"Deuces Wild" and playing cards with the Realtor.com and CoStar logos
Illustration by Lanette Behiry/Real Estate News

Why — and how — second place counts in home search 

Both Homes.com and Realtor.com claim to be No. 2 in the battle to unseat Zillow as home search champ. A look at CEO claims, what’s at stake and how we got here.

May 18, 2024
8 minutes

Key points:

  • Both CoStar CEO Andy Florance and Realtor.com CEO Damian Eales have raised broader questions around business models and agent benefits.
  • Leading home search portals want apples-to-apples traffic comparisons, but don’t necessarily agree on the best way to achieve that.
  • CoStar-owned Homes.com embraces Google Analytics, while Realtor.com (and Zillow) look to Comscore.

Editor's note: Real Estate News presents "Deuces Wild," a three-part series on the high-stakes battle to be the second-largest home search portal, featuring exclusive conversations with Realtor.com CEO Damian Eales and CoStar CEO Andy Florance.

In the home search portal race, there's not a lot of drama around the top spot, which Zillow has dominated for years. But Homes.com and Realtor.com have been upping the ante in their fight to be No. 2 with dueling claims and massive campaigns.

And it's about more than bragging rights.

The leaders of both companies — CoStar CEO Andy Florance and Realtor.com CEO Damian Eales — say it's about which site offers more value to consumers and agents, and which business model is poised to thrive as commissions lawsuits reshape the industry.

And agents who are paying for buyer leads through Realtor.com or for a membership on CoStar-owned Homes.com deserve to know what they're really getting when they hand over their hard-earned money to these platforms.

So with Florance and Eales each claiming second place, we took a look at how we got here, how the companies are measuring success, and what the data coming from outside sources tells us. Here's what we found. 

When the gloves came off 

In mid-2023, CoStar CEO Andy Florance took direct aim at Zillow, Realtor.com and Redfin, claiming that Homes.com's "your listing, your lead" model was better for consumers and agents. Ironically, Florance's shots at top portal competitors — which he lumped together and described as "Ziltorfin" — came just a couple of months after a potential CoStar bid for Realtor.com fizzled out and the company doubled down on Homes.com instead.

Then in October, Homes.com execs said the site had attracted more than 100 million unique visitors for the first time, making it second only to Zillow in total traffic and beating the goal Florance laid out just a few months before.

However, competitors quickly cried foul and questioned CoStar's math

Realtor.com CEO Damian Eales responded that Homes.com traffic fell off dramatically after hitting the 100 million mark, and claimed it had used "stunts" to acquire a "poor quality audience."

At NAR NXT, attended by 12,000 agents in November, a Realtor.com rep warned attendees that "the value of buy-side agents" was "coming under fire," including from "people that are at the conference." Meanwhile, CoStar reps at the Homes.com booth handed out one-pagers attacking Realtor.com and parent company News Corp. 

New Year, new traffic claims, new questions

CoStar kicked off 2024 with a $1 billion advertising effort which the company declared to be the "biggest marketing campaign in real estate history" to promote Homes.com. And Florance told attendees of the T3 Leadership Summit that 250 million people saw the Homes.com ads during the Super Bowl. 

Another ad campaign stated that Homes.com had reached 156 million monthly unique users during the month of March and included the claim that Homes.com "has double Realtor.com's traffic." 

Eales shot back, saying that Homes.com's campaign was based on traffic received by CoStar's entire network of residential real estate portals, not just Homes.com. "​​If I were to apply their logic, I'll start aggregating all of the News Corp sites that I'm linked to," he said to the T3 Summit crowd, suggesting that 17 URLs were being counted in CoStar's traffic stat.

Homes.com: A look at the fine print 

So what's really going on?

The fine print in the CoStar ad indicates that the 156 million unique visitors number is an aggregate of the Homes.com Network, which includes Homes.com and websites that fall under the Apartments.com Network and Land Network. On the final page of CoStar's most recent investor report, 17 sites, including Homes.com, are listed.

Real Estate News found nine additional websites listed on various CoStar pages that fall under the broader Homes.com Network umbrella.*

A CoStar rep confirmed that the 156 million figure includes traffic from the entire Homes.com Network. But the rep said that when distilling the number down to just Homes.com itself, the site had 110 million unique visitors in March. The representative also said the company is only doing what competitors do, noting that Zillow includes traffic from Trulia, Hotpads, Streeteasy and Out East in its overall traffic stats that are publicly reported at earnings

"Compared to Realtor.com, we believe that we are either double — if you count the network traffic — or we're substantially higher if you count just Homes.com. Either way, we're clearly number two," the rep told Real Estate News. 

