To many in the real estate establishment, Zillow appeared to embody all the threats of online displacement that the industry feared most when the site was unveiled earlier this year. Yet, for all its potential and the addictive nature of its mashups, it wasn't obvious to us how such services would make money other than advertising revenue.
Now, another online real estate challenger has answered at least part of that question. Viewr uses AJAX and other Web 2.0 technologies to go where Zillow and others seem to have left off (at least for now) in its quest to "create a unified, global real estate community."
Like many other sites of its kind, Viewr aims to be a one-stop shop for all real estate needs, from maps and virtual tours to market research and agent networking. But one thing makes it stand apart: the creation of an international community where buyers can post exactly what they're looking for and sellers can meet their specific needs. If done effectively, this feature could drastically reduce the endless searches buyers must typically endure while scouring disparate listings and Realtor sites--a key function of agents today.
Once buyers post the requirements for their dream homes, for example, they can set up email alerts and other mechanisms to inform them when a potential house is entered into the database. Conversely, aggressive sellers can seek out buyers based on those requirements. Viewr plans to make its money through fees for listings, video services and research data, as well as some ads.
CEO Karl Lingenfelder uses the term "empowerment" a lot when he told us about Viewr, and that extends to agents, as well as buyers and sellers--which is an important approach to note. Rather than trying to put agents out of business, such sites as Viewr and Redfin are seeking to work with them.
That seems to make a lot of sense. Unlike industries such as the travel business, where consumers can easily replicate the work of agents (booking flights and hotels), home buyers and sellers face a daunting process upon completing a deal. Even though such do-it-yourself services as ForSaleByOwner.com have proliferated, many consumers remain intimidated by the endless paperwork overflowing with legal jargon.
We bet that it won't be long, however, before the Viewrs and Zillows of the world include those closing services in their core offerings as well, doing them either by themselves or through partners. The big question will be who gets that business--and for what kind of commissions.