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Curbed.com = HomeGain Redux; Is History Repeating Itself? Will Curbed.com Start Selling Leads?

Kevin Boer, Broker Owner, 3 Oceans Real Estate, Inc. ()

November 6th, 2007 · 7 Comments

Though the news only made a blip on the real estate blog radar screen, Curbed.com’s recent $1.5M round of funding has profound implications for the real estate business. First, it signifies that blogging is rapidly growing up in this industry. Secondly — and more importantly — it may be a sign of history repeating itself.

In the late 90’s and early 2000’s, an interesting transition took place in real estate. The MLS, which until that point was literally a book, published weekly or so, that was dropped off on broker’s doorsteps. If anybody — broker, agent, member of the public — wanted to see the current housing inventory, they had no choice but to go down to the local brokerage office and take a look. The MLS was, essentially, an intellectual asset being leveraged as a marketing asset. Want to know more about real estate? You’ll have to call me!

Along came this thing called the Internet, which is genetically opposed to locking down information. Gradually, and with much trepidation about the wisdom of doing so, the industry let go of the MLS book and started putting the content online. More or less simultaneously, “outsiders” like HomeGain, Homes.com, Housevalues, etc. started inking deals with MLS’s and large brokerages and also started putting the MLS online.

We know the rest of this story…the “outsiders” did a significantly better job of managing this transition, created much more compelling destinations, and got much more traffic — so much traffic, in fact, that they began to make money by selling leads…back to the industry.

Fast forward to 2007 and we see another major offline-to-online transition taking place, but this time the intellectual asset is not the MLS, but market knowledge — that hyperlocal stuff that fills Realtor’s brains, and, increasingly, real estate blogs. Realtors by the hundreds of thousands around the country know what the good local schools are, where new construction projects are taking place, how to price a home for sale…

Again, we have two types of players competing to monetize this asset online: “outsiders” like Curbed.com and Socketsite.com, and industry players, which this time around is largely individual, and often maverick, single agents, rather than brokerages or franchises. Their weapon? Blogging.

Given that the potential Move.com acquisition of ActiveRain is, uh, not going very well, the largest fundraising to date in the real estate blogging world is almost certainly Curbed’s $1.5M, which gave Curbed a post-money valuation of — wild guess here — $6M to $12M.

What in the world is Curbed going to do with $1.5M, and how in the world does it get such a large valuation? Let me speculate:

A site’s value, even in today’s arguably-bubbled tech economy, is usually related to its potential for advertising revenue. If Curbed can become the de-facto source of local and real estate news for Gen X -and-Y’ers, it has a huge potential audience. But there may be an even bigger pot of gold at the end of the rainbow: referrals. Given that this business is, for most agents, a constant struggle to get more leads, referrals — especially quality ones — are extremely valuable. If the Web 1.0 companies could get rich slinging leads at 35%, why not Curbed?

With the $1.5M, Curbed is going to hire more writers, beef up its site, open up in a few more cities…and probably hire more sales folks. And yes, some of these sales folks may well be calling your phone soon, selling you not only advertising…but also leads.


Below I’ve presented the same thoughts, first in powerpoint form, then in a rough-and-ready video form. Haven’t yet mastered Camtasia Studio and the art of video-casting.


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