After much speculation and leaked details, Zillow and Trulia have announced their commitment to one another, as Zillow has entered into a “definitive agreement to acquire Trulia” for $3.5B in stock. Both companies will remain in tact as brands with Trulia CEO Pete Flint reporting to Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff, and the deal is on target to close next year.
With this acquisition, two real estate search giants will remain (Zillow, realtor.com), and real estate professionals and industry insiders have mixed feelings on the topic (some believe the world is going to end, others are enthusiastic), but as the two names remain in tact, Zillow would simply own Trulia, not necessarily swallow it. Read: your advertising dollars will still go to two separate locations rather than just Zillow since the world will not be absent a Trulia.
What remains to be seen, however, is whether or not the FTC will approve the acquisition, as both are publicly traded companies and require approval from the regulatory body. This merger is akin to all telecom companies merging except for Sprint, leaving a world of only two large, nationally recognizable options – even if all stores still say “AT&T” or “Verizon” on the signs, in this theoretical example, they’re all still owned by AT&T, so there are only two competitors. The FTC doesn’t always like when there are only two competitors controlling a market.
Zillow will argue before the Commission that there are literally thousands of competitors, and they’re right, but when it comes to the main competitors, as an industry, we’ve long called Zillow, Trulia, and realtor.com the “big three,” and changing that landscape changes control over the market. While most believe the FTC will approve, it is not a guarantee, so we will be watching closely.
Rascoff’s letter to brokerages
The following is a copy of an email sent by Zillow, Inc. to real estate brokerages.
It’s my pleasure to let you know we have just announced that Zillow has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire Trulia. You can read the full press release here .
I’m really excited about this opportunity, but I am sure the news will lead to a number of questions. The most important thing I can stress is that this combination of companies sets the stage for us to offer even more real estate tools and services to empower consumers and thus has the ability to drive even more business to local brokerages and their agents.
We expect to maintain both the Zillow and Trulia consumer brands, as both will continue to offer buyers and sellers access to vital information about homes and real estate, providing an important bridge to local agents across the country. We’ll work hard to make sure the great partnerships we have with brokers nationwide continue to prosper.
This acquisition requires shareholder and regulatory approval, which might take several months. We will provide additional details as they become available. For now, it’s business as usual for both companies. Our daily focus and strong commitment to local agents and professionals in the real estate industry remain unchanged and of the utmost importance to our entire team.
Please contact our team at email@example.com with any questions.
Zillow’s press release about the acquisition
Zillow Announces Acquisition of Trulia for $3.5 Billion in Stock
Combination of companies sets stage to offer more real estate tools and services that empower consumers and drive more business for real estate professionals
SEATTLE and SAN FRANCISCO (July 28, 2014) – Zillow, Inc. (NASDAQ:Z) today announced that it has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire Trulia, Inc. (NYSE:TRLA) for $3.5 billion in a stock-for-stock transaction. The Boards of Directors of both companies have approved the transaction, which is expected to close in 2015.
The combined company will maintain both the Zillow and Trulia consumer brands, offering buyers, sellers, homeowners and renters access to vital information about homes and real estate for free, and providing advertising and software solutions that help real estate professionals grow their business. At closing, Trulia CEO Pete Flint will remain as CEO of Trulia reporting to Zillow CEO, Spencer Rascoff, and will join the Board of Directors of the combined company. In addition, at closing, a second member of Trulia’s Board of Directors will join the board of the combined company. Further operational and organizational details will be announced at closing.
“Consumers love using Zillow and Trulia to find vital information about homes and connect with the best local real estate professionals,” Rascoff said. “Both companies have been enormously successful in creating compelling consumer brands and deep industry partnerships, but it’s still early days in the world of real estate advertising on mobile and Web. This is a tremendous opportunity to combine our resources and achieve even more impressive innovation that will benefit consumers and the real estate industry.”
“Trulia and Zillow have a shared mission and vision of empowering consumers while helping real estate agents, brokerages and franchisors benefit from technological innovation,” said Flint. “By working together, we will be able to create even more value for home buyers, sellers, and renters, as well as create a robust marketing platform that will help our industry partners connect with potential clients and grow their businesses even more efficiently. Our two companies share complementary employee cultures with innovative, consumer-first philosophies and a deep commitment to create the best products and services for our industry partners.”
