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A depressed listing market. An ongoing series of lawsuits that threaten to upend how buyer’s agents get paid. And an upstart challenger with deep pockets.
It’s against this challenging backdrop that parent company News Corp. appointed new Realtor.com CEO Damian Eales earlier this year and charged him with the task of growing the listing portal’s web traffic, product line and agent customer base.
That growth mandate is driving Realtor.com to take a more vocal stand against competitors like Zillow and CoStar Group, Chief Marketing Officer Mickey Neuberger told Intel.
Neuberger oversees the company’s public marketing efforts. In a video interview with Intel, he described the thinking behind the listing portal’s more aggressive messaging stance, as well as the products it’s rolling out to help position the company for a post-lawsuit landscape.
His comments below have been edited for length and clarity.
Intel: I wanted to start with the lawsuits. Like every real estate business, your company has a lot on the line, depending on the consequences of these commission lawsuits. How does Realtor.com see this affecting buyer commissions, and what are the implications for Realtor.com’s business model?
Neuberger: I’ll start by saying I’m not a legal expert, so I don’t know how the lawsuits are going to play out, and they’re going to play out over many, many years.
I think what we can say is that the settlements recently endorsed by the judge seem reasonable and seem to support a marketplace with both buyer and seller agency, and we think that’s a really good outcome.
We are champions of the buyer agent and firmly believe in the value independent buyer agency brings to consumers. Independent buyer agency is important, and even more important for new homebuyers — which are a third of the market — and minority homebuyers and fair housing. So there’s huge value in buyer agency.
All that being said, selling and listing agents are going to become even more important, so we’re doing a lot on the seller’s side. We have two products live on our site, both a consumer and a customer product. The consumer product allows would-be sellers to get proposals from multiple listing agents and compare those proposals and then choose the listing agent that best suits them. None of our competitors have a product like that.
We’re also launching in a big way our listing toolkit product. It’s already live. It helps listing agents win listings and sell the listings they have. Listing agent proposal product.
So big picture, we believe in buyer agency, we continue to support buyer agents, and we’re doing a lot to grow our business on the sell-side.
It’s interesting to think about how every business is having to shift gears and think about the outcomes of what these lawsuits might look like. I’m curious, this push a little more toward listings and sellers, is that partially influenced by everything that’s going on right now and all the question marks that are surrounding buyer commissions?
We were building these products regardless of the lawsuits. There’s always been two sides of the transaction, and it’s an area of growth for us as we’ve been more buyer-focused. Just like we’re building our rental and new homes products, part of Realtor.com’s overarching strategy is to empower choice for our consumers across the full real estate journey.
So I think we were doing it regardless, but it is even more important given what is going on.
One of the reasons that people have been following your competitor Homes.com so closely is because they have the backing of this very large, successful commercial real estate company behind them in CoStar. But also, I know Realtor.com, as well, is part of a large organization [News Corp.] with lots of resources.
We have a new CEO: Damian Eales. He joined us back in the summer. And his brief from Robert Thompson was, ‘Grow, grow, grow. Grow the business.’ And we have been laser-focused on that. Grow the business by growing high-quality traffic that drives high-quality leads that serves the consumer and helps our customers grow their business.
There’s three areas that are part of that. No. 1 is traffic. From a traffic perspective, we launched our new, “We are the No. 1 most trusted brand by real estate professionals” [campaign]. That’s something really to be proud of. There’s a lot of fear in buying and selling, and people trust us. So we are shouting that from the rooftops. It’s a campaign that we launched several months ago. And we have the full backing of News Corp. behind us. They are investing heavily in this brand both with a lot more dollars and with the whole network being behind us.
Up to a couple months ago, we were at 1 billion impressions across the News Corp. network. In the last two, three months, we’ve doubled that to over 2 billion. We are running on New York Post, Dow Jones, U.S. Sun, MarketWatch, print, digital, homepage takeovers … every single day, every single week. It’s a huge, huge part of how we’re marketing to our consumers. There’s over 100 million users on the News Corp. network that aren’t on Realtor.com, and we have access to that. Our competitors do not have access to that.
CoStar’s Andy Florance has been pretty forceful and public, making this claim that Zillow and Realtor.com’s business models could be in big trouble if buyer commissions underwent an overhaul. I’m just curious to get Realtor.com’s response to that notion of where the industry’s at right now.
Well, ‘My listing, my lead,’ doesn’t help you sell or win more listings. So we’re introducing products that help you do that, which will help consumers and customers. CoStar doesn’t have that. Like I said, we strongly believe in the value of buyer agency.
On the traffic claims, if I can transition to that, I think the industry’s catching onto them, and I don’t think the industry is going to be tricked and fooled by CoStar’s claims.
Comscore data just came out. It’s an independent, third-party source. It has CoStar at No. 4 behind Zillow, Realtor and Redfin. It looks like they spiked up their traffic numbers to have a big PR publicity stunt.
The data suggests it was very poor-quality traffic. It has half the engagement of our traffic in terms of site visits, time on site and bounce rates. And then this month they’re down 38 percent while the rest of the industry is down 5 percent. No organic traffic, no awareness. So it doesn’t take a detective to figure out what they’re doing. And I think the industry’s on to them, and the industry’s not going to be fooled.
I’ve been thinking a lot about their traffic numbers. I always come back to this saying from thousands of years ago by Plato: ‘The empty vessel makes the loudest sound.’ I don’t think anyone’s fooled.
Speaking of ‘growth,’ you mentioned that word is the charge that you’ve all been given at Realtor.com. You oversee the company’s marketing efforts. Just in this conversation, even, you’re really going at CoStar. Is Realtor.com planning to be more aggressive in its messaging in 2024, just to distinguish itself from its competitors? Is that part of this growth strategy?
Yes, absolutely. Even our ‘No. 1’ campaign is featuring products that none of our competitors have. Absolutely, we are differentiating ourselves on the consumer side.
On the customer side as well: At NAR, we launched our new Realtor.com brand identity, which is a new logo, but underneath it is a new campaign which we’re calling ‘the anthem.’ It celebrates the Realtor. It celebrates their professionalism. It’s a ‘thank you’ to them. And the message is, we stand behind you — both buyer’s and seller’s agents. We’re don’t call you ‘fake agents.’ We’re not trying to disintermediate you. So we’re contrasting what we’re doing there vs. our competitors.
So yes, absolutely. Competition is good. We love competition, and we will compete aggressively.