Trends 2024 - "How Online Real Estate's Leaders are Evolving"
Illustration by Lanette Behiry/Real Estate News

Trends 2024: The 4 portal giants and the battle for dominance 

Home search sites have become an integral part of the real estate industry, for agents and consumers alike. Where do they stand, and what’s next for portals?

December 26, 2023
4 minutes

Editor's note: Since 2006, the Swanepoel Trends Report has provided in-depth research and analysis to help leaders understand the forces shaping residential real estate. This exclusive series of excerpts highlights each trend featured in the 2024 report, which was released in November 2023.

How Online Real Estate's Leaders Are Evolving: Many consumers begin their real estate journey by visiting one of the leading home search portals. Over the past two decades, these companies have changed the industry, while themselves adapting to shifting consumer expectations and industry trends. They also account for billions of dollars in business through advertising and referral fees.

This excerpt provides a snapshot of "The Big Four of 2024" who are battling to maintain their dominance — or increase it. (CoStar Group)

CoStar has a well-defined business model it has leveraged to become a leader in its commercial real estate and rental verticals: provide agents with advertising and marketing packages on a subscription basis. Company leadership has said that it will begin offering advertising products for residential real estate agents in early 2024.

Leadership has leaned into the "Your Listing, Your Lead" strategy, in which prominently displays listing agents on all listings, regardless of whether they are advertisers or not.

As it has in other industries, the company will likely apply a pure marketplace approach for and lean into marketing and advertising subscription packages to agents. The firm has an aggressive growth strategy as it goes all in on the homes portal space. (Move Inc.) was the clear leader in real estate website traffic from its launch in the late 1990s through the 2000s. Shortly after Zillow acquired Trulia in 2015, resumed its No. 2 U.S. real estate web traffic position, which it has maintained through today, although is making a big push to challenge the position.

Move Inc. offers agents a mix of advertising and branding services to real estate agents. It makes the majority of its revenue by selling leads and referrals to agents from traffic to has grown its referral business, but, unlike Zillow and Redfin, it does not look to service ancillary business itself. In this sense, it more closely resembles, which operates the purest media play of any of the four large portals; however, it remains distinguished as, unlike, it squarely leans into the value of connecting consumers to buyers' agents from listing detail pages.


Launched in 2004, Redfin, unlike the other operators of the US's most popular home portals, operates primarily as a brokerage with in-house agents servicing the majority of the business its site generates. As it grew, Redfin often invested more in technology than advertising and marketing. 

Redfin has struggled in recent years as the market shifts deeply impacted its business, which is based on employee agents. The firm is now moving more toward a marketplace model, in which it will monetize the majority of its audience connections via referral connections to third-party agents (by sometime in 2024) and hire agents on more traditional compensation structures. 

Redfin has a long-term goal of providing full-spectrum service to real estate consumers, including brokerage, rentals, mortgage and title services.

Zillow Group quickly generated traffic shortly after its early 2006 launch with a placement of automated valuations, the Zestimate, on all homes, whether for sale or not. By the early 2010s, had overtaken as the nation's most popular portal, and it has not looked back. 

As a brokerage, Zillow Group can charge referral fees to agents who it refers business to. It rolled out its referral program, called Flex, in 2018, and in many markets, it offers agents both Flex and market-based pricing for share of leads by ZIP code. The firm only allows proven agents within the Flex program, which is by invitation only. Referral fees reach as high as 40 percent at the highest price tiers in some markets. 

Owning the real estate customer is a big focus for Zillow Group: from rentals to purchase and ancillary business. In the wake of its iBuying exit, the firm introduced a vision for a housing Super App, with which the company will facilitate all tasks and services for consumers related to moving.

Read the full chapter: Digital and printed copies of the 2024 Swanepoel Trends Report are available for purchase at T3 Trends.

Note: T3 Sixty and Real Estate News share a founder, Stefan Swanepoel.

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