Both Zillow and Trulia are primarily media companies, generating the majority of revenue through advertising sales to real estate professionals. Despite continued growth as public companies, significant opportunities of scale remain as the majority of advertising dollars in the real estate sector have yet to migrate online or to mobile. For example, the two companies’ combined revenue currently represents less than 4 percent of the estimated $12 billion i real estate professionals spend on marketing their services to consumers each year.
Zillow and Trulia are two rapidly growing real estate sites on mobile and the Web, enabling advertisers to reach a large and expanding consumer base. In June, Zillow reported a record 83 million unique users across mobile and Web ii . For the same month, Trulia reported a record 54 million monthly unique users across its sites and mobile apps iii . The two brands have limited consumer overlap – approximately half of Trulia.com’s monthly visitors do not visit Zillow.com, and approximately two-thirds of Zillow.com’s monthly visitors across all devices do not use Trulia.com iv . Maintaining the two distinct consumer brands
will allow the combined company to continue to offer differentiated products and user experiences, attract more users and maximize the distribution of free content across multiple platforms, apps and channels.
A summary of expected benefits of the deal, include:
• Faster Innovation. By combining resources, the companies expect to accelerate innovation on mobile and Web to provide more valuable tools and services to consumers and professionals.
• Greater Access to Free Real Estate Market Data. The companies expect to share real estate market data, housing trend analysis, and forecasts to make more free data available to consumers and real estate professionals to empower people to make more informed decisions.
• Broader Distribution. Home sellers and their agents, brokerages, and participating MLSs will benefit from seamless free distribution of listings across even more platforms to reach an even larger audience of consumers.
• Enhanced Value and ROI for Advertisers. The companies expect to offer shared services and marketing platforms for advertisers that enhance agent productivity and marketing and deliver greater return on their investment.
• Corporate Cost Savings. By operating independent consumer brands through one corporation, the companies expect to realize synergies to improve overall operational efficiency over the long-term. By 2016, management expects to achieve at least $100 million in annualized cost avoidances.
As part of the agreement, Trulia shareholders will receive 0.444 shares of Class A Common Stock of Zillow, Inc. v for each share of Trulia, and will own approximately 33% of the combined company at closing. Current Zillow holders of Class A Common Stock and Class B Common Stock will receive one comparable share of the combined company at closing, and will represent approximately 67% of the combined company. The transaction assumes Trulia’s convertible notes will be assumed by the combined company at closing. The value of the deal represents a premium of 25% to Trulia’s closing price on July 25, 2014.
The agreement is subject to the satisfaction of customary closing conditions, including the expiration of U.S. antitrust waiting periods and shareholder approval of both companies. Zillow co-founders Rich Barton and Lloyd Frink, who control a majority of the shareholder voting power of Zillow, have agreed to vote in favor of the transaction. In addition, Trulia directors holding 7.4% of Trulia stock have entered into voting agreements with Zillow to vote in favor of the transaction.
Letter to Trulia employees from CEO, Pete Flint
The following is an e-mail sent from Trulia, Inc.’s Chief Executive Officer to Trulia’s employees:
Today, we are embarking on a new and exciting chapter. We’ve signed an agreement to be acquired by Zillow. This was a decision the Board of Directors and I did not take lightly, and I am convinced it is the right one for our company, our employees, our customers and our shareholders. Together, we have successfully built Trulia from the ground up by staying focused on our clear vision. Our mission remains the same – to use technology to drive innovation in the real estate industry. By joining forces, Trulia and Zillow can accelerate our efforts to revolutionize the home search process for consumers, help professionals build their businesses and create additional value in adjacent markets.
This combination is expected to create an even stronger organization by bringing together the shared talent, technology and industry relationships of Trulia and Zillow. Together we can unlock more innovation and align our time, energy and resources into building the best consumer and agent experiences. The combined company will be home to two fast-growing and beloved brands in the online real estate industry.
We expect that Trulia and Zillow will continue to operate as separate and distinct brands once the transaction closes. The multi-brand strategy is common in a variety of industries from travel to household goods and more. For example, Priceline owns Kayak and Booking.com, ensuring they have products that meet a variety of tastes and preferences, while delivering more quickly on their shared mission.
