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Move Inc.

Steve Berkowitz opens up about News Corp. acquiring Move, Inc.

Leading one of real estate’s most relevant companies to a $950M investment, Move CEO, Steve Berkowitz opens up about what this means for the industry and the realtor brand.

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Stirring the emotions of the real estate industry as a whole, it was recently announced that Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. will be acquiring Move, Inc. for $950 million. The deal is expected to close before the year’s end, and staff will remain at the company’s San Jose headquarters.

The news attracted support and criticism, with a healthy dose of fear of change. What will happen now, and will realtor.com really become rupert.com as some have jested? Was News Corp. really the best partner to pair up with, and will all of Move’s subsidiaries remain in place?

To answer these questions, we spent time talking with Move, Inc. CEO, Steve Berkowitz whose leadership has ushered in this new era for the large company.

Will NAR terminate the operating agreement?

Some people firmly believe that due to a vocal minority that are against the acquisition, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) will buckle under the pressure and terminate their operating agreement with realtor.com, Move’s flagship brand. Others believe the agreement will be nixed before the ink dries on the deal, effectively turning over the apple cart, which would scare off any investor.

Although NAR CEO, Dale Stinton debunked this in a previous interview, noting that the agreement cannot be cancelled unilaterally, we enjoyed Berkowitz’s answer.

When asked about this possibility, Berkowitz said, “I think the 1944 Battle of the Bulge “NUTS!” said it best.”

Well said. The short phrase was once typed up as the official response by Brig. Gen. Anthony McAuliffe to Nazi officers’ request to surrender.

Berkowitz adds that their relationship with NAR “has never been stronger,” and that a strong realtor.com means a strong operating agreement.

A focus on the overall Realtor brand

Spend five minutes talking with Berkowitz and you’ll immediately understand that his focus is not just on the brand realtor.com as a website, but as a word, a profession, a theory – they all tie together and are symbiotic in his eyes.

Berkowitz notes that this deal empowers the brand to serve consumers even better. “If we make consumers trust the [Realtor] brand before they meet the person (and it’s not just trusting the brand but the profession by delivering a great experience), everyone in the value chain benefits.”

“If someone else meets that need of the consumer,” Berkowitz adds with emphasis, “then the question of the role of the Realtor changes.”

Is Move reacting to the Zillow/Trulia deal?

Zillow announced recently that they will be acquiring Trulia, which has some buzzing that the News Corp. deal is a response to that new powerhouse combination.

Put aside for a moment how long it takes to pull together a $950M deal with two massive companies, Berkowitz tells us that the Zillow acquisition could be actually considered a reaction to how well realtor.com is doing.

He brought up the fact that earlier this year, there were rumors that Trulia was going to buy realtor.com, and here we are.

Berkowitz rejects any notion that this deal is a reaction to Zillow. “The strength of what we’ve done in marketing has changed the playing field.”

Taking a look at the long term play here

So if it’s not a response to Zillow, so what is the deal a response to?

“Look at the premise of what we are, a media company,” Berkowitz explains. “Our job is to connect consumers with Realtors. Think about what we have to do in order to do that and build that reputation of Realtors in the mind of consumers, because personally, I believe (and both sides agree) that this is a huge transaction.”

Further, he says that they’re looking to the future of the unknown competitors, not just who is currently at the table, and that he had to look at the value of what Realtors do from an integrity point of view, and how that balances with News Corp.’s values. Ultimately, it was a match, giving them a competitive edge in the long run, so they can better serve consumers.

The long view is about more than just garnering page clicks. Berkowitz said that “today, every dollar that we spend in promoting the [Realtor] brand promotes the profession. Every dollar our competitor spends actually potentially does the opposite.”

How so? Berkowitz explains, “we’re saying ‘meet this Realtor, see what the realtor sees and learn from them.’ We’re going to give you all of the information in a single place with professionalism and accuracy that the profession itself goes by. At the end of a transaction, the majority of people create a strong relationsip with their Realtor that goes beyond the selling of a house. The brand itself defends homeownership even after a purchase – they’re going to pay their dues, advocate in Washington, and so forth.”

He emphasizes that this relationship is “not just transactional, it’s long term,” and Move is there to the forefront of that process, now with a strong partner.

Shouldn’t NAR members have bought back realtor.com?

