Zillow Group will begin accepting Canadian home listings next year on its U.S. consumer real estate sites, including Zillow.com and Trulia.com.
The goal is “to get exposure for Canadian listings with the U.S. audience, more so than creating a Canadian experience for Canadian consumers,” says Errol Samuelson, the chief industry development officer for Zillow Group.
He says there have been several requests from American consumers seeking the same consumer experience for Canadian properties that is available for American properties. American interest in Canada primarily involves properties in major cities and in resort sites such as Whistler and the Okanagan area in B.C.
Americans are traditionally one of the top three foreign buyers of Canadian homes, Samuelson notes. “What we found is there’s a definite segment in the U.S. market that is interested in Canadian properties. We see this when someone types Toronto, Ontario in the search bar on Zillow for example.”
With a monthly consumer audience of 170 million people on its various sites, “we think there is real potential to drive more exposure for Canadian properties.”
Zillow Group has been interested in carrying Canadian properties for the last four or five years but only now has the bandwidth to do so, he says.
Samuelson, who is Canadian, is based in Vancouver where Zillow has been operating a software development office in Yaletown since 2014.
Zillow.com will offer its Zestimate feature in Canada – an often controversial computer algorithm that provides estimates of the current value of houses. Zestimate currently provides price estimates for 110 million properties in the U.S.
Zillow Group’s various software tools will be available to Canadian real estate agents and the company will accept advertising from brokers, mortgage companies and others in the real estate field.
As in the U.S., agents will be allowed to create online profiles and request reviews from clients. In the U.S., “agents have used reviews to generate a ton of business, a ton of, quite frankly, free business,” says Samuelson.
The plan is to start providing Canadian listings in the first quarter of 2018. There is no charge to carry house listings on the site, but Zillow Group sells advertising to buyers’ agents.
“As soon as I can get the content we’re going to start loading on the site,” says Samuelson. “It’s a question of how quickly we can reach agreements with various MLSes,” in Canada.
Zillow Group has been meeting with “a number of the big MLSes around the country,” seeking approval to have their listings appear on the company’s various sites. Zillow.com currently provides listings from more than 625 MLS feeds in the U.S. They are updated, on average, every five minutes.
“Our goal is to talk with all boards and get as many as possible to participate in the program,” he says. “Part of the plan is to not only go speak to the boards and the MLSes but also to meet up with the large franchisors, the large brokers and help them understand who we are and how they can leverage us to reach new marketing for their listings.”
Samuelson says he has seen excitement in Canada about some of the software products Zillow Group can provide agents to help them reach interested buyers.
These include a CRM (customer relationship management) database that helps agents stay in touch with clients and DotLoop, an electronic forms product that enables e-signatures.
The company has also recently launched a new 3D home tour app, Zillow Group Home Capture, that lets real estate agents use their iPhone to take panoramic photos of each room. It “essentially creates a Google Street View of homes. As a consumer, you can literally walk from room to room. It’s really cool.”
A Canadian version of the Zestimate algorithm is being developed that will provide features such as estimated price ranges for houses in Canada, best estimates (a single price), estimated values in one year and graphs showing how a property’s value has trended over time compared with local neighbourhoods and the city.
“Right now, in the U.S. the accuracy is pretty good,” Samuelson says. “The median error for Zestimate is 4.3 per cent, meaning half the time the price is within 4.3 per cent of what the property sells for.”
However, given that it is more difficult to obtain information on house transactions and assessments in Canada than in the U.S., “we don’t know yet what the accuracy is going to be in Canada. Will it be 4.3 per cent as it is in the United States on day one? I would suspect it probably won’t be.”
However, Samuelson notes preliminary testing of Zestimate was conducted in one Canadian market and the accuracy “was good enough I think that you can create something compelling for consumers.”
Launched 10 years ago, Zillow Group led the way in publishing real estate data online aimed to consumers. Aside from Zillow.com, the company runs the real estate sites Trulia.com (similar to Zillow but with more neighbourhood information on everything from schools to crime rates), Realestate.com (geared to first-time buyers and millennials), StreetEasy.com in New York City and rental sites HotPads.com and NakedApartments.com.
The Canadian venture will mark the first time Zillow Group will show non-U.S. listings on its sites.
“A sizable part of our population will be really intrigued to see what’s for sale in Canada,” Samuelson says. For example, in Atlantic Canada “you can buy beautiful vacation homes at what Americans would consider very reasonable prices,” he says. Boston residents “who buy a vacation home in Maine probably don’t realize that they can buy twice the home in Nova Scotia.”