An increasing number of property portals are beginning to add other verticals to their business. Mike DelPrete takes a look at some of the 'smart strategies' the major players have developed.
Big property portals around the world have built their businesses off of advertising. Much like the classified sections in the newspapers they replaced, portals like Zillow Group in the U.S. and Rightmove in the U.K. offer the most prominent way to advertise properties for sale.
But in an effort to grow their revenue streams and provide more value to consumers, many of the portals have added other verticals in addition to advertising, looking to develop other services a home seller or homebuyer might need. They are expanding across the value chain.
As an example, one of the big areas of focus over the past few years has been valuation and data services. The first step in many home selling journeys involves a home value estimate. So, many portals have begun offering this information to consumers through automated valuation models (AVMs), a computer-generated model based on a mix of publicly available information and portals’ listing data. Zillow’s Zestimates are a good example of this.
While I was serving as head of strategy at the New Zealand property portal and classifieds site Trade Me, we invested in Homes.co.nz, in part, for this reason (I left Trade Me in January to pursue other interests after four years at the firm). Trade Me recently launched Property Insights, which offers home valuations for properties across New Zealand. It was a calculated, strategic move to expand the value offered to consumers beyond advertising and increase overall value in the market in the process.
For this article, I look at how the big property portals in the U.S., U.K., Australia and New Zealand have expanded across the value chain. By tracking past and current trends, some commonalities emerge. Based on these, I’ll also suggest future ones.
Home services and repairs is also a big area of focus, and potentially lucrative. Many of the big portals are making moves into this space, with marketplaces that connect tradespeople with homeowners that take a clip of the ticket along the way.
In December 2015, News Corp. (REA Group’s parent company) paid $40 million for a 25 percent stake in HiPages, an Australian online marketplace for tradespeople.
And just a few months later, Fairfax Media’s Domain Group (the No. 2 property portal in Australia) acquired a 35 percent stake in Oneflare, a similar tradesperson marketplace, for $15 million.
Antony Catalano, CEO of Domain Group, told startupdaily.net that the investment is "part of our strategy to broaden our offering to consumers and agents across the property lifecycle, into home improvement and local trade services.” It’s also a huge revenue pool, with both businesses tapping into a $100 billion local services market in Australia.
If we go back to the color-coded chart above, I wouldn’t be surprised if a few of those reds in the home services category flip to yellow or green over the next 12 months.
Growing revenues is another motivating factor when looking to expand. Many property portals see a relatively limited runway of growth in the core advertising business. Once they mature and capture a large market share, what else is there to do but slowly raise prices over time?
Expanding into adjacent services that complement the core advertising proposition makes sense. It provides consumers with more value, streamlines the entire process, and allows the property portal to tap into new revenue streams.
Another key reason for the desire to expand -- and a bit of a dirty little secret -- is that it’s exciting! If there are a bunch of Type A personalities running a property portal and setting strategy, it’s quite boring to travel the same track and look for small, incremental efficiencies. It’s sexy and exciting to try new things, especially for the types of individuals in these positions (and I’m just as guilty as the next person).
It is, and as I discussed in my previous article on the investment strategies of the major portals, it has a narrow and focused strategy on its core advertising proposition. Zoopla, the No. 2 player in the U.K. market, has the opposite strategy. It aims to be the one-stop shop for consumers, aggressively expanding across the value chain in the process.
So we have the top two players in the U.K. with completely different strategies. We should be able to see which approach is the winning one, right?
My analysis leads me to believe that Zoopla’s strategy is a result of its market position, rather than the cause of it. In other words, because Zoopla has always been the No. 2 underdog in the market with its potential of dislodging Rightmove extremely unlikely, management opted for an alternative strategy to differentiate its offering.
So, in the end there is no clear winning strategy. Or rather, both are winning strategies. But what is clear is that the big portals focus on their core proposition and completely nail it before expanding across the value chain.
Zillow Group does a great job of this with its mortgage rate comparison service, and Zoopla made a big move in the space with its £160 million acquisition of uSwitch (which has a mortgage comparison service) and its investment in startup Trussle to speed up the entire mortgage process.
These two areas represent the biggest potential revenue pools across the entire value chain. Everyone is talking about them, but not everyone is doing something in that space. It’s difficult to execute on because of the inherent complexity and well-established incumbents.
During my time at Trade Me, we launched a big effort in the insurance space with Trade Me Insurance. We partnered with an existing player in the market and worked together to launch a Trade Me-branded insurance product. It was a considerable undertaking and represents a big, long-term bet in insurance.
I would do three things: