A property website or 'The world's most trusted and vibrant home-related marketplace'?

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Zillow held its inaugural Premier Agent Conference last month inviting over a thousand of their more than sixty thousand Premier Agents to a two day event held in Las Vegas. Described by CEO, Spencer Rascoff as the most important event of Zillow's 10 year history, the event itself speaks so much to what and how Zillow is and will develop in the future.

Zillow is in many ways a late starter to the global industry of property portals. When it launched in 2005, REA group in Australia (arguably the most successful property portal globally) was about to launch its international expansion and had been operating for 9 years and was generating A$34 million in revenue - just in Australia. It would take Zillow until 2011 to reach that level of sales and by then REA had powered on to revenues of A$238m!

Zillow though does have a larger pond to play in with a population of over 300 million, annual property sales of over 4.5 million and well over 1 million agents.

I watched the various reports and tweets from the conference and quickly became engaged with the approach Zillow is taking with its customers. It was beautifully summed up in the phrase "a website that has created an ecosystem for consumers, agents, renters, homeowners and lenders to interact around housing". The notion of an ecosystem is very appealing to me, as it is all about a platform. Platforms are the most powerful digital business solution. A platform can deliver a long term value in a space where people can undertake interactions and potentially create marketplaces that ultimately provide the revenue opportunity that all such digital platforms aspire to and must if they are to survive and grow.

Now Zillow more than many other global portals needs to nurture the revenue opportunities from agents as well as ancillary service because fundamentally the US model for property portals provides no income opportunity for subscription based listing services. The US has the somewhat unique MLS structure that effectively removes the opportunity of charging for listings. The model, that for REA Group generates over A$100m in annual revenues from 9,500 Australian real estate offices, amounting to 25% of total revenue. However Zillow and other property portals do not see agents as simply revenue sources, they recognise that the role of a property portal is inextricably linked and closely aligned to the agents. Agents are the advocacy platform for portals as well as the source of all future business. This thinking is what has driven the investment in digital services and customer relationship services entirely focussed on building that bond between the agents and the portal.

What is so appealing in my mind around all of this evolution is how far we have come in the property portal space from the early ideas of simply being advertising websites for the display of listings through into this idea of being a broader media site with listings, and then evolving into this far more engaging and enveloping concept of an ecosystem that provides support and value to all of the community. That is what Facebook has done for our social connections, what e-Bay and Trade Me has done for all types of retailers and what Zillow and the likes of REA Group in Australia and Rightmove & Zoopla in the UK are doing for their respective real estate community and all of the home related services.

Zillow shared at the conference their mission, a mission statement that they had not made public until the conference.

To build the world’s most trusted and vibrant home-related marketplace
— Zillow Inc

In my view we have collectively come a long way as a community. The community of digitally focussed and passionate supporters of the real estate industry who across the globe seek to support and lead the evolution of this industry and those millions of agents that operate day-to-day in the market delivering services to consumers. We have evolved from websites to ecosystems and marketplaces delivering greater services and value to the industry we support.

Here is the video summary of the Zillow Premier Agents conference - in my mind it was a milestone event in the history of the company and of this industry in the US and internationally.