For many years, an argument has been made that if every NAR member chipped in so many dollars, they could buy back realtor.com to be operated by NAR. So why wasn’t that a consideration instead of a third party like News Corp.?

“It’s to the members’ benefit that it’s run as a for-profit in addition to being run as an independent business,” Berkowitz notes. “The hardest part of real estate is that locals compete. Realtor.com is run by people who realize that [the Realtor’s] name is associated with the human and [run by people who] are looking out for both sides.”

This formula, he says, “gives us the ability to make things happen at a pace that doesn’t typically happen at [non-profit organization] level.” Bingo.

What most need to take note of, however, is that “the brand goes back to NAR if shut down. There are protections in the operating agreement that require the site to be viable and competitive. The protections go both ways.”

Will ad rates be going up now?

We asked Berkowitz to respond to peoples’ fear of change by telling us what is actually going to change after the acquisition is finalized. It has been stated that News Corp. won’t disintermediate Realtors, but how does he know that for sure? Let’s talk about these fears.

“If we don’t deliver value, people don’t have to buy in,” he states bluntly. “We understand the importance of delivering that value. News Corp. isn’t into the transactional side of the business – the job of listing agent is to sell a house, and we hope to facilitate better than anyone else.”

Nails are being chewed over the possibility of ad rates going up for Realtors advertising on realtor.com. “We don’t have the capability necessarily to jack up prices,” Berkowitz notes, “because ultimately, we are part of that ecosystem.”

He then lays out a manifesto of sorts to explain where he is coming from. “My goal in this industry is to take all of this money people are spending in advertising and have them spend 20-40 percent less, but more with me because I deliver the ROI. If we can bring efficiency to the system and help you get consumers at a cheaper way as part of your total ad budget, you spend less, keep more, but still spend more with me.”

“We want to make agents productive and consumers smarter,” he adds. “By just generating more leads, we’re not making the system more productive, rather harder on agents, so our job is to make consumers and define those consumers, improve the quality of leads, and make it more valuable to agents and brokers because we’ve saved them time by helping them understand what consumers are looking for.”

Berkowitz summarizes, “I want to increase productivity of agents/brokers without increasing the cost of the consumers.”

But won’t realtor.com become a right wing zombie?

You may find it laughable, but there are people who have real fear about a Murdoch brand being involved in their own brand (realtor.com, specifically). Some have told us that they think this will influence the NAR’s advocacy agenda and alter NAR’s political dealings.

“NAR had Hillary Clinton speak at their convention,” Berkowitz scoffs. “I’ve been to a broker meeting George Bush up front speaking. This is not about a political bent. Business people make money because they appeal to the masses, not one side or the other, and at the end of the day, you can find a reason not to like every company. I’ve worked at Microsoft, I’ve worked with Robert Maxwell, Pat McGovern, and endless media people – never have their political affiliations affected their business judgements. They’re smart because they know that business is business.”

He adds that “the great part of NAR is that it’s an ecclectic mix of every walk of life as is homeownership.”

And now, the way forward

Berkowitz concluded that he believes the industry as a whole is “starting, for the first time, to realize that having the Realtor brand be something that’s strong is to the industry’s benefit.”

“If we can make realtor.com become something that not only the consumer loves, but that Realtors are proud of, everyone wins. I am more proud of it today than yesterday, or when I started.”

Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The Real Daily and sister news outlet, The American Genius, and has been named in the Inman 100 Most Influential Real Estate Leaders several times, co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

Move Inc.

News Corp performing well, led by 35% growth at Move, Inc.

More buyers will use the Internet than agents and even the home buyers using agents still use the Internet to supplement their home search. As the old saying goes, “It’s good to be king.” And right now, News Corp finds itself in the enviable position of being “the world’s largest player” in online real estate.

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More buyers will use the Internet than agents and even the home buyers using agents still use the Internet to supplement their home search.

As the old saying goes, “It’s good to be king.” And right now, News Corp, which in November 2014 purchased  Move Inc., which in turn operates Realtor.com for the National Association of Realtors, finds itself in the enviable position of being “the world’s largest player” in online real estate.

