Last January, I visited Mr. Robert Thomson at the News Corp offices in Manhattan to discuss his plans for the Realtor.com. Joining the meeting were two senior leaders of News Corp: his chief of staff and his chief of sales. They laid out their targets for their new company. What follows is our report card for them.
Clear Vision #1: News Corp will leverage its media assets including Dow Jones, The Wall Street Journal, Barron’s, MarketWatch, the New York Post, HarperCollins Publishers, and The Sun to drive consumers to Realtor.com.
Successful Result: Thomson reports that Realtor.com average monthly unique users on the web and mobile sites for the quarter ending Dec. 31st grew by 37% to approximately 39 million monthly Unique Visitors. This does not include real estate related traffic numbers for content from his other media companies. Just Realtor.com. January traffic topped 50 million.
Based on the results from the 87 The Realty Alliance and LeadingRE broker websites that WAV Group tracks, this is an enormous jump in consumer engagement from Realtor.com without dilution of lead quality. Realtor.com has always maintained an edge over other online publishers in the quality of its leads and conversion rates. It is worth noting here that consumer traffic to Zillow.com remains strong; lead generation at Zillow Group has also increased. However, lead quality has gone down significantly. Traffic and leads from Trulia has also declined.
In 2014, WAV Group lead quality ranking for large brokerage firms was in this order: Realtor.com, Trulia, Homes.com, and Zillow. In 2015, lead quality ranking is now Realtor.com, Homes.com, Trulia, Zillow. Homes.com has passed Trulia. StreetEasy and HotPads do not generate enough lead volume across the broker sites we track to be included. Zillow brands may have hit a saturation point. It may well be that the declines at Trulia have benefited Realtor.com.
Clear Vision #2 – News Corp will leverage its advertiser relationships to drive revenue.
Successful Result: The idea here is that News Corp has owned the relationships with top advertisers for years. The expectation was that the News Corp advertising clients would welcome the availability of inventory on Realtor.com. Quarterly revenue for Realtor.com jumped from $65 Million to $87 Million.
WAV Group does not think that this $22 Million bump came from real estate agents and brokers. Our brokerage online spending benchmark has Realtor.com even or down over a year ago. They charge by average listings and inventory was scarce. As the market slows in 2016 and days on market stretches out, average listing count will expand and brokerages should see a slight uptick in cost.
Zillow Group has significantly increased their brokerage fees by moving away from a price per listing formula and toward a Zip Code based advertising formula. Q1 earnings will be a signal in terms of the short and long term impact on this pivot. Some of our brokerage clients have dropped the premium broker solution in light of these new expenses. Others are enduring. When a brokerage drops, it opens inventory for the Zillow Premier Agent program. This is a big opportunity for Zillow to expand its share of agent wallet. We will see if the agents respond.
Clear Vision #3 – News Corp will develop great content.
Successful Result: Elizabeth Banks, who had leading roles in two of last year’s hottest films with The Hunger Games and Pitch Perfect has a power crossover appeal: she connects as well with my 13-year old dancer daughter as she does with high school seniors, Millennials and Boomers. Realtor.com made a great move in hiring Banks at what may be the peek of her acting career for their television spots.
But Mr. Thomson’s of vision goes beyond great advertising. He loves great editorial. Take this article about the Sunday’s Super Bowl – Super Bowl 50: Charlotte Destroys Denver – at Least in Housing Affordability. And there are more Super Sunday related stories: “Can You Really Buy a Home for 2 Super Bowl Tickets?,” “Two-Time Super Bowl Champ Jeremy Shockey Selling Miami Penthouse,” “NFL Legend Terry Bradshaw Selling Hawaii Home a Year After Buying it.” You get the point.
The Bottom Line
WAV Group’s assessment is that Realtor.com is creating much better content than they ever have. Moreover, its audience targeted. A dry article about upticks or down ticks in home values is interesting to home buyers and sellers – but it is so much more fun to read the same content written by skilled journalists than from a Chief Economist. Leave the Chief Economists to Dow Jones, The Wall Street Journal, Barron’s, and MarketWatch. These articles are perfect for Realtor.com, The New York Post, The Sun and others.
I would suggest that Realtor.com take the extra step of interviewing some leading agents and brokers for great content. Having been to meetings with top executives at Allen Tate (in the Carolinas) and REColorado recently, they have great perspective on how the Super Bowl is impacting their markets. The story would be more compelling with local brokers and agents quoted.
In summary, Realtor.com is back. Homes.com is gaining. Zillow continues to perform, and Trulia is tanking.