David Doctorow: The future of Realtor.com, and this ‘moment of truth’ for agents
The Move, Inc top exec reflects on three years in the job and shares his vision of a “pure” marketplace.
- In an extended interview with Real Estate News, the CEO of Realtor.com shared his thoughts on how portals can best serve agents and consumers.
- Doctorow also addressed the challenges Realtor.com has faced and its focus going forward.
- He acknowledged the competition, but said he is staying focused on “‘producing real results for real people.”
David Doctorow joined Move Inc, parent company of Realtor.com, as CEO in February 2020, just weeks before the real estate market — and the global economy — would be turned on its head.
A little over three years later, the economy remains in flux, and the industry continues to face strong headwinds, including a lackluster spring market with too few listings.
"You have right now three Realtors in the nation for every listing that's out there," Doctorow said at the recent T3 Leadership Summit. "This is a moment of truth for agents."
In a down market with limited inventory, competition remains fierce — among agents for new listings, among buyers for homes, and among the leading portals for site traffic and engagement. Realtor.com is currently the second most visited home search portal with over 18% of market share, according to Similarweb data. (Zillow is far in front with 43%.)
In a conversation with Real Estate News, Doctorow discussed Realtor.com's focus and future, and the overall state of the market. (This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
Can a portal be 'pure,' and what does that look like?
We think not only is it possible, it's imperative. Buyers and sellers is one way to think about it, but in addition, it's connecting consumers with people who can help them.
Our view is that staying clean — staying true to making connections in the marketplace — is a critical element of how we can be objective, and we can serve as a guide that consumers can trust.
If we're in the business of trying to push our own products on consumers, we risk undermining what's right for the consumer. And if we do that, then in the long run we can't do our part to deliver clients to agents, brokers and others in the market.
So it's critical that we stay pure. It can be done, and we're doing it.
Traffic to Realtor.com dropped 20% year-over-year. What caused the decline, and do you have a plan to bring those numbers back up?
Traffic levels are certainly down across the industry. And that's to be expected with the market conditions we're facing: fewer listings, fewer serious buyers.
Our focus as a company is not about trying to have the maximum traffic number. If that were our focus, we could do a lot of things to make that number larger. We're focused on trying to get a higher quality audience that's serious, because these are the people who will translate into active leads and help empower the growth of our customers.
We have a higher intent audience than our competitors by independent surveys we've done. 53% of consumers who come to our site are looking to be matched with an agent, that's compared with 41% at Zillow. Our audience is very engaged. We have 54% of our users come to our site once per week. By contrast, 30% of Zillow's come less than once per month.
(Note: Zillow sees this differently. A spokesperson for the company said that an apples-to-apples comparison is not possible because Zillow's traffic is more than double that of Realtor.com. They also noted that approximately 67% of actual homebuyers use Zillow.)
News Corp has reaffirmed its commitment to Realtor.com. Do you remain confident in your path forward?
We feel like we're uniquely positioned in this market. Our approach is different, and it's working. For CoStar to get involved in discussions [about a potential acquisition], they certainly were intrigued about something that was working as well — but I'll leave it to them to comment.
For instance, just in the last couple of months, we've taken our local expert product — which allows agents to brand themselves and advertise themselves in service of winning listings and promoting listings if they choose — and we've added in a News Corp audience extension to that product, which means that an agent can now show their own branding throughout the entire News Corp network, including but not limited to the Wall Street Journal, to build awareness on a geographically targeted basis. And this is real synergy.
In the short time that we've been live with that audience extension, we've seen many hundreds of millions of impressions delivered. And it's a unique opportunity that is only possible through our partnership with News Corp. And that makes me more confident that we're going to have an advantage in the marketplace.
CoStar seems to have taken on a more competitive tone lately. What's your impression?
Look, we're focused on consumers and customers. And we feel like our energy should go into addressing ways we can produce real results for real people.
Our focus is not on creating a narrative that sounds good, or is engaging, or is trying to bait a public dialogue. That's just unhelpful to what we're trying to accomplish, and what we should be trying to accomplish. We have tremendous respect for CoStar and the business they've built. And certainly, they're a very credible competitor in our eyes, and one that we pay attention to, but it's not our primary focus.
The market appears to be in flux, but more players seem to be jumping into the ring every year. Is there enough room for everyone?
We don't believe this needs to be a winner-takes-all market. We do not have to take all of the dollars in the real estate transaction and the loan, the title, etc. There's plenty to go around. Of course, we're a business, so we need to make money, but we're not trying to steal all of the attached business.
It's a $200 billion marketplace between real estate and the adjacencies. Realtor.com is not yet a billion-dollar revenue company. So is there still room for multiple businesses to grow in this arena, even if the market has gone down for a period of time? Of course.
And it's not like if you talk to a buyer or a seller, they're going to say, "Oh, that was such a delightful process. That was so easy." Collectively, we can all do so much better, and consumers deserve that.