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Internet use on the increase

Lest you think online real estate is some pseudo term that looks impressive on paper but nothing in real life than think again. According to the National Association of Realtors, “nearly 74% of home buyers polled answered that they would use the Internet as part of their home search.” Think about the significance of this in terms of growth: More buyers will use the Internet than agents and even the home buyers using agents still use the Internet to supplement their home search. NAR points out further that “while online real estate research sites have not put real estate agents out of business, they have taken viewers away from the old traditional sources of information.”

This increased use of the internet as a real estate tool has fueled the growth of Realtor.com and as a result explains an article in businesswire.com, “News Corp is evolving rapidly into a more digital and increasingly global company with a diverse revenue mix that will drive long-term growth in profits and shareholder returns.”

News Corp Chief Executive Officer Robert Thomson proudly remarked that “The Company is, by most measures, the world’s largest player in digital real estate, a position certainly enhanced by the rapid growth in the U.S. of realtor.com.”

To the victor goes the spoils

News Corp said that the growth was driven by 57% growth in mobile users. News Corp also said that Realtor.com’s traffic accelerated in January to 50 million monthly unique users, or 34% growth year-over-year.

More specifically, in the second quarter, Move’s revenues increased 35% on a stand-alone basis to $87 million from $65 million in the prior year.

Not only that, based on Move’s internal data, average monthly unique users of realtor.com’s web and mobile sites for the quarter grew 37% year-over-year to approximately 39 million, which was driven by 57% growth in mobile users. Further, traffic accelerated in January to 50 million monthly unique users, or 34% growth year-over-year.

Coulda been a contender

Depending on which side of the river you want to water your horse, Zillow (which has been Realtor.com’s main competition for like, ever) claims that it actually represents more than 70% market share of all mobile-exclusive visitors to the real estate category. This despite a July 2015 report from Barclay’s that states Zillow is experiencing slow traffic growth due to a “function of audience saturation and new competition.

Comparatively, recent comScore data also showed that Realtor.com’s traffic in June 2015 surpassed Trulia’s traffic for the first time in two years.

Superficially it seems like tit-for-tat, but the truth is, competition is good for the real estate marketplace and for the time being, realtor.com is wearing the crown.

#OnlineRealEstate

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Move Inc.

For the first time ever, realtor.com will pipe in third party real estate agent ratings and reviews

Realtor ratings is a hot button issue, but NAR has set standards, and realtor.com announces how they’re meeting, perhaps exceeding those standards.

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Finding an agent is a big challenge for consumers, and offering some semblance of accuracy in ratings and reviews is a tremendous challenge for real estate search sites – a challenge that has a long, convoluted history. Today, realtor.com is announcing their next move, confident that they’re appealing to both consumers and industry insiders, in yet another push to assert the superiority of their offering.

They’ve inked agreements to integrate content from Quality Service Certification, Inc. (QSC), RealSatisfied, and Testimonial Tree to agent profiles on realtor.com®, becoming the first online real estate website to offer a consolidated view of reliable information for consumers researching potential agents online.

Adhering to stringent policies

The information will appear on realtor.com’s revamped agent profiles and ratings and reviews system, offering very specific data. In fact, they’re the first to base these standards on the National Association of Realtors (NAR) guidelines for professional evaluation, established last year. The ultimate goal is to insure that ratings and reviews are by clients who have closed a transaction with a particular Realtor only – they say they’re the only real estate search portal to offer this.

One source tells us that the realtor.com policies were so stringent, that it was actually a struggle to find any vendors that met their standards.

Separately, the system allows a recommendation section which can be provided by colleagues, friends, and so forth. In a statement, realtor.com states, “The combined system provides a standard for transaction-based information while allowing all agents to showcase their professionalism.”

The industry has demanded a solution

“Buyers and sellers of homes rely on an agent with one of the biggest investments in their lives, and they spend inordinate amounts of time doing their due diligence to select someone they can feel confident about,” said Tapan Bhat, chief product officer at Move. “It’s important for them to have a resource they can trust – one that offers consistent quantifiable metrics around an agent’s performance and that provides a clear and reliable portrayal of the qualitative aspects as well.”

“Brokers and agents have consistently communicated that they want and need a solution that allows them to easily syndicate the ratings and recommendations they collect as part of their customer satisfaction programs,” said Jeff Turner, president of RealSatisfied. “From the very beginning, realtor.com® has supported this notion and their decision to continue to support this as part of their new platform is a testament to their forward-thinking approach to agent performance evaluation data. We are proud to be a part of this solution.”

