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Wall Street still doesn’t understand real estate brokerage

When will Wall Street's patience run thin on heavily funded companies profitability?

The news that Zillow is ceasing ibuying activities stunned Wall Street and, probably, knocked 10% off the value of Zillow. Several analysts commented that, due to the heavy influence of ibuying, revenues on Zillow‘s performance would affect not only this year‘s performance, but likely carry into next year. It shows the lack of understanding by Wall Street of the residential brokerage industry given the fact that ibuying was not a core contributor to Zillow‘s earnings.

The same can be true of Wall Street’s view of other companies in residential brokerage such as Redfin, Opendoor, Offerpad, The Real Brokerage, Inc. and Fathom Realty. The valuations of these companies still reflect investors’ beliefs that these companies, or at least some of them, will gain significant market share of the residential brokerage industry and, at some point, turn that market share into profitable businesses.

However, for the nuts-and-bolts analyst who understands the residential brokerage industry, one key part of the Zillow announcement was just how critical that last mile of the transaction is to success. It’s one thing to have a great web presence, extraordinary consumer tools on that website, highly intelligent algorithms and all the other resources that these companies have. It’s another thing to organize the real estate professionals, mortgage and title insurance and other settlement service providers — not to mention all of the trades people — who service the real property to make it salable or transferable.

As Zillow’s announcement stated, a great part of the difficulty was in organizing all of these various participants in the sale and purchase of residential property. Regardless of how much capital some of these companies can deploy or how much high technology they can utilize, much of the success in this industry still depends on your “supply chains“ and ensuring that they are managed efficiently and well.

Those skills come down to the leadership and managerial skills of the companies attempting to buy their way into larger market shares of the residential sales industry. Whether they have or can attract the type of leadership and managerial skills they’re going to need is more important than how much capital they can throw at the industry.

It has been some of the most exciting years to watch the enormous amounts of capital and new approaches that so many of these new companies have brought to our industry. Thirty years ago, ibuying was called guaranteed purchase programs. It’s not a new concept. Bridge loans have been around for longer than 30 years. But, the new ways companies are marketing and delivering these services are innovative. What is old is made new.

As we’ve said, we see a trend of leading brokers adding many of these new services to their own service delivery through their agents. It will be exciting exciting to watch.

Furthermore, to the extent that Wall Street continues to invest in these kinds of firms, and at what point their patience may wear thin, will be just as interesting to follow.