IAC Moves into Real Estate Brokerages

Barry Diller’s IAC/Interactive is saying that it intends to become a full service Real Estate provider next year, operating brokerages in the Pacific Northwest.

The announcement might be seen as a strange one, since IAC hasn’t settled on whether it will buy or build the brokerages. But it hints at IAC’s wide ranging ambitions in Real Estate, where it already owns Lendingtree.com, which shops for the cheapest mortgage; and RealEstate.com, which provides leads to Realtors in exchange for “soft” consumer kickbacks and a piece of the action.

For IAC, the move into owning brokerages would theoretically complete its Real Estate loop, at least to the extent permissible under today’s regulations, which prevent banks from directly participating in sales. Today, LendingTree mostly operates as an auction house for banks to win mortgage accounts. Its LendingTree Loan service, however, has been gaining steam lately, with 350 full-time sales people, up from 40 people four years ago.

The move also illustrates the flexibility that IAC has vis a vis the sales environment. Barry Diller has demonstrated time and again that IAC isn’t tied to an “online only” orthodoxy.

In theory, owning a brokerage would give a leg-up to IAC’s other Real Estate properties. IAC’s ability to drum up leads via RealEstate.com would make an IAC-owned brokerage especially appealing to agents, especially new agents without a customer base. But in actuality, it isn’t clear that IAC would risk alienating other brokerages by operating on such a preferential basis.

The Pacific Northwest in itself is an interesting region to debut in. It is wide open for newcomers, without a dominant presence from any of the top “national” players. Its largest firm is John L. Scott, a local independent with 4,000 agents and 129 offices in Washington, Oregon and Idaho.

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