The 1st 4RealzEd event was yesterday and…

4ealzEdI think I’ve recovered enough now to actually post about it! 🙂

Despite our best efforts to be prepared, the day started off a bit rough with a nearby mudslide taking out power in our building in the morning (meaning no hot coffee and no projector) and a 9-car pileup on a nearby freeway slowed me down tremendously. AHHH

So, to say it started rough would be an understatement… But once it started, things seem to get on a roll quickly.

I started with an overview of consumers expectations in a web2.0 world to set expectations for the day… Jim followed up with presentation on optimal features and design for a real estate website. Then it turned back to me for a presentation on social networking… lunch… then another presentation by me on creating value through blogging about communities. And we returned for the day’s finally with Jim giving a engaging presentation on measuring and tracking marketing results to ensure a positive ROI.

All around, it was a wonderful day! And, maybe they were just being nice, but the attendees who talked with me said only good things about the education.

Because I promised attendees I would give them a list of all the sites I mentioned in my presentations (so that they wouldn’t have to ask me to spell out each URL), here is the list for everyone’s benefit.

Consumer Expectations in a Web2.0 World:

Engaging in Social Networking to Earn Clients

Using Blogs to Build Communities

I wasn’t tracking the sites that Jim mentioned, but there were not nearly as many of them in his presentations…

And thanks again to all the bloggers who have helped spread the word about the event, the sponsors who helped us keep the price low and all the attendees who made the day possible!

I received some incredible feedback from all three groups, which is going to lead me to make some changes to the upcoming events (I’ll announce those early next week!). Great stuff all around. Thanks again to everyone!

The 4realz Interview with Pete Flint of Trulia.com

As I said to when I started the 4realz interviews, I reached out to four players in the real estate technology space and asked them a similar set of 9 questions.   I purposefully picked four people representing four different companies at different stages of development and different types/levels of funding.   First was Marty Frame of CyberHomes, then Alex Chang of Roost, and, today, I’m fortunate to publish this interview with Pete Flint of Trulia.

I first met Pete thanks to an introduction from Paul Rademacher before Trulia had launched (and they were going by the name RealWide!).    Thanks to my experiment with gHomes, I had started up a conversation with Paul and he knew I was looking to get out of  transportation engineering and into the wild world of online real estate.

During this initial conversation with Pete I was immediately impressed because he was doing exactly what I wanted to be doing:  starting up a consumer-oriented real estate search site.   However, he was way ahead of me…   Whereas I was still in idea-mode, Pete had teamed up with a fellow Standford MBA grad, Sami Inkinen, to get the funding and team in place necessary to build a top-notch website.

During that first conversation with Pete, we chatted about all kinds of opportunities in the industry and I developed a tremendous respect for him because I could tell that he “got it.”  I’ve always, always enjoyed my encounters with him since. He’s a true professional and after only a few years in the real estate space, he’s proven that he has all the necessarily executive skills to create a product that has already had an undeniably huge impact on our industry.

Dustin: Can you briefly tell us a little bit about the products and services that your company offers for real estate professionals?

Pete: At Trulia we have a great selection of free and premium tools for real estate professionals to drive more online traffic to their listings and to expand their online audience. With approximately 4 million monthly unique users, Trulia.com is second to Realtor.com as a leading residential sites site for agents to get in front of an active audience of home buyers and sellers.
Free products:
Trulia Voices: Join the Conversation. Answer questions. Engage directly with active home buyers and sellers and share insights. Learn from other real estate professionals. How? Set up your profile for free, upload your picture and contact information, and sign-up for email alerts to find out when consumers ask questions in your area!
Listings submission: Get free exposure to your listings and significant traffic back to your own Web site. How? Build your feed, submit your site to be indexed, work with our listing feed partners or get your brokerage to send a feed to Trulia.
Trulia Tools: Add value. Get free, easy to install maps or charts for your Web site.

Premium products:
Agent Featured Listings: Get around 3x the traffic and exposure for up to 10 listings for $50 a month, email traffic reports and your photos on listings.
Banner Advertising: Buy banners in your neighborhoods or ZIP codes to enhance your personal brand.

Who do you view as your main competition and how do you differentiate yourself?

Other real estate sites that are supported by advertising dollars are our most obvious competition. Ultimately we think there will be a couple of big sites with a comprehensive set of tools that compete for traffic and advertising dollars. Competition is healthy which is spurring innovation that in the end will help both consumers and home buyers and sellers.

At Trulia, we think that to be successful you have to both attract a large audience of consumers by providing useful tools delivered in a great user experience and be a trusted and cost effective marketing partner for the real estate industry.  Our strategy from the start was to do both. Other sites have either alienated the consumers by not delivering a great online experience, or they have alienated the real estate industry by attempting to marginalize their role. Establishing personal relationships on a broker and agent level helps us understand their needs. We are always listening. You’re seeing the big sites wake up now and change their strategies.

