Trulia headed for success, while Zillow going to flop? The Industry Standard…

thinks so.

On Zillow’s failings:

“Zillow is so 2006. The business model is based on advertising CPMs, and now that the real estate bubble has burst, it’s much less fun to track the (sinking) value of your home. There’s more competition as well, including Trulia and Redfin.”

On Trulia’s success:

“If location, location and location are what real estate is all about, then business plan, business plan and business plan are why Trulia is rising to the top.”

(h/t Trulia blog)

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!  

The 4realz Interview with Alex Chang of Roost.com

After interviewing Marty last week, I thought it would be interesting to turn to Alex Chang (CEO of Roost) in order to get the perspective from someone entering the real estate search space from a different place in terms of timing, funding and resources…

Roost LogoI first met Alex while we he was setting up shop at NAR (in Vegas) outside of the blogger’s lounge at a table right next to mine. He was holding court with some interesting players in the real estate space, so when a free moment for both us turned up, I introduced myself and was pleasantly surprised to find out that Alex not only knew who I was, but that he had a strong command of the players in the RE.net (score a point for Alex!).

A few months later at RE Connect, Alex was nice enough to give me a demo of Roost, and I was immediately impressed. His team is obviously focused on doing one thing right (real estate search) and they have the money and talent to do it. However, seeing as they are relatively new to a fairly crowded space, I don’t think it will come as a surprise to anyone that they have their work cut out for them.

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

Alex: Roost is an open and inclusive marketing platform for all brokers, large and small. Roost’s goal is to help broker partners drive more business for themselves and their agents in a way that puts them in control. To do this, we provide two services that operate in parallel. First we offer brokers of all types & sizes a powerful, IDX-compliant property search site that they can use at their discretion. Second, we send qualified home buyers to their sites via the Roost.com search engine. Our model is transparent and performance based. The broker only pays for the traffic they want by setting a monthly budget that meets their needs.

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

There are a lot of companies out there doing related things in different ways.

In order to differentiate, we need to appeal to the fact that buying a home is one of the most important life decisions consumers will make. We need to offer a comprehensive, easy, fast and fun way to search for homes. We feel that Roost has cracked the code on providing comprehensive data on top the fastest and most intuitive way to search for homes. That’s our biggest differentiator.

When we think about our competition, we think more about the demands on a consumer’s time than we do about other companies. Between work, kids, home maintenance, etc consumers only have so much time in their day to dream about their next home and actively research it online or off. Roost’s mission is to create an experience that works despite these demands.

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?

Without question. That capital is fueling innovation. And in most cases that innovation is an effort to provide the industry with better/more efficient marketing tools for brokers and better services for home buyers. Ten years ago it would have been about trying to disintermediate the Realtor. But that’s not the case today. The more options Realtors have to market their services, the better. Competition keeps everyone honest and striving to provide better services.

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?

I doubt your average adult site would be very successful without the porn. Consumers want access to listings plain and simple. Other bells and whistles around home buying are nice, but when my wife Beth and I sit down to think about our next home, 90% of that time is spent checking out listings of homes we could go visit. I’d imagine that’s pretty common. That’s the focus of Roost and we’re solely concerned with filling that need. And besides, listings one of Gary Keller’s “3 L’s of the Millionaire Real Estate Agent” – so you know they’re important.

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?

It’s a question of core competency. It took a long time for retailers to get good at building e-commerce sites which is one reason why Amazon has done so well. Clearly, forward thinking brokers get this and are investing in their own websites. But the bottom line is that building great customer experience online is hard, even if that’s all you focus on all day long. And it’s not cheap. Also, I think it takes a little while to start to be able to measure and see a return from a broker’s site in this industry. So you have to have the appetite to make longer term investments in technology. That can be a tough pill to swallow.

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?

No, we don’t. Our sole dedication is on search and building the Roost platform for brokers. That means we have to say no to lots of other seemingly cool and sexy ideas. I won’t say that we’ll never expand past this focus, but right now, being excellent at search is enough of a challenge and something that we believe the market is lacking.

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?

It starts with your own Web presence. First, create a couple great websites and blogs that get across why you are the best at what you do in some specific ways. Ensure that there are all sorts of ways for consumers to contact you on these sites, and obviously make sure you have some excellent ways for consumers to search for homes on these sites (you knew we were going to say that). Second, get some tools that will help you actually see what return you’re getting from traffic to these sites. Where is the traffic coming from? What leads is it generating? When those are done, find targeted marketing vehicles that send traffic you can actually measure to these sites at budget levels you can afford.

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 don’t think it’s a different set of steps for new agents. In fact, I’d say following the above list is even more important for a new agent who may not have an installed referral base.

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

I see three things on the horizon. First, I think there will be a shakeout of wheat from chaff. Businesses that can’t add real value to both the consumer and the Realtor in a way that proves profitable, are not going to make it. Second, I think there will be a real premium placed on great product. This industry needs to catch up (and we’re seeing that happen). Sites that offer excellent experience will rise to the top. Finally, like many, I think mobile is going to become a huge force in this industry both from a consumer and Realtor perspective.

UPDATE: Joel just published a video interview with Alex on Inman News that is definitely worth checking out!

Going way back before I took my job at…

…Move, I landed a 30-minute meeting with Dan Rosensweig (COO of Yahoo at the time), where I tried to convince him that I should lead up a team for Yahoo to build a platform that would help real estate professionals market themselves at a local level using the various tools Yahoo had in-house (at the time, it was something like Yahoo 360, Flickr, upcoming, local business reviews, maps, listings, etc.).

Dan’s strongest argument against such a platform was that I should prove out the concept first by doing it myself since almost all of these platforms had APIs (and theoretically, he was right, but I was looking for a regular paycheck!).

Anyway, I only remembered this story after reading Joel’s post about Seth Godin’s new product: SquidZipper.

Even two years after my call with Dan, the market for providing a free, quality, and local marketing platform for agents is still largely undeveloped… and while one of the real estate focused verticals like Trulia or Zillow could theoretically fill this niche, it still seems like such a no brainer for one of the big guys like Google, Microsoft or Yahoo to take a page from Seth’s playbook and create a niche-specific platform for their various tools!

Seth’s platform is a great idea… but it is still missing the one thing that could really make a platform like this work: an abundance of consumers!

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.)

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!