Have you been paying attention to what’s going on in the real estate industry lately? Mergers and acquisitions abound. Hardly a week goes by without us hearing about another major M&A event. Think about some of the major acquisitions in just the last few years.
- Move Inc. (operator of Realtor.com) bought ListHub, Point2’s syndication business, and picked up several smaller players like Doorsteps, SocialBios, Relocation.com, FiveStreet and TigerLead
- Zillow acquired Postlets, HotPads, StreetEasy, Retsly, Mortech, Buyfolio and RentJuice
- Trulia purchased Market Leader and ActiveRain
- Nationstar acquired Real Estate Digital
- Cozy acquired Landlordology
- RentPath bought rental marketplace Lovely
- RealBiz Media Group acquired ReachFactor
- HomeFinder.com purchased Open Home Pro
- DocuSign acquired Cartavi
- RealtyTrac bought Homefacts
- WebsiteBox acquired RealtySoft
- CoreLogic purchased DataQuick Information Systems
- Recruit Holding Co. acquired Movoto
- Lion Equity acquires The Real Estate Book and Homes & Land Magazine
- Zillow announced it’s plan to buy Trulia
- Realogy announced it’s buying ZipRealty
- News Corp. finalized it’s plan to buy Move, Inc.
Move, Inc. also noted in its quarterly filing with the SEC that competitors have “intensified their focus on the real estate market.” Those competitors include Classified Ventures (a large media group and operator of HomeGain.com), Dominion Enterprises (another large media group and operator of Homes.com), Google, Market Leader (operator of RealEstate.com and a subsidiary of Trulia), Redfin, Homefinder.com, ZipRealty (soon to be division of Realogy), Trulia, Zillow (operator of the Yahoo!-Zillow Real Estate Network) and others.
Just last week Rupert Murdoch announced his company, News Corp. (owner of Fox and the Wall Street Journal among others), is buying Move, Inc., operator of Realty.com, Move.com, Moving.com, Top Producer Systems, ListHub, Tiger Lead, SocialBios.com, Builders Digital Experience, FeaturedWebsite.com, HomeFair.com, NewHomeSource.com, SeniorHousingNet.com, and HomeInsight.
And nearly every day it seems a new deal is announced. But take a step back and look at the big picture. Forget the momentary excitement of the latest merger or acquisition, and try to see what is actually going on. I know, it’s hard to see the forest for the trees, but if you see it, you will have one of two reactions — either fear or excitement.
If you are a student of the business cycle, this whole pattern will look very familiar. Think of the dozens of telecom companies that have consolidated over the last 20 years to now only four and soon to be three major players. Now consider that the first player into the online real estate lead generation space was HomeStore (now Move, Inc.) in the mid 1990s or roughly 20 years ago.
Consolidation happens as a natural part of the business cycle. According to a December 2002 article in the Harvard Business Review, a study was conducted of 1,345 large mergers over 13 years and a clear pattern emerged. Once a new industry forms or an old one is deregulated effectively creating a new industry (as in the illustration above), it will move through four stages. They are, Opening, Scale, Focus, and Balance.
Stage 1: Opening. A new industry is born or formed by deregulation. Many competitors enter the space. No major players have emerged yet as clear leaders. The combined market share of the three largest companies is between 10% and 30%. Focus is on growing revenues (top line) to build market share.
Stage 2: Scale. This stage is all about building scale by mergers and acquisitions. Major players begin to emerge, buying up competitors and forming empires. The top three players will own 15% to 45% of their market. The emphasis is on growing revenues (top line) to build market share.
Stage 3: Focus. Companies next focus on expanding their core business and continuing to aggressively outgrow the competition. The top three industry players will now control between 35% and 70% of the market but there are still generally 5 or more major players. Emphasis is on growing revenues (top line) to build market share.
Stage 4: Balance. Here the titans of industry reign, and at this stage, the top three companies claim as much as 70% to 90% of the market. Companies don’t move through stage 4; they stay in it. At this point, these mammoth companies are so big that they can essentially eat or buy their competition and defend themselves against any new players attempting to enter the space. Focus is now on growing earnings (bottom line).
Now let’s look at the current consolidation in the real estate lead generation space in light of this business cycle. Exactly where are we in the “bigger picture”? What stage is online real estate lead generation in? Think about it. Over the last decade we’ve seen a clear shift from Stage 2 into Stage 3 and now we are seeing the emergence of a few titans as we enter Stage 4.
