eNeighorboods + Homes.com = ?

Mar 23, 2007 Michael Wurzer

Realty Times reports this morning that eNeighborhoods has been acquired by Dominion Enterprises, the parent company of Homes.com, Advanced Access, Number1Expert, and related homes magazine businesses. I wonder if this acquisition signals a major change in strategy for Homes.com or whether the focus will remain on broker and agent sites?

I’m not sure exactly when Homes.com beta came out but they’ve added the now ubiquitous sold data from Onboard, LLC and a neighborhoods function that’s under construction, which explains at least one potential area of synergy between Homes.com and eNeighorhoods. Homes.com seems to be wanting to make a stronger statement in the listing portal space. At the same time, how does the Homes.com portal square with eNeighborhoods’ excellent work on behalf of major franchises like RE/Max in helping them build their listing portals? Will Homes.com ever be able to bring IDX data to its web site? Could Homes.com become a Realtor.com competitor? Probably not but it’s interesting speculation.

I particularly find interesting this quote in the Realty Times piece from Peter Ill, SVP of Dominion: “We were watching technologies like paid search and realized that portals were being outflanked by Web services . . .” The recent success of Trulia and Google Base with Realogy and Prudential’s protectionism of their exclusive relationship with Yahoo! Real Estate makes me think listing portals are pretty important these days and aren’t being outflanked by much. Ill’s comment also doesn’t jive with the work they’re putting into Homes.com beta.

The question of listing portals was discussed at the Clareity conference I attended several weeks ago. In particular, the success the Houston Association of REALTORS® has had with their listing portal was highlighted. The traditional argument against MLS listing portals is that it competes with the brokers’ sites. In other words, if the MLS doesn’t have a web site, the brokers’ sites will get more traffic. This claim, however, doesn’t seem to be born out by the web traffic counts. (I wish I had a link for this but it was just presented orally during the conference. Check out the Future Vision of HAR.com on the HARtv site (requires IE, ActiveX).) What HAR found in looking at web traffic patterns for real estate searches in Houston versus Dallas, which doesn’t have a strong listing portal, is that the broker web sites didn’t get any more traffic in Dallas than they did in Houston. In other words, the existence of the HAR portal wasn’t having a negative impact. Moreover, the HAR site was driving a LOT of traffic to the listings, outpacing every other portal for the Houston market.

What was even more interesting is looking at data from the Seattle area, where John L. Scott and Windermere have spent tons of money on their listing portals and have excluded even Realtor.com from displaying listings. In other words, John L. Scott and Windermere are pretty much the only game in town, seemingly, but yet the data (again, no link, just recollection) showed that the most visited real estate site in Seattle is Craig’s List. Neither John L. Scott nor Windermere were even in the top ten. What’s that mean? I think it means that portals are critical. Consumers want to go to a site they think is independent and they don’t see the broker or franchise portals in that light.

Is this at the heart of the eNeighborhoods’ acquisition by Dominion? Only time will tell. What I do know is that I wish my good friends Greg, Dan, Andy and Dave at eNeighborhoods all the best as they make this transition. These are some of the smartest and hardest working people in the business. These guys make stuff happen and this is going to be exciting to watch.

Prediction: OnBoard LLC has to be a hot target right now given the enormous success they’ve had syndicating their sold data. They’ll be acquired within the year.