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Zillow plans to acquire Trulia: will the FTC approve, will the world end?

Zillow has announced that they will be acquiring Trulia, pending regulatory approval. Does this mean only one place to mail your ad dollar check? Nope, but it’s still a tricky acquisition the SEC will have to analyze before giving the red light.

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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 partners@zillow.com with any questions.

Regards,
Spencer Rascoff
Zillow CEO

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.

Transaction Details
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:

Dear Trulians,

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.

Thanks,
Pete Flint

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!

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.

Real Estate Corporate

The tables have turned: Zillow being sued for violating antitrust law

(REAL ESTATE CORPORATE) A Vermont real estate company is bringing a lawsuit against Zillow for violating antitrust laws. Will it be enough to slow the real estate giant?

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Pen laying on a document covering antitrust law.

In a shocking upset, a Vermont real estate website is suing Zillow for violating antitrust law. The website, called Picket Fence, alleges that Zillow’s operation in Vermont led to millions in lost revenue, both past and projected.

According to court documents supplied by the state of Vermont, Picket Fence—a for-sale-by-owner business that originated and is located in Vermont—was one of the first significant FSBO businesses in the state. Picket Fence purportedly endeavored to use their services in order to connect private sellers with clients, thus negating the need for an agent or traditional real estate service.

Zillow, by contrast, is a “Foreign Profit Corporation” in Vermont. Since Zillow is located predominantly in Seattle, Washington, their presence in the state of Vermont falls under a different classification than that of Picket Fence.

The court document alleges that Zillow, by providing aggressive competition in a state other than that of its origin, deprived Picket Fence of due revenue. It also alleges that Zillow violated “state and federal consumer and antitrust laws” in addition to a handful of Vermont laws. The document refers to “unfair and deceptive acts” on behalf of Zillow, insinuating that Zillow’s operation in Vermont was damaging to FSBO services like Picket Fence.

While much of Zillow’s purported damage to Picket Fence is projected based on profit estimations from 2017, the fact remains that Zillow used the tactics they have used across the country to monopolize real estate business in Vermont. Picket Fence estimates that this will result in a net loss of over $142 million by 2030, so their case prioritizes monetary recompense.

On a separate note in the document, Picket Fence shows that Zillow’s operation and interference in Vermont prevented local FSBO and other real estate endeavors from taking hold despite the best efforts of Picket Fence. The complaint addresses this issue as another nail in the antitrust violation coffin.

Picket Fence continues to suggest that Zillow’s actions were and are illegal, damaging, and in violation of significant antitrust law. This isn’t surprising given Zillow’s long history of shady activity from patent-grabbing to lengthy court cases designed to crush competitors; it is these exact behaviors that Picket Fence is hoping to address in their complaint.

Zillow, for their part, will have to answer for a lot over the course of the last 12 months. This Vermont case is sure to be one of the first of many attempts to bring the real estate giant to its wobbly, monopoly-seeking knees—and, with any luck, it will be the first successful one.

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Real Estate Corporate

Watch out: Zillow’s terms of service have some sinister notes

(REAL ESTATE CORPORATE) Zillow’s updated terms of service allow them to make a lot of decisions with your data—none of which need your approval.

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Computer searching online open to terms of service page.

Zillow has a bit of a shady record. Between their excessive patent-hoarding and the aggressive nature with which they tend to squash competing services, you wouldn’t be remiss in treating them with caution—especially now that the real estate service is revamping their terms of service with some seemingly sinister changes in mind.

The actual terms of service prove for a lengthy—but recommended—read. However, WAV Group, a real estate consulting service, highlighted a few specific stipulations in the terms of service. If you’re here for the short version, it’s this: Have a lawyer look over the updated terms before agreeing to them if you’re a Zillow user. Otherwise, keep reading for a deep-dive on some of the more concerning aspects of these changes.

Data, regardless of the form in which it appears, should be considered an asset; if you aren’t worried about how Zillow (or other companies in their wake) will use the terms of service to legitimize sending away your information at a moment’s notice, you absolutely should be. To wit, WAV Group also recommends having a lawyer look over Zillow’s privacy policy which, while not on par with the terms of service, also underwent a bit of a redesign.