“Today (2002), we predict, an industry will take on average 25 years to progress through all four stages; in the past it took somewhat longer, and in the future we expect it to be even quicker. But, our research suggests, every company in every industry will go through these four stages—or disappear.” — Harvard Business Review
As the Harvard Business Review pointed out, the entire cycle took about 25 years back in 2002 and they predicted that the cycle would be shorter in the future. Today, we are currently about 20 years into this industry’s timeline, so we are seeing the end game unfold before our very eyes. Again, scary for some but exciting for others.
But go back and look… as we enter Stage 4, the focus begins to shift. Up until now the focus has been on growing revenues and building market share. But now, the industry has become an oligopoly. Oligopolies are typically composed of only a few large companies, each one so large that its actions affect market conditions so competing companies will be aware of each others’ market actions and will respond appropriately. Now the focus shifts to earnings — not the gross but the net. Remember, gross means revenues. Net means earnings or profits.
By Stage 4, revenues are a given. Now it’s time to reap those profits. So if you think the price of lead generation services is high now, you haven’t seen anything yet. Think about it — when only a handful of companies control nearly all of the real estate lead generation, they can charge whatever they want. Why do you think that media companies who have been sitting on the sidelines are now picking up the major players?
Here’s why. The few remaining major players are seated at the table and now it’s time for the feast to begin. This huge pie has effectively been carved into only a few slices, and so now it’s finally time to eat. And just how big is that pie? Well according to the latest (June 2014) annualized seasonally adjusted numbers, we are talking roughly 5.45 million transactions this year alone.
Okay, Matt, why should I care? Because every agent’s business is dependent on being able to generate new leads. If real estate professionals have no other means of generating their own customer leads, they will have no choice but to pay the outrageous prices. One of those major players, Realogy who just acquired ZipRealty, is already charging agents a whopping 43% (35% referral and 8% franchise royalty) of the total gross commission for referral leads and desperate agents are lining up in their offices to pay it.
Think about it — these mammoth companies would like to siphon off nearly half of the total gross commission without adding a single thing of value to the transaction and without taking any transactional liability. That’s more than either the brokers or the agents make and for what? For taking our intellectual property (our listings) and using them for gathering leads they can in turn sell back to us.
And if you don’t have a way of gathering your own customers to effectively compete with them, you will have no choice but to pay their outrageous prices for what should be your own leads to begin with. That’s why you should care. Scared? You certainly don’t have to be. That’s why I’ve been preaching this same message for nearly a decade. Don’t be dependent on anybody else for your customers. Just don’t do it!
Remember I said that some would be excited? I’m excited. Today, unlike any other time in history, a small guy, with the right tools and the right methodology can compete with the big mega-companies. Think about it: Musicians today are releasing their own albums on the internet and bypassing the big record labels. Authors are self-publishing their books and competing without being owned by publishing houses. And Realtors can do it too.
This is an exciting time because today, unlike any other time in history, the little guy, armed with the right tools and knowledge can compete and win against the big corporations. Will he or she change the entire world? No, but they will change their world. So how do you use this opportunity to thrive when many around you are being driven out of business or becoming slaves to the few mega-companies?
By generating your own steady, predictable, stream of new, inbound, customer leads. It’s actually easier than you might think, and if you do it right, the cost is minimal. Of course, I would recommend you take a look at my Ultimate Website with LCM lead capture technology — the same technology that put us on CNN — but whether you build your own website or find and purchase one that works, you must get the tools to gather your own customers.
Our typical agent using the Ultimate Website generates (77%) of his leads from the internet using our LCM Web, but they also captured quite a lot of offline business as well. Our LCM Phone technology still amounted to 16% of all leads captured last month and our brand new LCM Text captured a remarkable 7% of all the leads captured. And it was inexpensive too.
Last month nearly three-fourths (73%) of our agents generated all the business they wanted using nothing but our proven advertisements on Craigslist along with our LCM Web, LCM Phone, and LCM Text technologies. In other words, not only is our technology half the price it was back in 2004, but our agents don’t have to budget additional money for pay-per-click advertising like they did in times past.
So whether you build or buy your own technology and read or hire a coach to learn how to go about using it, or whether you just use my Ultimate Website and the personal coaching that comes with it, I encourage you — no, I strongly encourage you — to become independent of these mega-companies before it’s too late and you can’t. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be a slave to a big corporation.
That’s why I keep preaching and teaching agents to break free and learn to generate their own business. It really is easy to do, and once you make that break your life and real estate practice will never be the same. You will be excited when you watch all this consolidation because you know that many of your competitors will be forced out of business while you continue to do just fine. Who knows… you might even have to hire some of them to come join your team!