On average, people only move every six years or so. So there aren’t likely to be as strong a list of reviews of real estate agents as there is for pizza. But that hasn’t stopped Zillow from adding reviews of real estate professionals to its Directory.
The company started collecting reviews in December and now says it has “thousands.” The reviews are connected to an agent’s Zillow profile, providing a richer picture for potential Realtor advertisers. The agent’s answers to various consumer questions are also part of the profile, as it is with Trulia’s Directory.
The drive to have more reviews is something that is felt across verticals. It is among the biggest reasons, for instance, why Angie’s List sponsors its Big Deals – to add reviews to its home and trade profiles. In a release, Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff says that “Agent Reviews are another huge step towards transparency for buyers and sellers.
When visitors use the Zillow Directory to search for a real estate agent in their area, results are sorted by local agents with the highest overall ratings and greatest number of reviews. Ratings are on a 1-to-5 basis, with 5 being “very likely” to use again, and 1 “very unlikely”.
Consumers can compare agents’ overall ratings, as well as ratings across several categories of service including: process expertise, local knowledge, responsiveness and negotiation skills. Along with ratings, qualitative reviews further help consumers understand a former client’s experience with that agent.
Homethinking, which launched in 2005, has had some experience with agent reviews. But it tightly integrates the reviews with the agent’s transaction history, providing more of a 360 degree picture.
Zillow, after five years and $87 million raised, says it is now in the black for the first time, after focusing more on revenues.
The online real estate company, which competes with brokerage sites, Trulia and others, also announced that CFO Spencer Rascoff has been appointed CEO, replacing Expedia Founder Rich Barton, who becomes Executive Chairman and focuses on a heavy portfolio of vertical investments, such as Avvo.com, the legal site.
Rascoff and Barton , in a phone call yesterday, tell us that the company is currently driving revenue on Zillow.com, Yahoo Real Estate and Mobile from five key revenue streams, including its Mortgage Marketplace, display, national advertising, local advertising and mobile advertising. The latter channel has become especially critical and now accounts for 20 percent of usage on weekends, says Barton. “Real estate is the ultimate local shopping experience,” suggests Rascoff.
The mortgage marketplace, especially, has become one of the company’s fastest growing areas as well, with 314,000 mortgages leads being processed on the site, up six fold from August 2009 , when it was introduced. This compares in the balance to four million homes being listed, and 150,000 rental listings. Twenty—five percent of home shoppers are now looking at home rentals as a point of comparison, says Rascoff.
Facing up to the reality of a real estate market in which many houses for sale end up becoming “shadow” rentals, Zillow has added rental listings and information to its real estate services. At the same time, Zillow is attaching a $9.95 premium for listings to be posted for six months, which represents the first time that the ad-supported service has ever charged for listings. The fees include unlimited photos.
Zillow’s new fees, however, will only be assessed for “manual” listings that are not part of the feeds that Zillow receives from its primary sources, which include brokers, 200 Multiple Listings Services and 171 newspapers. Just three percent of its listings are said to be“manual,” representing a potential rental listing market of 120,000 units.
CFO Spencer Rascoff says that he expects to see strong demand for rental information. The company points to research showing that 25 percent of its four million unique visitors are “dual tracking” rents and houses for sales, seeing whether they can get a better deal from renting or owning. “No one expects price appreciation anymore. All you have is an option to pay for a house outright,” says Rascoff.
The rental option gives users an option to view rental costs a la carte, or against “for sale” information. While adding rentals would theoretically pitch Zillow against rental publishers such as Apartment Finder, Apartments.com, ApartmentGuide and My New Place, Rascoff says Zillow’s offering is really oriented towards single family homes, or small complexes, while the others are oriented towards large property managers. “A third of rental units are single family homes,” he says. “More than half of rental units are four units or less.”