Still struttin' about blogtown with my now-coming-to-pass prediction that Google might buy YouTube, I now find myself replicating my neural cogitations for my next big question:
Who will buy red-hot real-estate information site Zillow?
By the way, that screencap is Zillow's view of some of the prices in my 'hood.
OK, let us call the roll on who might be a suitable- and likely-acquirer of Zillow.
The most sensible acquisition model would, I believe, be one in which Zillow's quite impressive home valuation search capabilities are a front door to real estate searches and services provided by content partners. Elevating these functionalities by means of Zillow integration would pay off in enhanced partnerships that could even involve finders or percentage fees for home sales initiated off the site.
Before I mention the possibilities, let me tell you two that I didn't include. eBay seems perfectly willing to list whatever real estate sales are submitted to it, and to work with partners on the ancillaries. Amazon has never really offered a real estate inventory- although it certainly has the means to.
Those excluded - and also not factoring an IPO or private placement- I see five possibilities for who might acquire Zillow. Some may be obvious to you, some may not.
In increasing order of suitability/probability, they are:
5. Google- I'd rank them higher if they showed more interest in a full-suite real estate channel. The fact that they aren't as transactionally-centered as some of their competition is makes a Google acquisition of Zillow practical only at the margins- such as YouTube videos of neighborhoods and even individual homes tied to Zillow search results. Google Earth-Zillow mash-ups are already being done, so I don't see buying the company just to provide closer integration of those elements.
4. AOL- Zillow would be a perfect addition, indeed a centerpiece, for AOL's existing Real Estate Channel. I could picture it side by side with the Real Estate Channel's Home Finder and Home Loans features. Full disclosure: I'm the lead blogger for BBHub, whose publisher is owned by AOL.
3. Yahoo!- Artfully skilled in brand integration, Yahoo! could conceivably mash up Zillow with its Real Estate section's powerful Home Search and MLS (Multiple Listing Service) functions. Zillow functionality could also be integrated with Yahoo!s existing home loan partners.
2. Realogy- I hear the "Huh." This may help. Formerly known as Cendant Real Estate, Realogy owns Century21 with 7,900 franchised offices worldwide; Coldwell Banker, a real-estate financier with some 4,000 offices around the globe, and ERA, a residential real estate brokerage franchisor, with approximately 2,800 franchise and company owned offices. A Zillow acquisition would let Realogy's businesses use Zillow's capabilities to introduce a consumer-friendly, cool, "research this neighborhood" feature that could be a promotional gateway to the company's branded services. The only reason I don't rate Realogy the most likely acqurier is that the company doesn't have that demonstrable an interest in Internet properties.
But there is one company who meets all these requirements, and would be the perfect acquirer for Zillow.
1.IAC/InterActive Corp. Their list of compatible properties includes LendingTree, for real estate loans; RealEstate.com, with its branded and powerful Find-A-Realtor service and Domania, a text-based database of actual home sales, drawn from public records. Two of IAC's better-known properties could also be tied in with Zillow. An Ask.com search on, say, "how much are homes in Wilmington, N.C. could render a Zillow screen with results linked to Realtor and lender listings in that area. Or what about Zillow-Citysearch mash-ups that would generate cross-searched lists of amenities and attractions in neighborhoods where a Zillow search has been conducted?