Zillow Expands Into Home Buying and Selling
by Thomas Pack
Known primarily for providing online real estate information, especially its home value “Zestimates,” Zillow (zillow.com) has been expanding into real estate transactions in an effort to be a major player in housing markets in several cities—and eventually across the country. In February 2019, the Zillow Group announced that it was bringing back one of its founders, Rich Barton, to serve as CEO as it expands into mortgage lending as well as directly buying and selling homes. “We created Zillow Group in 2005 to make the real estate shopping and purchase process easier,” Barton said in a press release. “Much of our original dream is just now becoming possible” (zillowgroup.mediaroom.com/press-releases?item=122594).
POWER TO THE PEOPLE
Barton founded the travel website Expedia in 1994. After co-founding Seattle-based Zillow, he served as CEO until 2010. In 2007, he co-founded Glassdoor, which offers job listings, pay data, and reviews of potential employers. All of these websites have had a significant impact in their fields. In a 2014 interview with WBUR, a Boston NPR station, Barton said the sites share a common theme of empowering people with information: “In my start-ups, the common theme is what I call ‘power to the people,’ and I say that with my right fist raised in the air. I think that we, as humans, love to be in control. We love to know everything, and we love to make decisions for ourselves. And something that’s been so magic about the connected PC and now the smartphone connected to the Internet is that we, as consumers, can access information that heretofore had been kept from us and used against us” (wbur.org/hereandnow/2014/06/02/rich-barton-zillow).
With tens of millions of visitors every month, Zillow empowers people by providing information on more than 110 million U.S. homes, including homes for sale and for rent and even those not currently on the market. The site says its Zestimates are “a starting point in determining a home’s value” and “not an official appraisal. The Zestimate is automatically computed daily based on millions of public and user-submitted data points” (zillow.com/zestimate). Zillow also provides Rent Zestimates and many other resources, including an extensive Home Buyers Guide with videos, articles, and tools. The site’s blog offers such posts as “8 Curb Appeal Boosters You Can Do in a Weekend” (zillow.com/blog).
One of Barton’s big tasks is overseeing a program launched last year called Zillow Offers, which gives homeowners in some metro areas the chance to easily and quickly sell their house directly to Zillow. “Fundamentally, we are following consumers who have been ‘Uberized’ and have grown to expect magic to happen with the simple push of a button,” Barton said during a February 2019 earnings call. “We’ve seen this in travel, ride hailing, car buying, shopping, streaming video, and more—and the time for real estate is now” (seekingalpha.com/article/4243176-zillow-group-inc-z-ceo-rich-barton-q4-2018-results-earnings-call-transcript; registration required).
As of this writing, Zillow Offers is available in Atlanta; Charlotte, N.C.; Dallas; Denver; Houston; Las Vegas; Phoenix; Raleigh, N.C.; and Riverside, Calif. If you live elsewhere, you can sign up to get notice if it expands into your area. According to Zillow, the Offers program is “a home-selling option for homeowners who want a certain and predictable sale on their timeline” (zillow.com/marketing/zillow-offers-faq).
You can request an offer from Zillow simply by providing your address and answering a few questions. Zillow will review the details and local market conditions and then respond with a cash offer within a few days. If you want to accept it, a dedicated Zillow Offers Advisor will coordinate the next steps, including scheduling a home evaluation and connecting you with a real estate agent.
Barton has very big plans for the program and for the continued merging of information with transactions. He told WBUR in 2019 that he eventually wants Zestimates to double as direct offers from Zillow: “Ideally I would like to have the Zestimate be a live offer for every house in the country” (bit.ly/2Zi9smc).