Modern Day Disruptor Timeline, Part Two

Part Two: Modern Day Disruptors 1995 to Today

In part two of our series on real estate industry disruptors, we discuss the companies who set out to disrupt the industry between 1995 to current times. Every news report you see includes the buzzword disruptors. The truth is that innovators and entrepreneurs have continually disrupted the industry. Let’s take a walk down memory lane:

Fall 1995. HFS (today’s Realogy) acquires ERA Real Estate, becoming the first major national company to own more than one franchise brand. Also, before the industry stops chatting about that move, they acquired Coldwell Banker in May 1996.

Microsoft launches HomeAdvisor to enter the online listings and housing information business to compete with and confirms that in fact “lions may be coming over the hill.”

ZipRealty is launched, the first online real estate brokerage featuring employee agents and discounted commissions.

HomeServices of America begins a 20-year acquisition binge, focusing on bringing large residential brokerage firms into the fold. NRT LLC started in 1998, is formed as a joint venture between HFS and Apollo Management to do the same and over the next 20 years, these two firms will acquire dozens of the largest brokerage firms in the country.

A new online portal, Zillow is launched. Trulia is launched a year later.

2007-2008. Redfin launched.

Canadian-based Brookfield acquired Prudential Real Estate Associates and Prudential Relocation. Earlier, GMAC Real Estate is sold to new owners.

Acquisition activity resumed, and both HomeServices and NRT moved forward with several significant acquisitions.

Urban Compass, a new, private-equity backed start-up began an aggressive campaign to build large market share in key markets throughout the United States.

Move Inc. is sold to News Corp. Zillow buys Trulia. Dozens of real estate technology firms are started and purchased with a few short years. Firms such as SkySlope and dotLoop are at the top of the list.

2015-2018. New companies offering to buy homes directly from consumers arrived. Among them are Open Door, Offer Pad,  Other companies jump into the iBuyer movement, such as Zillow, Coldwell Banker, and Redfin.

Anxiety grows as many of these, and other start-ups attract significant capital to fund their growth—more so than has been collected in the past.

Is There Reason To Be Concerned?

Yes, of course, there is. Compass has aggregated $1.2 billion to purchase top performing agents and some brokerage firms. In some cases, they’re raising the splits and other payments to these agents and teams causing incumbents to have to do the same. At least one national brokerage firm is mimicking this practice.  Every brokerage’s commission costs will go up, or they will lose share. Gross margins will fall further.

Zillow and are headed towards far more aggressive lead development and curation activities. We have said before that one of their challenges to delivering excellent service to housing consumers is the “last mile” or the connection to the agent. With Zillow’s concierge program and’s acquisition of OpCity, we see them moving towards a fuller brokerage package.

The so-called iBuyers will have an impact on the markets where they operate.  Offering to purchase homes directly from sellers is an excellent service for those who need their equity quickly. Admittedly, there will be more entrants into this market (KW or Berkshire Hathaway anyone?) The iBuyers may end up controlling 8 to 10 to 15 percent of the market in a few years.

The Team Phenomenon

Teams are growing in number and size. In the REAL Trends’ team ranking report, Americas Best Real Estate Agents, the number of teams doing more than 75 sides or $30 million in volume has more than doubled in the last four years.  Their average size has also increased significantly. The top 15,000 to 16,000 individuals and teams accounted for 11 percent of the transactions, and nearly 23 percent of the total volume closed in 2017.

Each of these disruptors will affect the market and peel off a piece of the pie.  However, with consumer’s use of agents at a 20-year high (90 percent according to the REAL Trends/Harris Insights 2018 study), this market remains a $70 billion-plus market. There are still agents and teams who see the value in being with a stable brokerage firm. There are still +/- 100,000 new real estate agents entering the business each year. The brokerage business remains a viable business. The vast majority of top individuals and teams are still associated with well-known brokerage firms, both independent and affiliated.

What Does the Future Hold?

The next few years will be more chaotic than average—and what exactly is normal anymore? The future will require that brokerage firms develop new strategies and tactics. We and others have said for some time that this market would likely evolve just like other retail service and product industries. In research we did for NAR in 2003, From Homogeneity to Segmentation, we noted that the brokerage industry would segment. In our 2014 book, Game Changers, we said that there would likely be a segmentation between Facilitators and Counselors of agents and brokerage firms.

Think Wal Mart and Nordstrom

There is nothing wrong with either business model—Wal Mart vs. Nordstrom. The big challenge for brokerage firms today and for the future is, which do you want to be? A brokerage cannot be both.

Most importantly, a brokerage firm cannot get caught in-between.

Each of the new models of realty services (not brokerage per se) may well peel off a share of the market. Zillow is already influencing a certain percentage of buyers and sellers towards their preferred agents and brokers. will do the same.

The iBuyers will influence and direct a certain share of the market towards their in-house service organizations. Others, such as Quicken Mortgage’s In-house Realty will do the same, just as USAA is doing it through their service agreement with Realogy. The business available directly from consumers will shrink as a percent of the whole. There doesn’t seem to be any evidence to the contrary.

But the largest segment of the market will still be direct-from-consumers, and the only question in front of brokerage firms is, ‘What will incumbent brokerage firms do to remain viable?’

To view the first half of this article, Click Here.