Founded by the man who brought us Expedia, Zillow is a “predictive real estate” site. After 16 months online, Zillow covers 72 million American homes. It all started in Seattle.     Rich Barton started the travel site Expedia be

cause he felt that Internet should make it easier to book a flight or reserve a hotel room without calling a travel agent. After he left that company, he happened to be looking for a new home in Seattle. He got that feeling again: how can Internet help a prospective buyer, or seller for that matter, research the market? Every night, Zillow updates its “Zestimates” on 72 million American homes (the team is working hard to cover all estimated 91 million family homes in the U.S.). Some of the 100 data points entering into the mix don’t change (square footage of the house and lot, number of rooms,…). What does change is the sale price of similar houses in the vicinity. To gather this information, Zillow works with companies that collect this public data from the 3,000 counties in the U.S. Until Zillow, only professionals had access to the information. “We clean up the data and enter it into our algorithm. Every home gets a home page,” explains Amy Bohutinsky, director of communications at Zillow. “Since the launch, we have added new features. Homeowners can update the information, either privately or publicly. Already 750,000 of them have done it to mention a remodelled kitchen or other features that add value to their home. They can also signal that their home is for sale. In December, we added a “make me move” price.” This above-market price has already resulted in a few sales, according to Bohutinsky. Unlike Expedia which is an ecommerce site, Zillow will not sell houses, a much too emotional and important decision to make online. The revenue model is based on advertising. Besides the traditional banner ads for brokerage firms, home improvement stores and car companies, the company recently introduced what it calls EZ ads. “Using their credit card, landscapers or other local businesses can create their ad online. Over time, we think it will be 50-50 between banner ads and EZ ads,” says Bohutinsky of the promising ultra-localized ads. When surveying a neighborhood, users get a typical satellite view. They also get a more useful view taken from an airplane, courtesy of Virtual Earth from neighbor Microsoft. A new feature allows prospective buyers to ask questions about the home of their dream. The next step is to make it possible to ask questions about the neighborhood. “I recently bought a home here. I used Zillow of course. But it was not until the first summer days that I could talk to my neighbors on the lawn and get a lot of information about the area. This feature will be very useful,” predicts Bohutinsky. Of the 150 employees working at Zillow (in a prime real estate location in downtown Seattle with a breathtaking view of the Puget Sound), the majority are developers. Zillow combs the company blog and does focus group, looking for features users need. The company is focused on adding the homes still missing from its site. Future plans might include development abroad. For now, it savors its 4,2 million monthly visitors, attracted to the site by word of mouth. Isabelle Boucq for Atelier   FEEDBACK For comments on this article, email us at