The Web is truly getting crowded with real estate web sites, each trying to carve
out its own niche. Zillow has gotten most of the press but we discovered another
one today that, while very similar to Zillow in some respects, is following a
different business model.
Reply.com looks a lot like Zillow. It claims a database of
70 million homes - about the same as Zillow, and provides the visitor with satellite
images of towns, neighborhoods, and streets. If a house is in the database there
is a house value available and a basic description of the house; square footage,
number of rooms, perhaps a lot size, whatever is available from public records.
Reply.com also provides a search function that allows the visitor
to identify mortgage lenders, real estate agents, and renovators by zip code.
This site, however, also has a parallel service for auto sales. Except for that,
the similarities to Zillow are so strong that one wonders if the two sites are
affiliated in some way. Not that it matters.
as reported here last month are free home sale listings
available to both real estate agents and owners (FSBOs) and a feature called
"Make Me Move" in which sellers are encouraged to set a price on their home
- whether it is actually for sale or not - that would, if met, be enough to
motivate them to call the moving van.
We thought that this was pretty silly, particularly in the current declining
market, unless a house is in someway unique such as a waterfront, in a nationally
acclaimed school district, or with historical province. Prospective sellers
apparently don't agree. When we wrote a review of Zillow on December 18 the
site claimed 9,880 for sale listings and 5,431 entries under "Make Me Move."
Today, January 9, the numbers have grown to 18,461 and 10,053 respectively;
nearly doubling in 22 days and that includes about ten days
that include that national breather known as the holidays. Pretty impressive
Reply.com has taken a different
approach. Rather than listings (although we bet that will come and soon) readers
are invited to make an unsolicited offer on any property in
which they have an interest. For a fee Reply.com will receive your offer, review
it (no information on what this review involves or what happens if an offer
does not meet the unspecified criteria - perhaps their professionals just pretty
it up) and forward it via priority mail to the owner. When the offer is received
and if the owner is interested he can visit the web site, enter the offer ID
number and receive contact information for the prospective buyer. From that
point on the negotiation is up to the private parties.
The fee charged for this service is not cheap and is designed
to encourage bulk offers. A single unsolicited offer or up to nine offers will
be processed for $24.95 each. The fee drops to $19.95 for 10 to 25 offers and
$14.95 each for 26 to 50. More than 50 offers at a crack will be $9.95 each.
Nor further commission is charged should the transaction be consummated and
both potential buyers and owners are advised on the site and the offer package
that the offers are not legally binding.
A buyer can submit a specific offer for a property or suggest a range of prices,
or even just indicate an interest in talking. The service is apparently not
available in all areas. Just to get a feel for the process we went through the
opening steps of making an offer on a couple of properties in Massachusetts
where information on property size and value is available but got into a loop
when we tried to do the same with properties in a Georgia town where such data
is not yet on line.
Reply.com is probably targeting a small piece of the real estate market but
that doesn't mean they won't be successful. Those people who post "We
Buy Houses" signs on telephone poles or shrink-wrap their cars in plastic
wrap saying the same will be natural customers. They can target entire neighborhoods
easily if not inexpensively. The unsolicited offer feature will be a boon to
people who look for pending foreclosures to buy out the equity of the delinquent
owner or pursue short sales. While a letter with a 0.39 stamp might achieve
the same thing, the priority mail package put together by Reply.com is more
attention getting and it is certainly less intimidating and time consuming than
knocking on the doors of homes in foreclosure.
Of course the unsolicited offer can also provide an end-run around real estate
listing agents. It makes it easy to approach the owner of a listed home and
cut a deal outside of the listing agreement and then wait out the agent's contract.
The agent will never be able to claim a commission on a sale that is conducted
so far off of the grid. But then, the Internet has made life so much simpler
in so many ways that it is not surprising it has done so for the ethically challenged
Let us know what you think about this service below.