On the one hand, there is no question that Zillow Group (Nasdaq: Z) stumbled in 2021. On the other, there is little doubt that the company remains one of the largest and most powerful companies in residential real estate.
Barton and Zillow Group shocked the residential real estate world in its third quarter 2021 earnings call both by posting the largest quarterly loss in its history, of $328 million, and by announcing that it was exiting the iBuyer business entirely. Zillow did this despite having over $4 billion in cash in the bank and being real estate’s most popular portal, by far, giving it a massive marketing advantage over other iBuyer companies.
Wall Street reacted swiftly, and harshly. As of this writing in late 2021, Zillow Group’s stock price is down approximately $52 from a 52-week high of approximately $212, a 75 percent drop. Its market cap is now under $14 billion, down from over $36 billion. Zillow Group missed on iBuying, in part, because Zillow Offers executives overrode Zillow pricing models and algorithms, and failed to budget enough for contractors. The performance of its iBuying competitors Opendoor, Redfin and Offerpad, all of whom posted record quarters, affirm that execution, not the iBuying business model, was flawed in Zillow Group’s case.
CEOs are like quarterbacks. They get the glory when the team wins, and they get the blame when the team loses. Ultimately, whether Barton knew about what was going on in his Zillow Offers group or not, is immaterial. The buck stops with Barton. The loss of confidence in Zillow Group, the loss of its aura of invincibility, and the damage to the Zillow brand from the excuse that Zillow couldn’t price homes accurately are reverberating throughout the industry. The financial press savaged Zillow, and real estate agents who have long hated Zillow now have a new talking point to take to sellers everywhere.
And yet, Zillow Group has not lost its dominant position as the real estate’s leading portal, with over 226 million monthly unique visitors. The agent advertising, rentals and professional tools business posted great results – $480 million in revenue and $207 million in EBITDA – in the third quarter 2021. The company still has billions in cash, and the ability to raise capital for future projects, and its technology team has gone nowhere. Barton should also be admired for making very difficult decisions very quickly, despite the obvious downside, and the to-be-expected media frenzy to follow. If anyone can turn this situation around, it is Barton. We think Barton still very much remains one of the most powerful people in residential real estate and despite a drop from No.1 last year, still comfortably deserves a spot in the top 10 most powerful people in real estate. Stay on the lookout for more big moves by Barton and Zillow in 2022.