Trulia shareholders will receive shares in the combined company equivalent to 0.444 shares of Zillow, for each share of Trulia. This represents a 25% premium to Trulia’s closing price on July 25, 2014. Trulia shareholders will own about 33% of the combined company. Once the transaction closes, Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff will be CEO of the combined company. I will continue to run Trulia under the new structure, reporting to Spencer, and will join the Board of the combined company.
This news means new possibilities for our employees and greater value for our shareholders. This also means significant benefits for buyers, sellers, homeowners and real estate and rental agents, such as:
1) Faster Innovation. By combining resources, the companies expect to accelerate innovation on mobile and Web to provide more valuable tools and services to consumers and professionals.
2) Greater Access to Free Real Estate Market Data. The companies expect to share real estate market data, housing trend analysis, and forecasts to make more free data available to consumers and real estate professionals to empower people to make more informed decisions.
3) Broader Distribution. Home sellers and their agents, brokerages and participating MLSs will benefit from seamless free distribution of listings across even more platforms to reach an even larger audience of consumers.
4) Enhanced Value and ROI for Advertisers. The companies expect to offer shared services and marketing platforms for advertisers that enhance productivity and marketing and deliver greater return on their investment.
I know this announcement may come as a surprise for many of you. Trulia was doing great as a standalone company. However, we believe that combining with Zillow will allow us to do much more together than apart. And I can tell you that after working closely with Zillow’s team the past few weeks, it has become apparent to me that Zillow‘s business is highly complementary to Trulia’s, and Zillow’s vision, strategic goals and objectives are closely aligned with ours.
Many of you may have questions about what this will mean for you. Here’s what I can tell you today: First of all, Trulia’s brand and culture are not going away. Zillow admires and respects our culture. It is one of the key reasons they want to combine with us. Additionally, this deal will mark the beginning of a new chapter of growth and opportunity to innovate for our customers and our employees.
Second, we are just beginning what will be a lengthy process, as the proposed transaction will require both customary regulatory and shareholder approvals. We believe these processes could take several months, and we expect the transaction will close in 2015. During this time, despite the many possible distractions, it is absolutely critical that we maintain our focus on delivering the best products and experiences for our customers and partners.
In the months to come, we will share additional operational details, with the bulk of the details announced around the closing of the transaction. As part of this process, we will work with Zillow to form a transition team comprised of employees from both companies, who will focus on integration planning for Trulia and Zillow. I want to assure you that — as always — we intend to be as transparent as possible and will keep you informed as decisions are made and information becomes available.
Business leaders throughout Trulia are setting up meetings with their teams to talk through the transaction, so each of you will have more opportunities to discuss any questions about how this might affect you. For now, it is business as usual, and for the time being, our normal operations are not affected whatsoever by this announcement. Trulia and Zillow are and will remain completely separate companies until the transaction closes. I’ll reiterate the importance of staying focused, even in the face of the many distractions from this announcement.
I am grateful to be part of the talented team we have here, and I thank you for all of your hard work, passion and dedication. We will be holding an employee all hands at 10:00 a.m. PT (details to follow) where we will discuss this further. I look forward to working with you as we prepare for this next step in our journey.
Full statement from Trulia
On July 28, 2014, the following entry was posted on Trulia, Inc.’s corporate blog:
TODAY MARKS A NEW AND EXCITING CHAPTER FOR TRULIA AS WE AGREE TO BE ACQUIRED BY ZILLOW
Today, we have some exciting news to share https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20140728005503/en/Zillow-Announces-Acquisition-Trulia-3.5-Billion-Stock, as Trulia is embarking on a new and exciting chapter. We’ve signed an agreement to be acquired by Zillow, which will enable us to accelerate our efforts to revolutionize the home search process for consumers, help professionals build their businesses and create additional value in adjacent markets. I’m excited about the benefits this combination will bring to the consumers, agents, brokers, franchises and data providers we work with every day.
Over the last 10 years, we have successfully built Trulia from the ground up by staying focused on our vision – to fundamentally improve the way that home buyers, sellers, renters and home seekers find a place to live and the way that agents and brokers connect with them to power their businesses. It’s clearly been working and today’s news further validates and invigorates our mission. It is also a reminder that our journey has really just begun.