Between Move getting $100M, Zillow getting $87M, Redfin at $20M, Trulia at $18M, Terabitz at $10M, and NAR looking to invest approximately $30M through their 2nd Century Fund, there’s a lot of investment money floating around the real estate space at the moment. Do you see this as a good thing for the industry?

The VC and private equity money is a great thing for both consumers and the real estate industry. All these dollars flowing into the industry will ultimately lower the marketing costs for agents and also drive competition for consumers by delivering a great online experience. The online real estate industry is still in its infancy and may seem a little confusing right now, but the combination of capital, advertising dollars and ambition is a powerful combination and will move the industry forward for the better.

That said, I’m a little bit skeptical about the NAR fund, seems like given the current climate and their history of technology investments the NAR members might prefer those dollars to stay in their wallets.

Besides the venture capital money mentioned in the first question, there are also a few big players from related industries who are jumping into the listings game… Such as Fidelity with CyberHomes and HGTV with FrontDoor. Why do you think there are so many companies chasing the listing side of this industry?

Homes for sale are the number one thing that consumers search for in the real estate industry. Hence it’s natural that these companies with some existing real estate assets are moving into this space. They see the innovation and opportunity and are working to catch up. We all know that the online advertising dollars in the real estate industry are significant and so we’re all chasing a piece of that.

I don’t think it is a stretch to say that the big brokerages are only just beginning to use their websites to create a compelling consumer experience that competes with REALTOR.com. Why do you think it has taken the national brokerages so long to complete on this front?

Building a great site is REALLY tough and it is hard for large brokerage to attract the engineering and design talent to do all this effectively. Brokers should be building strong online experiences, but they shouldn’t be distracted from their strengths and core competency— selling homes!

ActiveRain, Trulia, Zolve, Realtor.com and others have created social networks that use real estate professional content in order to better inform consumers and (theoretically) drive more business to these online professionals. Does your company have any plans to either create your own social network or engage in these existing networks? If so, how?

At Trulia, we believe that the real estate transaction is the ultimate social transaction, in that you speak to more people before during and after the process for longer than any other purchase I can think of. As consumers and professionals have become more comfortable with sharing and socializing on the web, it is natural for social networks in the real estate industry to pop-up which take some of the normal offline conversations and activity online. We think that Trulia Voices is the best example out there of a consumer real estate site delivering a compelling user community for consumers and agents. And having an active dialogue with the community helps us understand our users’ unique needs. The Q and A format is just the beginning.

To date, many of the most successful real estate professionals do most of their marketing off-line. If one of these experienced real estate agents wanted to jump-start their online marketing, where would you recommend they begin?

Reading and watching are two of the best things someone new to the scene can do. This will help them understand the culture of social networks and blogs. Then start with the free stuff to learn how the online tools work. Participate in Trulia Voices and other online social sites or blog networks. Make sure you work with sites that are near the top of search results in google, as they will get the most traffic to you. I would hold off on launching your own blog due to the technical complexities and time involved. As you get more comfortable you can decide whether or not a blog is for you, sign-up for premium services, buy advertising on Trulia, Google and others.

Would it be different for an agent who is just starting out in the business? If so, where do you recommend they begin with their online marketing?

I would recommend pretty much just the same, but clearly new agents will have to work harder as they don’t have the existing contacts and reputation. Read and watch first. Then participate.

What do you see as some of the biggest changes coming to online real estate in the next two years?

Social networking will start to deliver an increasing portion of business for agents, it will take time, but these efforts will really pay off as consumers will increasingly use these services.

It is natural there will be some consolidation of the consumer audience and probably 2-4 major large online sites will exist, plus another 2-4 specialized sites serving specific, but large niches and then some large national franchise/broker sites. Competition among these sites will be fierce and innovation will continue to accelerate.

We don’t see the real estate transaction changing that much, but the consumer research and agent marketing will be permanently changed.

Thanks, Pete, for the fascinating interview!  

rsh hits on the fact that very few (if any) brokerages have…

…done even attempted to add value to their brands/websites by capturing the contributions/knowledge of their agents.   I fully realize that brokerages don’t see themselves as publishes (except of listings!), but it would just take one large brokerage to substantially change the game if they could build the right tools and incentives that would encourage their agents to build up the company’s site(s).

Is Zillow Preparing to Launch a Virutal Tour on Steroids?

