remember, what Realtors giveth, Realtors can take away. The minute brokers and agents realized they were being disintermediated, they’d pull the plug on all those conditional feeds. Without them, they’re back to bare-bones content based on tax records and past sales.

  7. Marlow, while the individual realtor feeds may be conditional, my educated guess is that most of the listing Zillow is looking to get (or has already gotten) come with contracts that ensure the brokerages keep sending the feeds as long as Zillow keeps up their side of the bargain. Following your point, adding a transactional element would likely be one of the things that WOULD trigger the ability for brokers to stop sending their listings.

  8. Agree with Miss Marlow – with all this trend of standardizing listing information, it seems that it would be quite difficult for any website to be part of the transaction. I can forsee, e.g. google, providing complete coverage of all the listings for free one the data feeds are established.

  9. good sleuthing Dustin

    but as DavidG says, this was just one of many ideas we toyed with (and dismissed) ages ago, before settling upon free and instant access to real estate information, monetized with online advertising. We have no designs on being in the middle of the real estate transaction whatsoever.

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