“By the hundreds of thousands they had come, from all over Georgia , all over the South, all over America , all over the world into those subdivided hills and downs and glens and glades of trees…and they were still pouring in.”…Tom Wolfe, A Man In Full
You know Vanessa, I remember checking out Zillow after it launched and being totally awed by the site. With your “Zestimates”, I could easily track the rising value of my home and keep up with the sales comparables in my neighborhood. I can even tell you that one time, after my bank gave me a low-ball appraisal when I went to them for an increase in my home line of credit, I actually sent my branch manager to Zillow to show proof of my home´s value, and that (along with a WTF phone call to upper-level bank management) enabled me to lock in a credit line much higher than originally offered.
As I see it, Zillow has some formidable competition. Cyberhomes has no pretense of community but has a clean, uncluttered look that I prefer. Trulia seems to be a weaker Zillow alternative, but one that must be reckoned with.
How can Zillow win this fight? Vanessa, I know you´ve twittered about user-generated content and while acknowledging the importance of it, I question how you can get critical mass in a subject matter where most people only care about what´s going on in their immediate neighborhood.
Here are a couple suggestions that could change the game in your favor:
Zillow has a feature called “Make Me Move” which enables somebody to place a price on their house that they will theoretically accept from a buyer. Such a number is almost always going to be at the upper level of or over the Zestimate value and certainly above the true market value of the house. Everybody knows this and I suspect few of these user submissions will lead to serious inquiries.
Instead Vanessa, Zillow should create a much more meaningful process that will have a greater likelihood of matching buyer and seller. Put together a serious app where a motivated seller can let folks know that they would consider selling their home and in much the same manner that Priceline uses to get people to make near-market offers for hotel rooms and airline tickets, attempt to guide the seller into naming a realistic price. Then, buyers can register their requirements and the system can attempt to make meaningful matches between buyers & sellers.
Vanessa, did you follow Barry´s attempt to sell his Monsey Condo? He listed with a realtor in a down market and ended up selling to somebody he already knew (while, I assume, still being on the hook for the Realtor fee). Perhaps Barry could have saved himself a commission if he could have tapped into an already existing pool of people looking for comparable condominiums without Realtor assistance.
Right now Vanessa, Realtor Multiple Listing Systems have a near monopoly over the eyeballs of prospective homebuyers. If a buyer doesn´t use an agent to list their home, their ability to successfully advertise and market their home for sale is very limited. If Zillow can create a system that makes it easier for sellers without Realtors to connect with independent buyers, Zillow will gain huge positive mindshare from folks looking to avoid paying Realtors a fee.
Even better, bring this functionality to Facebook and watch it go viral. I´m sure you already have a pretty nice sized user database. Create a Facebook Group, link up with current users and encourage the non-users to join up. Vanessa, I´m sure you can think of many great ways for your user base to deepen their relationship with Zillow once you bring them to the Facebook platform.
However, I have an even more powerful suggestion…
It´s the time of year where homeowners like me get our property tax statements. I have the legal right to appeal my property taxes. Would I like to? Heck, yeah! Will I? Almost certainly not, because the time it would take me to compile the necessary information to appeal plus go through the appeal process isn´t worth the possible savings.
But what if Zillow could do the work for me? You all already possess all the comparable and tax information that I need. Vanessa, what if Zillow could programmatically evaluate my taxes and then advise me whether I have a good case to possibly appeal and if I did decide to appeal, allow me to print out a ready made report containing all the information that I would need to present at my hearing?
Such a service would be unbelievably popular. Once the word got out, Zillow´s website signups would skyrocket and almost assuredly, your user base would then achieve the critical mass that will allow you to put forth other community initiatives. Most importantly Vanessa, Zillow would be an empowering force in people´s lives…allowing folks to challenge a system where inequity runs rampant, resulting in a fairer universal application of property taxation policy.
Vanessa, the fact that you´re allied with Zillow means that the search community is rooting for y´all in Zillow´s epic bloodsport death match against Trulia & Cyberhomes. Hopefully, I´ve given you some ideas that can be translated into initiatives on the cyber-battlefield:.)
Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.
Todd Mintz is the Director of Internet Marketing & Information Systems for S.R. Clarke Inc., a Real Estate Development and Residential / Commercial Construction Executive Search / Recruiting Firm headquartered in Fairfax, VA with offices nationwide. He is also a Director & Founding Member of SEMpdx: Portland, Oregon's Search Engine Marketing Association.
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