… Or am I just having too much fun digging into the US Patent Office website for patent applications filed by Zillow employees? (Previous patent digs can be found on my post about Zillow’s auction patent…)

THE FIND: A team of Zillow employees applied for a patent on an “Interactive floorplan viewer” in Nov ’06.

So what is an an interactive floorplan viewer? A Second Life for homes? A plugin for Google Earth?

I’m definitely not skilled in the art of reading patents (90% of it goes right over my head… especially without the diagrams that are consistently referenced!), but I read it to be an web-based tool that would provide a virtual environment to view photos of a listing… Kind of a virtual tour on steroids!

I can’t figure out if this involves a pure software solution or a new high-tech camera… or something else entirely.

All of this begs a fun question: How long before you can do a full walk-through of a listing while sitting at home in your pajamas?

(David G: Posted on a Tuesday night!)

45 Things I Learned at RE Connect

(some names left anonymous to protect the innocent)

  1. There’s a hell of a lot of VC money floating around this industry. I was surprised at how many people there were with lots of VC funding. Joel seemed to notice the same thing: “a whole new crop of real estate search sites that are going to be hitting the market”
  2. Reporter from the REALTOR Magazine was in the audience of our presentation. (thanks to Ines for pointing out the story: NAR is opening their eyes to blogging.)
  3. Zillow dropped their beta tag.
  4. Zillow’s big press release (picked up by many others) was a case of “make-news”. I’d be worried for their business if they weren’t making the improvements they announced (adding more listings, improving the quality of Zestimates, dropping beta, etc.). Joel doesn’t write much about of the improvements, while Greg quotes it extensively and seems to gush about their RETS announcement, which even the Zillow team pulls back from in the comments.
  5. Trulia was profitable for at least one month last year expects to be profitable at some point this year.
  6. According to comScore, Trulia had more traffic than Zillow in December! (Congrats Mike on the awesome prediction)
  7. comScrore and Hitwise are measuring traffic on two different internets. (Hitwise shows Trulia with 1.45% of category traffic and Zillow with 2.28%).
  8. Also interesting from the Hitwise report is that Move.com moved from #2 to #5, while RE/Max moved from #2 to #5. That’s big enough news where I would have expected to see a Press Release. Realtor.com at #1 and Move.com at #2 is huge for Move, Inc., even if it is only for December. (Oddly, I’m getting all the Hitwise numbers for December from an Inman Blog article on my feedreader. The actually article was removed from their site for some reason, so maybe the numbers are butchered!)
  9. Vast.com acquired Adaptive Real Estate Services (ARES). (That answers one question, although it does not give me any confidence that Vast.com has thought out their listing content acquisition strategy)
  10. Lots of neighborhood projects coming out. Here’s my (unsolicited) advice to anyone looking to build a successful social network in this space. If you really want consumer adoption, you’ve got to have a clear answer to this question: “What’s the consumer benefit?” So, so, so many of the “social networks” I saw this week were focused around real estate professionals. ActiveRain was an anomaly. Be able to explain your consumer proposition clearly, or don’t expect success.
  11. With that said, VillageMaker from RealProSystems will likely be a success… in that agents will the product, not in the sense that consumers will use it. This is the ultimate social network with the real estate professional at the center of the transaction in that a real estate agents must invite consumers to this platform. Sounds great, except it won’t work for all but a few agents.
  12. I am now the owner of “all the marbles”.
  13. Google staff really don’t like it when you take pictures inside their offices. Don’t be evil (Jay noticed this too!)
  14. Saul Kline is still the same great guy even after becoming CEO of Point2. (Frances has photos). His stated approach for moving Point2 forward is sound, although I’ll let him explain that approach when he’s ready.
  15. Lots of start-ups are twisting and turning to think how they an make their products more REALTOR friendly in the hopes of catching some Second Century funding! Mark Lesswing is a popular man at these conferences.
  16. I was surprised how many tech start ups get funding with only the roughest plans to get listings. Teresa gets that this is a mistake!
  17. Trulia launched their Publisher Platform. Robbie loves this! I can’t tell what Joel thinks… and Greg pans the service. I don’t follow Greg’s logic that it weakens overall traffic to Trulia… Mainly because nobody in the online real estate space has enough market penetration to think there are a finite number of users for their services. Trulia needs more listings. If this helps convince more brokers that they need to send their feeds to Trulia, then it is a good move. (Joel has an example of what the branded service looks like on FOREM)
  18. I really liked one startup and can’t wait until they launch in a little bit because I want to see how they market themselves. The product is an (solid) incremental improvement on search, but I don’t think it is enough of an improvement to go viral on its own.
  19. The beer for bloggers event is a great way to start off a conference. (photos on the Zillowblog and Sellsius).
  20. Teresa has some great photos from the week, including this action shot of me. Dito for Jeff.
  21. The WellcomeMat boys are quite the fun crowd. I really want to see them succeed because the technology is top-notch. Next step for them is figuring out a way so that their users don’t have to do their own marketing. If uploaded listing videos were getting hundreds (or even dozens), I think they’d be well on-their-way to being a a must-have product for most agents.
  22. I’m more bullish after RE Connect on Altos Research.
  23. Drew found a way to work at RE Connect. I’m not sure how he pulled it off.
  24. Professor Nouriel Roubini didn’t show up to RE Connect with the idea of making a lot of friends. He was consistently vocal in his belief that the downside to this market is going to be HUGE. He made Noah look like a moderate! (Here’s the video!)
  25. While I didn’t plan to go to many of the sessions, I surprised myself by going to only one session (see previous comment).
  26. I LOVE NYC.
  27. While I enjoy writing the occasional update, I’m simply not a good twitterer. On the other hand, Daniel is the twitter man.
  28. Apparently, there is a $15B dollar opportunity in the online real estate space since I heard multiple people throw that number around.
  29. Rumor has it that Cyberhomes is going to spend a LOT of money on advertising this year in order to reach out to consumers. This is a change from my take on their original approach in that they were going to focus on reaching out to agents by offering them a “white-label Zillow”. I like Marty Frame a lot, but I don’t think ads will do the trick. I hope they have one-more thing up their sleeve.
  30. Kris Berg is always lovely. Offline or online, she is one of my favorite people in the RE.net.
  31. Jay Thompson is another one that I found to be just as great in person. Networking with people like him is the reason to travel to NYC.
  32. The business mind of Damen Pace doesn’t stop moving.
  33. Rudy has some mad video editing skills.
  34. Daniel is the video man! It’s obvious he loves this stuff.
  35. As one would expect, Lockhart is quickly growing his team at Curbed and it was a lot of fun to meet them at the NYT party. From what I saw, Lockhart tried to dampen expansion rumors. He would only talk about Chicago at this point.
  36. BofA bought Countrywide. Lots of commentary on Jillayne’s post on RCG and Brian Brady’s post on Bloodhound.
  37. Redfin’s PR about returning $10M to consumers didn’t do much for me. I’ll be more interested to find out when they start making business model changes in order to get profitable.
  38. People have begun calling Rain City Guide “Ardell’s Blog” behind my back! LOL!
  39. Inman will soon be launching a new website with new features and a new design.
  40. Up Yours! Video TV war! Intothebox.tv rips on BrokerIPtv.com (around second 40). Not to take sides, but I was interviewed by the BrokeIPtv team at RE connect, and will be interested to see what comes out of that. On the other side, Rachel of Intothebox is oddly interesting… In watching, I just keep waiting for something to fall or break.
  41. I could never repeat linkation too many times. I keep repeating myself and people continue to act like it is new information. Please tell me if and when I need to stop with the linkation bit. 🙂
  42. ActiveRain introduced a few new people from their team. Rumor was that they have some funding that they will announce soon.
  43. Brendan King and other ex-Point2 folks were passing out business cards with the company name VendAsta. My guess is that the name is only temporary.
  44. Greg Tracy has branched out the BlueRoof brand to start doing consulting and website building for other real estate professionals. He “gets it”, so I can only imagine further success ahead.
  45. I really do enjoy just about everyone in the RE.net and real estate tech communities. 2008 is going to be fun!