Zillow will acquire Trulia in a stock-for-stock transaction in which Trulia stockholders will receive shares in the combined company equivalent to 0.444 shares of Zillow for each share of Trulia, and will own approximately 33% of the combined company at closing, on a fully diluted basis. At closing, I will remain as CEO of Trulia reporting to Zillow CEO, Spencer Rascoff, and will join the Board of Directors of the combined company. In addition, a second member of the Trulia board of directors will join the board of the combined company.
Trulia and Zillow will maintain our individual consumer brands and operate as separate companies. The combined company will offer buyers, sellers, homeowners and renters access to vital information about homes and real estate and provide advertising and software solutions that help real estate professionals grow their businesses.
Together, we will create an even stronger organization by bringing together the shared talent, technology and deep industry relationships of Zillow and Trulia. We can align our time, energy and resources into building the best online real estate experience by accelerating innovation on mobile and desktop platforms and providing more valuable tools and services to consumers and professionals. We can also work together and in partnership with the real estate industry to ensure more free data is made available to consumers, which can empower people to make better decisions. With broader and seamless distribution, home sellers, agents, participating brokerages, franchises and MLSs will be able to reach an even larger audience of consumers. Finally, together we can offer shared services and marketing platforms for advertisers to enhance productivity and deliver great return on our customers’ investment with us.
I know this announcement may come as a surprise for some of you. Over the years, in this first chapter, as we have participated in the growth of the industry with Zillow, mutual respect grew. We believe that combining with Zillow will allow us to do much more together than apart.
It has never been a more exciting time to be in the real estate industry. Here’s to the next exciting chapter!
WeWork’s melodramatic IPO withdrawal could hurt Compass & Opendoor
(REAL ESTATE) You may ask what some tool who claims he invented coworking has to do with the real estate tech world, but it turns out the ties that bind them are closer than many thought. Buckle up, this is a wild ride.
If you haven’t been paying attention to the WeWork melodrama, we’ll give you the TL;DR version, but you should first know that I am absolutely certain that this will all be a Netflix documentary a la the Fyre Festival scam or the Theranos debacle.
Like many of you, I have been obsessed with this wacky story, and I’m convinced that it is a fleecing of historic proportions that is complex and is (finally) unraveling before our eyes.
WeWork’s parent, The We Company announced today that they will be withdrawing their filing for their initial public offering (IPO) which initially was based on a $47 billion valuation that by this month had slid to around $10 billion. The Board successfully voted to oust CEO, Adam Neumann last week, with Neumann himself allegedly casting a vote in agreement.
The IPO failed for a number of reasons, but the meat is that the company had to disclose information in their filing that showed more of their shady underbelly than they would have preferred.
The S1 revealed made up accounting methods, wild spending, questionable dealings between WeWork and companies that Neumann owned (that benefited Neumann’s personal finances), and when investors began digging into the filings, they uncovered billions of dollars of annual losses that weren’t exactly documented or explained in a way that Wall Street was ready to invest in.
An editorial was posted on Medium.com that went viral, simply entitled “Is WeWork a Fraud?” to which the entire internet read and responded with “yep.” It was republished by countless blogs as a dramatic summation of the facts.
It empowered the average American to read and balk at Neumann’s bizarre God complex. He believes he is literally destined to be The One save the planet. He constantly played a shell game with his companies and brushed off legitimate questions about finances with answers that sound like some spiritual guru on stage.
People shared the editorial endlessly, and it was the catalyst for people becoming interested in the eccentric CEO who smokes weed in his private jet and cusses on stage like a hecka cool guy.
To really understand how all of this ties into Compass and Opendoor, we urge you to go read the original editorial before continuing- it’s worth the time, we promise.
So you’re probably asking yourself right now what WeWork has to do with anything in residential real estate.
The first common thread is Japan-based Softbank, the big bucks behind WeWork, Compass, and Opendoor.
Many fingers are pointed at Softbank CEO and Chairman, Masayoshi Son for being overly optimistic and underly diligent about companies that he personally sees as innovative.
Softbank had reportedly pressured WeWork to hold off on their IPO (and keep the noise down), as they are in the middle of raising their second $100 billion Vision Fund, hoping to attract investors who won’t notice Son’s reputation for investing in companies that don’t yield any returns.
