Zillow.com hitting its stride

    The unique real estate web site Zillow.com is now almost two years old.  After some initial baby steps, the site is becoming more useful for those serious about selling or buying a home, plus the rest of us real estate junkies.  People are noticing; traffic to the site was up 20% year over year in the third quarter, and the enterprise collected another $30 million in investment capital last month.
    Many folks use Zillow to check the latest market value of their homes, which is Zillow's bread and butter function.  Zillow's formula is to pull in information on recent sales in a particular neighborhood and combine that with other publicly available information, such as appraised values and taxes, and generate a latest "zestimate" of a home's value.  The service claims about 70 million homes in its database.
    Zillow has has now added the ability to ask questions of home sellers (and the agents representing them).  When you first sign into the site, you can indicate your geographic areas of interest.  Then the next time you login, you'll see a few samples of homes recently listed for sale at the site, as well as questions that have been asked about other homes in the area.  The sellers or their agents post responses.  For example, one recent potential buyer asked if there were more views of the kitchen in a particular house.  The seller steered him to a site with a panoramic video of the kitchen.  
    Zillow is still ironing out some kinks - e.g. questions about two Williamsburg homes were dated last June - but as the volume to the site picks up and the techies work through some of the problems, this should be a valuable tool for buyers and sellers alike.   
    Of course, the venture capitalists who have poneyed up more than $80 million to date in support of Zillow want more than just a helpful site.  Zillow has begun to accept advertising, and I am testing the function by placing a few ads for the HomeOnTheCourse Community Guide.  I targeted my ads by specifying relevant zip codes; for example, I indicated the zip for Williamsburg, VA.  Whenever anyone searches for a home in that zip code, my ad pops up.  The ads are small, not much bigger than those little blue ubiquitous Google ads, but you can't beat the ability to target for a specific neighborhood.
    Given its incredible map technology, user friendliness and extremely deep pockets, it is hard to imagine Google wouldn't want a piece of Zillow.   And, of course, whatever Google wants Microsoft typically wants as well.  Those Zillow venture capitalists may get what they want before too long.

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