Phew! Now I think I’m caught up so that I can get back to regular updates!

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

Just chatted with Brendan King and…

I believe him on two accounts:

  • He resigned (was not fired).
  • He is working on something interesting.

I won’t say (even if I knew) what he is up to but would be fascinated to hear some speculation on what the Point2 team members who left should build.   Is there any empty space left to build a niche in online real estate?  Would you start with consumers?  As an agents, is there a tool that you wish you had?

Zillow announced Zmart Zearch and…

…I’m not zeeing much different.

Maybe because I’m on a mac (using Firefox)… Or maybe because I’m searching in “The Valley” of LA… Or maybe because I simply don’t remember what searching by neighborhood was like on Zillow before… but I’m lot seeing much that lives up to the hype around Smart Search:

“In fact, we think it’s so different that we have patents pending on the technology and infrastructure behind how this all works. “

I honestly don’t doubt that 25K man-hours were spent developing this new search tool, so please tell me what I should be looking for!

Google takes one more step…

in their effort to break open your gmail contact list with the latest addition to Google Reader Interestingly, I mined the service last night for my Burger King post after seeing Paul Chaney had “shared” it in Google Reader.

The gap between Google Reader and other feed readers just got even wider, so go ahead and dive into feeds, RSS, etc. if you’re not already using feed reader.