But WeWork filed, the noise has become overwhelming, and the Vision Fund is in trouble.
Softbank has been the only real investment in WeWork, and the only one who says the company was ever worth a $47 billion valuation, investing $12 billion in 9 rounds since 2012.
The second common thread between WeWork, Compass, and Opendoor is that they are all growing incredibly quickly and are unprofitable.
That sounds like good news, but it’s not. Everyone in the startup and/or investing knows that burn rate is a critical component of a company’s sustainability.
Having a high burn rate is like a 7 year old that got their allowance, immediately rushed to spend every dime on candy, and are now in debt to their siblings because they used their allowances on candy as well. It’s corporate gluttony.
The third common thread is that they all claim to be technology companies.
This is a deep point of contention for some, but let’s digest this together.
Ben Thompson offers analysis of industry topics at Stratechery, and recently dissected whether or not WeWork (and others) are tech companies or not (and included an in-depth historical perspective leading up to his criteria). Per his definition, to be a tech company, one must check all five boxes:
- Creates ecosystems.
- Has zero marginal costs.
- Improves over time.
- Offers infinite leverage.
- Enables zero transaction costs.
Thompson asserts that WeWork checkmarks exactly none of the boxes, and under this same criteria, it is hard to see how Compass or Opendoor can either.
We offered a simpler criteria earlier this year when insisting that the media stop calling it the FAANG (Facebook Apple Amazon Netflix Google), noting that most of the companies aren’t technologies.
We noted that any company whose primary function is serving up content is a media company, and any company whose primary function is hardware or software is a tech company.
Under this simplified criteria, it is clear that WeWork, Compass, and Opendoor are not technology companies, they’re real estate companies that are either knowingly masquerading as tech companies to attract investors, or unintentionally giving themselves a label because they use technology better than their competitors and/or consider their use of technology as their core identity.
The final common thread is that all three companies have major competitors that are similar (and they don’t call themselves tech companies, they operate at a profit, and all have much lower valuations), but you would think from their marketing that they’re the only one in their field.
WeWork’s Neumann claims he invented coworking after growing up in Israel in a kibbutz. The only problem is that ServCorp has been around since the 70s, IWG (fka Regus) has been around since the 80s, LEO since the 90s, The Office Group since the early 2000s, and so on.
Compass is doing really cool things with technology (again, they’re not a tech company), but they are a glossy competitor to any other major brokerage, namely Realogy which is publicly traded and according to Forbes, “had 42 times the number of transactions, 11 times the sales volume, seven times the revenue — and actually made a profit.”
Opendoor became a unicorn (valuation of over $1B) right out of the gates, and they’re definitely thinking creatively to speed up the residential real estate process, but they directly compete with Homie, Offerpad, and Movoto, none of whom have the same wild burn rate.
All that said, there’s nothing wrong with Opendoor or Compass, but WeWork has made their existence more difficult.
Because all three are in a similar camp as described above, not only will investment from anyone other than Softbank be difficult to obtain, but WeWork’s insane bookkeeping practices have had a chilling effect in that people are looking more closely at profitability and operating procedures.
That chilling effect means external pressure to improve revenues, which real estate tech journalist, Mike DelPrete asserts, “could lead Opendoor to raise its fees, or Compass to reduce its generous commission splits with agents; either move would severely limit growth. Reducing expenses would come in the form of office consolidation (Compass has over 250 offices across the U.S.), ratcheting down employee perks, or even staff layoffs.”
And it wouldn’t be unprecedented. Uber has had layoffs and struggled with an image problem as they are hand-fed money by Softbank’s CEO who is ultra aggressive with investing in potential rather than profitability.
DelPrete adds that for all three businesses to succeed, they “require an unprecedented amount of capital and a willingness to buy into a vision that is driven more by words than numbers and where the long-term validity of the business model is easier to assert than to prove. The current WeWork fiasco… shows that valuations can’t keep rising unchecked by the realities of basic economic principles—and that investor patience does have a limit.”
WeWork’s newly ousted CEO has already cashed out and is set for life, and his God complex has made for some meaty headlines, but Compass and Opendoor may also pay a price.
