There is no denying or ignoring the reach and ubiquity of Facebook. Despite the recent setbacks and concerns over privacy and the world of fake accounts. Facebook is the platform to reach any community – true of NZ, as it is in almost any place on the planet.
In NZ more than 2.3 million check it every day. Whether that is to share thoughts, photos or simply to while away a few minutes on the latest meme.
There is as ever always a commercial focus for Facebook, and ever more so of their Marketplace product which holds massive opportunity. It will ultimately allow the company to move beyond advertising and pitch up against Amazon in the broadest sense of retail. In the context of real estate, I don’t foresee a property-for-sale move coming anytime soon, however their early moves have been into rentals and flatmates. These 2 categories happen to be core elements of Trade Me Property’s portfolio representing 27% of their total revenue, equating to $10m per annum according to their most recent financial report.
Just last month in the UK it was announced that Facebook had struck an agreement with the second largest property portal Zoopla and the leading industry owned property portal On The Market to syndicate all of their rental listings into Facebook marketplace. This is a significant move with potentially massive implications for the NZ real estate industry and Trade Me.
Facebook at its core is a community platform that values stickiness – that ability to attract and retain users and monetise them. This is very different to Google that in essence seeks to attract users and then as quickly hand them off to their advertising customers. This difference is significant if we examine the history of property listings syndication in NZ and to some extent globally.
Around 10 years ago Google set up an initiative (Google Base) to present real estate listings on Google Maps – a massively disruptive move which encouraged real estate companies to syndicate their listings to Google to be found on map based search. In many ways bypassing the property portals who were adamant that this was disruptive and damaging to their business model. Most of the global leaders boycotted the platform and in some cases went as far as stopping their Google Adwords marketing budgets which at the time were massive.
The initiative died a few years later and is now consigned to the archives of initiatives Google has tried and killed. The initiative though was something at the time I supported whilst CEO of Realestate.co.nz. I chose to work with Google to support our customers. Realestate.co.nz was an industry owned-portal and in this sense the ambitions of our customers, real estate companies was perfectly aligned for this syndication whereas for Trade Me and the likes of Rightmove and REA Group they were opposed. They feared the ambitions of Google as a truer competitor, being a content aggregator search engine that could disintermediate between the listing originator (real estate company) and the consumer.
So let’s fast forward back to 2018 and Facebook’s partnership in the UK. Already Rightmove the leading property portal has said it will not work with Facebook in syndicating rental listings. Facebook does not want to go direct to real estate companies, property management companies and private landlords to power Facebook Marketplace for rental. It is not in their DNA to be a search engine nor a structured data integrator. Their preference is to partner in order to source a trusted comprehensive feed(s) of listings. In this way they get structured data and don’t have to bother with the interface vagaries of multiple data transfer systems that would be required to be maintained if they went to real estate companies, property management companies or end users.
What attracts Facebook to property rentals and flatmates is stickiness. It also happens to be content that is skewed younger and is perfect social and viral content – all aspects that align to Facebook strategy.
Let’s look at how Facebook Marketplace sits today in terms of inventory of rental and flatmates in NZ for rentals and compare it to Trade Me as shown below, using Wellington as an example.
No comparison. At 70 listings on Facebook vs. Trade Me with 1,241. Facebook is stuck in the classic 2 sided market conundrum. Without listings there is no audience engagement and without audience engagement then no appeal to add listings. However Facebook is not without an audience who would flock to Marketplace if they went from 70 listings to 1,241 listings in a day. That would change the dynamic for Facebook Marketplace for property.
So would Trade Me Property syndicate their listings to Facebook? Trade Me effectively is the market in this segment; with all private listings and all property management listings.
In my opinion no way. Trade Me earns over $10m from rental listings. Syndicating these listings might be an appealing proposition that they can offer their customers as a wider audience reach. However it would be, as I see it in their judgement taking traffic away from their platform. So if not Trade Me, where might Facebook access the syndication pipe for rental listings?
This is the threat that Trade Me is very likely highly nervous of – what if Realestate.co.nz stepped in and made an arrangement with Facebook?
At this time Realestate.co.nz does not have the depth of content of rentals as their source is only property managers and their inventory today is just over 5,000 as compared to Trade Me at 8,500 rental and over 4,000 flatmates listings. However based on the same principle as I adopted all those years ago the syndication of those listings would be aligned to the outcome to Realestate.co.nz property management customers, offering a vastly expanding audience reach for these listings. If Realestate.co.nz was really ambitious and thinking strategically to could manoeuvre Trade Me. They could build an interface to allow private landlords to list their properties for rent as well as offering a whole new service to flatmates. Such a move would offer all these customers a powerful USP of exposure to the massive Facebook Marketplace audience for free – how powerful could that be? At the same time there is no reason why Realestate.co.nz could not monetise those listings which at say a low $50 per rental / $10 per flatmates. This could generate c. $8m per annum of incremental revenue, even at half those fees $4m is a massive opportunity for Realestate.co.nz.
All of this of course is purely hypotheticals, and sadly I don’t believe that Realestate.co.nz has the vision or courage to take such bold steps. Having said that, Trade Me Property should not rest easily, for it could equally face another challenge. For whilst Realestate.co,nz might not pick up the baton offered by Facebook then maybe OneRoof might judge it worthwhile or even Homes?