Greg thinks Top Producer is vulnerable to…

the Zillow machine, but I seriously doubt it…

I 100% agree that someone could seriously improve on the existing CRM products for agents… During our after-lunch conversation this past week, I mentioned that if Trulia really wants to reach marketing dominance some day, they should offer a free, high-quality CRM to agents. But first, they’d need to start thinking of themselves as a company that provides marketing tools to agents, not just as an advertising platform (and interestingly, I get the impression that Rudy is already thinking this way!).

However, I don’t think Rudy is enough to make it happen for Trulia.

Why? Because to call either Trulia or Zillow a “marketing” platforms for agents would be to confuse marketing with advertising. The core DNA of both companies is to build consumer-oriented products and then find a way to integrate agent-advertising into those products. Other than the (very valuable) service of getting agents in from of consumers, I’m yet to see either company make the mental leap toward thinking what should they do to make the day-today business of agents easier or more efficient.

Just as it is in TP’s DNA to build products for agents, T and Z still live in a world of consumer-oriented products. My guess is that some of the executives at T or Z would view the development of pure agent-centric products (like a CRM) as selling-out the consumer experience of their core sites.

Nonetheless, if T or Z (or Roost!), decided to build some agent-centric projects, I’d argue that they’d likely open up some interesting business opportunities and potentially do a much better job endearing themselves to their core advertisers.

And a quality CRM is only one way they could go… CMS, market intelligence, and transaction coordination are three other (obvious) areas where existing agent-centric products are either seriously lacking features or the market is seriously under-served.

But just because the market is starved, doesn’t mean T or Z have any interest in coming to the rescue. As a matter of fact, inertia suggests to me that they are not even thinking about taking on this market and TP executives are right not to worry about Zillow.

(Are you having a hard time translating this post? A key can be found here.)

Completely didn’t see Terabitz going the…

personalized website for brokers route (example).  It’s nice to see that Terabitz is stil around (I didnt’ hear or see anything from them at RE Connect), although with $10M in funding, those had better be some expensive websites if investors are going to recoup their money.

A trip down the memory super-highway…

Top 10 stories of 2007 from Inman News (see the article for details):

  1. Subprime market implodes; housing downturn worsens.
  2. Blogging runs deeper in real estate’s blood.
  3. Foxtons closes shop.
  4. Foreclosure problem worsens; Bush announces rescue plan.
  5. Redfin and “60 Minutes” of fame.
  6. Trulia and Zillow get booted from Prudential Real Estate convention.
  7. Realogy goes private.
  8. Well-known real estate writer dies.
  9. NAR’s Gateway project announced.
  10. FHA goes modern.

All good and interesting news stories. But what would a blog post be without some after-the-fact quarterbacking. Here are my thoughts:

The subprime mess definity earned the list, while I think blogging is in there purely as linkbait. 🙂  Foxtrons never crossed my radar so I can’t say much about them, but I would have included the foreclosure mess in with the subprime mess (despite the fact that two smaller messes would be easier to clean than one huge mess). Redfin PR got proper kudos while Prudential made a PR blunder. Realogy business structure must be interesting to others and I simply didn’t know the author. I don’t have high hopes for Gateway (although I wouldn’t say the same thing for NAR’s investment fund). FHA… yawn…

And while am at it… here are two stories that would have made my list:

The launch of so many (already) forgotten sites. How about all the sites that launched with great fanfare only to fall off of everyone’s radar. Terabitz comes to mind.  Social networks like Zolve (which went from charging almost $1000/year to $0/year in its first few weeks) and Propertyqube also seem to have dropped off the map. And there were many (way too many to name them all!) “local” sites that were hyped by the RE.net at one point or another: MyHouseKey (kinda dead), SuperListingSite (completely dead), Localism, StreetAdvisor, and YourStreet.

Lack of fiscal restraint in the online real estate space. Money flowed into online real estate space: Terabitz with $10M in V/C money…  Zillow with another $30MTrulia got another $10M…  Redfin with $12M more

Talking about Zillow’s neighborhood aggregation got me thinking…

…about how I tried to solve the problem at REALTOR.com back when I was on the product team at Move (May ’06 to Dec ’06).

Back then, I took over a mapping initiative because I wanted to create an interface to that could aggregate and display the vast amount of data within the grasp of REALTOR.com, Move.com, moving.com, etc. within a simple mapping overlay.  My first (and only) pass at the project involved working with the one engineer/architect at my disposal (a darn talented guy!) to develop a widget that was eventually implemented on each neighborhood detail page of REALTOR.com.  (To see an example, scroll to the bottom of the Calabasas page).

LA Heat Map

The options boxes on this implementation are pretty limited in that they only include a few datasets (i.e. average home and rental price, number of listings and rentals and medium household income) at a few listing levels (i.e neighborhood, zip code, and school district), but you can imagine that if the data is batched in at a fine enough level (census blocks for example), then it is somewhat trivial to add any new dataset and aggregate the data up to any level (neighborhood/zipcode/city/school district/county/state) using this basic design.

The discussion about Zillow’s neighborhood aggregation got me thinking about this because I can tell that a ton of work went into developing their overlays, and yet they are just barely touching the surface of the data they could be providing… It seems to me they’ve over-emphasized the importance of their zindex-type data when, my educated guess, is that relevant consumers (i.e. potential buyers) are interested in so much more.

I’m not going to say that the overlays on the realtor.com neighborhood project are better implemented (they’re not), but I think the concept I put together was closer to providing information that would be relevant to home buyers, which, after all, is the group most likely to be looking for neighborhood information.  In writing this, I feel a bit sad that it didn’t make sense for me to continue down the path of improving the overlay widget because until someone provides a much more slick way for consumers to filter and prioritize neighborhoods based on information that would matter most to them, I’m convinced some major innovation will come into this space.