This all sounds like a far away Wall Street problem, but try telling that to Compass’ 7,000+ agents (and 1,000+ staff), and Opendoor’s agent partners in 21 cities (and nearly 1,200 staff).
Nice job, Adam Neumann. Thanks a bunch.
Zillow applies for patent on automating remodeling estimates?!
Online real estate giant Zillow has raised eyebrows over the past year as it has been on a bender of applying for utility patents.
Patents can be a huge deal for individuals — and corporations. A patent gives its owner exclusive rights to an invented process or product, and is the cornerstone of pretty much all copyright law in the United States.
For the innovative, this means that if they create a new way to do or create something, they can control the use of that product, often by charging others. In many ways, patents have come to be seen as a quick way to use your wits and become successful.
(This is the reason that Romy and Michele’s triumphant high school reunion lie was about them becoming super rich as the inventors of Post Its or that Mean Girls’ Gretchen Weiner’s privilege comes from her father’s wealth as the inventor of toaster strudel).
So far, some of Zillow’s patent applications are connected pretty closely with the blending of technology with traditional real estate practices. Zillow has filed new applications, which specifically describe (1) the process of digitally creating renovation estimates from the use of uploaded photos, and (2) data acquired from mobile devices.
However, as much as Zillow seems to want to claim that they’ve created the entire field of digital real estate, they aren’t the only ones operating in the industry. Last year, Zillow was sued by another firm claiming to have invented and patented “real estate information” search systems. Zillow was also sued by yet another rival before that, just for having similar appraisal programs.
What Zillow is asserting, in their most current patent application, is a more wide-spread claim than their previous patents; now instead of claiming that they’ve created a nice aspect of digital real estate they’re claiming that they’ve that they’ve invented the method of automating remodeling estimates.
While there’s no doubt that Zillow owns the intellectual property that it uses within its own processes, it seems like (yet again) a bit of stretch (or a lot of ego) to say that they’ve created a process that’s been used as a model for all other companies that have developed automated remodeling tools.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out.
Zillow Group sued for being inaccessible to the visually impaired
(REAL ESTATE) Zillow has been sued for their numerous sites being inaccessible by popular screen readers – what do the Plaintiffs want the company to do next?
Two visually impaired Massachusetts women have banded together to sue Zillow for their sites allegedly being inaccessible to the blind and visually impaired.
Filed in the U.S. District Court in Massachusetts, the lawsuit claims that Zillow Group is in violation of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), asserting that their sites are not compatible with the most common computer screen reader programs, which the visually impaired rely upon in order to access information online.
Court documents sate that this failing “deprives blind and visually-impaired individuals the benefits of its online goods, content, and services — all benefits it affords nondisabled individuals — thereby increasing the sense of isolation and stigma among these Americans that Title III was meant to redress.”
The Plaintiffs cite tools utilized to attempt to use the sites – Apple’s VoiceOver technology, JAWS and NVDA software. Accessibility experts tell us that JAWS and NVDA are the two most common tools in America used for this purpose.
The core of the problem is readability – for example, if a button is an image (of say a search icon) but has no text or alt text, the screen readers cannot read them, therefore the visually impaired cannot use that feature.
Further, the Plaintiffs assert that Zillow Group “has long known” that these screen reader technologies are necessary and that they are legally responsible for providing them, but offers no evidence that the company “has long known,” aside from the fact that Title III isn’t a new law.
The lawsuit did not acknowledge possible attempts to use any other real estate search site, nor their existence.
What do the Plaintiffs want?
Their list is long and fascinating. Aside from the standard request for payment of “actual, statutory, and punitive damages as the court deems proper,” along with attorneys fees and court costs, they demand that Zillow Group do the following:
- Hire a Web Accessibility Consultant (WAC) and incorporate all of the recommendations within 60 days of receiving them.
- Train certain staff on accessibility.
- Submit to a quarterly usability test and a period audit.
- Create a web accessibility policy, provide that policy to certain staff.
- Make a public statement on the policy, with an accessible contact form and feedback option.
- Immediately escalate all usability calls to properly trained staff.
- Submit to a two year monitoring period.
It remains unknown if the Plaintiffs intend on pursuing action against any other websites (real estate search portals, brokers, and the like), and as of publication, Plaintiff’s representatives have not responded to our request for comment.
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