In a nutshell, Zillow’s updates allow them to use and distribute your data—including information associated with your listings—at their discretion. That sounds pretty standard, but Zillow makes it clear that they aren’t just using your data: They own it. What that means is you can’t repurpose or reuse that data again without specific parameters in place if you want to avoid breaking Zillow’s terms of service.

Zillow is also kind enough to alert you that they will take no responsibility for anything negative that happens as a result of your data use on their behalf, a process which can include unauthorized credit checks, the appropriation and use of your data by third-party services, and all of the downsides that accompany these actions.

So, for example, if Zillow passes along your data to a third-party service that has shaky web security, you can’t hold Zillow accountable for the hand-off regardless of negative repercussions on your end.

Now, you wouldn’t be wrong to want to delete your listing and clear out of Zillow after all of this, but you would be wrong in thinking it’s that simple. According to the new terms of service, you may delete your account, listing, and preferences; you just can’t delete any listing data from Zillow since, upon accepting those terms, your data is their data.

Finally—and, as WAV Group mentions, extremely importantly—Zillow’s new terms of service allow them to claim referral fees on your behalf without accepting any responsibility for potential harm to you, your property, your company, or—you guessed it—your data. This basically means that Zillow can act as a referring agency on your behalf without asking for your consent, which runs the risk of everything from raising your bottom line to risking your privacy.

It’s undeniable that Zillow has a motive here: Recuse themselves of responsibility for reckless and irresponsible behavior. Don’t trust the terms of service like you most likely do with other products here—make sure you have a lawyer (or at least a particularly shrewd second pair of eyes) to look over these terms before you sign any kind of deal with this real estate devil.

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Real Estate Corporate

Are rental companies taking too much advantage of apartment evictions?

(REAL ESTATE CORPORATE) With the convulsing housing market forcing people out of their apartment, massive rental companies are partnering with AirBNB to make up lost profit, and then some.

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As national lockdowns have left Americans feeling confined, the demand for short term rentals remains strong—despite the rampant rental crisis. It’s mighty convenient for corporate landlords and rental companies dealing with a backload of vacancies from recent waves of evictions.

ABC reports that the largest apartment landlord in the country, Greystar Real Estate, is gaining infamy for subletting their vacant apartments online. They manage over 500,000 rental units in the US.

One tenant, interviewed by Eyewitness News, stated they had found their apartment complex on the site, as well as 570 other Greystar properties across the country under the same host. Their landlord hadn’t disclosed these postings to them, either.

Most standard statewide rental contracts strictly forbid tenants from subletting to others through websites like AirBNB. But they don’t necessarily keep landlords from doing the same thing.

And in the absence of rent control laws, nothing stops them from rent gouging to drive their permanent tenants out.

Short term renters who apply for an apartment through AirBNB don’t agree to the same terms as long term renters. The actual residents of these buildings are ultimately held to a stricter standard, and potentially have to put up with more grief.

For example, if the property manager doesn’t intervene when disruptive behavior occurs in an STR, permanent residents are forced to put up with whatever trouble these guests might bring, from noise violations to dangerous activities. Anyone unfortunate enough to be stuck in a lease there is effectively trapped in a would-be hotel with no oversight. Over time, it creates a living environment that drives regular tenants out (meaning more space for overpriced Airbnb units.)

The practice puts disproportionate pressure on tenants that share complexes with temporary renters. And it’s not just unfair—this creates a potential health hazard, too.

Tenants in these buildings are rightfully concerned with the potential health risks of people constantly moving in and out of their building during a pandemic. Each new person passing through could potentially expose the rest of the building to the coronavirus (which is currently raging harder than ever, pushing hospitals to capacity across the country.)

All this stinks suspiciously like a potential violation of the Fair Housing Act to us. Renting an apartment through AirBNB or other rental companies would allow someone to potentially skirt the criteria that a regular applicant would otherwise be held to, and possibly rejected for.

In fairness, there are hosts doing their best to use their resources to help people, too.

Still, taking advantage of people’s desperation in the middle of an unprecedented economic depression is shameful—and AirBNB must take accountability for their role, too.

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