They also suggested that Realtor.com could be using a recent agreement to syndicate rental listings from Zillow to pump its traffic stats. Realtor.com's response: The deal "doesn't drive traffic."

In the March announcement for the syndication agreement with Zillow, Eales said that "on average, 70 million people each month turn to Realtor.com to find their next place to live." The latest earnings report from News Corp put that number at 72 million average monthly unique users, based on internal data.

Making sense of the numbers by going to the source(s)

Both companies say that they want an apples-to-apples comparison but can't seem to agree on what the "apples" should be — and even where the apples are coming from.

CoStar has repeatedly said its traffic numbers come directly from Google Analytics, and Florance has vehemently denied any misrepresentation: "If you're a public company CEO, you don't make stuff up because you go to prison for a long time," he said. "And I don't like prison."

A CoStar rep told Real Estate News that they would welcome Realtor.com sharing its own Google Analytics figure. "Google Analytics (and Adobe Analytics) will always be more accurate than Comscore when tracking actual visitors, because these tools rely on actual site visits, while Comscore data is based on a sample of users," the CoStar spokesperson said.

Realtor.com declined to provide GA data. A Realtor.com rep pushed for a move to a neutral, third-party web traffic data provider that uses "consistent methodologies across competitors." They highlighted companies like Comscore and SimilarWeb as examples of independent data providers that could help the industry — and consumers — gauge audience and traffic.

Homes.com president Dave Mele has previously told Real Estate News that his company sees issues with third-party measurement, saying that it can "penalize sites that are in high growth." Mele said data providers like Comscore or Similarweb "have significantly undercounted" Homes.com's traffic.

A spokesperson from industry leader Zillow told Real Estate News that the company views Comscore metrics as the "gold standard" for understanding web traffic and how its competitors stack up, highlighting Comscore's methodology. It measures a deduplicated audience. The Zillow rep declined to comment on Realtor.com and CoStar's traffic claims.

The Comscore perspective 

Comscore shared its Q1 traffic data for the top portals with Real Estate News, which showed Realtor.com in second place for each month. 

A chart based on Comscore data showing total unique visitors for the top 4 home search portal sites in Q1 2024.

In terms of total unique visitors, Comscore puts Realtor.com at 48.2 million in January, 51.8 million in February and 54.3 million in March. Homes.com had 30.3 million unique visitors in January, 39.7 million in February and 39.1 million in March. It is worth noting that according to Comscore metrics, Homes.com had more unique visitors than Redfin in February (34.4 million) and was virtually neck-and-neck for March.

When asked about their methodology, Danan Ren, SVP, Client Insights & GTM Enablement at Comscore told Real Estate News that they "strip out any invalid traffic — bot traffic, spiders — any traffic that is not real." After the data is "clean," Comscore deduplicates it "at the person level" to come up with a more accurate representation of how many different people are visiting a site. And it applies the same process to all sites, Ren said. 

"If you think about measurement standardization, it's super critical to make sure that all data sets from all parties are treated in the same way," she said. 

But more than that, audience engagement and other parameters — such as time a visitor spends on a website — are also important to advertisers when determining audience quality and value, Ren said. 

By that measure, Realtor.com comes out ahead of both Homes.com and Zillow. According to Comscore data, Realtor.com averaged between 3.8-4.3 minutes per visit in the first quarter versus 2.1-2.5 for Homes.com and 2.9-3.1 for Zillow.

So who really is number two? It depends on who you ask and which apples you're looking at.

* CoStar lists the following sites as part of the Homes.com Network: Apartments.com, ApartmentFinder, FinderSites, ApartmentHomeLiving, WestSideRentals, ForRent, After55, CorporateHousing, ForRentUniversity, Cozy.com, Off Campus Partners, Homes.com, Homesnap, CitySnap, Land.com, Landandfarm.com, and LandWatch.com.

Real Estate News found these nine additional Homes.com Network sites: Land Magazines, Cityfeet.com, Realla.co, Showcase.com, BizBuySell.com, LandsofAmerica.com, LoopNet.com, Ten-X.com and Apartamentos.com.

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