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What will the Zillow-Trulia hookup mean for housing?

Listing Goliath could change the balance of power

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Zillow (Z) is acquiring rival Trulia (TRLA) in a $3.5 billion move that will create a Goliath of online real estate listings, and both company stocks surged on the news of the rumor.

(You can read HousingWire’s extensive coverage here.)

So how is it going to affect the industry, consumers, and even the media?

For starters, these are two dot-coms in the classic sense, so what they are bringing to the table is their audience, which the two have in spades.

Right now, despite the big surge, neither company has been profitable.

For FY2013, Zillow had explosive revenue results, increasing 69% to a record $197.5 million. But the company posted an annual net loss of $12.5 million, mainly due to the cost of the advertising blitz the company put on. In FY2012, the company had a profit of $5.9 million.

It was a matter of investing in the long game, getting their brand out to consumers – spending money to make it.

Meanwhile, Trulia also saw a net loss in FY 2013. On rapidly growing gross revenues of $143.7 million, the company saw a net loss of $17.8 million.

It’s hard to tell if the two companies’ multiples mean this is a case of 0 + 0 = <O, or if the product will be greater than the sum of its parts. (I was told there would be no math.)

Trulia and Zillow have made great efforts in ginning up interest in home selling and buying with their TV ads, their custom and innovative searches, and their often fun and useful packaging of data.

The competition between the two for ink and bytes in the trade media space sparked often funny, mostly useful data reports, with only a few real swing-and-a-miss reports.

Even if this acquisition happens, there’s no reason this can’t continue, although less competition could make them complacent.

It will affect consumers and real estate media; not going to hide it, the thematic reports the two companies put out are bread-and-butter for the real estate trades.

The real play in the long-run is for the MLS records. Those are the spice on Dune – control the spice, control the housing universe.

The next biggest rival, the old guard Realtor.com and Move, meanwhile, are fighting back, criticizing both companies for lacking accuracy in their information.

NAR and Move launched PR and ad campaigns in June to showcase the “value of the local knowledge and accurate data” NAR members bring to the table.

According to Move, the site’s “Accuracy Matters” campaign aims to emphasize that Realtor.com “provides the most accurate, up-to-date and comprehensive real estate listings and content available online.”

What they are saying is yes, pretty bells and whistles on that bike, but the front wheel is all warped.

And you know what? Realtor.com and Move are right – their information on listings is more accurate.

Price information is less accurate on Zillow and Trulia – bank and tax assessments data isn’t accurate to actual market prices. There’s a reason that some real estate agents coined the term “unzillowable” to cover all the local information that a national company without boots on the ground in local markets just doesn’t have.

Here’s the thing though. It doesn’t matter.

If customers are going to Zillow and Trulia, that’s what matters.

The most valuable person in a real estate transaction is not the real estate agent, it’s not the lender, it’s not the originator, and it’s not the seller.

It’s the consumer. And if the consumers are going to Zillow and Trulia, or Zillow/Trulia, or Zulia, or Trillow, or whatever they end up calling it, it doesn’t matter if their data aren’t as accurate as Realtor.com.

Things can change quickly. Zillow came on the scene less than a decade ago. Trulia is only a year older, having launched in 2005.

Yet today, together, Trulia and Zillow’s 84.6 million unique visitors in May 2014 account for twice the number of unique visitors for the next three real estate websites put together, according to the Beyond Syndication 2014 report from Clareity Consulting.

“Zilulia” or whatever they call it, may become the next big Goliath of real estate listings.

But if they don’t keep innovating and pushing to be better – well, there’s always another David out there, and plenty of rocks.

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