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After nearly a decade with real estate giant Zillow, Susan Daimler was named the company’s president a year ago, leading the tech behemoth through what would turn out to be a tumultuous year. The company announced the closure of its iBuying business in the fall and set its sights on building a housing super app that integrates all the different parts of a real estate transaction in one place.
Daimler will be speaking at Inman Connect New York next month in a session called “Modernizing Real Estate Doesn’t Mean Removing the Human Factor.” She spoke with Inman this month about Zillow’s vision for the housing super app, how tech and humans can combine to actually make moving delightful, and why Zillow is looking into power buyers — companies that offer to help turn home seekers into cash buyers.
What follows is a version of the conversation, edited for brevity and clarity.
Inman: What will your role be in creating the housing super app?
Susan Daimler: We want to offer customers the right thing for them to do at the right time. For some customers, that’s going to be financing. For some customers, that’s going to be renting. For some customers, it’s going to be talking to an agent. For some customers, it’s going to be going on a tour. The super app is what allows us to put all of those entry points up to say, for the customer, what it is that you need to do at this moment we can help you with. And then when they open that door and walk through, we have all the other opportunities offering services for them to engage with as well.
The Premier Agent business is near and dear to my heart and partners are just a critical part of our strategy moving forward. Behind all of those doors is a best-in-class Premier Agent. So even if someone comes in the financing door, we want them to connect with a Premier Agent. Even if someone comes in the touring door, we want them to connect with a Premier Agent. The idea of the super app is we’re gonna make sure that you have the right offering at the right time as our customer and then give you all the optionality to put together your move, your transaction, with all the other offerings that we have.
Do you envision it as an actual app?
Yeah. Is that tomorrow? No. But the vision is that one seamless transaction and whether that ecosystem lives on an app or a platform, it is all in one place.
At Connect you’ll be talking about how modernizing real estate doesn’t mean removing the human factor. Is there anything you can tease for us about what you’ll be addressing there?
Homebuying and selling is incredibly emotional. And it’s also a huge financial piece. When you have those two things together, that makes it a really important place for humans to be part of it. We believe that tech is what should enhance the human interaction, not replace it in a place where we’re transacting with real estate. And so, how do you bring all those pieces together where they all feel connected. Digitizing the transaction doesn’t mean taking away all the humans.
My sister just bought a house and there were apps to look up listings, there was DocuSign and transaction management platforms for disclosures and all these statistics that she could look up about a neighborhood, but there is this whole emotional piece and weighing of options piece, especially in a really hot market where you have to move quickly and make really big decisions fast while at the same time you’re putting up a heck of a lot of money. What do you think about that in terms of how that interacts with tech and agents? Will tech ever be able to help with that? Or is it just the agents that will have to hold consumers’ hands forever?
No, I think it’s both. And I think we want it to be both. On the digital side, there’s 3D and there’s virtual tours and now you don’t have to go to the closing table in some states. This is all massive digital and tech progress, but we continue to believe that you want the human handholding there as well, and how do you build the right tech that doesn’t overwhelm but actually makes the experience more seamless so that humans can actually shine and really do the best job that they can on that guiding part, which is tremendous.
As we have made progress, we have actually also made a lot more tech. Tech is great, but then you have all this extra tech out there. And it’s really hard to understand what tech you need, when, how the tech interacts and interfaces with itself when you’ve got some data over here, virtual floor plans over here. That’s what our vision is: to bring that all together to make it less overwhelming and more streamlined.
So you’re talking about workflow, like this is what you use, when, during this part of the process?
Exactly. Where are your documents? What do you need to do next and what stage are we at? A lot of it still feels really opaque, the process. You don’t know where you are in the stage with your loan officer or what’s happening with title and so how do you help people see where they are, what’s happening. The tech can certainly help with that. The tech also then helps the partner agent. It also helps the [loan officer] and it helps the broker. Everyone feels like the process is opaque and we have an opportunity at the intersection to turn on the light for everyone and make it a better process all around.
Are there any trends in the industry that you’re keeping an eye on right now?
We’re interested in all parts of the digital process, whether that’s digital meetings, whether it’s floorplans, whether it’s signatures. There’s also a lot going on in fintech, which is fintech companies getting creative about how they can help people unlock their equity so they can get into homes. IBuying is a version of that, but there are a lot of proptech companies out there that are trying different things. Back to the idea of how do we help unlock customers and help them move, that’s something incredibly interesting for the industry at large.
Is that something that Zillow would be interested in getting involved with after pivoting away from iBuying?
Power buying is something that certainly we are looking at and thinking about. It’s still early days for us, but we’re interested in all solutions that help customers move when they want to.
Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know?
Lots of people want to move for really great and wonderful and happy reasons. And then there’s just a whole bunch that comes along with the process that is not happy and delightful and easy. Moving should be a great and delightful thing and we want to bring that to the process. So it can be not just the thinking about it that gets you excited, but the actual doing it can also be a positive experience.
That is quite a challenge.
Indeed it is.