Leveraging the abundance of data

In a press release, the company notes, “Leveraging the abundance of reliable data collected by trusted affiliates while carefully managing the integrity of the new solution was no small challenge. The integration of third-party, transaction-based ratings and reviews content into the realtor.com® system is made possible by matching the external data to the criteria established by realtor.com® for display where possible.”

QSC has decades of experience as a proactive performance management platform that helps brokers spot agent performance issues early. Realtor.com calls the affiliation a “natural fit,” having over 1.5 million surveys in the field to date – today more than 95 percent of buyers and sellers are ‘satisfied or very satisfied’ with agents participating in QSC’s program, including 84 percent that are very satisfied, compared to a national average of approximately 58 percent.

“QSC was the first to offer consumers reliable information to make better, more informed decisions by collecting feedback only from real customers and after every closed transaction,” said Kevin Romito, president and COO of QSC. “Through this agreement, realtor.com® will provide millions of consumers access to a level of accuracy and transparency not available anywhere else, and for participating brokers and agents, this will be a powerful differentiator and competitive advantage.”

Realtor.com®’s recent agreement with Testimonial Tree will enable testimonials collected by real estate professionals to be integrated within recommendations at realtor.com®, and adds a social element to agents’ profiles.

R.com expects this to increase leads for agents

As credible and reliable content makes its way onto the realtor.com® profile platform over the coming months from these partners and through realtor.com®’s built-in evaluation system, the company expects to see a boost in traffic, engagement and high quality leads for agents.

“The resulting virtuous circle of visibility, combined with the reliability of the content we are gathering, fulfills our vision for this solution: to meet the needs of the consumer for a trustworthy resource while addressing the complexities of the industry which we are uniquely positioned to understand,” said Bhat. “We are delivering a solution that works – not just today, but for the years ahead.”

STORY UPDATE: It is important to note that Real Satisfied and Testimonial Tree are feeding the recommendations section, and QSC is feeding the ratings and reviews.

#RealtorRatings

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Move Inc.

Have you seen realtor.com’s aggressively anti-Zillow ad campaign?

For years, real estate listings sites have fought about who’s more accurate, but realtor.com is taking the fight to consumers to help them understand the urgency of data accuracy.

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While many brands allude gently to their competitors, or simply call themselves the best, realtor.com is going for their competitor’s jugular, tapping into the real estate industry’s concern regarding listing accuracy, presenting it to consumers in a visually meaningful way.

Today, the company wrapped a real home for sale in Austin, Texas, leaving a giant blank spot on the block, asserting that if you only search Zillow, you may be missing out on y our dream home. The experential ad is part of a broader, ballsy campaign wherein realtor.com appears hellbent to finally illustrate the value of accuracy in listing data.

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Drawing attention to accuracy

Realtor.com says that their campaign is based on statistical analysis from October, which estimates that they have 20 percent more MLS-listed for-sale homes than Zillow. They note that the gap is much bigger in some markets than others.

To further illustrate their “listings advantage,” they’ve offered some data to back up their claims:

MSAs

“Buying a home is one of the biggest commitments many of us will ever make, so it’s not a decision we enter into lightly,” said Nate Johnson, chief marketing officer for realtor.com®. “This advertising campaign draws attention to the fact that, unlike our competitors, realtor.com® provides the most comprehensive view of MLS-listed, for-sale homes.”

Digital and static ads will also run

The home will remain wrapped through Saturday, and they’ll also be running these digital ads:

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In addition to the digital ads, static ads on major sites and platforms from Google and Curbed to Spotify and Twitter. The ads feature headlines such as:

  1. “There are more homes for sale than Zillow’s showing you. Realtor.com® – search more homes for sale”
  2. “If you’re looking to buy your perfect home, Zillow might not have it. Realtor.com® – search more homes for sale”
  3. “More homes on realtor.com® means more homes that could be yours. Realtor.com® – search more homes for sale”

If you thought changing their logo to red was aggressive, we’re betting this is yet another move away from the soft, friendly brand. Under new ownership, they’re clearly serious about connecting with consumers and planting their flag.

#realtordotcom

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